Little Round Top is hallowed ground; it’s a place where courage, death, and valor met on a bloody hill. It’s a place where the extreme heroic actions of a few, helped extend the reach of freedom for those in bondage. Union men defended that small knoll and their sacrifice literally saved a young nation. Little Round Top served as the last Southern anchor point of the Union Army on the Second Day of the Battle of Gettysburg. If the defending soldiers were overwhelmed by the Confederate forces at this critical location, then the Union Armies Left Flank would fall. The Confederates would then gain the high ground and like dominoes, the Union Army would have toppled upon its self. If the Union Army was routed at Gettysburg in the Northern State of Pennsylvania, Confederate General Robert Lee would be free to march his Army south uncontested and force President Lincoln to capitulate to the Confederate Cause.
On the early morning of July 2, 1863, the high ground on the Union Force’s far left flank laid undefended from an impending Confederate attack. Without orders and on his own initiative, Union Colonel Strong Vincent, knowing the vital importance of the position ordered his Third Brigade to occupy and defend the high ground at a small hill called Little Round Top. The order to secure this vital position was given to the 20th Maine Volunteers Commanded by Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. Only a year previous, Colonel Chamberlain was a Professor of Rhetoric at Bowdoin College in Maine. He spoke more than 8 languages fluently but had little military experience and only became the Commander of the Infantry Company a month previously. Colonel Chamberlain was given the order from Colonel Strong Vincent to, “hold the ground at all hazards”. Within minutes of taking their positions on that little rocky hill, the 20th Maine was attacked by the 15th Alabama, Commanded by Colonel William Oates. Multiple attacks by the Confederates were thrown up that hill and were repulsed by the Union Troops. After each attack, the Confederates shifted their forces to flank and overwhelm the 20th Maine. After many assaults on their position, Union Forces found themselves stretched thin and without ammunition to defend against another attack. Colonel Chamberlain’s orders were clear, there was to be no surrender. Without hope of reinforcements, little ammunition nor men to hold the line, the situation was dire. At that moment, the Professor from Bowdoin College gave the order to those left in his Command to equip bayonets. With no other options available, Colonel Joshua Chamberlain issued the order to attack down the blood drenched hill. This action served to confuse and disorient the Confederate Forces and turned the tide of the battle. The Confederate forces never recovered from the Chamberlain’s bayonet charge and were driven from the field saving the high ground and the Union’s left flank.
Colonel William Oats, Commander of the 15th Alabama Infantry who lost half his force on that gory day explained, “the dead literally covered the ground”. Union Army Colonel Strong Vincent who ordered the defense of Little Round Top was mortally wounded while rallying his men. He was promoted to General while on his death bed before succumbing to his wounds. Colonel Joshua Chamberlain survived the three-day Battle of Gettysburg and continued to lead men into battle. At the Second Battle of Petersburg, Colonel Chamberlain was severely wounded and was suspected to die of his wounds and was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. He even out maneuvered death and survived the wound to live till age 85. After the war he served as the Governor of Maine as well as President of Bowdoin College.
The History that can still be felt at Little Round Top is palatable to the senses. Take the time to wonder the many monuments dedicated to all that fought there. My suggestion is to read the book “Killer Angeles” by Michael Shaara. Its not a long read but is informative beyond measure and written in such a way that is pure historical bliss. Reading the book will help you acclimatize yourself to the many facets of the Battle of Gettysburg and will give you additional information to help you more enjoy your visit.