20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment : Battle of Gettysburg : Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain

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Report of Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain

Report of Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain, Twentieth Maine Infantry.

Field near Emmitsburg, July 6, 1863.
Sir: In compliance with the request of the colonel commanding
the brigade, I have the honor to submit a somewhat detailed report
of the operations of the Twentieth Regt. Maine Volunteers in
the battle of Gettysburg, on the 2d and 3d instant.

Having acted as the advance guard, made necessary by the proximity
of the enemy's cavalry, on the march of the day before, my
command on reaching Hanover, Pa., just before sunset on that day,
were much worn, and lost no time in getting ready for an expected
bivouac. Rations were scarcely issued, and the men about preparing
supper, when rumors that the enemy had been encountered that day
near Gettysburg absorbed every other interest, and very soon orders
came to march forthwith to Gettysburg.

My men moved out with a promptitude and spirit extraordinary,
the cheers and welcome they received on the road adding to their
enthusiasm. After an hour or two of sleep by the roadside just before
daybreak, we reached the heights southeasterly of Gettysburg at
about 7 a. m., July 2.

Massed at first with the rest of the division on the right of the road,
we were moved several times farther toward the left. Although expecting
every moment to be put into action and held strictly in line
of battle, yet the men were able to take some rest and make the most
of their rations.

Somewhere near 4 p. m. a sharp cannonade, at some distance to
our left and front, was the signal for a sudden and rapid movement
of our whole division in the direction of this firing, which grew
warmer as we approached. Passing an open field in the hollow
ground in which some of our batteries were going into position, our
brigade reached the skirt of a piece of woods, in the farther edge of
which there was a heavy musketry fire, and when about to go forward
into line we received from Col. Vincent, commanding the
brigade, orders to move to the left at the double-quick, when we
took a farm road crossing Plum Run in order to gain a rugged
mountain spur called Granite Spur, or Little Round Top.

The enemy's artillery got range of our column as we were climbing
the spur, and the crashing of the shells among the rocks and the tree
tops made us move lively along the crest. One or two shells burst in
our ranks. Passing to the southern slope of Little Round Top, Col.
Vincent indicated to me the ground my regiment was to occupy,
informing me that this was the extreme left of our general line, and
that a desperate attack was expected in order to turn that position,
concluding by telling me I was to ''hold that ground at all hazards.''
This was the last word I heard from him.

In order to commence by making my right firm, I formed my regiment
on the right into line, giving such direction to the line as should
best secure the advantage of the rough, rocky, and stragglingly
wooded ground.

The line faced generally toward a more conspicuous eminence
southwest of ours, which is known as Sugar Loaf, or Round Top.
Between this and my position intervened a smooth and thinly wooded
hollow. My line formed, I immediately detached Company B, Capt.
Morrill commanding, to extend from my left flank across this
hollow as a line of skirmishers, with directions to act as occasion
might dictate, to prevent a surprise on my exposed flank and rear.

The artillery fire on our position had meanwhile been constant and
heavy, but my formation was scarcely complete when the artillery
was replaced by a vigorous infantry assault upon the center of our
brigade to my right, but it very soon involved the right of my regiment
and gradually extended along my entire front. The action was
quite sharp and at close quarters.

In the midst of this, an officer from my center informed me that
some important movement of the enemy was going on in his front,
beyond that of the line with which we were engaged. Mounting a
large rock, I was able to see a considerable body of the enemy moving
by the flank in rear of their line engaged, and passing from the direction
of the foot of Great Round Top through the valley toward
the front of my left. The close engagement not allowing any change
of front, I immediately stretched my regiment to the left, by taking
intervals by the left flank, and at the same time ''refusing'' my left
wing, so that it was nearly at right angles with my right, thus occupying
about twice the extent of our ordinary front, some of the
companies being brought into single rank when the nature of the
ground gave sufficient strength or shelter. My officers and men understood
my wishes so well that this movement was executed under
fire, the right wing keeping up fire, without giving the enemy any
occasion to seize or even to suspect their advantage. But we were
not a moment too soon; the enemy's flanking column having gained
their desired direction, burst upon my left, where they evidently had
expected an unguarded flank, with great demonstration.

