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The Bloodiest Battle on American Soil: The Human Cost at Gettysburg

gburg dead2

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

This week I have been posting about Gettysburg, Independence Day, and a commentary on the toxic nationalism of President Trump’s hijacking of Independence Day. We have been visiting with friends and I have been catching up on my reading. I completed Ian Kershaw’s “To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949; I’m about halfway through Geoff Megargee’s “Inside Hitler’s High Command”; and I am about two thirds of the way through with Danielle Allen’s “Our Declaration: A Reading Of the Declaration of Independence In Defense of Equality.” They are all worth the read in an age where much of our citizenry lacks a basic understanding of the principles of the Declaration and worships at the altar of brute military and economic force, thinking that somehow those are the guarantors of freedom and liberty. They are not. Kershaw’s book shows the cost of toxic nationalism and ideologies that destroyed Europe in two World Wars, Megargee’s shows the cost of militarism and militaries  that become compliant with authoritarian leaders. 

So tonight I repost a final article from my Gettysburg text. It deals with the human cost of that battle. 

I am a career military officer who suffers from PTSD, TBI and other afflictions after serving in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province in 2007-2008.  I have seen firsthand the terrible effects of war. I am also a historian and I  have served as Assistant Professor at a major military staff college which helps educate senior military officers from this country and other countries. In that capacity I taught ethics as well as led the Gettysburg Staff ride, or study of the Battle of Gettysburg. When teaching I always attempted to deal with the human cost of war.

Gettysburg was the most costly battle ever fought on the American continent. Around 50,000 men were killed or wounded there in three days of battle. William Tecumseh Sherman noted that “war is hell.” I agree, there is nothing romantic about it. The effects of war last generations and though we have been at war for the last seventeen and a half years, war itself is an abstract concept to most Americans. It is fought by professionals and only experienced by most Americans on the news, movies or most the banal manner, video games; thus the cost in human terms is not fully appreciated, and nor can it be, we are far too insulated from it. Over the past forty plus years our politicians have insulated the public from war, and in doing so they have ensured that we remain in perpetual war which benefits no one. That is a big reason why I write so much about it, not to glorify or romanticize it, but to try in some war to help make it real  to my readers. This is a another draft chapter from my Gettysburg text. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

Walt Whitman Wrote:

“Ashes of soldiers South or North, As I muse retrospective murmuring a chant in thought, The war resumes, again to my sense your shapes, And again the advance of the armies. Noiseless as mists and vapors, From their graves in the trenches ascending, From cemeteries all through Virginia and Tennessee, From every point of the compass out of the countless graves, In wafted clouds, in myriads large, or squads of twos or threes or single ones they come, And silently gather round me…”

Too often we look at distant battles and campaigns in terms of strategy, operations, tactics, leadership and the weaponry employed. Likewise we might become more analytical and look at the impact of the battle or campaign in the context of the war it was fought, or in the manner in which the tactics or weapons used revolutionized warfare. Sometimes in our more reflective moments we might look at individual bravery or sacrifice, often missing in our analysis is the cost in flesh and blood.

Admittedly the subject is somewhat macabre. But with the reality being that very few people in the United States, Canada or Western Europe have experienced the terrible brutality of war it is something that we should carefully consider any time the nation commits itself to war. By we, I mean all citizens, including the many soldiers, sailors and airmen who never see the personally see people they kill, or walk among the devastation caused by the highly advanced, precision weapons that they employ from a great distance, sometimes thousands of miles. In some parts of our military we have men and women who have the mission of targeting and killing enemies and then walking home to their families, but in the Civil War killing in combat “remained essentially intimate; soldiers were able to see each other’s faces and to know whom they had killed.” [1]

While the words of William Tecumseh Sherman that “War is Hell” are as true as when he spoke them; the tragic fact is that for most people war is an abstract concept, antiseptic and unreal; except for the occasional beheading of a hostage by Islamic militants or the videos shot by the perpetrators of crimes against humanity on the internet. Thus the cost of war and its attendant cost in lives, treasure and to the environment are not real to most people in the West.

We use words to describe the business of war which dehumanize the enemy, and we describe their deaths in words more palatable to us. Dave Grossman, the army infantry officer who has spent his post military life writing about the psychology of war and killing wrote:

“Even the language of men at war is the full denial of the enormity of what they have done. Most solders do not “kill,” instead the enemy was knocked over, wasted, greased, taken out, and mopped up. The enemy is hosed, zapped, probed, and fired on. The enemy’s humanity is denied, and he becomes a strange beast called a Jap, Reb, Yank, dink, slant, or slope. Even the weapons of war receive benign names- Puff the Magic Dragon, Walleye, TOW, Fat Boy, Thin Man- and the killing weapon of the individual soldier becomes a piece or a hog, and a bullet becomes a round.” [2]

We can now add the terms Haji and Raghead to Grossman’s list of dehumanizing terms for our opponents from our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The words of Guy Sager in his classic work The Forgotten Soldier about World War Two on the Eastern front is lost on many that study war:

“Too many people learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. They read about Verdun or Stalingrad without comprehension, sitting in a comfortable armchair, with their feet beside the fire, preparing to go about their business the next day, as usual…One should read about war standing up, late at night, when one is tired, as I am writing about it now, at dawn, while my asthma attack wears off. And even now, in my sleepless exhaustion, how gentle and easy peace seems!” [3]

In an age where so few have served in the military and even few have seen combat in some way shape or form many who study war are comfortable experts who learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. When I hear men and women, the pundits, politicians and preachers, that Trinity of Evil who constantly exhort governments and peoples to go to war for causes, places or conflicts that they have little understanding of from the comfort of their living rooms or television studios I grow weary. I fully comprehend the words of Otto Von Bismarck who said: “Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.” [4]

As a historian who also is a military chaplain who has seen war I struggle with what Sager said. Thus when I read military history, study and write about particular battles or engagements, or conduct staff rides as like the Gettysburg trip that we are embarking on, the human cost is always present in my mind. The fact that I still suffer the effects of PTSD including night terrors and chronic insomnia keeps what I do in good focus, and prevents me from being a comfortable expert.

Thus, it is my view, to conduct a staff ride, to walk the battlefield; especially in somewhat uncomfortable weather is a good thing. It connects us more in at least a small way to the men that fought there, died there, or brought home wounds that changed them forever.

To walk a battlefield where tens of thousands of men were killed and wounded is for me a visit to hallowed ground. I have felt that at Waterloo, Verdun, Arnhem, Normandy, the Bulge, the West Wall, the Shuri Line on Okinawa, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Stone’s River, and of course the battlefield which I have visited more than any in my life, Gettysburg. There are times when I walk these fields that I am overcome with emotion. This I think is a good thing, for as an American who has family ties to the Civil War, Gettysburg in particular is hallowed ground.

In doing this I try to be dispassionate in how I teach and while dealing with big issues that my students will face as Joint Staff Officers. Some of them will become Flag or General Officers, with the responsibility of advising our nation’s leaders as well planning and conducting the military operations on which the lives of thousands or maybe hundreds of thousands of people depend. Thus I do feel a certain responsibility to teach not only the strategy and other important military aspects of this campaign, but also the cost in human lives and ethical considerations. I take this work seriously because it forces us to remember what war is about and its nature, which Clausewitz wrote is “a paradoxical trinity-composed of primordial violence, hatred and enmity…” [5]which William Tecumseh Sherman so rightly understood without the euphemisms that we so frequently use to describe it: “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it….”

As the sun set on the evening of July 3rd 1863 the battered Army of Northern Virginia and the battered but victorious Army of the Potomac tended their wounds, buried their dead and prepared for what might happen next. On that afternoon it was as if “the doors of Hell had shut” and the next day, the Glorious 4th of July “The heavens opened, and a thunderstorm of biblical proprotions drenched the battlefield, soaking dead, wounded and able-bodied men equally.” [6]

Following the disastrous attack aimed at the Union center, Lee and his surviving commanders prepared for an expected Union counter attack. However, George Meade, the commander of the Army of the Potomac who had correctly anticipated Lee’s assault decided not to gamble on a counter attack, though it was tempting. He knew too well the tenacity and skill of the Confederate commanders and soldiers on the defense and did not want to risk a setback that might give Lee another chance, thus “the two sides stared at each other, each waiting for the other to resume the fighting, neither did.” [7]

As the Confederate army retreated and Meade’s army pursued another army remained at Gettysburg, “an army of the wounded, some 20,350 in number, a third of them Confederate….” Just 106 surgeons were spared from the Army of the Potomac and “the comparatively few overburdened surgeons and attendants now on duty still labored every day to the point of exhaustion.” [8] These overworked men were aided by local volunteers as well as members of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, the Christian Commission and the Sisters of Charity. These men and women “brought organization to the hospitals, relief to the medical staffs and the local volunteers, and immense comfort to the wounded, whether blue or butternut.” [9]

The dead and wounded littered the battlefield and the sights and smells were ghastly:

“Wherever men gazed, they saw dead bodies. A New Yorker thought they “lay as thick as the stones that is on father’s farm.” A stench smothered the field, moving John Geary to tell his wife, “My very clothes smell of death.” A Regular Army veteran exclaimed, “I have seen many a big battle, most of the big ones of the war, and I never saw the like.” [10] A resident of Gettysburg walked up to Little Round top and wrote of what she observed from the peak of that rocky hill:

“surrounded by the wrecks of battle, we gazed upon the valley of death beneath. The view there spread out before us was terrible to contemplate! It was an awful spectacle! Dead soldiers, bloated horses, shattered cannon and caissons, thousands of small arms. In fact everything belonging to army equipments was there in one confused and indescribable mass.” [11]

At Joseph Sherfy’s farm, scene of some of the heaviest fighting on the second day, his barn “which had been used as a field hospital, was left a burnt ruin, with “crisped and blackened limbs, heads and other portions of bodies” clearly visible.” [12] When the rains came, the wounded suffered terribly. Many of the field aid stations were set up next to the creeks that crisscrossed the battlefield, and those streams quickly flooded as torrents of rain water caused them to overflow their banks. “A New Jersey soldier watched in horror as the flood waters washed over and carried away badly wounded men unable to move to safety….” [13]

Oliver Howard took his escort to do a reconnaissance of the town on July 4th, one of the cavalry troopers described the scene:

“The battle field was the Awfulest sight I ever saw…The woods in front of our men the trees were riddled with Cannon ball and bullets evry limb shot off 20 feet high. Some say the Rebel dead lay six deep in the grave yard where we lay. Nearly every grave stone was shattered by shots and everything was torn to pieces. I went through the town on the 4th of July with the General. The streets were covered with dead. Evry frame house were riddled with balls the brick ones dented thick where shot had hit.” [14]

Field hospitals were often little more than butcher shops where arms and legs were amputated by overworked surgeons and attendants while those with abdominal wounds that could not be easily repaired were made as comfortable as possible. Triage was simple. If a casualty was thought to have a reasonable chance at survival he was treated, if not they were set aside in little groups and allowed to die as peacefully as possible. Churches were requisition for use of the surgeons. A volunteer nurse noted: “Every pew was full; some sitting, some lying, some leaning on others. They cut off the legs and arms and threw them out the windows. Every morning the dead were laid on the platform in a sheet or blanket and carried away.” [15]

Chaplains were usually found with the doctors, caring for the physical as well as the spiritual needs of the wounded. Protestant chaplains might ensure that their soldiers “knew Jesus” and Catholics administered the Last Rites, often working together across denominational lines to care for their soldiers.

A Union chaplain described the ministry in the field hospitals and aid stations:

“Some of the surgeons were posted well up toward the front to give first aid. More of them were in the large field hospitals of division in more secure places at the rear. The chaplain might be at either place or at both by turns. Some made a point of watching for any wounded man who might be straggling back, who perhaps could be helped up into the saddle and ride back to the hospital. When the demand for help became urgent the chaplains were nurses. As the rows of wounded men grew longer, chaplains went from man to man to see what could be done to relieve their pain, perhaps to take a message or letter. All day into the night this work would continue. A drink of water, a loosened bandage on a swollen limb, a question answered, a surgeon summoned, a whispered word of comfort marked their course. Each night at sundown the men who died during the day were buried, with a short prayer, side by side in a common grave, each in his uniform with canvas wrapped around his face and a strip of paper giving his name and regiment in a bottle buttoned under his blouse.” [16]

The war would challenge the theology of the clergy who served as chaplains on both sides, as “individuals found themselves in a new and different moral universe, one in which unimaginable destruction had become a daily experience. Where could God belong in such a world? How could a benevolent deity countenance such cruelty and suffering? Doubt threatened to overpower faith….” [17] That sense of bewilderment is not lacking today among those of faith who return from war.

Some men, clergy and laity alike would attempt to find a theological meaning to the suffering. Many would do so in the theology of John Calvin which emphasized the Providence and foreknowledge of God. That theological frame of reference, of the results of battles and the death or wounding of men in war and the attendant suffering was found in the will, or providence of God was quite common among men of both sides who grew up during the Second Great Awakening, as it is today; and for some it was carried to fatalistic extremes. However, others like Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama, who considered himself a believing Christian, wrote that he believed God:

“endowed men with the power of acting for themselves and with responsibility for their acts. When we went to war it was a matter of business, of difference of opinion among men about their temporal affairs. God had nothing to do with it. He never diverted a bullet from one man, or caused it to hit another, nor directed who should fall or who should escape, nor how the battle should terminate. If I believed in such intervention of Providence I would be a fatalist….”[18]

The carnage around the battlefield was horrifying to most observers. Corporal Horatio Chapman of the 20th Connecticut Volunteers wrote about the sight on Cemetery Ridge on the night of July 3rd following the repulse of Pickett’s Charge:

But in front of our breastworks, where the confederates were massed in large numbers, the sight was truly awful and appalling. The shells from our batteries had told with fearful and terrible effect upon them and the dead in some places were piled upon each other, and the groans and moans of the wounded were truly saddening to hear. Some were just alive and gasping, but unconscious. Others were mortally wounded and were conscious of the fact that they could not live long; and there were others wounded, how bad they could not tell, whether mortal or otherwise, and so it was they would linger on some longer and some for a shorter time-without the sight or consolation of wife, mother, sister or friend. I saw a letter sticking out of the breast pocket of one of the confederate dead, a young man apparently about twenty-four. Curiosity prompted me to read it. It was from his young wife away down in the state of Louisiana. She was hoping and longing that this cruel war would end and he could come home, and she says, “Our little boy gets into my lap and says, `Now, Mama, I will give you a kiss for Papa.’ But oh how I wish you could come home and kiss me for yourself.” But this is only one in a thousand. But such is war and we are getting used to it and can look on scenes of war, carnage and suffering with but very little feeling and without a shudder.” [19]

Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama whose brave troopers assaulted Little Round Top on July 2nd wrote:

“My dead and wounded were nearly as great in number as those still on duty. They literally covered the ground. The blood stood in puddles in some places on the rocks; the ground was soaked with the blood of as brave men as ever fell on the red field of battle.” [20]

Another Confederate soldier described the scene west of the town on July 4th:

“The sights and smells that assailed us were simply indescribable-corpses swollen to twice their size, asunder with the pressure of gases and vapors…The odors were nauseating, and so deadly that in a short time we all sickened and were lying with our mouths close to the ground, most of us vomiting profusely.” [21]

The burial of the dead was too much for the soldier’s alone to accomplish. “Civilians joined the burial of the dead out of both sympathy and necessity. Fifty Confederates lay on George Rose’s fields; seventy-nine North Carolinians had fallen on a perfect line on John Forney’s farm.” [22]

Those tending the wounded recalled how many of the wounded selflessly asked medical personnel to tend others more badly wounded than themselves; a volunteer nurse wrote her sister: “More Christian fortitude was never witnessed than they exhibit, always say-‘Help my neighbor first, he is worse.’” [23] The Confederate wounded were the lowest priority for the badly overwhelmed Union surgeons and Lee had not done much to help, leaving just a few surgeons and attendants to care for the Confederates left on the battlefield. The Confederate wounded housed in the classrooms of Pennsylvania College were left in dire straits:

“All the rooms, halls and hallways were occupied with the poor deluded sons of the South,” and “the moans prayers, and shrieks of the wounded and dying were everywhere.” Between 500 and 700 wounded Confederates were jammed in with “five of our surgeons” and “no nurses, no medicines no kinds of food proper for men in our condition….” [24]

Across the battlefield the wounded were being treated in a variety of makeshift aid stations and field hospitals:

“Sergeant Major David E. Johnson of the Seventh Virginia was taken to the Myers house after the bombardment, suffering from a shrapnel wound to his left side and arm. “The shed in which I was placed,” he recalled, “was filled with the wounded and dying….I spoke to no one, and no one to me, never closed my eyes to sleep; the surgeons close by being engaged in removing the limbs of those nearby to be amputated….I heard nothing but the cries of the wounded and the groans of the dying, the agonies of General Kemper, who lay nearby, frequently being heard.” [25]

The suffering was not confined to the hospitals; John Imboden commanding the cavalry brigade protecting the Confederate wounded being transported home and supply trains described the horror of that movement:

“Scarcely one in a hundred had received adequate surgical aid, owning to the demands on the hard working surgeons from still far worse cases tat had to be left behind. Many of the wounded in the wagons had been without food for thirty-six hours. Their torn and bloody clothing, matted and hardened, was rasping the tender, inflamed, and still oozing wounds….From nearly every wagon as the teams trotted on, urged by whip and shout came such cries and shrieks as these:

“My God! Why can’t I die?” “My God! Will no one have mercy and kill me?” “Stop! Oh! For God’s sake stop for just one minute; take me out and leave me to die on the roadside.” “I am dying! I am dying! My poor wife, my dear children, what will become of you?” [26]

Eventually, by July 22nd with most of the wounded evacuated a proper general hospital was set up east of the town and the remaining wounded taken there. That hospital, named Camp Letterman grew into “a hundred –acre village of cots and tents, with its own morgue and cemetery, and served more than 3,000 wounded before it was finally closed in November.” [27]

As for the families of the dead, many never found out the details of their loved one’s deaths, which caused their losses to be “in some sense unreal and thus “unrealized,” as the bereaved described them, recognizing the inhibition of mourning that such uncertainty imposed.” [28] Much was because of how overwhelmed the field hospital staffs were, and how inadequate their records of treatment and the dispositions of bodies were sketchy at best. “Reports from field hospitals were riddled with errors and omissions, often lacked dates, and were frequently illegible, “written with the faintest lead pencil.” [29]

Among the killed and wounded were the great and the small. John Reynolds who died on day one, Winfield Scott Hancock, the valiant commander of the Union II Corps was severely wounded during Pickett’s Charge. Dan Sickles, the commander of Third Corps who had nearly brought disaster on the Federal lines by advancing to the Peach Orchard on July 2nd had his leg amputated after being grazed by a cannon ball at the Trostle Farm. Sickles, who survived the wound and the war, would visit the leg, which had carefully ordered his surgeons to preserve. The leg is now displayed at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington D.C.

The Army of the Potomac lost a large number of brigade and regimental commanders including Strong Vincent, the young and gallant brigade commander who helped save Little Round Top; George Willard who brought redemption to his Harper’s Ferry brigade on Cemetery Ridge stopping Barksdale’s charge on July 2nd; Colonel Augustus Van Horne Ellis who before being killed at Devil’s Den told his staff “the men must see us today;” and the young Elon Farnsworth, who had been promoted from Captain to Brigadier General just days before his death in a senseless ordered by his division commander Judson “Kill Cavalry” Kilpatrick, against Hood and McLaws dug in divisions as the battle ended.

The Confederates suffered grievous losses. Divisional commanders like Dorsey Pender and Johnston Pettigrew were mortally wounded, John Bell Hood was severely wounded, Isaac Trimble, wounded and captured while Harry Heth was wounded. Casualties were even higher for commanders and the brigade and regiment level, the list included excellent commanders such as Paul Semmes and William Barksdale, while Wade Hampton, Stuart’s best brigade commander was seriously wounded and would be out of action for months. The toll of brigade and regimental commanders who were killed or wounded was fearful. “At the regimental level approximately 150 colonels, lieutenant colonels and majors had been killed, wounded or captured. Of that number nineteen colonels had been slain, the most in any single battle in which the army had been engaged. Captains now led regiments.”[30]

In Picket’s division alone all three brigade commanders, Kemper, Armistead and Garnett were killed or wounded while twenty-six of forty Field Grade officers were casualties. Forty-six percent (78 of 171) of the regiments of the Army of Northern Virginia suffered casualties at the command level. The Confederate casualties, especially among the best leaders were irreplaceable and Lee’s Army never recovered from the loss of seasoned leaders who were already in short supply.

For some like Private Wesley Culp of the 2nd Virginia it was a final trip home. Culp had grown up in Gettysburg and had taken a job in Virginia prior to the war. In 1861 he enlisted to serve among his friends and neighbors. He was killed on the morning of July 3rd on Culp’s Hill on the very property owned by his uncle where he grew up and had learned to hunt.

One witness, Frank Haskell looked in at a field hospital in the Union II Corps area and wrote:

“The Surgeons with coats off and sleeves rolled up…are about their work,… “and their faces and clothes are spattered with blood; and though they look weary and tired, their work goes systematically and steadily on- how much and how long they have worked, the piles of legs, arms, feet, hands, fingers…partially tell.” [31]

All told between 46,000 and 51,000 Americans were killed or wounded during the three days of Gettysburg. Busey and Martin’s Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg list the following casualty figures, other accounts list higher numbers, some as many as 53,000. One also has to remember that many of the missing soldiers were killed in action, but their bodies were simply never found.

                           Killed               wounded         missing         total

Union                    3,155                14,531             5,369           23,055

Confederate         4,708                12,693             5,830            23,231

Total                     7,863               27,224            11,199          46,286

To provide a reference point we need to remember that in 8 years of war in Iraq the United States suffered fewer casualties than during the three days of Gettysburg. It was the bloodiest single battle in American history, and it was a battle between brothers not against foreign enemies. To put it another perspective, even at the lowest estimates “the “army of Northern Virginia suffered something comparable to two sinkings of the Titanic, the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, ten repetitions of the Great Blizzard of 1888, and two Pearl Harbors.” [32]Robert E Lee testified to Congress following the war “the war… was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.” [33]  Lee’s “Old Warhorse” James Longstreet asked “Why do men fight who were born to be brothers?” [34]

The carnage and death witnessed by survivors of Gettysburg and the other battles of the war changed Civil War soldiers as much as war has before or after. James Garfield, who served as a general in the Union army and went on to become President of the United States noted: “at the sight of these dead men whom other men killed, something went out of him, the habit of a lifetime, that never came back again: the sense of the sacredness of life and the impossibility of destroying it.” [35]

Others, like veterans of today had trouble adjusting to life after the war. “Civil War veterans had trouble finding employment and were accused of being drug addicts. Our word “hobo” supposedly comes from homeless Civil War veterans- called “hoe boys” – who roamed the lanes of rural America with hoes on their shoulders, looking for work.” [36] Following the war, during the turmoil of Reconstruction and the massive social change brought about by the industrialization of society and rise of “industrial feudalism” numerous veterans organizations were founded, for those that belonged to them they were “one of the principle refuges for old soldiers who had fought for a very different world than the one they found around them.” The Grand Army of the Republic was the most prominent of these organizations. “In more than 7,000 GAR posts across the United States, former soldiers could immerse themselves in a bath of sentimental memory; there, they established a ritualized camp geography, rekindled devotion to emancipation and preached the glories of manly independence.” [37]

At the end of the war, Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top who was well acquainted with the carnage of war suffered immensely. His wounds never healed fully, and he struggled to climb out of “an emotional abyss” in the years after the war. Part was caused by his wounds which included wounds to his sexual organs, shattering his sexuality and caused his marriage to deteriorate. He wrote his wife about the “widening gulf between them, one created at least in part by his physical limitations: “There is not much left in me to love. I feel that all too well.” [38]

Gouverneur Warren, who had helped save the Union at Little Round Top wrote to his wife while on Engineering duty after the war: He wrote in 1866 “Indeed the past year…was one of great despondency for me…I somehow don’t wonder that persons often remark how seldom I laugh, but it is really seldom that I do.” He wrote again in 1867 “I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.” [39]

The killing at Gettysburg and so many other battles “produced transformations that were not readily reversible; the living into the dead, most obviously, but the survivors into different men as well, men required to deny, to numb basic human feelings at costs they may have paid for decades after the war ended, as we know twentieth and twenty-first-century soldiers from Vietnam to Iraq continue to do; men who like James Garfield, were never quite the same again after seeing fields of slaughtered bodies destroyed by me just like themselves.” [40]

Joshua Chamberlain asked the most difficult questions when viewing the devastation around Petersburg in the final days of the war:

“…men made in the image of God, marred by the hand of man, and must we say in the name of God? And where is the reckoning for such things? And who is answerable? One might almost shrink from the sound of his own voice, which had launched into the palpitating air words of order–do we call it?–fraught with such ruin. Was it God’s command that we heard, or His forgiveness that we must forever implore?” [41]

Notes

Chamberlain’s questions should always be in our minds as we send young men and women to war. 

