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The 20th Maine and Third Brigade on Little Round Top

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The 20th Maine and Third Brigade on Little Round Top
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Video of Ground Held by 20th Maine

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(above) A picture from a Gettysburg National Park Service sign depicting the 20th Maine holding their ground.

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Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (1828-1914)

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(Above) "Vincent's Spur"
 

The photo below is of the monument dedicated to the 20th Maine and is supposed to mark the spot near where the regiment's colors stood. Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain, who had commanded the 20th Maine at Gettysburg, later stated that the mounument was not an accurate marker as to where the regiment's colors stood.

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(above) A wider view of Vincent's Spur, the ground that Colonel Joshua Chamberlain was ordered to hold at all costs by his brigade commander Colonel Strong Vincent. The 20th Maine monument, marking the spot near where the regimental colors stood, can be seen to the far right in the photo.

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The photos above and below are of the spot where Colonel Strong Vincent fell mortally wounded when he rallied the 16th Michigan as their line began crumble. In the background, at the crest of the hill, the monument to the 44th New York can be seen.

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         In the afternoon of July 2, 1863 Union General Gouvernor Warren was ordered to the top of Little Round Top by General Meade to see what was happening on the battlefield due to its great height and the view it offered. General Warren was shocked when he discovered that the strategic position of Little Round Top was unoccupied except for a few Union signalmen. The hill had been left unprotected when earlier in the day Major General Daniel E. Sickles of the Third Corps had, without permission from General Meade, advanced his Third Corps nearly mile ahead of where they were supposed to be. At the same time as noticing the absence of Union troops on the hill, General Warren was notified of large masses of Confederate troops headed in the direction of the Round Tops. General Warren urgently sought out Union Troops to occupy the hill. General Sickles was not able to send troops due to them already being engaged elsewhere on the field. Major General George Sykes of the Fifth Corps was found and he sent a courier to the commander of his first division, General James Barnes. While enroute to find General Barnes, the courier encountered Colonel Strong Vincent, a 26 year old Harvard graduate, who commanded the Third Brigade of the First Division of the Fifth Corps. Colonel Vincent sensed the urgency on the face of the courier and asked for the orders intended for General Barnes who commanded the division, thereby by-passing the chain of command to save time. The courier informed Colonel Vincent of the message, Colonel Vincent then responded, "I will take the responsibility" and issued orders for his brigade to ascend Little Round Top and defend the strategic height. The Third Brigade consisted of 4 regiments, they were the 20th Maine, 16th Michigan, 44th New York, and the 83rd Pennsylvania. Colonel Strong Vincent was met by General Warren at the crest of the hill who pointed out to Colonel Vincent the approaching Confederate troops. Colonel Strong Vincent deployed his regiments in semi-circle at and near the crest of Little Round Top. The 20th Maine was positioned at the southern most point of the Hill and as a result was responsible for protecting the furthest left flank of the entire Union line at Gettysburg. To the right of the 20th Maine was the 83rd Pennsylvania, to their right was the 44th New York, and to the right of the 44th New York was the 16th Michigan. Even as the regiments took up their positions they were under artillery fire. The section of the hill where the 20th Maine was positioned was below the crest of the hill on a section of the southern slope that flattened out with level ground, forming a type of plateau. This area or plateau where the 20th Maine stood became known as "Vincent's Spur".
        Almost immediately after the regiments formed their positions they were assaulted by the 4th and 5th Texas regiments and also the 4th Alabama. The regiments of the Third Brigade were able to repel the first few waves of Confederate attacks. The third Confederate attack however was joined by the 48th Alabama. The Union line began to lose shape in the difficult terrain under the pressure and the 16th Michigan began to crumble. Colonel Strong Vincent, seeing this potential disaster unfolding, rushed forward and rallied the men of the 16th Michigan. As he was doing this he was struck in the groin by a minnie ball and fell mortally wounded. As the Alabama and Texas regiments swarmed around the crest of Little Round Top it seemed all might be lost for the Union troops holding the hill. However, when the Union line was about to break, the 140th New York, under Colonel Patrick "Patty" O'Rourke from Fifth Corps arrived at the crest of the hill and charged down the slope at the Confederates. So sudden was the the arrival of the 140th New York that the men of the regiment had no time to load their rifles. As the 140th New York rushed into the gap caused by the crumbling 16th Michigan line their young, valient, and Irish Colonel Patrick O'Rourke was shot and died instantly leading his men. The arrival and charge of the 140th New York repulsed the Confederate attack on the western slope of Little Round Top and prevented a potential disaster for the Union troops holding the crest. However all was not secure on the southern slope where the 20th Maine was holding off two Confederate regiments, the 47th Alabama and the 15th Alabama. The 20th Maine, in order to face the arrival of the second Confederate regiment, the 15th Alabama, had to extend its line to twice its length in order to prevent from being flanked by a force twice its size. The fighting here endured for over an hour. At times the 20th Maine and the 15th and 47th Alabama were so closed to each other the fighting became hand to hand. As the 20th Maine's number of men began to dwindle and the ammunition was nearly expended the 20th Maine's Colonel Joshua Chamberlain knew he was in danger of losing the position that Colonel Strong Vincent had ordered him to "hold at all hazards". As the Alabama regiments surged forward, Colonel Chamberlain ordered his men to fix bayonets. As the men of the 20th Maine obeyed the order they sprung up with a shout and charged down the slope sweeping the surprised Alabama regiments from the slope. In the words of Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama, "my men ran like a herd of frightened cattle".
         The unexpected and valiant charge of the 20th Maine finally secured Little Round Top for the Union. Colonel Chamberlain would later be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions at Gettysburg.  However all was not over that day for the 20th Maine. There were swarms of Confederate troops in the woods of Big Round Top which was adjacent to and south of Little Round Top. Big Round Top had much thicker woods and denser vegetation than Little Round Top and the Confederate troops there were sniping at the Union troops holding Little Round Top. Colonel Chamberlain was informed, to his relief, that a brigade from the Fifth Corps was enroute to clear Big Round Top of the remaining Confederates. When this brigade failed to arrive Colonel Rice of the Third Brigade approached Colonel Chamberlain and asked if he and his regiment would clear Big Round Top. Colonel Chamberlain accepted the request. When Chamberlain gave his exhausted men the option to follow him to Big Round Top every man rose up and followed despite their fatigue. It was 9:00PM, as the 20th Maine surged through the dark woods and thick vegetation they could hear squads of Confederate troops breaking and scurrying ahead of them. Finally a Confederate volley was unleashed on the 20th Maine and a few to several fell wounded and one officer was killed. However the 20th Maine captured a number of Confederate Troops and deployed behind the large rocks at the summit of Big Round Top. The men of the 20th Maine could see the campfires from the men from Alabama and Texas below them. It was there that the 20th Maine kept their lonely vigil for the night.
         In the morning of July 3rd, 1863 the Third Brigade was relieved and ordered to the center of the Union line at Cemetery Ridge where the brigade would be re-united and rested. However, that rest was not to come, as Confederate General Robert E. Lee ordered what would be known as Pickett's Charge, a massive assault aimed at the center of the Union line at Cemetery Ridge. Though the Third Brigade was held in reserve during the repulse of Pickett's Charge the brigade had been exposed to the massive Confederate artillery barrage that took place the two hours before the Confederate infantry began their assault. The Confederate assault known as Pickett's Charge was repulsed by the Union troops and victory was secured for the Union at Gettysburg. Colonel Joshua Chamberlain would continue to distinquish himself during the remaining two years of the Civil War and be promoted to the rank of Brigadier General by the end of the war.