We opened a brisk fire at close range, which was so sudden and
effective that they soon fell back among the rocks and low trees in
the valley, only to burst forth again with a shout, and rapidly advanced,
firing as they came. They pushed up to within a dozen yards
of us before the terrible effectiveness of our fire compelled them to
break and take shelter.

They renewed the assault on our whole front, and for an hour the
fighting was severe. Squads of the enemy broke through our line
in several places, and the fight was literally hand to hand. The edge
of the fight rolled backward and forward like a wave. The dead
and wounded were now in our front and then in our rear. Forced
from our position, we desperately recovered it, and pushed the enemy
down to the foot of the slope. The intervals of the struggle were
seized to remove our wounded (and those of the enemy also), to
gather ammunition from the cartridge-boxes of disabled friend or
foe on the field, and even to secure better muskets than the Enfields,
which we found did not stand service well. Rude shelters were
thrown up of the loose rocks that covered the ground.

Capt. Woodward, commanding the Eighty-third Pennsylvania
Volunteers, on my right, gallantly maintaining his fight, judiciously
and with hearty co-operation made his movements conform
to my necessities, so that my right was at no time exposed to a flank
attack.

The enemy seemed to have gathered all their energies for their final
assault. We had gotten our thin line into as good a shape as possible,
when a strong force emerged from the scrub wood in the valley, as
well as I could judge, in two lines in echelon by the right, and, opening
a heavy fire, the first line came on as if they meant to sweep
everything before them. We opened on them as well as we could
with our scanty ammunition snatched from the field.

It did not seem possible to withstand another shock like this now
coming on. Our loss had been severe. One-half of my left wing
had fallen, and a third of my regiment lay just behind us, dead or
badly wounded. At this moment my anxiety was increased by a
great roar of musketry in my rear, on the farther or northerly slope
of Little Round Top, apparently on the flank of the regular brigade,
which was in support of Hazlett's battery on the crest behind us.
The bullets from this attack struck into my left rear, and I feared
that the enemy might have nearly surrounded the Little Round Top,
and only a desperate chance was left for us. My ammunition was
soon exhausted. My men were firing their last shot and getting ready
to ''club'' their muskets.

It was imperative to strike before we were struck by this overwhelming
force in a hand-to-hand fight, which we could not probably
have withstood or survived. At that crisis, I ordered the bayonet.
The word was enough. It ran like fire along the line, from man to
man, and rose into a shout, with which they sprang forward upon the
enemy, now not 30 yards away. The effect was surprising; many of
the enemy's first line threw down their arms and surrendered. An
officer fired his pistol at my head with one hand, while he handed me
his sword with the other. Holding fast by our right, and swinging
forward our left, we made an extended ''right wheel,'' before which
the enemy's second line broke and fell back, fighting from tree to
tree, many being captured, until we had swept the valley and cleared
the front of nearly our entire brigade.

Meantime Capt. Morrill with his skirmishers (sent out from my
left flank), with some dozen or fifteen of the U. S. Sharpshooters
who had put themselves under his direction, fell upon the enemy
as they were breaking, and by his demonstrations, as well as his
well-directed fire, added much to the effect of the charge.

Having thus cleared the valley and driven the enemy up the western
slope of the Great Round Top, not wishing to press so far out as to
hazard the ground I was to hold by leaving it exposed to a sudden
rush of the enemy, I succeeded (although with some effort to stop
my men, who declared they were ''on the road to Richmond'') in getting
the regiment into good order and resuming our original position.

Four hundred prisoners, including two field and several line officers,
were sent to the rear. These were mainly from the Fifteenth and
Forty-seventh Alabama Regt.'s, with some of the Fourth and
Fifth Texas. One hundred and fifty of the enemy were found killed
and wounded in our front.

At dusk, Col. Rice informed me of the fall of Col. Vincent,
which had devolved the command of the brigade on him, and that
Col. Fisher had come up with a brigade to our support. These
troops were massed in our rear. It was the understanding, as Col.
Rice informed me, that Col. Fisher's brigade was to advance and
seize the western slope of Great Round Top, where the enemy had
shortly before been driven. But, after considerable delay, this intention
for some reason was not carried into execution.