Notes

[1] Faust, Drew Gilpin, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York 2008 p.41

[2] Grossman, Dave On Killing: The Psychological Costs of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Back Bay Books, Little, Brown and Company New York 1995, 1996 p.92

[3] Sager, Guy The Forgotten Soldier originally published as Le Soldat Oublie Editions Robert Laffont 1967, Translation Harper and Row Inc 1971, Brasey’s Washington D.C 2000 p.223

[4] Bismarck, Otto von Speech, August 1867

[5] Clausewitz, Carl von. On War Indexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.89

[6] Wittenberg, Eric J, Petruzzi, David and Nugent, Michael F. One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia July 4-14 1863 Savas Beatie LLC New York NY and El Dorado Hills CA 2008,2001 p.27

[7] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight p.28

[8] Sears, Stephen W Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.508

[9] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.510

[10] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.303

[11] Schultz, Duane The Most Glorious Fourth: Vicksburg and Gettysburg July 4th 1863. W.W. Norton and Company New York and London, 2002 p.357

[12] Faust This Republic of Suffering p.81

[13] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight p.30

[14] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight pp.32-33

[15] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg. p.508

[16] Brinsfield, John W. et. al. Editor, Faith in the Fight: Civil War Chaplains Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2003 pp.121-122

[17] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.267

[18] Oates, Willam C. and Haskell, Frank AGettysburg: The Confederate and Union Views of the Most Decisive Battle of the War in One Volume Bantam Books edition, New York 1992, originally published in 1905 p.138

[19] Chapman, Horatio Civil War Diary of a Forty-niner pp.22-24 Retrieved from http://www.dbappdev.com/vpp/ct20/hdc/HDC630703.htm 8 April 2014

[20] Oates, William C. Southern Historical Papers, April 6th, 1878 retrieved from http://www.brotherswar.com/Civil_War_Quotes_4h.htm 18 July 2014

[21] _________ What Happened to Gettysburg’s Confederate Dead? The Blog of Gettysburg National Military Park, retrieved from http://npsgnmp.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/what-happened-to-gettysburgs-confederate-dead/ 18 July 2014

[22] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.81

[23] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.333

[24] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.469

[25] Brown, Kent Masterson Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics and the Gettysburg Campaign University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London, 2005 p.56

[26] Imboden, John D. The Confederate Retreat from Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.424

[27] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.469-470

[28] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.267

[29] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.113

[30] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.444

[31] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, New York 2004 p.466

[32]

[33] Flood, Charles Bracelen, Lee: The Last Years Houghton Books, New York 1981 p.124

[34] Longstreet, James in New York Times, July 24, 1885, retrieved from the Longstreet Society http://www.longstreetsociety.org/Longstreet_Quotes.html18 July 2014

[35] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.55

[36] Shay, Jonathan Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming Scribner, New York and London 2002 p.155

[37] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.523

[38] Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the ManCombined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 p.259

[39] Jordan, David M. Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 2001 pp.248-249

[40] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.60

[41] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence, The Passing of the Armies: An Account of the Final Campaign of the Army of the Potomac, Based on the Personal Reminisces of the Fifth Corps G.P Putnam’s Son’s 1915, Bantam Books, New York 1993 Amazon Kindle Edition p.41

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A Hero With Feet of Clay: Joshua Chamberlain at Little Round Top

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                     The Professor: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Another of my articles pulled from my yet unpublished books on the Battle of Gettysburg. Pray that my agent will find a publisher for them. 

Since I am continuing to post articles about Gettysburg and holding off on any articles regarding our contemporary situation, even though I would class President Trump as slightly more abhorrent than the leaders of the leaders of the Confederate rebellion against the United States. I will leave it there for now but will let my readers debate the meaning of treason. But I digress… 

I hope that you enjoy this article about one of my favorite historical personalities, a real human being with many admirable traits who also had feet of clay, Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

While Colonel Joshua Chamberlain’s story is much better known than his brigade commander, Strong Vincent, he was another of the citizen soldiers whose performance and leadership on Little Round Top saved the Union line that hot July evening. Chamberlain was a graduate of Bowdoin College and Bangor Theological Seminary. Fluent in nine languages other than English, he remained at Bowdoin as Professor of Rhetoric and was deeply unhappy at missing the war even as his students left and were commissioned as officers in newly raised regiments.

In June of 1862 Chamberlain wrote to Governor Israel Washburn requesting an appointment in a newly raised Maine Regiment without consulting either the college or his wife Fannie, who was “shocked, hurt, and alarmed by the decision he had made without consulting her…She remonstrated, she raised her voice, and quite possibly wept over the injustice he had done to both by this unilateral act that threatened to send their world careening in all directions.” [1]

As far as Bowdoin went, Chamberlain actually deceived the college by requesting a “scholarly sabbatical when in fact he had applied to the governor of Maine in the new 20th Maine Infantry in the late summer of 1862.” [2] When the faculty of Bowdoin found out of Chamberlain’s action many of them “were livid over what they considered his duplicity, and some shunned him during the brief period that he remained in Brunswick before reporting to training camp. [3]

The letter that Chamberlain wrote to Governor Israel Washburn details Chamberlain’s desire to serve and in some ways shows his considerable political skill in presenting his case to join the army:

“For seven years past I have been Professor in Bowdoin College. I have always been interested in military matters, and what I do not know in that line I know how to learn.

Having been lately elected to a new department here, I am expecting to have leave, at the approaching Commencement, to spend a year or more in Europe, in the service of the College. I am entirely unwilling, however, to accept this offer, if my Country needs my service or example here.

Your Excellency presides over the Educational as well as the military affairs of our State, and, I am well aware, appreciates the importance of sustaining our Institutions of Learning. You will therefore be able to decide where my influence is most needed.

But, I fear, this war, so costly of blood and treasure, will not cease until the men of the North are willing to leave good positions, and sacrifice the dearest personal interests, to rescue our Country from Desolation, and defend the National Existence against treachery at home and jeopardy abroad. This war must be ended, with a swift and strong hand; and every man ought to come forward and ask to be placed at his proper post.

Nearly a hundred of those who have been my pupils, are now officers in our army; but there are many more all over our State, who, I believe, would respond with enthusiasm, if summoned by me, and who would bring forward men enough to fill up a Regiment at once. I can not free myself from my obligations here until the first week in August, but I do not want to be the last in the field, if it can possibly be helped.” [4]

Chamberlain’s pre-war experiences gave no indication that he would emerge as a military hero. His father, a veteran of the War of 1812 had named him after Captain James Lawrence, the commanding officer of the frigate USS Chesapeake in the War of 1812 who uttered the famous words “Don’t give up the ship” as he lay mortally wounded when that ship was defeated by the HMS Shannon off Boston Harbor in 1813. However, Chamberlain’s mother added the name Joshua as his first name in the town’s books. While his father hoped that the young Chamberlain would pursue a military career, his mother earnestly desired that he would pursue a ministerial career. Chamberlain did become a licensed minister but had no desire to become a pastor, and was never ordained. This was reinforced by Fannie, who though the daughter of a minister was “too much a free thinker” and “did not share the devotion her father and Chamberlain held for organized religion.”  [5]

Chamberlain debated attending West Point after graduation, a path that his classmate Oliver O. Howard took. Instead he attended Bangor Theological Seminary and following graduation took up his academic career at Bowdoin. It was during this time that he met, fell in love with, pursued, courted and finally married Frances Caroline Adams, who played the organ at the local Congregational Church that he attended. Known by most as “Fannie,” she was the adopted daughter of the eminent Congregationalist minister, Dr. George Adams who served as pastor. Fannie had a strong independent streak and was as an accomplished musician and artist.

fannychamberlain1

The couple was an interesting match. Chamberlain was impressed by Fannie’s “artistic gifts. Fannie had talent not only in music but in poetry and, especially; art…” [6] but he ignored potential areas of conflict that would create difficulties throughout their marriage. However, Fannie was beset by numerous fears, as well as a desire not to be dominated by any man. Chamberlain pursued her with abandon but for a time she resisted, until her widowed father married a woman not much older than herself. She desired to pursue the study of music and went away to New York to do so, but in 1852 she decided that she was in love with him. “Yet she harbored doubts about her ability to return his feelings for her measure for measure.” [7]

Fannie suffered from depression and a constant worry about her eyesight which began failing her and an early age. It was a malady that eventually left her completely blind by then turn of the century. Compounding her struggles was that fact that her new husband struggled with his own doubts and depression, a depression that only seamed to lift during the war years.

“During most of his life, Chamberlain struggled with bouts of deep depression and melancholy. But not during the war years. It was as if the war and soldiering had made a new man out of him.” [8]

Chamberlain was offered command of the 20th Maine but asked Governor Washburn that he was appointed as a Lieutenant Colonel, which he was in August 1862. He fought with the regiment at Fredericksburg and was named commander of it when Colonel Adelbert Ames, his commander was transferred to preform staff duties prior to obtaining a brigade command in Oliver Howard’s XI Corps following the debacle at Chancellorsville.

Chamberlain at his heart, through his association with abolitionists and other prior to the war was a staunch Unionist. Before going into the army he wrote:

“We have this war upon is & we want to stop it. It has cost us already too much precious blood. It has carried stagnation, starvation & grief in to too many villages of our fair land – brought death to too many noble hearts that we could ill afford to lose. But the only way to stop this war, is first to show that we are strongest…I feel that we are fighting for our country – for our flag- not as so many Stars and Stripes, but as the emblem of a good &  powerful nation – fighting to settle the question whether we are a nation or a basket of chips. Whether we shall leave our children the country we have inherited – or leave them without a country – without a name – without a citizenship among the great nations of the earth – take the chief city of the rebels. They will have no respect for us unless we whip them & and I say it in all earnestness….” [9]

Like Vincent, Chamberlain was also a quick student or military science and rapidly adapted to being a soldier, officer and commander of troops in combat. He spent as much time studying the art of war under the supervision of Colonel Ames including Henri Jomini’s Art of War which he wrote to Fannie “The Col. & I are going to read it. He to instruct me, as he is kindly doing everything now.” [10] He excelled at his studies under Ames, but since most of the manuals that he studied were based on Napoleonic tactics and had not incorporated the changes brought about by the rifled musket, Chamberlain like so many others would have to learn the lesson of war the hard way.

Chamberlain was with the regiment at Antietam, but it saw no action.  He was in the thick of the fighting at Fredericksburg and Burnside’s subsequent “Mud March” which were both disastrous for the army.

He took command of the regiment in late April after Ames left on detached duty before assuming a brigade command. As the new commander of the regiment, Chamberlain and the 20th Maine missed the Battle of Chancellorsville as the regiment had been quarantined due to an epidemic of smallpox, which they had probably received from “poorly prepared serum with which the regiment was vaccinated” [11] in April.

From the regiment’s quarantined location Chamberlain and his men could hear the sound of battle. One of his soldiers wrote “We could hear the firing plain but there we lay in glorious idleness without being able to lift a finger or fire a gun.” [12] In frustration Chamberlain rode to Major General Joseph Hooker’s headquarters and asked Hooker’s Chief of Staff Dan Butterfield for the chance to enter the fight. Refused the chance Chamberlain told Butterfield “If we couldn’t do anything else we would give the rebels the smallpox!” [13] The regiment spent the battle guarding a telegraph line must to Chamberlain and his soldier’s disgust.

On the march up to Gettysburg, Chamberlain was ordered to take a number of veterans of the 2nd Maine who had signed three year, rather than two year enlistment contracts and were angry at remaining in the army when the regiment was mustered out. The men were angry and Chamberlain was given permission by Meade to fire on them “if they refused to do duty. The new colonel realized he had a crisis on his hands.” [14] The soldiers were bitter but Chamberlain treated them graciously and “almost all of them agreed to take up their muskets again the service of the 20th Maine.” [15] Chamberlain later remarked of how these men “we’re afterward among my best men, worthy of the proud fame of the 2nd, and the hard earned laurels of the 20th.” [16]

On receiving his orders from Vincent, Chamberlain deployed his small regiment halfway down the southern slope facing the small valley between Little Round Top and Big Round Top. By the time he arrived at Gettysburg he had become “a great infantry officer, and among his valuable qualities was [understanding] where an attack would come….” [17]

chamberlain lrt

Since Chamberlain’s account is so important I will forgo a discussion of his tactics and instead quote the sections of his after action report that explains his actions. Chamberlain wrote:

“On reaching the field at about 4 p.m. July 2d, Col. Vincent commanding the Brigade, placing me on the left of the Brigade and consequently on the extreme left of our entire line of battle, instructed me that the enemy were expected shortly to make a desperate attempt to turn our left flank, and that the position assigned to me must be held at every hazard.

I established my line on the crest of a small spur of a rocky and wooded hill, and sent out at once a company of skirmishers on my left to guard against surprise on that unprotected flank.

These dispositions were scarcely made when the attack commenced, and the right of the Regt. found itself at once hotly engaged. Almost at the same moment, from a high rock which gave me a full view of the enemy, I perceived a heavy force in rear of their principal line, moving rapidly but stealthily toward our left, with the intention, as I judged, of gaining our rear unperceived. Without betraying our peril to any but one or two officers, I had the right wing move by the left flank, taking intervals of a pace or two, according to the shelter afforded by rocks or trees, extending so as to cover the whole front then engaged; and at the same time moved the left wing to the left and rear, making a large angle at the color, which was now brought to the front where our left had first rested.

This hazardous maneuvre [sic] was so admirably executed by my men that our fire was not materially slackened in front, and the enemy gained no advantage there, while the left wing in the meantime had formed a solid and steady line in a direction to meet the expected assault. We were not a moment too soon; for the enemy having gained their desired point of attack came to a front, and rushed forward with an impetuosity which showed their sanguine expectations.

Their astonishment however was evident, when emerging from their cover, they met instead of an unsuspecting flank, a firm and ready front. A strong fire opened at once from both sides, and with great effect, the enemy still advancing until they came within ten paces of our line, where our steady and telling volleys brought them to a stand. From that moment began a struggle fierce and bloody beyond any that I have witnessed, and which lasted in all its fury, a full hour. The two lines met, and broke and mingled in the shock. At times I saw around me more of the enemy than of my own men. The edge of conflict swayed to and fro -now one and now the other party holding the contested ground. Three times our line was forced back, but only to rally and repulse the enemy. As often as the enemy’s line was broken and routed, a new line was unmasked, which advanced with fresh vigor. Our “sixty rounds” were rapidly reduced; I sent several messengers to the rear for ammunition, and also for reinforcements. In the mean time we seized the opportunity of a momentary lull to gather ammunition and more serviceable arms, from the dead and dying on the field. With these we met the enemy’s last and fiercest assault. Their own rifles and their own bullets were turned against them. In the midst of this struggle, our ammunition utterly failed. The enemy were close upon us with a fresh line, pouring on us a terrible fire. Half the left wing already lay on the field. Although I had brought two companies from the right to its support, it was now scarcely more than a skirmish line. The heroic energy of my officers could avail no more. Our gallant line withered and shrunk before the fire it could not repel. It was too evident that we could maintain the defensive no longer. As a last desperate resort, I ordered a charge. The word “fix bayonets” flew from man to man. The click of the steel seemed to give new zeal to all. The men dashed forward with a shout. The two wings came into one line again, and extending to the left, and at the same time wheeling to the right, the whole Regiment described nearly a half circle, the left passing over the space of half a mile, while the right kept within the support of the 83d Penna. thus leaving no chance of escape to the enemy except to climb the steep side of the mountain or to pass by the whole front of the 83d Penna. The enemy’s first line scarcely tried to run-they stood amazed, threw down their loaded arms and surrendered in whole companies. Those in their rear had more time and gave us more trouble. My skirmishing company threw itself upon the enemy’s flank behind a stone wall, and their effective fire added to the enemy’s confusion. In this charge we captured three hundred and sixty eight prisoners, many of them officers, and took three hundred stand of arms. The prisoners were from four different regiments, and admitted that they had attacked with a Brigade.”[18]

Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama gave Chamberlain and his regiment the credit for stopping his attack. Oates wrote: “There have never been harder fighters than the Twentieth Maine and their gallant Colonel. His skill and persistency and the great bravery of his men saved Little Round Top and the Army of the Potomac from defeat.” [19]

As with any firsthand account, aspects of Chamberlain’s accounts are contested by others at the scene. But in another way Chamberlain’s accounts of battle have to be carefully examined, because they often reflect his romanticism, and because he was not always a realist. Unlike others in his command like Major Ellis Spear, who played such an important role on Little Round Top that day, a realist who “saw things plainly and remembered them clearly, in stark, unadorned hues. Joshua Chamberlain was a romanticist; even when describing the horrors of bloodbath his prose could be colorful, lyrical, even poetic.” [20]

There are accounts that differ from Chamberlain’s; Oates wrote that he ordered the retreat and that there were not as many prisoners taken as Chamberlain states. Likewise, one of Chamberlain’s company commanders disputed the account of the Chamberlain’s order of the bayonet charge. But even these accounts take nothing away from what Chamberlain accomplished that day. The fact is that Chamberlain’s regiment was outnumbered nearly two to one by the 4th 15th and 47th Alabama regiments. Chamberlain “offset this superiority with strength of position, iron determination and better tactics.”[21]

While the actions of Chamberlain, Vincent, Warren and others on the Union side, another factor was at play. This was the fatigue of the Confederate soldiers. The regiments attacking Little Round Top and their parent unit, Law’s brigade of Hood’s division, had conducted a grueling 28 mile march to get to the battlefield. By the time that they arrived and made their assault, most soldiers were exhausted and dehydrated. This was something that their commander, Colonel Oates believed was an important factor in what happened. While Oates gives tremendous credit to Chamberlain and the 20th Maine he wrote that the fatigue and dehydration of his soldiers “contributed largely to our failure at Little Round Top.” [22]

Vincent was mortally wounded while leading the defense of the hill. As the men of Robertson’s Texas brigade rushed the hill and threatened to crack “the stout 16th Michigan defense…” [23] Vincent rushed to bolster the defenders. He was standing on a large boulder with a riding crop as the men of the 16th Michigan were beginning to waiver. Fully exposed to enemy fire he attempted to drive the retreating men back into the fight. Brandishing the riding which he cried out: “Don’t yield an inch now men or all is lost,” [24] and moments later was struck by a “minié ball which passed through his left groin and lodged in his left thigh. He fell to the ground and as he was being carried from the field, “This is the fourth or fifth time they have shot at me…and they have hit me at last.” [25]

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.52

[2] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top pp.44-45

[3] ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.52

[4] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence Letter From Joshua L. Chamberlain to Governor [Israel] Washburn, Brunswick, July 14, 1862 retrieved from Bowdoin College, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Documents http://learn.bowdoin.edu/joshua-lawrence-chamberlain/documents/1862-07-14.html 8 November 2014

[5] Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man Combined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 p.39

[6] Ibid. Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.28

[7] Ibid. Longacre  Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.30

[8] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.45

[9] Smith, Diane Monroe Fanny and Joshua: The Enigmatic Lives of France’s Caroline Adams and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Thomas Publications, Gettysburg PA 1999 p.120

[10] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.80

[11] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.66

[12] Ibid. Golay, To Gettysburg and Beyond p.132

[13] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.66

[14] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.116

[15] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.45

[16] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.117

[17] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.94

[18] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. Official Narrative of Joshua Chamberlain of July 6th 1863, Maine Military Historical Society, Inc., Augusta, Maine, copyright 1989 U.S. Army Combat Studies Institute Reprint, retrieved from http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/cgsc/carl/download/csipubs/chamberlain.pdf June 15th 2014

[19] Oates, William C. and Haskell, Frank A. Gettysburg Bantam Books edition, New York 1992, originally published in 1905 p.98

[20] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.94

[21] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.393

[22] Ibid. Oates and Haskell Gettysburg p.87

[23] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.95

[24] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.272

[25] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.361

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The Deadliest Battle on American Soil: The Human Cost at Gettysburg

 

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am a career military officer who suffers from PTSD, TBI and other afflictions after serving in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province in 2007-2008.  I have seen firsthand the terrible effects of war. I am also a historian and I  have served as Assistant Professor at a major military staff college which helps educate senior military officers from this country and other countries. In that capacity I taught ethics as well as led the Gettysburg Staff ride, or study of the Battle of Gettysburg. When teaching I always attempted to deal with the human cost of war.

Gettysburg was the most costly battle ever fought on the American continent. Around 50,000 men were killed or wounded there in three days of battle. William Tecumseh Sherman noted that “war is hell.” I agree, there is nothing romantic about it. The effects of war last generations and though we have been at war for the last seventeen and a half years, war itself is an abstract concept to most Americans. It is fought by professionals and only experienced by most Americans on the news, movies or most the banal manner, video games; thus the cost in human terms is not fully appreciated, and nor can it be, we are far too insulated from it. Over the past forty plus years our politicians have insulated the public from war, and in doing so they have ensured that we remain in perpetual war which benefits no one. That is a big reason why I write so much about it, not to glorify or romanticize it, but to try in some war to help make it real  to my readers. This is a another draft chapter from my Gettysburg text. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

Walt Whitman Wrote:

“Ashes of soldiers South or North, As I muse retrospective murmuring a chant in thought, The war resumes, again to my sense your shapes, And again the advance of the armies. Noiseless as mists and vapors, From their graves in the trenches ascending, From cemeteries all through Virginia and Tennessee, From every point of the compass out of the countless graves, In wafted clouds, in myriads large, or squads of twos or threes or single ones they come, And silently gather round me…”

Too often we look at distant battles and campaigns in terms of strategy, operations, tactics, leadership and the weaponry employed. Likewise we might become more analytical and look at the impact of the battle or campaign in the context of the war it was fought, or in the manner in which the tactics or weapons used revolutionized warfare. Sometimes in our more reflective moments we might look at individual bravery or sacrifice, often missing in our analysis is the cost in flesh and blood.

