Monday, July 02, 2007

On This Date... 1863 the fate of the Union rested with Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, commanding the 20th Maine at Little Round Top in Gettysburg. Chamberlain was an academic with no formal military training.

Little Round Top was the extreme left flank of the Union lines, and the Maine men under Chamberlain repelled attack after attack as the Confederates tried to flank the Union army. Chamberlain and his men refused to retreat, and eventually broke the Confederate assault with a bayonet charge down the steep slopes of the hill.

Unable to turn the Union flank, General Robert E. Lee ordered a frontal assault on the center of the Union lines the following day, which was repelled with massive casualties on both sides. The Army of the Potomac was the only force standing between Lee's Confederates and Washington, D.C. Its destruction at Gettysburg would have been a disaster for the North.

Had Chamberlain's men retreated, it's virtually certain that the Federals would have suffered a devastating rout, and President Lincoln would have been forced to negotiate a very different end to the war.

Chamberlain, a professor of rhetoric at Bowdoin College, received the Medal of Honor for his actions.