We were apprehensive that if the enemy were allowed to strengthen
himself in that position, he would have a great advantage in renewing
the attack on us at daylight or before. Col. Rice then directed
me to make the movement to seize that crest.

It was now 9 p. m. Without waiting to get ammunition, but trusting
in part to the very circumstance of not exposing our movement
or our small front by firing, and with bayonets fixed, the little handful
of 200 men pressed up the mountain side in very extended order,
as the steep and jagged surface of the ground compelled. We heard
squads of the enemy falling back before us, and, when near the crest,
we met a scattering and uncertain fire, which caused us the great
loss of the gallant Lieut. Linscott, who fell, mortally wounded.
In the silent advance in the darkness we laid hold of 25 prisoners,
among them a staff officer of Gen. [E. M.] Law, commanding the
brigade immediately opposed to us during the fight. Reaching the
crest, and reconnoitering the ground, I placed the men in a strong
position among the rocks, and informed Col. Rice, requesting
also ammunition and some support to our right, which was very near
the enemy, their movements and words even being now distinctly
heard by us.

Some confusion soon after resulted from the attempt of some regiment
of Col. Fisher's brigade to come to our support. They had
found a wood road up the mountain, which brought them on my
right flank, and also in proximity to the enemy, massed a little below.
Hearing their approach, and thinking a movement from that quarter
could only be from the enemy, I made disposition to receive them as
such. In the confusion which attended the attempt to form them in
support of my right, the enemy opened a brisk fire, which disconcerted
my efforts to form them and disheartened the supports themselves,
so that I saw no more of them that night.

Feeling somewhat insecure in this isolated position, I sent in for
the Eighty-third Pennsylvania, which came speedily, followed by
the Forty-fourth New York, and, having seen these well posted, I
sent a strong picket to the front, with instructions to report to me
every half hour during the night, and allowed the rest of my men to
sleep on their arms.

At some time about midnight, two regiments of Col. Fisher's
brigade came up the mountain beyond my left, and took position near
the summit; but as the enemy did not threaten from that direction,
I made no effort to connect with them.

We went into the fight with 386, all told--358 guns. Every pioneer
and musician who could carry a musket went into the ranks. Even
the sick and foot-sore, who could not keep up in the march, came up
as soon as they could find their regiments, and took their places in
line of battle, while it was battle, indeed. Some prisoners I had
under guard, under sentence of court-martial, I was obliged to put
into the fight, and they bore their part well, for which I shall recommend
a commutation of their sentence.

The loss, so far as I can ascertain it, is 136--30 of whom were killed,
and among the wounded are many mortally.

Capt. Billings, Lieut. Kendall, and Lieut. Linscott are
officers whose loss we deeply mourn--efficient soldiers, and pure and
high-minded men.

In such an engagement there were many incidents of heroism and
noble character which should have place even in an official report;
but, under present circumstances, I am unable to do justice to them.
I will say of that regiment that the resolution, courage, and heroic
fortitude which enabled us to withstand so formidable an attack have
happily led to so conspicuous a result that they may safely trust to
history to record their merits.

About noon on the 3d of July, we were withdrawn, and formed on
the right of the brigade, in the front edge of a piece of woods near
the left center of our main line of battle, where we were held in
readiness to support our troops, then receiving the severe attack of
the afternoon of that day.

On the 4th, we made a reconnaissance to the front, to ascertain the
movements of the enemy, but finding that they had retired, at least
beyond Willoughby's Run, we returned to Little Round Top, where
we buried our dead in the place where we had laid them during the
fight, marking each grave by a head-board made of ammunition
boxes, with each dead soldier's name cut upon it. We also buried
50 of the enemy's dead in front of our position of July 2. We then
looked after our wounded, whom I had taken the responsibility of
putting into the houses of citizens in the vicinity of Little Round
Top, and, on the morning of the 5th, took up our march on the
Emmitsburg road.

I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,

JOSHUA L. CHAMBERLAIN,
Col., Comdg. Twentieth Maine Volunteers.
Lieut. George B. Herendeen,
A. A. A. G., Third Brig., First Div., Fifth Army Corps.

Source: Official Records, Series I. Vol. 27, Part I. Reports. Serial No. 43

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