Admittedly the subject is somewhat macabre. But with the reality being that very few people in the United States, Canada or Western Europe have experienced the terrible brutality of war it is something that we should carefully consider any time the nation commits itself to war. By we, I mean all citizens, including the many soldiers, sailors and airmen who never see the personally see people they kill, or walk among the devastation caused by the highly advanced, precision weapons that they employ from a great distance, sometimes thousands of miles. In some parts of our military we have men and women who have the mission of targeting and killing enemies and then walking home to their families, but in the Civil War killing in combat “remained essentially intimate; soldiers were able to see each other’s faces and to know whom they had killed.” [1]

While the words of William Tecumseh Sherman that “War is Hell” are as true as when he spoke them; the tragic fact is that for most people war is an abstract concept, antiseptic and unreal; except for the occasional beheading of a hostage by Islamic militants or the videos shot by the perpetrators of crimes against humanity on the internet. Thus the cost of war and its attendant cost in lives, treasure and to the environment are not real to most people in the West.

We use words to describe the business of war which dehumanize the enemy, and we describe their deaths in words more palatable to us. Dave Grossman, the army infantry officer who has spent his post military life writing about the psychology of war and killing wrote:

“Even the language of men at war is the full denial of the enormity of what they have done. Most solders do not “kill,” instead the enemy was knocked over, wasted, greased, taken out, and mopped up. The enemy is hosed, zapped, probed, and fired on. The enemy’s humanity is denied, and he becomes a strange beast called a Jap, Reb, Yank, dink, slant, or slope. Even the weapons of war receive benign names- Puff the Magic Dragon, Walleye, TOW, Fat Boy, Thin Man- and the killing weapon of the individual soldier becomes a piece or a hog, and a bullet becomes a round.” [2]

We can now add the terms Haji and Raghead to Grossman’s list of dehumanizing terms for our opponents from our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The words of Guy Sager in his classic work The Forgotten Soldier about World War Two on the Eastern front is lost on many that study war:

“Too many people learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. They read about Verdun or Stalingrad without comprehension, sitting in a comfortable armchair, with their feet beside the fire, preparing to go about their business the next day, as usual…One should read about war standing up, late at night, when one is tired, as I am writing about it now, at dawn, while my asthma attack wears off. And even now, in my sleepless exhaustion, how gentle and easy peace seems!” [3]

In an age where so few have served in the military and even few have seen combat in some way shape or form many who study war are comfortable experts who learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. When I hear men and women, the pundits, politicians and preachers, that Trinity of Evil who constantly exhort governments and peoples to go to war for causes, places or conflicts that they have little understanding of from the comfort of their living rooms or television studios I grow weary. I fully comprehend the words of Otto Von Bismarck who said: “Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.” [4]

As a historian who also is a military chaplain who has seen war I struggle with what Sager said. Thus when I read military history, study and write about particular battles or engagements, or conduct staff rides as like the Gettysburg trip that we are embarking on, the human cost is always present in my mind. The fact that I still suffer the effects of PTSD including night terrors and chronic insomnia keeps what I do in good focus, and prevents me from being a comfortable expert.

Thus, it is my view, to conduct a staff ride, to walk the battlefield; especially in somewhat uncomfortable weather is a good thing. It connects us more in at least a small way to the men that fought there, died there, or brought home wounds that changed them forever.

To walk a battlefield where tens of thousands of men were killed and wounded is for me a visit to hallowed ground. I have felt that at Waterloo, Verdun, Arnhem, Normandy, the Bulge, the West Wall, the Shuri Line on Okinawa, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Stone’s River, and of course the battlefield which I have visited more than any in my life, Gettysburg. There are times when I walk these fields that I am overcome with emotion. This I think is a good thing, for as an American who has family ties to the Civil War, Gettysburg in particular is hallowed ground.

In doing this I try to be dispassionate in how I teach and while dealing with big issues that my students will face as Joint Staff Officers. Some of them will become Flag or General Officers, with the responsibility of advising our nation’s leaders as well planning and conducting the military operations on which the lives of thousands or maybe hundreds of thousands of people depend. Thus I do feel a certain responsibility to teach not only the strategy and other important military aspects of this campaign, but also the cost in human lives and ethical considerations. I take this work seriously because it forces us to remember what war is about and its nature, which Clausewitz wrote is “a paradoxical trinity-composed of primordial violence, hatred and enmity…” [5]which William Tecumseh Sherman so rightly understood without the euphemisms that we so frequently use to describe it: “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it….”

As the sun set on the evening of July 3rd 1863 the battered Army of Northern Virginia and the battered but victorious Army of the Potomac tended their wounds, buried their dead and prepared for what might happen next. On that afternoon it was as if “the doors of Hell had shut” and the next day, the Glorious 4th of July “The heavens opened, and a thunderstorm of biblical proprotions drenched the battlefield, soaking dead, wounded and able-bodied men equally.” [6]

Following the disastrous attack aimed at the Union center, Lee and his surviving commanders prepared for an expected Union counter attack. However, George Meade, the commander of the Army of the Potomac who had correctly anticipated Lee’s assault decided not to gamble on a counter attack, though it was tempting. He knew too well the tenacity and skill of the Confederate commanders and soldiers on the defense and did not want to risk a setback that might give Lee another chance, thus “the two sides stared at each other, each waiting for the other to resume the fighting, neither did.” [7]

As the Confederate army retreated and Meade’s army pursued another army remained at Gettysburg, “an army of the wounded, some 20,350 in number, a third of them Confederate….” Just 106 surgeons were spared from the Army of the Potomac and “the comparatively few overburdened surgeons and attendants now on duty still labored every day to the point of exhaustion.” [8] These overworked men were aided by local volunteers as well as members of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, the Christian Commission and the Sisters of Charity. These men and women “brought organization to the hospitals, relief to the medical staffs and the local volunteers, and immense comfort to the wounded, whether blue or butternut.” [9]

The dead and wounded littered the battlefield and the sights and smells were ghastly:

“Wherever men gazed, they saw dead bodies. A New Yorker thought they “lay as thick as the stones that is on father’s farm.” A stench smothered the field, moving John Geary to tell his wife, “My very clothes smell of death.” A Regular Army veteran exclaimed, “I have seen many a big battle, most of the big ones of the war, and I never saw the like.” [10] A resident of Gettysburg walked up to Little Round top and wrote of what she observed from the peak of that rocky hill:

“surrounded by the wrecks of battle, we gazed upon the valley of death beneath. The view there spread out before us was terrible to contemplate! It was an awful spectacle! Dead soldiers, bloated horses, shattered cannon and caissons, thousands of small arms. In fact everything belonging to army equipments was there in one confused and indescribable mass.” [11]

At Joseph Sherfy’s farm, scene of some of the heaviest fighting on the second day, his barn “which had been used as a field hospital, was left a burnt ruin, with “crisped and blackened limbs, heads and other portions of bodies” clearly visible.” [12] When the rains came, the wounded suffered terribly. Many of the field aid stations were set up next to the creeks that crisscrossed the battlefield, and those streams quickly flooded as torrents of rain water caused them to overflow their banks. “A New Jersey soldier watched in horror as the flood waters washed over and carried away badly wounded men unable to move to safety….” [13]

Oliver Howard took his escort to do a reconnaissance of the town on July 4th, one of the cavalry troopers described the scene:

“The battle field was the Awfulest sight I ever saw…The woods in front of our men the trees were riddled with Cannon ball and bullets evry limb shot off 20 feet high. Some say the Rebel dead lay six deep in the grave yard where we lay. Nearly every grave stone was shattered by shots and everything was torn to pieces. I went through the town on the 4th of July with the General. The streets were covered with dead. Evry frame house were riddled with balls the brick ones dented thick where shot had hit.” [14]

Field hospitals were often little more than butcher shops where arms and legs were amputated by overworked surgeons and attendants while those with abdominal wounds that could not be easily repaired were made as comfortable as possible. Triage was simple. If a casualty was thought to have a reasonable chance at survival he was treated, if not they were set aside in little groups and allowed to die as peacefully as possible. Churches were requisition for use of the surgeons. A volunteer nurse noted: “Every pew was full; some sitting, some lying, some leaning on others. They cut off the legs and arms and threw them out the windows. Every morning the dead were laid on the platform in a sheet or blanket and carried away.” [15]

Chaplains were usually found with the doctors, caring for the physical as well as the spiritual needs of the wounded. Protestant chaplains might ensure that their soldiers “knew Jesus” and Catholics administered the Last Rites, often working together across denominational lines to care for their soldiers.

A Union chaplain described the ministry in the field hospitals and aid stations:

“Some of the surgeons were posted well up toward the front to give first aid. More of them were in the large field hospitals of division in more secure places at the rear. The chaplain might be at either place or at both by turns. Some made a point of watching for any wounded man who might be straggling back, who perhaps could be helped up into the saddle and ride back to the hospital. When the demand for help became urgent the chaplains were nurses. As the rows of wounded men grew longer, chaplains went from man to man to see what could be done to relieve their pain, perhaps to take a message or letter. All day into the night this work would continue. A drink of water, a loosened bandage on a swollen limb, a question answered, a surgeon summoned, a whispered word of comfort marked their course. Each night at sundown the men who died during the day were buried, with a short prayer, side by side in a common grave, each in his uniform with canvas wrapped around his face and a strip of paper giving his name and regiment in a bottle buttoned under his blouse.” [16]

The war would challenge the theology of the clergy who served as chaplains on both sides, as “individuals found themselves in a new and different moral universe, one in which unimaginable destruction had become a daily experience. Where could God belong in such a world? How could a benevolent deity countenance such cruelty and suffering? Doubt threatened to overpower faith….” [17] That sense of bewilderment is not lacking today among those of faith who return from war.

Some men, clergy and laity alike would attempt to find a theological meaning to the suffering. Many would do so in the theology of John Calvin which emphasized the Providence and foreknowledge of God. That theological frame of reference, of the results of battles and the death or wounding of men in war and the attendant suffering was found in the will, or providence of God was quite common among men of both sides who grew up during the Second Great Awakening, as it is today; and for some it was carried to fatalistic extremes. However, others like Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama, who considered himself a believing Christian, wrote that he believed God:

“endowed men with the power of acting for themselves and with responsibility for their acts. When we went to war it was a matter of business, of difference of opinion among men about their temporal affairs. God had nothing to do with it. He never diverted a bullet from one man, or caused it to hit another, nor directed who should fall or who should escape, nor how the battle should terminate. If I believed in such intervention of Providence I would be a fatalist….”[18]

The carnage around the battlefield was horrifying to most observers. Corporal Horatio Chapman of the 20th Connecticut Volunteers wrote about the sight on Cemetery Ridge on the night of July 3rd following the repulse of Pickett’s Charge:

But in front of our breastworks, where the confederates were massed in large numbers, the sight was truly awful and appalling. The shells from our batteries had told with fearful and terrible effect upon them and the dead in some places were piled upon each other, and the groans and moans of the wounded were truly saddening to hear. Some were just alive and gasping, but unconscious. Others were mortally wounded and were conscious of the fact that they could not live long; and there were others wounded, how bad they could not tell, whether mortal or otherwise, and so it was they would linger on some longer and some for a shorter time-without the sight or consolation of wife, mother, sister or friend. I saw a letter sticking out of the breast pocket of one of the confederate dead, a young man apparently about twenty-four. Curiosity prompted me to read it. It was from his young wife away down in the state of Louisiana. She was hoping and longing that this cruel war would end and he could come home, and she says, “Our little boy gets into my lap and says, `Now, Mama, I will give you a kiss for Papa.’ But oh how I wish you could come home and kiss me for yourself.” But this is only one in a thousand. But such is war and we are getting used to it and can look on scenes of war, carnage and suffering with but very little feeling and without a shudder.” [19]

Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama whose brave troopers assaulted Little Round Top on July 2nd wrote:

“My dead and wounded were nearly as great in number as those still on duty. They literally covered the ground. The blood stood in puddles in some places on the rocks; the ground was soaked with the blood of as brave men as ever fell on the red field of battle.” [20]

Another Confederate soldier described the scene west of the town on July 4th:

“The sights and smells that assailed us were simply indescribable-corpses swollen to twice their size, asunder with the pressure of gases and vapors…The odors were nauseating, and so deadly that in a short time we all sickened and were lying with our mouths close to the ground, most of us vomiting profusely.” [21]

The burial of the dead was too much for the soldier’s alone to accomplish. “Civilians joined the burial of the dead out of both sympathy and necessity. Fifty Confederates lay on George Rose’s fields; seventy-nine North Carolinians had fallen on a perfect line on John Forney’s farm.” [22]

Those tending the wounded recalled how many of the wounded selflessly asked medical personnel to tend others more badly wounded than themselves; a volunteer nurse wrote her sister: “More Christian fortitude was never witnessed than they exhibit, always say-‘Help my neighbor first, he is worse.’” [23] The Confederate wounded were the lowest priority for the badly overwhelmed Union surgeons and Lee had not done much to help, leaving just a few surgeons and attendants to care for the Confederates left on the battlefield. The Confederate wounded housed in the classrooms of Pennsylvania College were left in dire straits:

“All the rooms, halls and hallways were occupied with the poor deluded sons of the South,” and “the moans prayers, and shrieks of the wounded and dying were everywhere.” Between 500 and 700 wounded Confederates were jammed in with “five of our surgeons” and “no nurses, no medicines no kinds of food proper for men in our condition….” [24]

Across the battlefield the wounded were being treated in a variety of makeshift aid stations and field hospitals:

“Sergeant Major David E. Johnson of the Seventh Virginia was taken to the Myers house after the bombardment, suffering from a shrapnel wound to his left side and arm. “The shed in which I was placed,” he recalled, “was filled with the wounded and dying….I spoke to no one, and no one to me, never closed my eyes to sleep; the surgeons close by being engaged in removing the limbs of those nearby to be amputated….I heard nothing but the cries of the wounded and the groans of the dying, the agonies of General Kemper, who lay nearby, frequently being heard.” [25]

The suffering was not confined to the hospitals; John Imboden commanding the cavalry brigade protecting the Confederate wounded being transported home and supply trains described the horror of that movement:

“Scarcely one in a hundred had received adequate surgical aid, owning to the demands on the hard working surgeons from still far worse cases tat had to be left behind. Many of the wounded in the wagons had been without food for thirty-six hours. Their torn and bloody clothing, matted and hardened, was rasping the tender, inflamed, and still oozing wounds….From nearly every wagon as the teams trotted on, urged by whip and shout came such cries and shrieks as these:

“My God! Why can’t I die?” “My God! Will no one have mercy and kill me?” “Stop! Oh! For God’s sake stop for just one minute; take me out and leave me to die on the roadside.” “I am dying! I am dying! My poor wife, my dear children, what will become of you?” [26]

Eventually, by July 22nd with most of the wounded evacuated a proper general hospital was set up east of the town and the remaining wounded taken there. That hospital, named Camp Letterman grew into “a hundred –acre village of cots and tents, with its own morgue and cemetery, and served more than 3,000 wounded before it was finally closed in November.” [27]

As for the families of the dead, many never found out the details of their loved one’s deaths, which caused their losses to be “in some sense unreal and thus “unrealized,” as the bereaved described them, recognizing the inhibition of mourning that such uncertainty imposed.” [28] Much was because of how overwhelmed the field hospital staffs were, and how inadequate their records of treatment and the dispositions of bodies were sketchy at best. “Reports from field hospitals were riddled with errors and omissions, often lacked dates, and were frequently illegible, “written with the faintest lead pencil.” [29]

Among the killed and wounded were the great and the small. John Reynolds who died on day one, Winfield Scott Hancock, the valiant commander of the Union II Corps was severely wounded during Pickett’s Charge. Dan Sickles, the commander of Third Corps who had nearly brought disaster on the Federal lines by advancing to the Peach Orchard on July 2nd had his leg amputated after being grazed by a cannon ball at the Trostle Farm. Sickles, who survived the wound and the war, would visit the leg, which had carefully ordered his surgeons to preserve. The leg is now displayed at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington D.C.

The Army of the Potomac lost a large number of brigade and regimental commanders including Strong Vincent, the young and gallant brigade commander who helped save Little Round Top; George Willard who brought redemption to his Harper’s Ferry brigade on Cemetery Ridge stopping Barksdale’s charge on July 2nd; Colonel Augustus Van Horne Ellis who before being killed at Devil’s Den told his staff “the men must see us today;” and the young Elon Farnsworth, who had been promoted from Captain to Brigadier General just days before his death in a senseless ordered by his division commander Judson “Kill Cavalry” Kilpatrick, against Hood and McLaws dug in divisions as the battle ended.

The Confederates suffered grievous losses. Divisional commanders like Dorsey Pender and Johnston Pettigrew were mortally wounded, John Bell Hood was severely wounded, Isaac Trimble, wounded and captured while Harry Heth was wounded. Casualties were even higher for commanders and the brigade and regiment level, the list included excellent commanders such as Paul Semmes and William Barksdale, while Wade Hampton, Stuart’s best brigade commander was seriously wounded and would be out of action for months. The toll of brigade and regimental commanders who were killed or wounded was fearful. “At the regimental level approximately 150 colonels, lieutenant colonels and majors had been killed, wounded or captured. Of that number nineteen colonels had been slain, the most in any single battle in which the army had been engaged. Captains now led regiments.”[30]

In Picket’s division alone all three brigade commanders, Kemper, Armistead and Garnett were killed or wounded while twenty-six of forty Field Grade officers were casualties. Forty-six percent (78 of 171) of the regiments of the Army of Northern Virginia suffered casualties at the command level. The Confederate casualties, especially among the best leaders were irreplaceable and Lee’s Army never recovered from the loss of seasoned leaders who were already in short supply.

For some like Private Wesley Culp of the 2nd Virginia it was a final trip home. Culp had grown up in Gettysburg and had taken a job in Virginia prior to the war. In 1861 he enlisted to serve among his friends and neighbors. He was killed on the morning of July 3rd on Culp’s Hill on the very property owned by his uncle where he grew up and had learned to hunt.

One witness, Frank Haskell looked in at a field hospital in the Union II Corps area and wrote:

“The Surgeons with coats off and sleeves rolled up…are about their work,… “and their faces and clothes are spattered with blood; and though they look weary and tired, their work goes systematically and steadily on- how much and how long they have worked, the piles of legs, arms, feet, hands, fingers…partially tell.” [31]

All told between 46,000 and 51,000 Americans were killed or wounded during the three days of Gettysburg. Busey and Martin’s Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg list the following casualty figures, other accounts list higher numbers, some as many as 53,000. One also has to remember that many of the missing soldiers were killed in action, but their bodies were simply never found.

                           Killed               wounded         missing         total

Union                    3,155                14,531             5,369           23,055

Confederate         4,708                12,693             5,830            23,231

Total                     7,863               27,224            11,199          46,286

To provide a reference point we need to remember that in 8 years of war in Iraq the United States suffered fewer casualties than during the three days of Gettysburg. It was the bloodiest single battle in American history, and it was a battle between brothers not against foreign enemies. To put it another perspective, even at the lowest estimates “the “army of Northern Virginia suffered something comparable to two sinkings of the Titanic, the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, ten repetitions of the Great Blizzard of 1888, and two Pearl Harbors.” [32]Robert E Lee testified to Congress following the war “the war… was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.” [33]  Lee’s “Old Warhorse” James Longstreet asked “Why do men fight who were born to be brothers?” [34]

The carnage and death witnessed by survivors of Gettysburg and the other battles of the war changed Civil War soldiers as much as war has before or after. James Garfield, who served as a general in the Union army and went on to become President of the United States noted: “at the sight of these dead men whom other men killed, something went out of him, the habit of a lifetime, that never came back again: the sense of the sacredness of life and the impossibility of destroying it.” [35]

Others, like veterans of today had trouble adjusting to life after the war. “Civil War veterans had trouble finding employment and were accused of being drug addicts. Our word “hobo” supposedly comes from homeless Civil War veterans- called “hoe boys” – who roamed the lanes of rural America with hoes on their shoulders, looking for work.” [36] Following the war, during the turmoil of Reconstruction and the massive social change brought about by the industrialization of society and rise of “industrial feudalism” numerous veterans organizations were founded, for those that belonged to them they were “one of the principle refuges for old soldiers who had fought for a very different world than the one they found around them.” The Grand Army of the Republic was the most prominent of these organizations. “In more than 7,000 GAR posts across the United States, former soldiers could immerse themselves in a bath of sentimental memory; there, they established a ritualized camp geography, rekindled devotion to emancipation and preached the glories of manly independence.” [37]

At the end of the war, Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top who was well acquainted with the carnage of war suffered immensely. His wounds never healed fully, and he struggled to climb out of “an emotional abyss” in the years after the war. Part was caused by his wounds which included wounds to his sexual organs, shattering his sexuality and caused his marriage to deteriorate. He wrote his wife about the “widening gulf between them, one created at least in part by his physical limitations: “There is not much left in me to love. I feel that all too well.” [38]

Gouverneur Warren, who had helped save the Union at Little Round Top wrote to his wife while on Engineering duty after the war: He wrote in 1866 “Indeed the past year…was one of great despondency for me…I somehow don’t wonder that persons often remark how seldom I laugh, but it is really seldom that I do.” He wrote again in 1867 “I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.” [39]

The killing at Gettysburg and so many other battles “produced transformations that were not readily reversible; the living into the dead, most obviously, but the survivors into different men as well, men required to deny, to numb basic human feelings at costs they may have paid for decades after the war ended, as we know twentieth and twenty-first-century soldiers from Vietnam to Iraq continue to do; men who like James Garfield, were never quite the same again after seeing fields of slaughtered bodies destroyed by me just like themselves.” [40]

Joshua Chamberlain asked the most difficult questions when viewing the devastation around Petersburg in the final days of the war:

“…men made in the image of God, marred by the hand of man, and must we say in the name of God? And where is the reckoning for such things? And who is answerable? One might almost shrink from the sound of his own voice, which had launched into the palpitating air words of order–do we call it?–fraught with such ruin. Was it God’s command that we heard, or His forgiveness that we must forever implore?” [41]

Notes

Chamberlain’s questions should always be in our minds as we send young men and women to war.

