Robert E. Lee, commanding officer of the Army of Northern Virginia marched his men into Pennsylvania in late June 1863. The bloody Civil War has raged long enough, Lee hoped this march would end it. A letter of peace was prepared and was to be delivered to President Lincoln once Lee defeated the northern army.
By July 1, Lee runs into Union forces, commanded by General Meade near Gettysburg. On the first day of battle Lee managed to push the Union Army through the town. However, he let them keep the high ground from Cemetery Ridge to Little Round Top. By the second day, Union Forces are preparing for Lee.
“Col. Chamberlain if you please!” shouted Col. Vincent. “You are to place your men where I show you, follow me.”
Col. Chamberlain, commanding officer of the 20th Main of the Union Army saluted and soon his regiment was following Col. Vincent up a step hill. It was topped with many round boulders and trees. Col. Vincent gave him these orders.
“Col., you are the end of the Union line” he began instructing. “The 83rd Pennsylvania will be to your right. Hold tight to them. As you can see, there is nothing to your left” he said pointing to the left. “You, sir, are the flank. You must hold this position to the last. If you fail here, the whole Reb Army will come around our rear and overtake us. Good luck.”
They shook hands, saluted, and Chamberlain was left pondering what he meant, “to the last… last what? Bullet, inch of ground, the last man…”
Chamberlain’s men piled up a few stones in front of them, and some took cover behind trees. Suddenly, a scream, the Rebel Yell, was heard and angry confederate troops were charging at them. Chamberlain yelled, “Fire!” and the peaceful wooded area came ablaze with gun fire and smoke.
The air was pierced by the zip of speeding musket balls, colliding with rocks, trees, and thudding painfully into flesh. Young saplings of trees were gnawed down by the flying lead as screams and moans of all sorts were heard. Fierce hand to hand combat came about as the lines touched. Soon, the Rebs retreated. Charge after bloody charge, the men in gray came forward and each time they were beaten back. Minutes seemed like hours, days, weeks…when will this end? Ammunition was getting short.
“Col. Darl’n” shouted Sgt. Kilrain, a feisty career soldier from Ireland. “Look here, they be a mov’n to our left, they’re try’n to flank us sir!”
Chamberlain ordered his lines to thin out and stretch, yet still holding tight the 83rd. He then made them turn 90° to his left. Quickly, men shouldered their muskets and ran in the new direction. No sooner than they got set up…
“Here they come again boys!” yelled Kilrain.
Again, a charge was felt and repulsed.
“Col.!” Capt. Harris reported holding a salute. Chamberlain returned the salute impatiently.
“Sir, we’re out of ammunition,” the Capt. began. “We’ve tried to get some from the Pennsylvania boys, but they say they got problems of their own. We can’t stand another assault. What should we do sir?”
Chamberlain remembered his orders “hold to the last.” He mulled over the options. None were good, except maybe…
“Call the Captains, Kilrain come with me.” Chamberlain bellowed. To his captains, Chamberlain laid out his plan.
“Sir, you mean charge?” questioned one of the captains.
“Yes, they have to be tired as we, and low on ammunition.”
As the men in gray began another uphill charge, Chamberlain yells “BAYONETS!” The order is repeated and the sounds of men standing, canteens clanging, and the click and clack of bayonets being fixed to muskets were heard.
Then he orders “Left wing, charge.”
The line that he moved back at a right angle now ran forward as a door on a hinge. Once that line came straight with the rest of the regiment, they all yelled and charged down the hill to meet the men in gray. This sudden turn of tactics surprised the confederates and they ran; many surrendered on the spot, some never saw another day.
Where there seemed to be no way, Providence offered one. Although the battle at Gettysburg would last another day and the war another 2 years, Robert E. Lee did not accomplish what he set out to do. The Union Army was not defeated, and the letter of peace for President Lincoln was never delivered.
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