July 2, 1863 marked the famous Battle at Gettysburg, one of the bloodiest days in history, a fight of epic legend, and a landmark victory where inevitable momentum swung to the Union.
Little would Joshua Chamberlain know at the start of that day, that he would be the key player in such a grand narrative.
It was that moment where a leader of courage, character, and conviction found the fruit of his labor to know schemes and tactics, and discover that his leadership had created trust in his men to rally to his call and create a sudden surprise victory.
It began by Chamberlain taking a quick survey of the battlefield and discovering a weakness. He was the anchorman of the left flank and mentally rehearsed what would happen if the enemy captured a strategic position known as 'little round top'. His forward thinking and acquired military skill put his men in position to defend that valued plot of land.
And the enemy came in full frontal assault.
Five times that day, the south roared and rushed Chamberlain's regiment. It was primarily the Alabama 15th under the command of William Oates against the 20th of Maine under the direction of Chamberlain.
Chamberlain held firm, following orders to hold the position to the last man, at all costs.
Then came that monumental moment. Chamberlain was out of ammunition and would not be able to hold another attack. He had put every man in his disposal to fight: cooks, bandsmen, and guards. He had few options left. He calmly gave the order: 'fix bayonets'.
His brave men responded and went on the attack. Oates was pulling back and had to order retreat when he saw the attack approaching.
Here are a few noteworthy quotes and notes:
A soldier of the 15th had recognized Chamberlain and put him in his sights. He wrote, "I rested my gun on the rock and took steady aim. I started to pull the trigger, but some queer notion stopped me."
Both sides displayed fierce toughness and the admiration for one another lasted a lifetime.
Wallace notes it this way: "It was a magnificent feat of arms, rarely if ever surpassed in the importance of its accomplishment by any regiment in American military history."
Colonel Oates of Alabama wrote, "There never were harder fighters than the Twentieth Maine men and their gallant Colonel. His skill and persistency and the great bravery of his men saved Little Round Top."
A Texas orator: "Hood had been victorious on every field until 'God stopped them at Little Round Top'."
Fifty years after the battle, Chamberlain returned. Once a bloody day of scars and the dead was now a park of beauty and monuments. He walked around, climbed the summit, and sat there quietly until dark.
He was overcome by the thought that he was surrounded by the fallen. Those young men who did not know 'what were their lofty deeds of body, mind, heart, and soul on that tremendous day'.
The hills of Gettysburg had witnessed their valor and sacrifice.
The great man, Chamberlain, reflected on the moment. "(The graves at Gettysburg) shall hold the mighty secret in their bosom till the great day of revelation and recompense, when these heights shall flame again with transfigured light- they, too have part in that adoption, which is the manifestation of the sons of God."
On that ridge, 50 years earlier, bleeding from a leg wound that had taken shrapnell- Chamberlain had grabbed a moment undergirded by that hardened faith- and made a decision that made a difference.
The average man would have lain there and rested or given up the ghost- but not this mighty warrior of God. To give up or give in would mean a loss in vain.
May we all 'fix bayonets' when our time is called upon.
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