[1] Faust, Drew Gilpin, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York 2008 p.41

[2] Grossman, Dave On Killing: The Psychological Costs of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Back Bay Books, Little, Brown and Company New York 1995, 1996 p.92

[3] Sager, Guy The Forgotten Soldier originally published as Le Soldat Oublie Editions Robert Laffont 1967, Translation Harper and Row Inc 1971, Brasey’s Washington D.C 2000 p.223

[4] Bismarck, Otto von Speech, August 1867

[5] Clausewitz, Carl von. On War Indexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.89

[6] Wittenberg, Eric J, Petruzzi, David and Nugent, Michael F. One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia July 4-14 1863 Savas Beatie LLC New York NY and El Dorado Hills CA 2008,2001 p.27

[7] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight p.28

[8] Sears, Stephen W Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.508

[9] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.510

[10] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.303

[11] Schultz, Duane The Most Glorious Fourth: Vicksburg and Gettysburg July 4th 1863. W.W. Norton and Company New York and London, 2002 p.357

[12] Faust This Republic of Suffering p.81

[13] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight p.30

[14] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight pp.32-33

[15] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg. p.508

[16] Brinsfield, John W. et. al. Editor, Faith in the Fight: Civil War Chaplains Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2003 pp.121-122

[17] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.267

[18] Oates, Willam C. and Haskell, Frank AGettysburg: The Confederate and Union Views of the Most Decisive Battle of the War in One Volume Bantam Books edition, New York 1992, originally published in 1905 p.138

[19] Chapman, Horatio Civil War Diary of a Forty-niner pp.22-24 Retrieved from http://www.dbappdev.com/vpp/ct20/hdc/HDC630703.htm 8 April 2014

[20] Oates, William C. Southern Historical Papers, April 6th, 1878 retrieved from http://www.brotherswar.com/Civil_War_Quotes_4h.htm 18 July 2014

[21] _________ What Happened to Gettysburg’s Confederate Dead? The Blog of Gettysburg National Military Park, retrieved from http://npsgnmp.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/what-happened-to-gettysburgs-confederate-dead/ 18 July 2014

[22] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.81

[23] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.333

[24] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.469

[25] Brown, Kent Masterson Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics and the Gettysburg Campaign University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London, 2005 p.56

[26] Imboden, John D. The Confederate Retreat from Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.424

[27] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.469-470

[28] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.267

[29] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.113

[30] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.444

[31] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, New York 2004 p.466

[32]

[33] Flood, Charles Bracelen, Lee: The Last Years Houghton Books, New York 1981 p.124

[34] Longstreet, James in New York Times, July 24, 1885, retrieved from the Longstreet Society http://www.longstreetsociety.org/Longstreet_Quotes.html18 July 2014

[35] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.55

[36] Shay, Jonathan Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming Scribner, New York and London 2002 p.155

[37] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.523

[38] Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the ManCombined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 p.259

[39] Jordan, David M. Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 2001 pp.248-249

[40] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.60

[41] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence, The Passing of the Armies: An Account of the Final Campaign of the Army of the Potomac, Based on the Personal Reminisces of the Fifth Corps G.P Putnam’s Son’s 1915, Bantam Books, New York 1993 Amazon Kindle Edition p.41

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“They Will have no Respect for us Unless We Whip Them” Joshua Chamberlain and Gettysburg

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The Professor: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Another of my articles pulled from my yet unpublished books on the Battle of Gettysburg. Pray that my agent will find a publisher for them. 

Since I am continuing to post articles about Gettysburg and holding off on any articles regarding our contemporary situation, even though I would class President Trump as slightly more abhorrent than the leaders of the leaders of the Confederate rebellion against the United States. I will leave it there for now but will let my readers debate the meaning of treason. But I digress… 

I hope that you enjoy this article about one of my favorite historical personalities, a real human being with many admirable traits who also had feet of clay, Major General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

While Colonel Joshua Chamberlain’s story is much better known than his brigade commander, Strong Vincent, he was another of the citizen soldiers whose performance and leadership on Little Round Top saved the Union line that hot July evening. Chamberlain was a graduate of Bowdoin College and Bangor Theological Seminary. Fluent in nine languages other than English, he remained at Bowdoin as Professor of Rhetoric and was deeply unhappy at missing the war even as his students left and were commissioned as officers in newly raised regiments.

In June of 1862 Chamberlain wrote to Governor Israel Washburn requesting an appointment in a newly raised Maine Regiment without consulting either the college or his wife Fannie, who was “shocked, hurt, and alarmed by the decision he had made without consulting her…She remonstrated, she raised her voice, and quite possibly wept over the injustice he had done to both by this unilateral act that threatened to send their world careening in all directions.” [1]

As far as Bowdoin went, Chamberlain actually deceived the college by requesting a “scholarly sabbatical when in fact he had applied to the governor of Maine in the new 20th Maine Infantry in the late summer of 1862.” [2] When the faculty of Bowdoin found out of Chamberlain’s action many of them “were livid over what they considered his duplicity, and some shunned him during the brief period that he remained in Brunswick before reporting to training camp. [3]

The letter that Chamberlain wrote to Governor Israel Washburn details Chamberlain’s desire to serve and in some ways shows his considerable political skill in presenting his case to join the army:

“For seven years past I have been Professor in Bowdoin College. I have always been interested in military matters, and what I do not know in that line I know how to learn.

Having been lately elected to a new department here, I am expecting to have leave, at the approaching Commencement, to spend a year or more in Europe, in the service of the College. I am entirely unwilling, however, to accept this offer, if my Country needs my service or example here.

Your Excellency presides over the Educational as well as the military affairs of our State, and, I am well aware, appreciates the importance of sustaining our Institutions of Learning. You will therefore be able to decide where my influence is most needed.

But, I fear, this war, so costly of blood and treasure, will not cease until the men of the North are willing to leave good positions, and sacrifice the dearest personal interests, to rescue our Country from Desolation, and defend the National Existence against treachery at home and jeopardy abroad. This war must be ended, with a swift and strong hand; and every man ought to come forward and ask to be placed at his proper post.

Nearly a hundred of those who have been my pupils, are now officers in our army; but there are many more all over our State, who, I believe, would respond with enthusiasm, if summoned by me, and who would bring forward men enough to fill up a Regiment at once. I can not free myself from my obligations here until the first week in August, but I do not want to be the last in the field, if it can possibly be helped.” [4]

Chamberlain’s pre-war experiences gave no indication that he would emerge as a military hero. His father, a veteran of the War of 1812 had named him after Captain James Lawrence, the commanding officer of the frigate USS Chesapeake in the War of 1812 who uttered the famous words “Don’t give up the ship” as he lay mortally wounded when that ship was defeated by the HMS Shannon off Boston Harbor in 1813. However, Chamberlain’s mother added the name Joshua as his first name in the town’s books. While his father hoped that the young Chamberlain would pursue a military career, his mother earnestly desired that he would pursue a ministerial career. Chamberlain did become a licensed minister but had no desire to become a pastor, and was never ordained. This was reinforced by Fannie, who though the daughter of a minister was “too much a free thinker” and “did not share the devotion her father and Chamberlain held for organized religion.”  [5]

Chamberlain debated attending West Point after graduation, a path that his classmate Oliver O. Howard took. Instead he attended Bangor Theological Seminary and following graduation took up his academic career at Bowdoin. It was during this time that he met, fell in love with, pursued, courted and finally married Frances Caroline Adams, who played the organ at the local Congregational Church that he attended. Known by most as “Fannie,” she was the adopted daughter of the eminent Congregationalist minister, Dr. George Adams who served as pastor. Fannie had a strong independent streak and was as an accomplished musician and artist.

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The couple was an interesting match. Chamberlain was impressed by Fannie’s “artistic gifts. Fannie had talent not only in music but in poetry and, especially; art…” [6] but he ignored potential areas of conflict that would create difficulties throughout their marriage. However, Fannie was beset by numerous fears, as well as a desire not to be dominated by any man. Chamberlain pursued her with abandon but for a time she resisted, until her widowed father married a woman not much older than herself. She desired to pursue the study of music and went away to New York to do so, but in 1852 she decided that she was in love with him. “Yet she harbored doubts about her ability to return his feelings for her measure for measure.” [7]

Fannie suffered from depression and a constant worry about her eyesight which began failing her and an early age. It was a malady that eventually left her completely blind by then turn of the century. Compounding her struggles was that fact that her new husband struggled with his own doubts and depression, a depression that only seamed to lift during the war years.

“During most of his life, Chamberlain struggled with bouts of deep depression and melancholy. But not during the war years. It was as if the war and soldiering had made a new man out of him.” [8]

Chamberlain was offered command of the 20th Maine but asked Governor Washburn that he was appointed as a Lieutenant Colonel, which he was in August 1862. He fought with the regiment at Fredericksburg and was named commander of it when Colonel Adelbert Ames, his commander was transferred to preform staff duties prior to obtaining a brigade command in Oliver Howard’s XI Corps following the debacle at Chancellorsville.

Chamberlain at his heart, through his association with abolitionists and other prior to the war was a staunch Unionist. Before going into the army he wrote:

“We have this war upon is & we want to stop it. It has cost us already too much precious blood. It has carried stagnation, starvation & grief in to too many villages of our fair land – brought death to too many noble hearts that we could ill afford to lose. But the only way to stop this war, is first to show that we are strongest…I feel that we are fighting for our country – for our flag- not as so many Stars and Stripes, but as the emblem of a good &  powerful nation – fighting to settle the question whether we are a nation or a basket of chips. Whether we shall leave our children the country we have inherited – or leave them without a country – without a name – without a citizenship among the great nations of the earth – take the chief city of the rebels. They will have no respect for us unless we whip them & and I say it in all earnestness….” [9]

Like Vincent, Chamberlain was also a quick student or military science and rapidly adapted to being a soldier, officer and commander of troops in combat. He spent as much time studying the art of war under the supervision of Colonel Ames including Henri Jomini’s Art of War which he wrote to Fannie “The Col. & I are going to read it. He to instruct me, as he is kindly doing everything now.” [10] He excelled at his studies under Ames, but since most of the manuals that he studied were based on Napoleonic tactics and had not incorporated the changes brought about by the rifled musket, Chamberlain like so many others would have to learn the lesson of war the hard way.

Chamberlain was with the regiment at Antietam, but it saw no action.  He was in the thick of the fighting at Fredericksburg and Burnside’s subsequent “Mud March” which were both disastrous for the army.

He took command of the regiment in late April after Ames left on detached duty before assuming a brigade command. As the new commander of the regiment, Chamberlain and the 20th Maine missed the Battle of Chancellorsville as the regiment had been quarantined due to an epidemic of smallpox, which they had probably received from “poorly prepared serum with which the regiment was vaccinated” [11] in April.

From the regiment’s quarantined location Chamberlain and his men could hear the sound of battle. One of his soldiers wrote “We could hear the firing plain but there we lay in glorious idleness without being able to lift a finger or fire a gun.” [12] In frustration Chamberlain rode to Major General Joseph Hooker’s headquarters and asked Hooker’s Chief of Staff Dan Butterfield for the chance to enter the fight. Refused the chance Chamberlain told Butterfield “If we couldn’t do anything else we would give the rebels the smallpox!” [13] The regiment spent the battle guarding a telegraph line must to Chamberlain and his soldier’s disgust.

On the march up to Gettysburg, Chamberlain was ordered to take a number of veterans of the 2nd Maine who had signed three year, rather than two year enlistment contracts and were angry at remaining in the army when the regiment was mustered out. The men were angry and Chamberlain was given permission by Meade to fire on them “if they refused to do duty. The new colonel realized he had a crisis on his hands.” [14] The soldiers were bitter but Chamberlain treated them graciously and “almost all of them agreed to take up their muskets again the service of the 20th Maine.” [15] Chamberlain later remarked of how these men “we’re afterward among my best men, worthy of the proud fame of the 2nd, and the hard earned laurels of the 20th.” [16]

On receiving his orders from Vincent, Chamberlain deployed his small regiment halfway down the southern slope facing the small valley between Little Round Top and Big Round Top. By the time he arrived at Gettysburg he had become “a great infantry officer, and among his valuable qualities was [understanding] where an attack would come….” [17]

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Since Chamberlain’s account is so important I will forgo a discussion of his tactics and instead quote the sections of his after action report that explains his actions. Chamberlain wrote:

“On reaching the field at about 4 p.m. July 2d, Col. Vincent commanding the Brigade, placing me on the left of the Brigade and consequently on the extreme left of our entire line of battle, instructed me that the enemy were expected shortly to make a desperate attempt to turn our left flank, and that the position assigned to me must be held at every hazard.

I established my line on the crest of a small spur of a rocky and wooded hill, and sent out at once a company of skirmishers on my left to guard against surprise on that unprotected flank.

These dispositions were scarcely made when the attack commenced, and the right of the Regt. found itself at once hotly engaged. Almost at the same moment, from a high rock which gave me a full view of the enemy, I perceived a heavy force in rear of their principal line, moving rapidly but stealthily toward our left, with the intention, as I judged, of gaining our rear unperceived. Without betraying our peril to any but one or two officers, I had the right wing move by the left flank, taking intervals of a pace or two, according to the shelter afforded by rocks or trees, extending so as to cover the whole front then engaged; and at the same time moved the left wing to the left and rear, making a large angle at the color, which was now brought to the front where our left had first rested.

This hazardous maneuvre [sic] was so admirably executed by my men that our fire was not materially slackened in front, and the enemy gained no advantage there, while the left wing in the meantime had formed a solid and steady line in a direction to meet the expected assault. We were not a moment too soon; for the enemy having gained their desired point of attack came to a front, and rushed forward with an impetuosity which showed their sanguine expectations.

Their astonishment however was evident, when emerging from their cover, they met instead of an unsuspecting flank, a firm and ready front. A strong fire opened at once from both sides, and with great effect, the enemy still advancing until they came within ten paces of our line, where our steady and telling volleys brought them to a stand. From that moment began a struggle fierce and bloody beyond any that I have witnessed, and which lasted in all its fury, a full hour. The two lines met, and broke and mingled in the shock. At times I saw around me more of the enemy than of my own men. The edge of conflict swayed to and fro -now one and now the other party holding the contested ground. Three times our line was forced back, but only to rally and repulse the enemy. As often as the enemy’s line was broken and routed, a new line was unmasked, which advanced with fresh vigor. Our “sixty rounds” were rapidly reduced; I sent several messengers to the rear for ammunition, and also for reinforcements. In the mean time we seized the opportunity of a momentary lull to gather ammunition and more serviceable arms, from the dead and dying on the field. With these we met the enemy’s last and fiercest assault. Their own rifles and their own bullets were turned against them. In the midst of this struggle, our ammunition utterly failed. The enemy were close upon us with a fresh line, pouring on us a terrible fire. Half the left wing already lay on the field. Although I had brought two companies from the right to its support, it was now scarcely more than a skirmish line. The heroic energy of my officers could avail no more. Our gallant line withered and shrunk before the fire it could not repel. It was too evident that we could maintain the defensive no longer. As a last desperate resort, I ordered a charge. The word “fix bayonets” flew from man to man. The click of the steel seemed to give new zeal to all. The men dashed forward with a shout. The two wings came into one line again, and extending to the left, and at the same time wheeling to the right, the whole Regiment described nearly a half circle, the left passing over the space of half a mile, while the right kept within the support of the 83d Penna. thus leaving no chance of escape to the enemy except to climb the steep side of the mountain or to pass by the whole front of the 83d Penna. The enemy’s first line scarcely tried to run-they stood amazed, threw down their loaded arms and surrendered in whole companies. Those in their rear had more time and gave us more trouble. My skirmishing company threw itself upon the enemy’s flank behind a stone wall, and their effective fire added to the enemy’s confusion. In this charge we captured three hundred and sixty eight prisoners, many of them officers, and took three hundred stand of arms. The prisoners were from four different regiments, and admitted that they had attacked with a Brigade.”[18]

Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama gave Chamberlain and his regiment the credit for stopping his attack. Oates wrote: “There have never been harder fighters than the Twentieth Maine and their gallant Colonel. His skill and persistency and the great bravery of his men saved Little Round Top and the Army of the Potomac from defeat.” [19]

As with any firsthand account, aspects of Chamberlain’s accounts are contested by others at the scene. But in another way Chamberlain’s accounts of battle have to be carefully examined, because they often reflect his romanticism, and because he was not always a realist. Unlike others in his command like Major Ellis Spear, who played such an important role on Little Round Top that day, a realist who “saw things plainly and remembered them clearly, in stark, unadorned hues. Joshua Chamberlain was a romanticist; even when describing the horrors of bloodbath his prose could be colorful, lyrical, even poetic.” [20]

There are accounts that differ from Chamberlain’s; Oates wrote that he ordered the retreat and that there were not as many prisoners taken as Chamberlain states. Likewise, one of Chamberlain’s company commanders disputed the account of the Chamberlain’s order of the bayonet charge. But even these accounts take nothing away from what Chamberlain accomplished that day. The fact is that Chamberlain’s regiment was outnumbered nearly two to one by the 4th 15th and 47th Alabama regiments. Chamberlain “offset this superiority with strength of position, iron determination and better tactics.”[21]

While the actions of Chamberlain, Vincent, Warren and others on the Union side, another factor was at play. This was the fatigue of the Confederate soldiers. The regiments attacking Little Round Top and their parent unit, Law’s brigade of Hood’s division, had conducted a grueling 28 mile march to get to the battlefield. By the time that they arrived and made their assault, most soldiers were exhausted and dehydrated. This was something that their commander, Colonel Oates believed was an important factor in what happened. While Oates gives tremendous credit to Chamberlain and the 20th Maine he wrote that the fatigue and dehydration of his soldiers “contributed largely to our failure at Little Round Top.” [22]

Vincent was mortally wounded while leading the defense of the hill. As the men of Robertson’s Texas brigade rushed the hill and threatened to crack “the stout 16th Michigan defense…” [23] Vincent rushed to bolster the defenders. He was standing on a large boulder with a riding crop as the men of the 16th Michigan were beginning to waiver. Fully exposed to enemy fire he attempted to drive the retreating men back into the fight. Brandishing the riding which he cried out: “Don’t yield an inch now men or all is lost,” [24] and moments later was struck by a “minié ball which passed through his left groin and lodged in his left thigh. He fell to the ground and as he was being carried from the field, “This is the fourth or fifth time they have shot at me…and they have hit me at last.” [25]

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.52

[2] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top pp.44-45

[3] ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.52

[4] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence Letter From Joshua L. Chamberlain to Governor [Israel] Washburn, Brunswick, July 14, 1862 retrieved from Bowdoin College, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Documents http://learn.bowdoin.edu/joshua-lawrence-chamberlain/documents/1862-07-14.html 8 November 2014

[5] Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man Combined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 p.39

[6] Ibid. Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.28

[7] Ibid. Longacre  Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.30

[8] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.45

[9] Smith, Diane Monroe Fanny and Joshua: The Enigmatic Lives of France’s Caroline Adams and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Thomas Publications, Gettysburg PA 1999 p.120

[10] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.80

[11] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.66

[12] Ibid. Golay, To Gettysburg and Beyond p.132

[13] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.66

[14] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.116

[15] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.45

[16] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.117

[17] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.94

[18] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. Official Narrative of Joshua Chamberlain of July 6th 1863, Maine Military Historical Society, Inc., Augusta, Maine, copyright 1989 U.S. Army Combat Studies Institute Reprint, retrieved from http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/cgsc/carl/download/csipubs/chamberlain.pdf June 15th 2014

[19] Oates, William C. and Haskell, Frank A. Gettysburg Bantam Books edition, New York 1992, originally published in 1905 p.98

[20] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.94

[21] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.393

[22] Ibid. Oates and Haskell Gettysburg p.87

[23] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.95

[24] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.272

[25] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.361

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Tragic Heroes of Little Round Top

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As I mentioned I am going to be publishIng some of my revised sections of my Gettysburg text this week. I am focusing some of the men who fought at Little Round Top on July 2nd 1863, as well as their families.

I hope that you find this thought provoking when you consider the sacrifice made by these Union men who were either killed or wounded in order to both maintain the Union and to set others free, as well as the cost born by their families. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

chamberlain lrt

Iconic yet Incomplete: Chamberlain at Little Round Top (Mort Kunstler)

July 2nd 1863 was to be a pivotal day in the history of the United States, a day of valor, courage and carnage; a day where nearly 20,000 Americans were killed, wounded or missing fighting fellow Americans. It was a day where the fate of the Union and the Confederacy were in the balance. On the afternoon of that day, three volunteers rose to the challenge.

However, when we tell the story of Gettysburg or for that matter any other battle we often neglect the human costs endured by the soldiers as well as their families off the battlefield. In fact, what we know of the heroes of these battles is of their battlefield heroism as well other military or governmental service. The pictures we have of them are often the polished versions of their heroics, sometimes bordering on hagiography, criticism, if any is leveled at all, is confined to battlefield decisions or campaign plans. We mythologize them, we turn them into idols, icons and somehow, even as important and inspiring as the myths may be, we ignore their basic humanity. When we do this we often miss the more important things about their lives; those things that make them much more real, much more human, much more like us.

Sadly, the unvarnished accounts of then lives of heroes often only show up in biographies, and are seldom mentioned in the more popular accounts of battles. But the pain and suffering that these men and their families endured during and after war is sadly neglected, much to the detriment of those who idolize them.

Yes, there were many more heroes on Little Round Top that day; far too many to be covered in depth in any one work. However, these three Colonels, Strong Vincent, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Patrick “Paddy” O’Rorke along with Brigadier General Gouverneur Warren were instrumental in securing the Union victory. They were all unlikely heroes. Of these men only O’Rorke was a professional soldier, albeit a very young one, but all took to soldiering and leading soldiers as if it were second nature. They were men who along with others “who stepped out of themselves for a moment and turned a corner at some inexpressibly right instant.” [1]

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Colonel Strong Vincent

Colonel Strong Vincent was a 26 year old Harvard graduate and lawyer from Erie Pennsylvania. He was born in Waterford and attended school in Erie. Growing up, he worked in his father’s iron foundry, where the work helped make him a man of great physical strength. He studied at Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut and transferred to Harvard. There are various explanations for why he left Trinity, but the most interesting and probably the most credible is that during his sophomore year which was recorded by Trinity alumnus Charles F. Johnson who wrote that:

“He went calling on Miss Elizabeth Carter, a teacher at Miss Porter’s school in Farmington, ten miles west of Hartford. At some point a guard or watchman voiced a comment that impinged the lady’s virtue, and, as Johnson so aptly phrases it, Vincent “responded to the affront with the same gallantry and vigor that he was to display in the Civil War.” McCook’s account indicated that the man was repeatedly pummeled, which effectively rendered him unconscious.” [2]

Long after the war Dr. Edward Gallaudet, the president of Trinity responded to an enquiry of the circumstances leading to Vincent’s early departure from Trinity. Gallaudet responded to the request in a terse manner:

“Replying to yours of yesterday, I must say that I do not think it would be wise to make public the story I told of Strong Vincent’s escapade at Farmington & its consequences. Certainly not in the lifetime of Mrs. Vincent.” [3]

Evidently the incident resulted in Vincent leaving Trinity and the next year he entered Harvard. Vincent graduated from Harvard in 1859, ranking 51st in a class of 92. However, he was not an outstanding student and “earned admonishments on his record for missing chapel and smoking in Harvard Yard.” [4]

Returning home he studied law with a prominent lawyer and within two years had passed the bar, and he was well respected in the community. When war came and the call went out for volunteers, Vincent enlisted in a 30 Day regiment, the Wayne Guards as a private and then was appointed as a 1st Lieutenant and Adjutant of the regiment because of his academic and administrative acumen.

He married Elizabeth, the same woman whose virtue he had defended at Trinity that day. Vincent like many young northerners believed in the cause of the Union undivided, and he wrote his wife shortly after the regiment went to war on the Peninsula:

“Surely the right will prevail. If I live we will rejoice in our country’s success. If I fall, remember you have given your husband to the most righteous cause that ever widowed a woman.” [5]

When the Wayne Guards were disbanded at the end of their enlistment, Vincent helped to raise the 83rd Pennsylvania and was commissioned as a Lieutenant Colonel in it on September 14th 1861. The young officer learned his trade well and was considered a “strict disciplinarian and master of drill.” [6] That being said one enlisted man remarked that “no officer in the army was more thoughtful and considerate of the health and comfort of his men.” [7] Vincent assumed command of the regiment when the commander was killed during the Seven Days in June of 1862 where he learned lessons that he would help impart to his fellow officers as well as subordinates, including Chamberlain. At Fredericksburg any doubters about the young officer’s courage and leadership ability were converted where they observed his poise “with sword in hand” he “stood erect in full view of the enemy’s artillery, and though the shot fell fast on all sides, he never wavered or once changed his position.” [8]

By the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, the 26 year old Vincent was the youngest brigade commander in the army. He was noted for his intelligence, leadership, military acumen and maturity. One friend wrote “As a general thing his companions were older than himself….Among his associates were men of the highest rank. He could adapt himself to all, could talk with the politician on questions of history, with a general officer on military evolutions, or with a sporting man on the relative merits of horses,-and all respected his opinion.” [9]

His promotion was well earned, following a bout with a combination of Malaria and Typhoid, the “Chickahominy Fever” which almost killed him; Vincent took command of the regiment after its commander was killed at Gaines Mill. He commanded the regiment at Fredericksburg and was promoted to command the 3rd Brigade after the Battle of Chancellorsville following the resignation of its commander, Colonel T.W.B. Stockton on May 18th 1863.

Vincent was offered the chance to serve as the Judge Advocate General of the Army of the Potomac by Joseph Hooker in the spring of 1863 after spending three months on court-martial duty. But Vincent refused the offer in so that he might remain in the fight commanding troops. [10] He told his friends “I enlisted to fight.” [11]

Vincent, like Chamberlain who admired him greatly had “become a kind of model of the citizen soldier.” [12] As a result of his experience in battle and the tenacity of the Confederate army he became an advocate of the tactics that William Tecumseh Sherman would later employ during his march to the sea in 1864. He wrote his wife before Chancellorsville:

“We must fight them more vindictively, or we shall be foiled at every step.  We must desolate the country as we pass through it, and not leave a trace of a doubtful friend or foe behind us; make them believe that we are in earnest, terribly in earnest; that to break this band in twain is monstrous and impossible; that the life of every man, yea, of every weak woman or child in the entire South, is of no value whatever compared with the integrity of the Union.” [13]

Unlike most other brigade commanders, Vincent was still a Colonel, and he, like many others would in his place hoping for a General’s star. He remarked that his move to save Sickles’ command “will either bring me my stars, or finish my career as a soldier.” [14] On July first, Vincent, a native Pennsylvanian came to Hanover and learning that battle had been joined, ordered “the pipes and drums of the 83rd Pennsylvania to play his brigade through the town and ordered the regiments to uncover their flags again….” [15] As the brigade marched through the town, Vincent “reverently bared his head” and announced to his adjutant, “What death more glorious can any man desire than to die on the soil of old Pennsylvania fighting for that flag?” [16]

Vincent was known for his personal courage and a soldier of the 83rd Pennsylvania observed: “Vincent had a particular penchant for being in the lead….Whenever or wherever his brigade might be in a position to get ahead…, he was sure to be ahead.” [17] That courage and acumen to be in the right place at the right time was in evidence when he led his brigade into battle on that fateful July second.

On July 2nd Barnes’ division of V Corps, which Vincent’s brigade was a part was being deployed to the threat posed by the Confederate attack of McLaws’ division on the Peach Orchard and the Wheat Field to reinforce Sickles’ III Corps. While that division marched toward the Peach Orchard, Vincent’s 3rd Brigade was the trail unit. When Gouverneur Warren’s aide, Lieutenant Randall Mackenzie [18] came toward the unit in search of Barnes, he came across Vincent and his brigade near the George Weikert house on Cemetery Ridge awaiting further orders. [19]

Vincent intercepted him and demanded what his orders were. Upon being told that Sykes’ orders to Barnes were to “send one of his brigades to occupy that hill yonder,” [20] Vincent defied normal protocol assuming that Barnes had hit the bottle and was drunk [21] and told Mackenzie “I will take responsibility of taking my brigade there.” [22] Vincent immediately went into action and ordered Colonel James Rice, his friend and the commander of the 44th New York “to bring the brigade to the hill as quickly as possible,” and then turned on his horse and galloped off toward Little Round Top.” [23]

It was a fortunate thing for the Union that he did. His quick action to get his brigade, clear orders to his subordinate commanders and skilled analysis of the ground were a decisive factor in the Union forces holding Little Round Top. After ordering Colonel Rice to lead the brigade up to the hill, he and his aide went forward to scout positions accompanied by the brigade standards. Rice brought the brigade forward at the double quick “across the field to the road leading up the north shoulder of the hill” with Chamberlain’s 20th Maine in the lead. [24]

Vincent and his orderly made a reconnaissance of the south and east slope of the hill which adjoined a small valley and a rocky outcrop called Devil’s Den, which was occupied by the 124th New York and which was the end of Sickles’ line. Near the summit of the southern aspect of the hill, they came under Confederate artillery fire and told his orderly “They are firing at the flag, go behind the rocks with it.” [25]

Vincent dismounted, leaving his sword secured on his horse, carrying only his riding crop. He continued and “with the skill and precision of a professional had reconnoitered and decided how to best place his slim brigade of 1350 muskets.” [26] He chose a position along a spur of the hill, which now bears his name, running from the northwest to the southeast to place his regiments where they could intercept the Confederate troops of Hood’s division which he could see advancing toward the hill.

What Vincent saw when he arrived was a scene of disaster. Confederate troops had overwhelmed the 124th New York and were moving on Little Round Top, “Devil’s Den was a smoking crater,” and the ravine which separated Devil’s Den from Little Round Top “was a whirling maelstrom.” [27] Seeing the threat Vincent began to deploy his brigade but also sent at messenger back to Barnes telling him “Go tell General Barnes to send reinforcements at once, the enemy are coming against us with an overwhelming force” [28]

The 16th Michigan, the smallest regiment in his brigade with barely 150 soldiers in line [29] was placed on the right flank of the brigade. As it moved forward, its adjutant, Rufus W. Jacklin’s horse was hit by a cannon ball which decapitated that unfortunate animal and left it “a mass of quivering flesh.” [30] A fierce Confederate artillery barrage fell among the advancing Union troops and splintered trees, causing some concern among the soldiers. The 20th Maine’s Chaplain, Luther French, saw the “beheading of Jacklin’s horse and ran to Captain Atherton W. Clark, commanding the 20th’s Company E, babbling about what he had seen. Clark interrupted French abruptly and shouted: “For Christ sake Chaplain, if you have any business attend to it.” [31]

That section of the line was located on massive boulders that placed it high above the valley below, making it nearly impregnable to frontal attack. On the summit Vincent deployed the 83rd Pennsylvania and 44th New York to their left at the request of Rice who told him “In every battle that we have engaged the Eighty-third and Forty-fourth have fought side by side. I wish that it might be so today.” [32] The story is probably apocryphal but the regiments remained side by side with the 16th Michigan on the right and the 20th Maine on the left. The two regiments were deployed below the crest among the large number of boulders; the 83rd was about two-thirds of the way down the way down the slope where it joined the right of the 44th, whose line angled back up the slope to the southeast. A historian of the 83rd Pennsylvania noted that “Each rock”… “was a fortress behind which the soldier[s] instantly took shelter.” [33] The soldiers were determined to do their duty as they now were fighting on home ground.

Vincent deployed the 20th Maine on his extreme left of his line, and in fact the extreme end of the Union line. Vincent knew that if this flank was turned and Chamberlain overrun that it would imperil the entire Union position. Vincent came up to Chamberlain who remembered that Vincent said “in an awed, faraway voice: “I place you here….This is the left of the Union line. You understand. You are to hold this ground at all costs.” [34] Chamberlain acknowledged his understanding of the order and since the regiment lacked field grade officers, Chamberlain “assigned Captain Atherton Clark of company E to command the right wing, and acting Major Ellis Spear the left.” [35]

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Colonel Joshua Chamberlain following his Promotion to Brigadier General

While Colonel Joshua Chamberlain’s story is much better known than his brigade commander, Strong Vincent, he was another of the citizen soldiers whose performance and leadership on Little Round Top saved the Union line that hot July evening. Chamberlain was a graduate of Bowdoin College and Bangor Theological Seminary. Fluent in nine languages other than English, he remained at Bowdoin as Professor of Rhetoric and was deeply unhappy at missing the war even as his students left and were commissioned as officers in newly raised regiments.

In June of 1862 Chamberlain wrote to Governor Israel Washburn requesting an appointment in a newly raised Maine Regiment without consulting either the college or his wife Fannie, who was “shocked, hurt, and alarmed by the decision he had made without consulting her…She remonstrated, she raised her voice, and quite possibly wept over the injustice he had done to both by this unilateral act that threatened to send their world careening in all directions.” [36]

As far as Bowdoin went, Chamberlain actually deceived the college by requesting a “scholarly sabbatical when in fact he had applied to the governor of Maine in the new 20th Maine Infantry in the late summer of 1862.” [37] When the faculty of Bowdoin found out of Chamberlain’s action many of them “were livid over what they considered his duplicity, and some shunned him during the brief period that he remained in Brunswick before reporting to training camp. [38]

The letter that Chamberlain wrote to Governor Israel Washburn details Chamberlain’s desire to serve and in some ways shows his considerable political skill in presenting his case to join the army:

“For seven years past I have been Professor in Bowdoin College. I have always been interested in military matters, and what I do not know in that line I know how to learn.

Having been lately elected to a new department here, I am expecting to have leave, at the approaching Commencement, to spend a year or more in Europe, in the service of the College. I am entirely unwilling, however, to accept this offer, if my Country needs my service or example here.

Your Excellency presides over the Educational as well as the military affairs of our State, and, I am well aware, appreciates the importance of sustaining our Institutions of Learning. You will therefore be able to decide where my influence is most needed.

But, I fear, this war, so costly of blood and treasure, will not cease until the men of the North are willing to leave good positions, and sacrifice the dearest personal interests, to rescue our Country from Desolation, and defend the National Existence against treachery at home and jeopardy abroad. This war must be ended, with a swift and strong hand; and every man ought to come forward and ask to be placed at his proper post.

Nearly a hundred of those who have been my pupils, are now officers in our army; but there are many more all over our State, who, I believe, would respond with enthusiasm, if summoned by me, and who would bring forward men enough to fill up a Regiment at once. I can not free myself from my obligations here until the first week in August, but I do not want to be the last in the field, if it can possibly be helped.” [39]

Chamberlain’s pre-war experiences gave no indication that he would emerge as a military hero. His father, a veteran of the War of 1812 had named him after Captain James Lawrence, the commanding officer of the frigate USS Chesapeake in the War of 1812 who uttered the famous words “Don’t give up the ship” as he lay mortally wounded when that ship was defeated by the HMS Shannon off Boston Harbor in 1813. However, Chamberlain’s mother added the name Joshua as his first name in the town’s books. While his father hoped that the young Chamberlain would pursue a military career, his mother earnestly desired that he would pursue a ministerial career. Chamberlain did become a licensed minister but had no desire to become a pastor, and was never ordained. This was reinforced by Fannie, who though the daughter of a minister was “too much a free thinker” and “did not share the devotion her father and Chamberlain held for organized religion.” [40]

Chamberlain debated attending West Point after graduation, a path that his classmate Oliver O. Howard took. Instead he attended Bangor Theological Seminary and following graduation took up his academic career at Bowdoin. It was during this time that he met, fell in love with, pursued, courted and finally married Frances Caroline Adams, who played the organ at the local Congregational Church that he attended. Known by most as “Fannie,” she was the adopted daughter of the eminent Congregationalist minister, Dr. George Adams who served as pastor. Fannie had a strong independent streak and was as an accomplished musician and artist.

The couple was an interesting match. Chamberlain was impressed by Fannie’s “artistic gifts. Fannie had talent not only in music but in poetry and, especially; art…” [41] but he ignored potential areas of conflict that would create difficulties throughout their marriage. However, Fannie was beset by numerous fears, as well as a desire not to be dominated by any man. Chamberlain pursued her with abandon but for a time she resisted, until her widowed father married a woman not much older than herself. She desired to pursue the study of music and went away to New York to do so, but in 1852 she decided that she was in love with him. “Yet she harbored doubts about her ability to return his feelings for her measure for measure.” [42]

Fannie suffered from depression and a constant worry about her eyesight which began failing her and an early age. It was a malady that eventually left her completely blind by then turn of the century. Compounding her struggles was that fact that her new husband struggled with his own doubts and depression, a depression that only seamed to lift during the war years.

“During most of his life, Chamberlain struggled with bouts of deep depression and melancholy. But not during the war years. It was as if the war and soldiering had made a new man out of him.” [43]

Chamberlain was offered command of the 20th Maine but asked Governor Washburn that he was appointed as a Lieutenant Colonel, which he was in August 1862. He fought with the regiment at Fredericksburg and was named commander of it when Colonel Adelbert Ames, his commander was transferred to preform staff duties prior to obtaining a brigade command in Oliver Howard’s XI Corps following the debacle at Chancellorsville.

Chamberlain at his heart, through his association with abolitionists and other prior to the war was a staunch Unionist. Before going into the army he wrote:

“We have this war upon is & we want to stop it. It has cost us already too much precious blood. It has carried stagnation, starvation & grief in to too many villages of our fair land – brought death to too many noble hearts that we could ill afford to lose. But the only way to stop this war, is first to show that we are strongest…I feel that we are fighting for our country – for our flag- not as so many Stars and Stripes, but as the emblem of a good & powerful nation – fighting to settle the question whether we are a nation or a basket of chips. Whether we shall leave our children the country we have inherited – or leave them without a country – without a name – without a citizenship among the great nations of the earth – take the chief city of the rebels. They will have no respect for us unless we whip them & and I say it in all earnestness….” [44]

Like Vincent, Chamberlain was also a quick student or military science and rapidly adapted to being a soldier, officer and commander of troops in combat. He spent as much time studying the art of war under the supervision of Colonel Ames including Henri Jomini’s Art of War which he wrote to Fannie “The Col. & I are going to read it. He to instruct me, as he is kindly doing everything now.” [45] He excelled at his studies under Ames, but since most of the manuals that he studied were based on Napoleonic tactics and had not incorporated the changes brought about by the rifled musket, Chamberlain like so many others would have to learn the lesson of war the hard way.

Chamberlain was with the regiment at Antietam, but it saw no action. He was in the thick of the fighting at Fredericksburg and Burnside’s subsequent “Mud March” which were both disastrous for the army.

He took command of the regiment in late April after Ames left on detached duty before assuming a brigade command. As the new commander of the regiment, Chamberlain and the 20th Maine missed the Battle of Chancellorsville as the regiment had been quarantined due to an epidemic of smallpox, which they had probably received from “poorly prepared serum with which the regiment was vaccinated” [46] in April.

From the regiment’s quarantined location Chamberlain and his men could hear the sound of battle. One of his soldiers wrote “We could hear the firing plain but there we lay in glorious idleness without being able to lift a finger or fire a gun.” [47] In frustration Chamberlain rode to Major General Joseph Hooker’s headquarters and asked Hooker’s Chief of Staff Dan Butterfield for the chance to enter the fight. Refused the chance Chamberlain told Butterfield “If we couldn’t do anything else we would give the rebels the smallpox!” [48] The regiment spent the battle guarding a telegraph line must to Chamberlain and his soldier’s disgust.

On the march up to Gettysburg, Chamberlain was ordered to take a number of veterans of the 2nd Maine who had signed three year, rather than two year enlistment contracts and were angry at remaining in the army when the regiment was mustered out. The men were angry and Chamberlain was given permission by Meade to fire on them “if they refused to do duty. The new colonel realized he had a crisis on his hands.” [49] The soldiers were bitter but Chamberlain treated them graciously and “almost all of them agreed to take up their muskets again the service of the 20th Maine.” [50] Chamberlain later remarked of how these men “we’re afterward among my best men, worthy of the proud fame of the 2nd, and the hard earned laurels of the 20th.” [51]

On receiving his orders from Vincent, Chamberlain deployed his small regiment halfway down the southern slope facing the small valley between Little Round Top and Big Round Top. By the time he arrived at Gettysburg he had become “a great infantry officer, and among his valuable qualities was [understanding] where an attack would come….” [52]

Since Chamberlain’s account is so important I will forgo a discussion of his tactics and instead quote the sections of his after action report that explains his actions. Chamberlain wrote:

“On reaching the field at about 4 p.m. July 2d, Col. Vincent commanding the Brigade, placing me on the left of the Brigade and consequently on the extreme left of our entire line of battle, instructed me that the enemy were expected shortly to make a desperate attempt to turn our left flank, and that the position assigned to me must be held at every hazard.

I established my line on the crest of a small spur of a rocky and wooded hill, and sent out at once a company of skirmishers on my left to guard against surprise on that unprotected flank.

These dispositions were scarcely made when the attack commenced, and the right of the Regt. found itself at once hotly engaged. Almost at the same moment, from a high rock which gave me a full view of the enemy, I perceived a heavy force in rear of their principal line, moving rapidly but stealthily toward our left, with the intention, as I judged, of gaining our rear unperceived. Without betraying our peril to any but one or two officers, I had the right wing move by the left flank, taking intervals of a pace or two, according to the shelter afforded by rocks or trees, extending so as to cover the whole front then engaged; and at the same time moved the left wing to the left and rear, making a large angle at the color, which was now brought to the front where our left had first rested.

This hazardous maneuvre [sic] was so admirably executed by my men that our fire was not materially slackened in front, and the enemy gained no advantage there, while the left wing in the meantime had formed a solid and steady line in a direction to meet the expected assault. We were not a moment too soon; for the enemy having gained their desired point of attack came to a front, and rushed forward with an impetuosity which showed their sanguine expectations.

Their astonishment however was evident, when emerging from their cover, they met instead of an unsuspecting flank, a firm and ready front. A strong fire opened at once from both sides, and with great effect, the enemy still advancing until they came within ten paces of our line, where our steady and telling volleys brought them to a stand. From that moment began a struggle fierce and bloody beyond any that I have witnessed, and which lasted in all its fury, a full hour. The two lines met, and broke and mingled in the shock. At times I saw around me more of the enemy than of my own men. The edge of conflict swayed to and fro -now one and now the other party holding the contested ground. Three times our line was forced back, but only to rally and repulse the enemy. As often as the enemy’s line was broken and routed, a new line was unmasked, which advanced with fresh vigor. Our “sixty rounds” were rapidly reduced; I sent several messengers to the rear for ammunition, and also for reinforcements. In the mean time we seized the opportunity of a momentary lull to gather ammunition and more serviceable arms, from the dead and dying on the field. With these we met the enemy’s last and fiercest assault. Their own rifles and their own bullets were turned against them. In the midst of this struggle, our ammunition utterly failed. The enemy were close upon us with a fresh line, pouring on us a terrible fire. Half the left wing already lay on the field. Although I had brought two companies from the right to its support, it was now scarcely more than a skirmish line. The heroic energy of my officers could avail no more. Our gallant line withered and shrunk before the fire it could not repel. It was too evident that we could maintain the defensive no longer. As a last desperate resort, I ordered a charge. The word “fix bayonets” flew from man to man. The click of the steel seemed to give new zeal to all. The men dashed forward with a shout. The two wings came into one line again, and extending to the left, and at the same time wheeling to the right, the whole Regiment described nearly a half circle, the left passing over the space of half a mile, while the right kept within the support of the 83d Penna. thus leaving no chance of escape to the enemy except to climb the steep side of the mountain or to pass by the whole front of the 83d Penna. The enemy’s first line scarcely tried to run-they stood amazed, threw down their loaded arms and surrendered in whole companies. Those in their rear had more time and gave us more trouble. My skirmishing company threw itself upon the enemy’s flank behind a stone wall, and their effective fire added to the enemy’s confusion. In this charge we captured three hundred and sixty eight prisoners, many of them officers, and took three hundred stand of arms. The prisoners were from four different regiments, and admitted that they had attacked with a Brigade.” [53]

Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama gave Chamberlain and his regiment the credit for stopping his attack. Oates wrote: “There have never been harder fighters than the Twentieth Maine and their gallant Colonel. His skill and persistency and the great bravery of his men saved Little Round Top and the Army of the Potomac from defeat.” [54]

As with any firsthand account, aspects of Chamberlain’s accounts are contested by others at the scene. But in another way Chamberlain’s accounts of battle have to be carefully examined, because they often reflect his romanticism, because he was not always a realist. Unlike Major Ellis Spear who played such an important role on the hill that day, a realist who “saw things plainly and remembered them clearly, in stark, unadorned hues. Joshua Chamberlain was a romanticist; even when describing the horrors of bloodbath his prose could be colorful, lyrical, even poetic.” [55]

Oates wrote that he ordered the retreat and that there were not as many prisoners taken. One of Chamberlain’s company commanders disputes the account of the order of the bayonet charge, however the fact is that Chamberlain, who was outnumbered nearly two to one by the 4th 15th and 47th Alabama regiments “offset this superiority with strength of position, iron determination and better tactics.” [56]Also a factor was the fatigue of the Confederates, these regiments and their parent unit, Law’s brigade of Hood’s division, which had conducted a grueling 28 mile march to get to the battlefield and were exhausted and dehydrated by the time that they arrived, something that their commander, Colonel Oates believed “contributed largely to our failure at Little Round Top.” [57]

Vincent was mortally wounded while leading the defense of the hill. As the men of Robertson’s Texas brigade rushed the hill and threatened to crack “the stout 16th Michigan defense…” [58] Vincent rushed to bolster the defenders. He was standing on a large boulder with a riding crop as the men of the 16th Michigan were beginning to waiver. Fully exposed to enemy fire he attempted to drive the retreating men back into the fight. Brandishing the riding which he cried out: “Don’t yield an inch now men or all is lost,” [59] and moments later was struck by a “minié ball which passed through his left groin and lodged in his left thigh. He fell to the ground and as he was being carried from the field, “This is the fourth or fifth time they have shot at me…and they have hit me at last.” [60]

o'rorke

Colonel Patrick “Paddy” O’Rorke

To Vincent’s right another hero emerged, Colonel Patrick “Paddy” O’Rorke; the young 27 year old Colonel of the 140th New York. O’Rorke was born in County Cavan, Ireland in 1836. His family immigrated to the United States, settling in Rochester, New York during the great wave of Irish immigration between 1838 and 1844. There the young O’Rorke worked hard to overcome the societal prejudices against Irish Catholics. After he completed his secondary education, he worked as a marble cutter before obtaining an appointment to West Point in 1857. He was the only foreign born member of his class at the academy from which he graduated first in his class in 1861. “Aggressive and bold, there was also something that implied gentility and tenderness…Beneath the mettle of a young professional soldier was a romantic heart that could croon a ballad before wielding the sword.” [61] O’Rorke married his childhood, schoolmate, fellow parishioner and childhood sweetheart, Clarissa Wadsworth Bishop, in the summer of 1862 and shortly thereafter accepted a commission as colonel of the 140th New York Infantry.

At Gettysburg, O’Rorke was with Weed’s brigade when Gouverneur Warren found him as he attempted to get any available troops to the summit of Little Round Top. When Warren found O’Rorke, who had been one of his students at West Point, he ordered him to follow him up the hill, saying “Paddy…give me a regiment.” [62] When O’Rorke said that Weed expected him to be following him, Warren took the responsibility telling O’Rorke “Bring them up on the double quick, and don’t stop for aligning. I’ll take responsibility.” [63] O’Rorke followed with his gallant regiment with the rest of the brigade under Weed following behind them.

The 140th New York’s entrance onto the summit of Little Round Top must have been dramatic. Dressed in new Zouave uniforms that they had been issued in early June “the men were “jaunty but tattered” in baggy blue trousers, red jackets, and fezzes.” [64] O’Rorke’s New Yorkers entered the battle to the right of the Vincent’s 16th Michigan, which was being swarmed by the 4th and 5th Texas and 4th Alabama, who thought that victory was at hand. O’Rorke did not even take time to form his men for battle but drew his sword and yelled :“Down this way boys!” [65] His troops responded magnificently slamming into the surprised Texans and Alabamians and “at once the Confederate assault began to dissolve” [66]

O’Rorke’s troops smashed into the surging Rebel ranks, stopping the Confederate assault in its tracks and taking over two-hundred prisoners. As O’Rorke “valiantly led his men into battle, surging down the hill toward the shelf of rock so recently vacated by the right wing of the 16th Michigan, he paused for a moment to cheer his men on and wave them forward. When he did, he was struck in the neck by an enemy bullet….O’Rorke, killed instantly slumped to the ground.” [67] But his regiment “had the initiative now. More and more men piled into a sloppy line, firing as fast as they could reload. Their dramatic appearance breathed renewed life into the other Union regiments on the hill, which now picked up their firing rates.” [68] The gallant young Irish colonel was dead, but he and his regiment had saved Vincent’s right flank. The regiment had suffered fearfully, “with 183 men killed or wounded, but they had managed to throw back the Texans. The adjutant of the 140th estimated that they came within sixty seconds of losing the top of the hill.” [69] O’Rorke’s soldiers were enraged by the death of their beloved colonel and picked out the Confederate who had killed him. One of the soldiers wrote “that was Johnny’s last shot, for a number of Companies A and G fired instantly.” It was said that this particular Johnny was hit, by actual count, seventeen times.” [70] Now led by company commanders the 140th stayed in the fight and solidified and extended the Federal line in conjunction with the rest of Weed’s brigade to their right.

The actions of Chamberlain’s, Vincent’s, and O’Rorke’s soldiers shattered Hood’s division. “Casualties among the Alabamians, Texans, and Georgians approached or exceeded 2,000. In the Texas Brigade commander Robertson had been wounded, three regimental commanders had fallen killed or wounded, and nearly all of the field officers lay on the ground.” [71]

The badly wounded Strong Vincent was taken to a field hospital at the Weikert farm where he lingered for five days before succumbing to his wounds. In the yard lay the body of Paddy O’Rorke whose regiment had saved his brigade’s right flank. Vincent knew that he was dying and he requested that a message be sent to Elizabeth for her to come to Gettysburg. It did not reach her in time. Though he suffered severe pain he bravely tried not to show it. Eventually he became so weak that he could no longer speak. “On July 7, a telegram from President Lincoln, commissioning Vincent a brigadier general, was read to him, but he could not acknowledge whether he understood that the president had promoted him for bravery in the line of duty.” [72] He died later that day and his body was transported home to Erie for burial. Ten weeks after his death his wife gave birth to a baby girl. The baby would not live a year and was buried next to him.

Colonel Rice, who led the 44th New York up the hill and took command of the brigade on Vincent’s death, memorialized his fallen commander in his general order to the brigade on July 12th:

“The colonel commanding hereby announces to the brigade the death of Brig. Gen. Strong Vincent. He died near Gettysburg, Pa., July 7, 1863, from the effects of a wound received on the 2d instant, and within sight of that field which his bravery had so greatly assisted to win. A day hallowed with all the glory of success is thus sombered by the sorrow of our loss. Wreaths of victory give way to chaplets of mourning, hearts exultant to feelings of grief. A soldier, a scholar, a friend, has fallen. For his country, struggling for its life, he willingly gave his own. Grateful for his services, the State which proudly claims him as her own will give him an honored grave and a costly monument, but he ever will remain buried in our hearts, and our love for his memory will outlast the stone which shall bear the inscription of his bravery, his virtues, and his patriotism.

While we deplore his death, and remember with sorrow our loss, let us emulate the example of his fidelity and patriotism, feeling that he lives but in vain who lives not for his God and his country. “[73]

Vincent’s wife Elizabeth never married again and was taken in by the Vincent family. Vincent’s younger brother became an Episcopal Priest and Bishop and later provided a home for her. She became a tireless worker in the church working with charitable work for young women and children. This led to an interest in sacred art and she wrote two books: Mary, the Mother of Jesus and The Madonna in Legend and in Art. She also translated Delitzch’s Behold the Man and A Day in Capernaum from the German. [74] Elizabeth Vincent passed away in April 1914 and was buried beside her husband and daughter.

After the battle, as the army looked to replace the casualties in the ranks of senior leadership and “when Colonel Rice, in charge of 3rd Brigade after Vincent fell, was promoted to brigadier general and given another command” the new division commander Major General Charles Griffin, “insisted on having Chamberlain, for the 3rd Brigade.” [75]

Chamberlain survived the war to great acclaim being wounded three times, once during the siege of Petersburg the wound was so severe that his survival was in doubt and General Ulysses S. Grant promoted him on the spot. It was the only promotion that Grant gave on the field of battle. Grant wrote:

“He had been several times recommended for a brigadier-generalcy for gallant and meritorious conduct. On this occasion, however, I promoted him on the spot, and forwarded a copy of my order to the War Department, asking that my act might be confirmed without any delay. This was done, and at last a gallant and meritorious officer received partial justice at the hands of his government, which he had served so faithfully and so well.” [76]

He recovered from the wound, and was promoted to Major General commanding a division and awarded the Medal of Honor. He received the surrender of John Gordon’s division of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox on April 9th 1865. When he did he ordered his men to present arms in honor of their defeated foe as those haggard soldiers passed his division. It was an act that helped spur a spirit of reconciliation in many of his former Confederate opponents.

Chamberlain’s accolades were certainly earned but others on that hill have been all too often overlooked by most people. This list includes Gouverneur Warren who was humiliated by Phillip Sheridan at Five Forks, Strong Vincent who died on of wounds suffered on Little Round Top and Paddy O’Rorke, the commander of the 140th New York of Weed’s Brigade on Vincent’s right who was mortally wounded that day.

After the war like most citizen soldiers, Chamberlain returned to civilian life, and a marriage that was in crisis in which neither Joshua nor Fannie seemed able to communicate well enough to mend. The troubled couple “celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary on December 7, 1865. He gave her a double banded gold-and-diamond bracelet from Tiffany’s, an extravagant gift that only temporarily relieved the stresses at work just below the surface of their bland marriage. Wartime separation had perhaps damaged it more than Chamberlain knew.” [77]

When he came home Chamberlain was unsettled. Fannie quite obviously hoped that his return would reunite them and bring about “peaceful hours and the sweet communion of uninterrupted days with the husband that had miraculously survived the slaughter” [78] and who had returned home, but it was not to be. Army life had given him a sense of purpose and meaning that he struggled to find in the civilian world. He was haunted by a prediction made by one of his professors. A prediction that “he would return from war “shattered” & “good for nothing,” [79] Chamberlain began to search for something to give his life meaning. He began to write a history of V Corps and give speeches around the northeast, and “these engagements buoyed his spirit, helping him submerge his tribulations and uncertainties in a warm sea of shared experience. [80] In his travels he remained apart from Fannie, who remained with the children, seldom including her in those efforts. She expressed her heart in a letter in early 1866:

“I have no idea when you will go back to Philadelphia, why dont you let me know about things dear?….I think I will be going towards home soon, but I want to hear from you. What are you doing dear? are you writing for your book? and how was it with your lecture in Brunswick- was it the one at Gettysburg? I look at your picture when ever I am in my room, and I am lonely for you. After all, every thing that is beautiful must be enjoyed with one you love, or it is nothing to you. Dear, dear Lawrence write me one of the old letters…hoping to hear from you soon…I am as in the old times gone bye Your Fannie.” [81]

In those events he poured out his heart in ways that seemed impossible for him to do with Fannie. He accounted those wives, parents, sons and daughters at home who had lost those that they loved, not only to death:

“…the worn and wasted and wounded may recover a measure of their strength, or blessed by your cherishing care live neither useless nor unhappy….A lost limb is not like a brother, an empty sleeve is not like an empty home, a scarred breast is not like a broken heart. No, the world may smile again and repair its losses, but who shall give you back again a father? What husband can replace the chosen of your youth? Who shall restore a son? Where will you find a lover like the high hearted boy you shall see no more?” [82]

Chamberlain set his sights on politics, goal that he saw as important in championing the rights of soldiers and their well treatment by a society, but a life that again interrupted his marriage to Fannie and brought frequent separation. Instead of the one term that Fannie expected, Chamberlain ended up serving four consecutive one year terms as Governor of Maine, and was considered for other political offices. Fannie’s “protracted absence from the capital bespoke her attitude toward his political ambitions.” [83]absence from the capital. Eventually Chamberlain returned home and. “For twelve years following his last term as governor, he served as president of Bowdoin College, his alma mater. [84]

He became a champion of national reconciliation admired by friend and former foe alike, but he returned with bitterness towards some in the Union who he did not believe cared for his comrades or their families, especially those who had lost loved ones in the war. While saluting those who had served in the Christian and Sanitary Commissions during the war, praising veterans, soldiers and their families he noted that they were different than:

Those who can see no good in the soldier of the Union who took upon his breast the blow struck at the Nation’s and only look to our antagonists for examples of heroism- those over magnanimous Christians, who are so anxious to love their enemies that they are willing to hate their friends….I have no patience with the prejudice or the perversity that will not accord justice to the men who have fought and fallen on behalf of us all, but must go round by the way of Fort Pillow, Andersonville and Belle Isle to find a chivalry worthy of praise.” [85]

Chamberlain’s post-war life, save for the times that he was able to revisit the scenes of glory and be with his former comrades was marred by deep personal and professional struggles and much suffering. He struggled with the adjustment to civilian life, which for him was profoundly difficult. He “returned to Bowdoin and the college life which he had sworn he would not again endure. Three years of hard campaigning however, had made a career of college teaching seem less undesirable, while his physical condition made a permanent army career impossible.” [86] The adjustment was more than even he could anticipate, and the return to the sleepy college town and monotony of teaching left much to be desired.

fannychamberlain1

Joshua and Fannie Chamberlain (Dale Gallon)

These are not uncommon situations for combat veterans to experience, and Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top who was well acquainted with the carnage of war, suffered immensely. His wounds never fully healed and he was forced to wear what would be considered an early form of a catheter and bag. In 1868 he was awarded a pension of thirty dollars a month for his Petersburg wound which was described as “Bladder very painful and irritable; whole lower part of abdomen tender and sensitive; large urinal fistula at base of penis; suffers constant pain in both hips.” [87] Chamberlain struggled to climb out of “an emotional abyss” in the years after the war. Part was caused by his wounds which included wounds to his sexual organs, shattering his sexuality and caused his marriage to deteriorate.

He wrote to Fannie in 1867 about the “widening gulf between them, one created at least in part by his physical limitations: “There is not much left in me to love. I feel that all too well.” [88] Chamberlain’s inability to readjust to civilian life following the war, and Fanny’s inability to understand what he had gone through during it caused great troubles in their marriage. Chamberlain “felt like hell a lot of the time, morose in mood and racked with pain.” [89] His wounds would require more surgeries, and in “April 1883 he was forced to have extensive surgery on his war wounds, and through the rest of the decade and well into the next he was severely ill on several occasions and close to death once.” [90]

By 1868 the issues were so deep that Fannie threatened him with divorce and was accusing Joshua of domestic abuse, not in court, but among her friends and in town; a charge which he contested. It is unknown if the abuse actually occurred and given Chamberlain’s poor physical condition it is unlikely that he could have done what she claimed, it is actually much more likely, based on her correspondence as well as Fannie’s:

“chronic depression, her sense of being neglected of not abandoned, and her status as an unappreciated appendage to her husband’s celebrated public career caused her to retaliate in a manner calculated to get her husband’s attention while visiting on him some of the misery she had long endured.” [91]

The bitterness in their relationship at the time was shown in his offer to her of a divorce; a condition very similar to what many combat veterans and their families experience today. After he received news of the allegations that Fannie was spreading among their friends around town, Chamberlain wrote to her:

“If it is true (as Mr. Johnson seems to think there is a chance of its being) that you are preparing for an action against me, you need not give yourself all this trouble. I should think we had skill enough to adjust the terms of a separation without the wretchedness to all our family which these low people to whom it would seem that you confide your grievances & plans will certainly bring about.

You never take my advice, I am aware.

But if you do not stop this at once it will end in hell.” [92]

His words certainly seem harsh, especially in our time where divorce, be it contested or uncontested does not have the same social stigma it did then. Willard Wallace writes that the letter “reflects bewilderment, anger, even reproof, but not recrimination; and implicit throughout is an acute concern for Fanny, who did not seem to realize the implications of legal action. The lot of a divorcee in that era in a conservative part of the country was not likely to be a happy one.” [93]This could well be the case, but we do not know for sure his intent. We can say that it speaks to the mutual distress, anger and pain that both Joshua and Fannie were suffering at the time.

The marriage endured a separation which lasted until 1871 when his final term of office expired they reconciled, and the marriage did survive, for nearly forty more years. “Whatever differences may have once occasionally existed between Chamberlain and Fanny, the two had been very close for many years.” [94] The reconciliation could have been for any number of reasons, from simple political expedience, in that he had been rejected by his party to be appointed as Senator, and the realization that “that politics, unlike war, could never stir his soul.” [95] Perhaps he finally recognized just how badly he had hurt her over all the years of his neglect of her needs. But it is just as likely that deep in his heart he really did love her despite his chronic inability for so many years to demonstrate it in a way she could feel. Fannie died in 1905 and Chamberlain, who despite all of their conflicts loved her and grieved her, a grief “tinged with remorse and perhaps also with guilt.” [96] The anguished widower wrote after her death:

“You in my soul I see, faithful watcher, by my cot-side long days and nights together, through the delirium of mortal anguish – steadfast, calm, and sweet as eternal love. We pass now quickly from each other’s sight, but I know full well that where beyond these passing scenes you shall be, there will be heaven!”

Chamberlain made a final trip to Gettysburg in May of 1913. He felt well enough to give a tour to a delegation of federal judges. “One evening, an hour or so before sunset, he trudged, alone, up the overgrown slope of Little Round Top and sat down among the crags. Now in his Gothic imagination, the ghosts of the Little Round Top dead rose up around him….he lingered up the hillside, an old man lost in the sepia world of memory.” [97] He was alone.

Chamberlain died on a bitterly cold day, February 24th 1914 of complications from complications of the ghastly wound that he received at Petersburg in 1864. The Confederate minié ball that had struck him at the Rives’ Salient finally claimed his life just four months shy of 50 years since the Confederate marksman found his target.

Sadly, the story of the marriage of Joshua and Fannie Chamberlain is all too typical of many military marriages and relationships where a spouse returns home changed by their experience of war and struggles to readjust to civilian life. This is something that we need to remember when we encounter those changed by war and the struggles of soldiers as well as their families; for if we have learned nothing from our recent wars it is that the wounds of war extend far beyond the battlefield, often scarring veterans and their families for decades after the last shot of the war has been fired.

The Battle for Little Round Top which is so legendary in our collective history and myth was in the end something more than a decisive engagement in a decisive battle. It was something greater and larger than that, it is the terribly heart wrenching story of ordinary, yet heroic men like Vincent, Chamberlain and O’Rorke and their families who on that day were changed forever. As Chamberlain, ever the romantic, spoke about that day when dedicating the Maine Monument in 1888; about the men who fought that day and what they accomplished:

“In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.” [98]

Notes

[1] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.462

[2] Nevins, James H. And Styple What Death More Glorious: A Biography of General Strong Vincent Belle Grove Publishing Co, Kearny N.J. 1997 p.16

[3] Ibid. Nevins What Death More Glorious p.17

[4] Ibid. LaFantasie, Glenn W. Twilight at Little Round Top: p.105

[5] ________. Erie County Historical Society http://www.eriecountyhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/strongvincent.pdf retrieved 9 June 2014

[6] Golay, Michael. To Gettysburg and Beyond: The Parallel Lives of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Edward Porter Alexander Crown Publishers Inc. New York 1994 p.129

[7] Nevins, James H. and Styple, William B. What Death More Glorious: A Biography of General Strong Vincent Belle Grove Publishing Company, Kearney NJ 1997 p.29

[8] Ibid Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.262

[9] Ibid. Nevins, What Death More Glorious p.54

[10] Leonardi, Ron Strong Vincent at Gettysburg in the Barringer-Erie Times News retrieved June 9th 2014 from http://history.goerie.com/2013/06/30/strong-vincent-at-gettysburg/

[11] Ibid. Nevins What Death More Glorious p.55

[12] Wallace, Willard. The Soul of the Lion: A Biography of Joshua L. Chamberlain Stan Clark Military Books, Gettysburg PA 1960 p.91

[13] Ibid. Nevins What Death More Glorious p.57

[14] Ibid. Guelzo, Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.264

[15] Pfanz, Harry F. Gettysburg: The Second Day. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 1987 p.51

[16] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.159

[17] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.305

[18] Some such as Guelzo believe this may have been Captain William Jay of Sykes staff

[19] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.327

[20] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.262

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.262

[22] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.327

[23] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.108

[24] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.389

[25] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.109

[26] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign p.390

[27] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.270

[28] Ibid. Nevins What Death More Glorious p.75

[29] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.292

[30] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.109

[31] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.109

[32] Ibid. Pfanz, Gettysburg: The Second Day. p.213

[33] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.111

[34] Ibid. Golay, To Gettysburg and Beyond p.157

[35] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.111

[36] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.52

[37] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top pp.44-45

[38] ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.52

[39] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence Letter From Joshua L. Chamberlain to Governor [Israel] Washburn, Brunswick, July 14, 1862 retrieved from Bowdoin College, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Documents http://learn.bowdoin.edu/joshua-lawrence-chamberlain/documents/1862-07-14.html 8 November 2014

[40] Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man Combined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 p.39

[41] Ibid. Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.28

[42] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.30

[43] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.45

[44] Smith, Diane Monroe Fanny and Joshua: The Enigmatic Lives of France’s Caroline Adams and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Thomas Publications, Gettysburg PA 1999 p.120

[45] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.80

[46] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.66

[47] Ibid. Golay, To Gettysburg and Beyond p.132

[48] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.66

[49] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.116

[50] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.45

[51] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.117

[52] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.94

[53] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. Official Narrative of Joshua Chamberlain of July 6th 1863, Maine Military Historical Society, Inc., Augusta, Maine, copyright 1989 U.S. Army Combat Studies Institute Reprint, retrieved from http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/cgsc/carl/download/csipubs/chamberlain.pdf June 15th 2014

[54] Oates, William C. and Haskell, Frank A. Gettysburg Bantam Books edition, New York 1992, originally published in 1905 p.98

[55] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.94

[56] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command p.393

[57] Ibid. Oates and Haskell Gettysburg p.87

[58] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.95

[59] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage p.272

[60] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.361

[61] LaFantasie, Glenn W. Twilight at Little Round Top: July 2, 1863 The Tide Turns at Gettysburg Vintage Books, a Division of Random House, New York 2005 pp.61-62

[62] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.93

[63] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.504

[64] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The Second Day p.228

[65] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: The Second Day p.228

[66] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.153

[67] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.154

[68] Ibid. Trudeau, Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.327

[69] Ibid. Jordan Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren p.93

[70] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.294

[71] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 p.260

[72] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.207

[73] Ibid. Nevins What Death More Glorious p.86

[74] Ibid. Nevins What Death More Glorious pp.87-88

[75] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.115

[76] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion pp.134-135

[77] Ibid. Golay, To Gettysburg and Beyond p.282

[78] Ibid. Smith Fanny and Joshua p.182

[79] Ibid. Smith, Fanny and Joshua p.180

[80] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.260

[81] Ibid. Smith, Fanny and Joshua pp.178-179

[82] Ibid. Smith, Fanny and Joshua p.181

[83] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain p.

[84] Ibid. LaFantasie Twilight at Little Round Top p.245

[85] Ibid. Smith, Fanny and Joshua p.180 It is interesting to note that Chamberlain’s commentary is directed at Northerners who were even just a few years after the war were glorifying Confederate leader’s exploits. Chamberlain instead directs the attention of his audience, and those covering the speech to the atrocities committed at the Fort Pillow massacre of 1864 and to the hellish conditions at the Andersonville and Belle Isle prisoner of war camps run by the Confederacy.

[86] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.203

[87] Ibid. Golay, To Gettysburg and Beyond p.289

[88] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.259

[89] Ibid. Golay, To Gettysburg and Beyond p.288

[90] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.285

[91] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.268

[92] Chamberlain, Joshua L. Letter Joshua L. Chamberlain to “Dear Fanny” [Fanny Chamberlain], Augusta, November 20, 1868 retrieved from Bowdoin College, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain Documents http://learn.bowdoin.edu/joshua-lawrence-chamberlain/documents/1868-11-20.html 8 November 2014

[93] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.227

[94] Ibid. Wallace The Soul of the Lion p.297

[95] Ibid. Golay To Gettysburg and Beyond p.290

[96] Ibid. Longacre Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man p.290

[97] Ibid. Golay To Gettysburg and Beyond PPP.342-343

[98] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. Chamberlain’s Address at the dedication of the Maine Monuments at Gettysburg, October 3rd 1888 retrieved from http://www.joshualawrencechamberlain.com/maineatgettysburg.php 4 June 2014

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Filed under civil war, History, leadership, marriage and relationships, Military

Gettysburg and the Human Cost of War

“Ashes of soldiers South or North, As I muse retrospective murmuring a chant in thought, The war resumes, again to my sense your shapes, And again the advance of the armies. Noiseless as mists and vapors, From their graves in the trenches ascending, From cemeteries all through Virginia and Tennessee, From every point of the compass out of the countless graves, In wafted clouds, in myriads large, or squads of twos or threes or single ones they come, And silently gather round me…”

From Walt Whitman- Ashes of Dead Soldiers

gburg dead2 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

In a day or two I will be posting an article on the terrible nature of war. I am a career military officer who suffers from PTSD, TBI and other afflictions after serving in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province in 2007-2008.  I have seen firsthand the terrible effects of war. I am also a historian and I Assostant Professor at a major military staff college which helps educate senior military officers from this country and other countries. I my capacity there I teach ethics as well as lead a staff ride, or study of the Battle of Gettysburg. In my teaching I always attempt to deal with the human cost of war. Gettysburg was the most costly battle ever fought on the American continent. Around 50,000 men were killed or wounded there in three days of battle. William Tecumseh Sherman noted that “war is hell.” I agree, there is nothing romantic about it. The effects of war last generations and though we have been at war for the last thirteen and a half years, war itself is an abstract concept to most Americans. Fought by professionals and only experienced by most Americans on the news, movies or most the banal manner, video games, the cost in human terms is not fully appreciated, and nor can it be. Our politicians have insulated the public from war and in doing so have ensured that we are in a perpetual war which benefits no one. That is a big reason why I write so much about it, not to glorify or romanticize it, but to try in some war to help make it real  to my readers. This is a draft chapter from my Gettysburg text. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

Too often we look at distant battles and campaigns in terms of strategy, operations, tactics, leadership and the weaponry employed. Likewise we might become more analytical and look at the impact of the battle or campaign in the context of the war it was fought, or in the manner in which the tactics or weapons used revolutionized warfare. Sometimes in our more reflective moments we might look at individual bravery or sacrifice, often missing in our analysis is the cost in flesh and blood.

Admittedly the subject is somewhat macabre. But with the reality being that very few people in the United States, Canada or Western Europe have experienced the terrible brutality of war it is something that we should carefully consider any time the nation commits itself to war. By we, I mean all citizens, including the many soldiers, sailors and airmen who never see the personally see people they kill, or walk among the devastation caused by the highly advanced, precision weapons that they employ from a great distance, sometimes thousands of miles. In some parts of our military we have men and women who have the mission of targeting and killing enemies and then walking home to their families, but in the Civil War killing in combat “remained essentially intimate; soldiers were able to see each other’s faces and to know whom they had killed.” [1]

While the words of William Tecumseh Sherman that “War is Hell” are as true as when he spoke them; the tragic fact is that for most people war is an abstract concept, antiseptic and unreal; except for the occasional beheading of a hostage by Islamic militants or the videos shot by the perpetrators of crimes against humanity on the internet. Thus the cost of war and its attendant cost in lives, treasure and to the environment are not real to most people in the West.

We use words to describe the business of war which dehumanize the enemy, and we describe their deaths in words more palatable to us. Dave Grossman, the army infantry officer who has spent his post military life writing about the psychology of war and killing wrote:

“Even the language of men at war is the full denial of the enormity of what they have done. Most solders do not “kill,” instead the enemy was knocked over, wasted, greased, taken out, and mopped up. The enemy is hosed, zapped, probed, and fired on. The enemy’s humanity is denied, and he becomes a strange beast called a Jap, Reb, Yank, dink, slant, or slope. Even the weapons of war receive benign names- Puff the Magic Dragon, Walleye, TOW, Fat Boy, Thin Man- and the killing weapon of the individual soldier becomes a piece or a hog, and a bullet becomes a round.” [2]

We can now add the terms Haji and Raghead to Grossman’s list of dehumanizing terms for our opponents from our most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The words of Guy Sager in his classic work The Forgotten Soldier about World War Two on the Eastern front is lost on many that study war:

“Too many people learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. They read about Verdun or Stalingrad without comprehension, sitting in a comfortable armchair, with their feet beside the fire, preparing to go about their business the next day, as usual…One should read about war standing up, late at night, when one is tired, as I am writing about it now, at dawn, while my asthma attack wears off. And even now, in my sleepless exhaustion, how gentle and easy peace seems!” [3]

In an age where so few have served in the military and even few have seen combat in some way shape or form many who study war are comfortable experts who learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. When I hear men and women, the pundits, politicians and preachers, that Trinity of Evil who constantly exhort governments and peoples to go to war for causes, places or conflicts that they have little understanding of from the comfort of their living rooms or television studios I grow weary. I fully comprehend the words of Otto Von Bismarck who said: “Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.” [4]

As a historian who also is a military chaplain who has seen war I struggle with what Sager said. Thus when I read military history, study and write about particular battles or engagements, or conduct staff rides as like the Gettysburg trip that we are embarking on, the human cost is always present in my mind. The fact that I still suffer the effects of PTSD including night terrors and chronic insomnia keeps what I do in good focus, and prevents me from being a comfortable expert.

Thus, it is my view, to conduct a staff ride, to walk the battlefield; especially in somewhat uncomfortable weather is a good thing. It connects us more in at least a small way to the men that fought there, died there, or brought home wounds that changed them forever.

To walk a battlefield where tens of thousands of men were killed and wounded is for me a visit to hallowed ground. I have felt that at Waterloo, Verdun, Arnhem, Normandy, the Bulge, the West Wall, the Shuri Line on Okinawa, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Stone’s River, and of course the battlefield which I have visited more than any in my life, Gettysburg. There are times when I walk these fields that I am overcome with emotion. This I think is a good thing, for as an American who has family ties to the Civil War, Gettysburg in particular is hallowed ground.

In doing this I try to be dispassionate in how I teach and while dealing with big issues that my students will face as Joint Staff Officers. Some of them will become Flag or General Officers, with the responsibility of advising our nation’s leaders as well planning and conducting the military operations on which the lives of thousands or maybe hundreds of thousands of people depend. Thus I do feel a certain responsibility to teach not only the strategy and other important military aspects of this campaign, but also the cost in human lives and ethical considerations. I take this work seriously because it forces us to remember what war is about and its nature, which Clausewitz wrote is “a paradoxical trinity-composed of primordial violence, hatred and enmity…” [5] which William Tecumseh Sherman so rightly understood without the euphemisms that we so frequently use to describe it: “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it….”

As the sun set on the evening of July 3rd 1863 the battered Army of Northern Virginia and the battered but victorious Army of the Potomac tended their wounds, buried their dead and prepared for what might happen next. On that afternoon it was as if “the doors of Hell had shut” and the next day, the Glorious 4th of July “The heavens opened, and a thunderstorm of biblical proprotions drenched the battlefield, soaking dead, wounded and able-bodied men equally.” [6]

Following the disastrous attack aimed at the Union center, Lee and his surviving commanders prepared for an expected Union counter attack. However, George Meade, the commander of the Army of the Potomac who had correctly anticipated Lee’s assault decided not to gamble on a counter attack, though it was tempting. He knew too well the tenacity and skill of the Confederate commanders and soldiers on the defense and did not want to risk a setback that might give Lee another chance, thus “the two sides stared at each other, each waiting for the other to resume the fighting, neither did.” [7]

As the Confederate army retreated and Meade’s army pursued another army remained at Gettysburg, “an army of the wounded, some 20,350 in number, a third of them Confederate….” Just 106 surgeons were spared from the Army of the Potomac and “the comparatively few overburdened surgeons and attendants now on duty still labored every day to the point of exhaustion.” [8] These overworked men were aided by local volunteers as well as members of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, the Christian Commission and the Sisters of Charity. These men and women “brought organization to the hospitals, relief to the medical staffs and the local volunteers, and immense comfort to the wounded, whether blue or butternut.” [9]

The dead and wounded littered the battlefield and the sights and smells were ghastly:

“Wherever men gazed, they saw dead bodies. A New Yorker thought they “lay as thick as the stones that is on father’s farm.” A stench smothered the field, moving John Geary to tell his wife, “My very clothes smell of death.” A Regular Army veteran exclaimed, “I have seen many a big battle, most of the big ones of the war, and I never saw the like.” [10] A resident of Gettysburg walked up to Little Round top and wrote of what she observed from the peak of that rocky hill:

“surrounded by the wrecks of battle, we gazed upon the valley of death beneath. The view there spread out before us was terrible to contemplate! It was an awful spectacle! Dead soldiers, bloated horses, shattered cannon and caissons, thousands of small arms. In fact everything belonging to army equipments was there in one confused and indescribable mass.” [11]

At Joseph Sherfy’s farm, scene of some of the heaviest fighting on the second day, his barn “which had been used as a field hospital, was left a burnt ruin, with “crisped and blackened limbs, heads and other portions of bodies” clearly visible.” [12] When the rains came, the wounded suffered terribly. Many of the field aid stations were set up next to the creeks that crisscrossed the battlefield, and those streams quickly flooded as torrents of rain water caused them to overflow their banks. “A New Jersey soldier watched in horror as the flood waters washed over and carried away badly wounded men unable to move to safety….” [13]

Oliver Howard took his escort to do a reconnaissance of the town on July 4th, one of the cavalry troopers described the scene:

“The battle field was the Awfulest sight I ever saw…The woods in front of our men the trees were riddled with Cannon ball and bullets evry limb shot off 20 feet high. Some say the Rebel dead lay six deep in the grave yard where we lay. Nearly every grave stone was shattered by shots and everything was torn to pieces. I went through the town on the 4th of July with the General. The streets were covered with dead. Evry frame house were riddled with balls the brick ones dented thick where shot had hit.” [14]

Field hospitals were often little more than butcher shops where arms and legs were amputated by overworked surgeons and attendants while those with abdominal wounds that could not be easily repaired were made as comfortable as possible. Triage was simple. If a casualty was thought to have a reasonable chance at survival he was treated, if not they were set aside in little groups and allowed to die as peacefully as possible. Churches were requisition for use of the surgeons. A volunteer nurse noted: “Every pew was full; some sitting, some lying, some leaning on others. They cut off the legs and arms and threw them out the windows. Every morning the dead were laid on the platform in a sheet or blanket and carried away.” [15]

Chaplains were usually found with the doctors, caring for the physical as well as the spiritual needs of the wounded. Protestant chaplains might ensure that their soldiers “knew Jesus” and Catholics administered the Last Rites, often working together across denominational lines to care for their soldiers.

A Union chaplain described the ministry in the field hospitals and aid stations:

“Some of the surgeons were posted well up toward the front to give first aid. More of them were in the large field hospitals of division in more secure places at the rear. The chaplain might be at either place or at both by turns. Some made a point of watching for any wounded man who might be straggling back, who perhaps could be helped up into the saddle and ride back to the hospital. When the demand for help became urgent the chaplains were nurses. As the rows of wounded men grew longer, chaplains went from man to man to see what could be done to relieve their pain, perhaps to take a message or letter. All day into the night this work would continue. A drink of water, a loosened bandage on a swollen limb, a question answered, a surgeon summoned, a whispered word of comfort marked their course. Each night at sundown the men who died during the day were buried, with a short prayer, side by side in a common grave, each in his uniform with canvas wrapped around his face and a strip of paper giving his name and regiment in a bottle buttoned under his blouse.” [16]

The war would challenge the theology of the clergy who served as chaplains on both sides, as “individuals found themselves in a new and different moral universe, one in which unimaginable destruction had become a daily experience. Where could God belong in such a world? How could a benevolent deity countenance such cruelty and suffering? Doubt threatened to overpower faith….” [17] That sense of bewilderment is not lacking today among those of faith who return from war.

Some men, clergy and laity alike would attempt to find a theological meaning to the suffering. Many would do so in the theology of John Calvin which emphasized the Providence and foreknowledge of God. That theological frame of reference, of the results of battles and the death or wounding of men in war and the attendant suffering was found in the will, or providence of God was quite common among men of both sides who grew up during the Second Great Awakening, as it is today; and for some it was carried to fatalistic extremes. However, others like Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama, who considered himself a believing Christian, wrote that he believed God:

“endowed men with the power of acting for themselves and with responsibility for their acts. When we went to war it was a matter of business, of difference of opinion among men about their temporal affairs. God had nothing to do with it. He never diverted a bullet from one man, or caused it to hit another, nor directed who should fall or who should escape, nor how the battle should terminate. If I believed in such intervention of Providence I would be a fatalist….” [18]

The carnage around the battlefield was horrifying to most observers. Corporal Horatio Chapman of the 20th Connecticut Volunteers wrote about the sight on Cemetery Ridge on the night of July 3rd following the repulse of Pickett’s Charge:

But in front of our breastworks, where the confederates were massed in large numbers, the sight was truly awful and appalling. The shells from our batteries had told with fearful and terrible effect upon them and the dead in some places were piled upon each other, and the groans and moans of the wounded were truly saddening to hear. Some were just alive and gasping, but unconscious. Others were mortally wounded and were conscious of the fact that they could not live long; and there were others wounded, how bad they could not tell, whether mortal or otherwise, and so it was they would linger on some longer and some for a shorter time-without the sight or consolation of wife, mother, sister or friend. I saw a letter sticking out of the breast pocket of one of the confederate dead, a young man apparently about twenty-four. Curiosity prompted me to read it. It was from his young wife away down in the state of Louisiana. She was hoping and longing that this cruel war would end and he could come home, and she says, “Our little boy gets into my lap and says, `Now, Mama, I will give you a kiss for Papa.’ But oh how I wish you could come home and kiss me for yourself.” But this is only one in a thousand. But such is war and we are getting used to it and can look on scenes of war, carnage and suffering with but very little feeling and without a shudder.” [19]

Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama whose brave troopers assaulted Little Round Top on July 2nd wrote:

“My dead and wounded were nearly as great in number as those still on duty. They literally covered the ground. The blood stood in puddles in some places on the rocks; the ground was soaked with the blood of as brave men as ever fell on the red field of battle.” [20]

Another Confederate soldier described the scene west of the town on July 4th:

“The sights and smells that assailed us were simply indescribable-corpses swollen to twice their size, asunder with the pressure of gases and vapors…The odors were nauseating, and so deadly that in a short time we all sickened and were lying with our mouths close to the ground, most of us vomiting profusely.” [21]

The burial of the dead was too much for the soldier’s alone to accomplish. “Civilians joined the burial of the dead out of both sympathy and necessity. Fifty Confederates lay on George Rose’s fields; seventy-nine North Carolinians had fallen on a perfect line on John Forney’s farm.” [22]

Those tending the wounded recalled how many of the wounded selflessly asked medical personnel to tend others more badly wounded than themselves; a volunteer nurse wrote her sister: “More Christian fortitude was never witnessed than they exhibit, always say-‘Help my neighbor first, he is worse.’” [23] The Confederate wounded were the lowest priority for the badly overwhelmed Union surgeons and Lee had not done much to help, leaving just a few surgeons and attendants to care for the Confederates left on the battlefield. The Confederate wounded housed in the classrooms of Pennsylvania College were left in dire straits:

“All the rooms, halls and hallways were occupied with the poor deluded sons of the South,” and “the moans prayers, and shrieks of the wounded and dying were everywhere.” Between 500 and 700 wounded Confederates were jammed in with “five of our surgeons” and “no nurses, no medicines no kinds of food proper for men in our condition….” [24]

Across the battlefield the wounded were being treated in a variety of makeshift aid stations and field hospitals:

“Sergeant Major David E. Johnson of the Seventh Virginia was taken to the Myers house after the bombardment, suffering from a shrapnel wound to his left side and arm. “The shed in which I was placed,” he recalled, “was filled with the wounded and dying….I spoke to no one, and no one to me, never closed my eyes to sleep; the surgeons close by being engaged in removing the limbs of those nearby to be amputated….I heard nothing but the cries of the wounded and the groans of the dying, the agonies of General Kemper, who lay nearby, frequently being heard.” [25]

The suffering was not confined to the hospitals; John Imboden commanding the cavalry brigade protecting the Confederate wounded being transported home and supply trains described the horror of that movement:

“Scarcely one in a hundred had received adequate surgical aid, owning to the demands on the hard working surgeons from still far worse cases tat had to be left behind. Many of the wounded in the wagons had been without food for thirty-six hours. Their torn and bloody clothing, matted and hardened, was rasping the tender, inflamed, and still oozing wounds….From nearly every wagon as the teams trotted on, urged by whip and shout came such cries and shrieks as these:

“My God! Why can’t I die?” “My God! Will no one have mercy and kill me?” “Stop! Oh! For God’s sake stop for just one minute; take me out and leave me to die on the roadside.” “I am dying! I am dying! My poor wife, my dear children, what will become of you?” [26]

Eventually, by July 22nd with most of the wounded evacuated a proper general hospital was set up east of the town and the remaining wounded taken there. That hospital, named Camp Letterman grew into “a hundred –acre village of cots and tents, with its own morgue and cemetery, and served more than 3,000 wounded before it was finally closed in November.” [27]

As for the families of the dead, many never found out the details of their loved one’s deaths, which caused their losses to be “in some sense unreal and thus “unrealized,” as the bereaved described them, recognizing the inhibition of mourning that such uncertainty imposed.” [28] Much was because of how overwhelmed the field hospital staffs were, and how inadequate their records of treatment and the dispositions of bodies were sketchy at best. “Reports from field hospitals were riddled with errors and omissions, often lacked dates, and were frequently illegible, “written with the faintest lead pencil.” [29]

Among the killed and wounded were the great and the small. John Reynolds who died on day one, Winfield Scott Hancock, the valiant commander of the Union II Corps was severely wounded during Pickett’s Charge. Dan Sickles, the commander of Third Corps who had nearly brought disaster on the Federal lines by advancing to the Peach Orchard on July 2nd had his leg amputated after being grazed by a cannon ball at the Trostle Farm. Sickles, who survived the wound and the war, would visit the leg, which had carefully ordered his surgeons to preserve. The leg is now displayed at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington D.C.

The Army of the Potomac lost a large number of brigade and regimental commanders including Strong Vincent, the young and gallant brigade commander who helped save Little Round Top; George Willard who brought redemption to his Harper’s Ferry brigade on Cemetery Ridge stopping Barksdale’s charge on July 2nd; Colonel Augustus Van Horne Ellis who before being killed at Devil’s Den told his staff “the men must see us today;” and the young Elon Farnsworth, who had been promoted from Captain to Brigadier General just days before his death in a senseless ordered by his division commander Judson “Kill Cavalry” Kilpatrick, against Hood and McLaws dug in divisions as the battle ended.

The Confederates suffered grievous losses. Divisional commanders like Dorsey Pender and Johnston Pettigrew were mortally wounded, John Bell Hood was severely wounded, Isaac Trimble, wounded and captured while Harry Heth was wounded. Casualties were even higher for commanders and the brigade and regiment level, the list included excellent commanders such as Paul Semmes and William Barksdale, while Wade Hampton, Stuart’s best brigade commander was seriously wounded and would be out of action for months. The toll of brigade and regimental commanders who were killed or wounded was fearful. “At the regimental level approximately 150 colonels, lieutenant colonels and majors had been killed, wounded or captured. Of that number nineteen colonels had been slain, the most in any single battle in which the army had been engaged. Captains now led regiments.” [30]

In Picket’s division alone all three brigade commanders, Kemper, Armistead and Garnett were killed or wounded while twenty-six of forty Field Grade officers were casualties. Forty-six percent (78 of 171) of the regiments of the Army of Northern Virginia suffered casualties at the command level. The Confederate casualties, especially among the best leaders were irreplaceable and Lee’s Army never recovered from the loss of seasoned leaders who were already in short supply.

For some like Private Wesley Culp of the 2nd Virginia it was a final trip home. Culp had grown up in Gettysburg and had taken a job in Virginia prior to the war. In 1861 he enlisted to serve among his friends and neighbors. He was killed on the morning of July 3rd on Culp’s Hill on the very property owned by his uncle where he grew up and had learned to hunt.

One witness, Frank Haskell looked in at a field hospital in the Union II Corps area and wrote:

“The Surgeons with coats off and sleeves rolled up…are about their work,… “and their faces and clothes are spattered with blood; and though they look weary and tired, their work goes systematically and steadily on- how much and how long they have worked, the piles of legs, arms, feet, hands, fingers…partially tell.” [31]

All told between 46,000 and 51,000 Americans were killed or wounded during the three days of Gettysburg. Busey and Martin’s Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg list the following casualty figures, other accounts list higher numbers, some as many as 53,000. One also has to remember that many of the missing soldiers were killed in action, but their bodies were simply never found.

                           Killed               wounded         missing         total

Union                    3,155                14,531             5,369           23,055

Confederate         4,708                12,693             5,830            23,231

Total                     7,863               27,224            11,199          46,286

To provide a reference point we need to remember that in 8 years of war in Iraq the United States suffered fewer casualties than during the three days of Gettysburg. It was the bloodiest single battle in American history, and it was a battle between brothers not against foreign enemies. To put it another perspective, even at the lowest estimates “the “army of Northern Virginia suffered something comparable to two sinkings of the Titanic, the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, ten repetitions of the Great Blizzard of 1888, and two Pearl Harbors.” [32]Robert E Lee testified to Congress following the war “the war… was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forbearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.” [33]  Lee’s “Old Warhorse” James Longstreet asked “Why do men fight who were born to be brothers?” [34]

The carnage and death witnessed by survivors of Gettysburg and the other battles of the war changed Civil War soldiers as much as war has before or after. James Garfield, who served as a general in the Union army and went on to become President of the United States noted: “at the sight of these dead men whom other men killed, something went out of him, the habit of a lifetime, that never came back again: the sense of the sacredness of life and the impossibility of destroying it.” [35]

Others, like veterans of today had trouble adjusting to life after the war. “Civil War veterans had trouble finding employment and were accused of being drug addicts. Our word “hobo” supposedly comes from homeless Civil War veterans- called “hoe boys” – who roamed the lanes of rural America with hoes on their shoulders, looking for work.” [36] Following the war, during the turmoil of Reconstruction and the massive social change brought about by the industrialization of society and rise of “industrial feudalism” numerous veterans organizations were founded, for those that belonged to them they were “one of the principle refuges for old soldiers who had fought for a very different world than the one they found around them.” The Grand Army of the Republic was the most prominent of these organizations. “In more than 7,000 GAR posts across the United States, former soldiers could immerse themselves in a bath of sentimental memory; there, they established a ritualized camp geography, rekindled devotion to emancipation and preached the glories of manly independence.” [37]

At the end of the war, Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top who was well acquainted with the carnage of war suffered immensely. His wounds never healed fully, and he struggled to climb out of “an emotional abyss” in the years after the war. Part was caused by his wounds which included wounds to his sexual organs, shattering his sexuality and caused his marriage to deteriorate. He wrote his wife about the “widening gulf between them, one created at least in part by his physical limitations: “There is not much left in me to love. I feel that all too well.” [38]

Gouverneur Warren, who had helped save the Union at Little Round Top wrote to his wife while on Engineering duty after the war: He wrote in 1866 “Indeed the past year…was one of great despondency for me…I somehow don’t wonder that persons often remark how seldom I laugh, but it is really seldom that I do.” He wrote again in 1867 “I wish I did not dream that much. They make me sometimes dread to go to sleep. Scenes from the war, are so constantly recalled, with bitter feelings I wish to never experience again. Lies, vanity, treachery, and carnage.” [39]

The killing at Gettysburg and so many other battles “produced transformations that were not readily reversible; the living into the dead, most obviously, but the survivors into different men as well, men required to deny, to numb basic human feelings at costs they may have paid for decades after the war ended, as we know twentieth and twenty-first-century soldiers from Vietnam to Iraq continue to do; men who like James Garfield, were never quite the same again after seeing fields of slaughtered bodies destroyed by me just like themselves.” [40]

Joshua Chamberlain asked the most difficult questions when viewing the devastation around Petersburg in the final days of the war:

“…men made in the image of God, marred by the hand of man, and must we say in the name of God? And where is the reckoning for such things? And who is answerable? One might almost shrink from the sound of his own voice, which had launched into the palpitating air words of order–do we call it?–fraught with such ruin. Was it God’s command that we heard, or His forgiveness that we must forever implore?” [41]

Notes

Chamberlain’s questions should always be in our minds as we send young men and women to war.

[1] Faust, Drew Gilpin, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York 2008 p.41

[2] Grossman, Dave On Killing: The Psychological Costs of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Back Bay Books, Little, Brown and Company New York 1995, 1996 p.92

[3] Sager, Guy The Forgotten Soldier originally published as Le Soldat Oublie Editions Robert Laffont 1967, Translation Harper and Row Inc 1971, Brasey’s Washington D.C 2000 p.223

[4] Bismarck, Otto von Speech, August 1867

[5] Clausewitz, Carl von. On War Indexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.89

[6] Wittenberg, Eric J, Petruzzi, David and Nugent, Michael F. One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia July 4-14 1863 Savas Beatie LLC New York NY and El Dorado Hills CA 2008,2001 p.27

[7] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight p.28

[8] Sears, Stephen W Gettysburg Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.508

[9] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg p.510

[10] Wert, Jeffry D. The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2005 p.303

[11] Schultz, Duane The Most Glorious Fourth: Vicksburg and Gettysburg July 4th 1863. W.W. Norton and Company New York and London, 2002 p.357

[12] Faust This Republic of Suffering p.81

[13] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight p.30

[14] Ibid. Wittenberg One Continuous Fight pp.32-33

[15] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg. p.508

[16] Brinsfield, John W. et. al. Editor, Faith in the Fight: Civil War Chaplains Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2003 pp.121-122

[17] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.267

[18] Oates, Willam C. and Haskell, Frank A. Gettysburg: The Confederate and Union Views of the Most Decisive Battle of the War in One Volume Bantam Books edition, New York 1992, originally published in 1905 p.138

[19] Chapman, Horatio Civil War Diary of a Forty-niner pp.22-24 Retrieved from http://www.dbappdev.com/vpp/ct20/hdc/HDC630703.htm 8 April 2014

[20] Oates, William C. Southern Historical Papers, April 6th, 1878 retrieved from http://www.brotherswar.com/Civil_War_Quotes_4h.htm 18 July 2014

[21] _________ What Happened to Gettysburg’s Confederate Dead? The Blog of Gettysburg National Military Park, retrieved from http://npsgnmp.wordpress.com/2012/07/26/what-happened-to-gettysburgs-confederate-dead/ 18 July 2014

[22] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.81

[23] Catton, Bruce The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road Doubleday and Company, Garden City New York, 1952 p.333

[24] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.469

[25] Brown, Kent Masterson Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics and the Gettysburg Campaign University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London, 2005 p.56

[26] Imboden, John D. The Confederate Retreat from Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts. Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.424

[27] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion pp.469-470

[28] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.267

[29] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.113

[30] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.444

[31] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Company Boston, New York 2004 p.466

[32]

[33] Flood, Charles Bracelen, Lee: The Last Years Houghton Books, New York 1981 p.124

[34] Longstreet, James in New York Times, July 24, 1885, retrieved from the Longstreet Society http://www.longstreetsociety.org/Longstreet_Quotes.html 18 July 2014

[35] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.55

[36] Shay, Jonathan Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming Scribner, New York and London 2002 p.155

[37] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.523

[38] Longacre, Edward Joshua Chamberlain: The Soldier and the Man Combined Publishing Conshohocken PA 1999 p.259

[39] Jordan, David M. Happiness is Not My Companion: The Life of G.K. Warren Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana 2001 pp.248-249

[40] Ibid. Faust. This Republic of Suffering p.60

[41] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence, The Passing of the Armies: An Account of the Final Campaign of the Army of the Potomac, Based on the Personal Reminisces of the Fifth Corps G.P Putnam’s Son’s 1915, Bantam Books, New York 1993 Amazon Kindle Edition p.41

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Filed under civil war, ethics, Gettysburg, History, Military, philosophy

Joshua Chamberlain: Myth & Reality 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am going to periodically interspersing and publishing short articles about various commanders at Gettysburg  on the site. These all come from my student text and the reason is I am going to do this is because I have found that readers are often more drawn to the lives of people than they are events. As I have noted before that people matter, even flawed people, and we can learn from them.

Today’s vignette is about Major General (then Colonel) Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain who commanded the legendary 20th Maine at Little Round Top on July 2nd 1863. Chamberlain is one of the most fascinating characters of the Civil War, a volunteer soldier, a scholar and professor he would have been considered an unlikely hero. He was a man of peace who took up the sword and when the war was done promoted reconciliation. He was also a greatly flawed husband who suffered from his wounds, seen and unseen after the war. This is one part of his story that most people know nothing about which maybe even more than his exploits on the battlefield connects with those who come home from war today.  

Peace

Padre Steve+

chamberlain

Colonel Joshua Chamberlain

While Colonel Joshua Chamberlain’s story is much better known than his brigade commander, Strong Vincent, Chamberlain was another one of the citizen soldiers whose performance and leadership on Little Round Top saved the Union line that hot July evening. Chamberlain was a graduate of Bowdoin College and Bangor Theological Seminary. Fluent in nine languages other than English he remained at Bowdoin as Professor of Rhetoric, and was deeply unhappy at missing the war even as his students left and were commissioned as officers in newly raised regiments.

In June of 1862 Chamberlain wrote to Governor Israel Washburn requesting an appointment in a newly raised Maine Regiment without consulting either the college or his wife Fannie, who was “shocked, hurt, and alarmed by the decision he had made without consulting her…She remonstrated, she raised her voice, and quite possibly wept over the injustice he had done to both by this unilateral act that threatened to send their world careening in all directions.” [36]

As far as Bowdoin went, Chamberlain actually deceived the college by requesting a “scholarly sabbatical when in fact he had applied to the governor of Maine in the new 20th Maine Infantry in the late summer of 1862.” [37] When the faculty of Bowdoin found out of Chamberlain’s action many of them “were livid over what they considered his duplicity, and some shunned him during the brief period that he remained in Brunswick before reporting to training camp. [38]

The letter that Chamberlain wrote to Governor Israel Washburn details Chamberlain’s desire to serve and in some ways shows his considerable political skill in presenting his case to join the army:

“For seven years past I have been Professor in Bowdoin College. I have always been interested in military matters, and what I do not know in that line I know how to learn.

Having been lately elected to a new department here, I am expecting to have leave, at the approaching Commencement, to spend a year or more in Europe, in the service of the College. I am entirely unwilling, however, to accept this offer, if my Country needs my service or example here.

Your Excellency presides over the Educational as well as the military affairs of our State, and, I am well aware, appreciates the importance of sustaining our Institutions of Learning. You will therefore be able to decide where my influence is most needed.

But, I fear, this war, so costly of blood and treasure, will not cease until the men of the North are willing to leave good positions, and sacrifice the dearest personal interests, to rescue our Country from Desolation, and defend the National Existence against treachery at home and jeopardy abroad. This war must be ended, with a swift and strong hand; and every man ought to come forward and ask to be placed at his proper post.

Nearly a hundred of those who have been my pupils, are now officers in our army; but there are many more all over our State, who, I believe, would respond with enthusiasm, if summoned by me, and who would bring forward men enough to fill up a Regiment at once. I can not free myself from my obligations here until the first week in August, but I do not want to be the last in the field, if it can possibly be helped.” [39]

Chamberlain’s pre-war experiences gave no indication that he would emerge as a military hero. His father, a veteran of the War of 1812 had named him after Captain James Lawrence, the commanding officer of the frigate USS Chesapeake in the War of 1812 who uttered the famous words “Don’t give up the ship” as he lay mortally wounded when that ship was defeated by the HMS Shannon off Boston Harbor in 1813. However, Chamberlain’s mother added the name Joshua as his first name in the town’s books. While his father hoped that the young Chamberlain would pursue a military career, his mother earnestly desired that he would pursue a ministerial career. Chamberlain did become a licensed minister but had no desire to become a pastor, and was never ordained. This was reinforced by Fannie who though the daughter of a minister was “too much a free thinker” and “did not share the devotion her father and Chamberlain held for organized religion.” [40]

Chamberlain debated attending West Point after graduation, a path that his classmate Oliver O. Howard took. Instead he attended Bangor Theological Seminary and following graduation took up his academic career at Bowdoin. It was during this time that he met, fell in love with, pursued, courted and finally married Frances Caroline Adams, who played the organ at the local Congregational Church that he attended. Known by most as “Fannie,” she was the adopted daughter of the eminent Congregationalist minister, Dr. George Adams who served as pastor. Fannie had a strong independent streak and was as an accomplished musician and artist.

The couple was an interesting match. Chamberlain was impressed by Fannie’s “artistic gifts. Fannie had talent not only in music but in poetry and, especially; art…” [41] but he ignored potential areas of conflict that would create difficulties throughout their marriage. However, Fannie was beset by numerous fears, as well as a desire not to be dominated by any man. Chamberlain pursued her with abandon but for a time she resisted, until her widowed father married a woman not much older than herself. She desired to pursue the study of music and went away to New York to do so, but in 1852 she decided that she was in love with him. “Yet she harbored doubts about her ability to return his feelings for her measure for measure.” [42]

Fannie suffered from depression and a constant worry about her eyesight which began failing her and an early age. It was a malady that eventually left her completely blind by then turn of the century. Compounding her struggles was the fact that her new husband struggled with his own doubts and depression, a depression that only seamed to lift during the war years.

“During most of his life, Chamberlain struggled with bouts of deep depression and melancholy. But not during the war years. It was as if the war and soldiering had made a new man out of him.” [43]

Chamberlain was offered command of the 20th Maine but asked Governor Washburn that he was appointed as a Lieutenant Colonel, which he was in August 1862. He fought with the regiment at Fredericksburg and was named commander of it when Colonel Adelbert Ames, his commander was transferred to perform staff duties prior to obtaining a brigade command in Oliver Howard’s XI Corps following the debacle at Chancellorsville.

Chamberlain was through his association with abolitionists and others prior to the war was a staunch Unionist. Before going into the army he wrote:

“We have this war upon is & we want to stop it. It has cost us already too much precious blood. It has carried stagnation, starvation & grief in to too many villages of our fair land – brought death to too many noble hearts that we could ill afford to lose. But the only way to stop this war, is first to show that we are strongest…I feel that we are fighting for our country – for our flag- not as so many Stars and Stripes, but as the emblem of a good & powerful nation – fighting to settle the question whether we are a nation or a basket of chips. Whether we shall leave our children the country we have inherited – or leave them without a country – without a name – without a citizenship among the great nations of the earth – take the chief city of the rebels. They will have no respect for us unless we whip them & and I say it in all earnestness….” [44]

Like Vincent, Chamberlain was also a quick student or military science and rapidly adapted to being a soldier, officer and commander of troops in combat. He spent as much time studying the art of war under the supervision of Colonel Ames including Henri Jomini’s Art of War which he wrote to Fannie “The Col. & I are going to read it. He to instruct me, as he is kindly doing everything now.” [45] He excelled at his studies under Ames, but since most of the manuals that he studied were based on Napoleonic tactics and had not incorporated the changes brought about by the rifled musket, Chamberlain like so many others would have to learn the lesson of war the hard way.

Chamberlain was with the regiment at Antietam, but it saw no action. He was in the thick of the fighting at Fredericksburg and Burnside’s subsequent “Mud March” which were both disastrous for the army.

He took command of the regiment in late April after Ames left on detached duty before assuming a brigade command. As the new commander of the regiment, Chamberlain and the 20th Maine missed the Battle of Chancellorsville as the regiment had been quarantined due to an epidemic of smallpox, which they had probably received from “poorly prepared serum with which the regiment was vaccinated” [46] in April.

From the regiment’s quarantined location Chamberlain and his men could hear the sound of battle. One of his soldiers wrote “We could hear the firing plain but there we lay in glorious idleness without being able to lift a finger or fire a gun.” [47] In frustration Chamberlain rode to Major General Joseph Hooker’s headquarters and asked Hooker’s Chief of Staff Dan Butterfield for the chance to enter the fight. Refused the chance Chamberlain told Butterfield “If we couldn’t do anything else we would give the rebels the smallpox!” [48] The regiment spent the battle guarding a telegraph line must to Chamberlain and his soldier’s disgust.

On the march up to Gettysburg Chamberlain was ordered to take a number of veterans of the 2nd Maine, who had signed three year, rather than two year enlistment contracts and were angry at remaining in the army when the regiment was mustered out. The men were angry and Chamberlain was given permission by Meade to fire on them “if they refused to do duty. The new colonel realized he had a crisis on his hands.” [49] The soldiers were bitter but Chamberlain treated them graciously and “almost all of them agreed to take up their muskets again the service of the 20th Maine.” [50] Chamberlain later remarked of how these men “we’re afterward among my best men, worthy of the proud fame of the 2nd, and the hard earned laurels of the 20th.” [51]

On receiving his orders from Vincent, Chamberlain deployed his small regiment halfway down the southern slope facing the small valley between Little Round Top and Big Round Top. By the time he arrived at Gettysburg had become “a great infantry officer, and among his valuable qualities was [understanding] where an attack would come….” [52]

Since Chamberlain’s account is so important I will forgo a discussion of his tactics and instead quote the sections of his after action report that explains his actions. Chamberlain wrote:

“On reaching the field at about 4 p.m. July 2d, Col. Vincent commanding the Brigade, placing me on the left of the Brigade and consequently on the extreme left of our entire line of battle, instructed me that the enemy were expected shortly to make a desperate attempt to turn our left flank, and that the position assigned to me must be held at every hazard.

I established my line on the crest of a small spur of a rocky and wooded hill, and sent out at once a company of skirmishers on my left to guard against surprise on that unprotected flank.

These dispositions were scarcely made when the attack commenced, and the right of the Regt. found itself at once hotly engaged. Almost at the same moment, from a high rock which gave me a full view of the enemy, I perceived a heavy force in rear of their principal line, moving rapidly but stealthily toward our left, with the intention, as I judged, of gaining our rear unperceived. Without betraying our peril to any but one or two officers, I had the right wing move by the left flank, taking intervals of a pace or two, according to the shelter afforded by rocks or trees, extending so as to cover the whole front then engaged; and at the same time moved the left wing to the left and rear, making a large angle at the color, which was now brought to the front where our left had first rested.

This hazardous maneuvre was so admirably executed by my men that our fire was not materially slackened in front, and the enemy gained no advantage there, while the left wing in the meantime had formed a solid and steady line in a direction to meet the expected assault. We were not a moment too soon; for the enemy having gained their desired point of attack came to a front, and rushed forward with an impetuosity which showed their sanguine expectations.

Their astonishment however was evident, when emerging from their cover, they met instead of an unsuspecting flank, a firm and ready front. A strong fire opened at once from both sides, and with great effect, the enemy still advancing until they came within ten paces of our line, where our steady and telling volleys brought them to a stand. From that moment began a struggle fierce and bloody beyond any that I have witnessed, and which lasted in all its fury, a full hour. The two lines met, and broke and mingled in the shock. At times I saw around me more of the enemy than of my own men. The edge of conflict swayed to and fro -now one and now the other party holding the contested ground. Three times our line was forced back, but only to rally and repulse the enemy. As often as the enemy’s line was broken and routed, a new line was unmasked, which advanced with fresh vigor. Our “sixty rounds” were rapidly reduced; I sent several messengers to the rear for ammunition, and also for reinforcements. In the mean time we seized the opportunity of a momentary lull to gather ammunition and more serviceable arms, from the dead and dying on the field. With these we met the enemy’s last and fiercest assault. Their own rifles and their own bullets were turned against them. In the midst of this struggle, our ammunition utterly failed. The enemy were close upon us with a fresh line, pouring on us a terrible fire. Half the left wing already lay on the field. Although I had brought two companies from the right to its support, it was now scarcely more than a skirmish line. The heroic energy of my officers could avail no more. Our gallant line withered and shrunk before the fire it could not repel. It was too evident that we could maintain the defensive no longer. As a last desperate resort, I ordered a charge. The word “fix bayonets” flew from man to man. The click of the steel seemed to give new zeal to all. The men dashed forward with a shout. The two wings came into one line again, and extending to the left, and at the same time wheeling to the right, the whole Regiment described nearly a half circle, the left passing over the space of half a mile, while the right kept within the support of the 83d Penna. thus leaving no chance of escape to the enemy except to climb the steep side of the mountain or to pass by the whole front of the 83d Penna. The enemy’s first line scarcely tried to run-they stood amazed, threw down their loaded arms and surrendered in whole companies. Those in their rear had more time and gave us more trouble. My skirmishing company threw itself upon the enemy’s flank behind a stone wall, and their effective fire added to the enemy’s confusion. In this charge we captured three hundred and sixty eight prisoners, many of them officers, and took three hundred stand of arms. The prisoners were from four different regiments, and admitted that they had attacked with a Brigade.” [53]

Colonel William Oates of the 15th Alabama gave Chamberlain and his regiment the credit for stopping his attack. Oates wrote: “There have never been harder fighters than the Twentieth Maine and their gallant Colonel. His skill and persistency and the great bravery of his men saved Little Round Top and the Army of the Potomac from defeat.” [54]

As with any firsthand account, aspects of Chamberlain’s accounts are contested by others at the scene. But in another way Chamberlain’s accounts of battle have to be carefully examined, because they often reflect his romanticism, he was not always a realist. Unlike Major Ellis Spear who played such an important role on the hill that day, who was a realist who “saw things plainly and remembered them clearly, in stark, unadorned hues. Joshua Chamberlain was a romanticist; even when describing the horrors of bloodbath his prose could be colorful, lyrical, even poetic.” [55]

Oates wrote that he ordered the retreat and that there were not as many prisoners taken, one of Chamberlain’s company commanders disputes the account of the order of the bayonet charge however the fact is that Chamberlain who was outnumbered nearly two to one by the, 4th 15th and 47th Alabama regiments “offset this superiority with strength of position, iron determination and better tactics.” [56]Also a factor was the fatigue of the Confederates, these regiments and their parent unit, Law’s brigade of Hood’s division had conducted a grueling 28 mile march to get to the battlefield and were exhausted and dehydrated by the time that they arrived, something that their commander, Colonel Oates believed “contributed largely to our failure at Little Round Top.” [57]

Chamberlain survived the war to great acclaim being wounded three times, once during the siege of Petersburg the wound was so severe that his survival was in doubt and General Ulysses S. Grant promoted him on the spot. It was the only promotion that Grant gave on the field of battle. Grant wrote:

“He had been several times recommended for a brigadier-generalcy for gallant and meritorious conduct. On this occasion, however, I promoted him on the spot, and forwarded a copy of my order to the War Department, asking that my act might be confirmed without any delay. This was done, and at last a gallant and meritorious officer received partial justice at the hands of his government, which he had served so faithfully and so well.” [76]

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Chamberlain at Appomattox

He recovered from the wound, and was promoted to Major General commanding a division and awarded the Medal of Honor. He received the surrender of John Gordon’s division of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox on April 9th 1865. When he did he ordered his men to present arms in honor of their defeated foe as those haggard soldiers passed his division. It was an act that helped spur a spirit of reconciliation in many of his former Confederate opponents. Gordon remarked:

“You astonish us by your honorable and generous conduct. I fear we should not have done the same by you had the case been reversed.” Another commented “I went into that cause and I meant it. We had our choice of weapons and of ground, and we have lost. Now” pointing at the Stars and Stripes “that is my flag, and I will prove myself as worthy as any of you ”

Chamberlain’s accolades were certainly earned but others on that hill have been all too often overlooked by most people. This list includes Gouverneur Warren who was humiliated by Phillip Sheridan at Five Forks, Strong Vincent who died on of wounds suffered on Little Round Top and Paddy O’Rorke, the commander of the 140th New York of Weed’s Brigade on Vincent’s right who was mortally wounded that day.

After the war like most citizen soldiers, Chamberlain returned to civilian life, and a marriage that was in crisis in which neither Joshua nor Fannie seemed able to communicate well enough to mend. The troubled couple “celebrated their tenth wedding anniversary on December 7, 1865. He gave her a double banded gold-and-diamond bracelet from Tiffany’s, an extravagant gift that only temporarily relieved the stresses at work just below the surface of their bland marriage. Wartime separation had perhaps damaged it more than Chamberlain knew.” [77]

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Fannie Chamberlain

When he came home Chamberlain was unsettled. Fannie quite obviously hoped that his return would reunite them and bring about “peaceful hours and the sweet communion of uninterrupted days with the husband that had miraculously survived the slaughter” [78] and who had returned home, but it was not to be. Army life had given him a sense of purpose and meaning that he struggled to find in the civilian world. He was haunted by a prediction made by one of his professors. A prediction that “he would return from war “shattered” & “good for nothing,” [79] Chamberlain began to search for something to give his life meaning. He began to write a history of V Corps and give speeches around the northeast, and “these engagements buoyed his spirit, helping him submerge his tribulations and uncertainties in a warm sea of shared experience. [80] in his travels he remained apart from Fannie, who remained with the children, seldom including her in those efforts. She expressed her heart in a letter in early 1866:

“I have no idea when you will go back to Philadelphia, why dont you let me know about things dear?….I think I will be going towards home soon, but I want to hear from you. What are you doing dear? are you writing for your book? and how was it with your lecture in Brunswick- was it the one at Gettysburg? I look at your picture when ever I am in my room, and I am lonely for you. After all, every thing that is beautiful must be enjoyed with one you love, or it is nothing to you. Dear, dear Lawrence write me one of the old letters…hoping to hear from you soon…I am as in the old times gone bye Your Fannie.” [81]

In those events he poured out his heart in ways that seemed impossible for him to do with Fannie. He accounted those wives, parents, sons and daughters at home who had lost those that they loved, not only to death:

“…the worn and wasted and wounded may recover a measure of their strength, or blessed by your cherishing care live neither useless nor unhappy….A lost limb is not like a brother, an empty sleeve is not like an empty home, a scarred breast is not like a broken heart. No, the world may smile again and repair its losses, but who shall give you back again a father? What husband can replace the chosen of your youth? Who shall restore a son? Where will you find a lover like the high hearted boy you shall see no more?” [82]

Chamberlain set his sights on politics, goal that he saw as important in championing the rights of soldiers and their well treatment by a society, but a life that again interrupted his marriage to Fannie and brought frequent separation. Instead of the one term that Fannie expected, Chamberlain ended up serving four consecutive one year terms as Governor of Maine, and was considered for other political offices. Fannie’s “protracted absence from the capital bespoke her attitude toward his political ambitions.” [83]absence from the capital Eventually he returned home and. “For twelve years following his last term as governor, he served as president of Bowdoin College, his alma mater. [84]

He became a champion of national reconciliation admired by friend and former foe alike, but he returned with bitterness towards some in the Union who he did not believe cared for his comrades or their families, especially those who had lost loved ones in the war. While saluting those who had served in the Christian and Sanitary Commissions during the war, praising veterans, soldiers and their families he noted that they were different than:

Those who can see no good in the soldier of the Union who took upon his breast the blow struck at the Nation’s and only look to our antagonists for examples of heroism- those over magnanimous Christians, who are so anxious to love their enemies that they are willing to hate their friends….I have no patience with the prejudice or the perversity that will not accord justice to the men who have fought and fallen on behalf of us all, but must go round by the way of Fort Pillow, Andersonville and Belle Isle to find a chivalry worthy of praise.” [85]

Chamberlain’s post-war life, save for the times that he was able to revisit the scenes of glory, and be with his former comrades, was marred by deep personal and professional struggles and much suffering. He struggled with the adjustment to civilian life, which for him was profoundly difficult. He “returned to Bowdoin and the college life which he had sworn he would not again endure. Three years of hard campaigning however, had made a career of college teaching seem less undesirable, while his physical condition made a permanent army career impossible.” [86] The adjustment was more than even he could anticipate, and the return to the sleepy college town and monotony of teaching left much to be desired.

These are not uncommon situations for combat veterans to experience, and Joshua Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top who was well acquainted with the carnage of war suffered immensely. His wounds never fully healed and he was forced to wear what would be considered an early form of a catheter and bag. In 1868 he was awarded a pension of thirty dollars a month for his Petersburg wound which was described as “Bladder very painful and irritable; whole lower part of abdomen tender and sensitive; large urinal fistula at base of penis; suffers constant pain in both hips.” [87] Chamberlain struggled to climb out of “an emotional abyss” in the years after the war. Part was caused by his wounds which included wounds to his sexual organs, shattering his sexuality and caused his marriage to deteriorate.

He wrote to Fannie in 1867 about the “widening gulf between them, one created at least in part by his physical limitations: “There is not much left in me to love. I feel that all too well.” [88] Chamberlain’s inability to readjust to civilian life following the war, and Fanny’s inability to understand what he had gone through during it; caused great troubles in their marriage. Chamberlain “felt like hell a lot of the time, morose in mood and racked with pain.” [89] His wounds would require more surgeries, and in “April 1883 he was forced to have extensive surgery on his war wounds, and through the rest of the decade and well into the next he was severely ill on several occasions and close to death once.” [90]

By 1868 the issues were so deep that Fannie threatened him with divorce and was accusing Joshua of domestic abuse, not in court, but among her friends and in town; a charge which he contested. It is unknown if the abuse actually occurred and given Chamberlain’s poor physical condition it is unlikely that he could have done what she claimed, it is actually much more likely, based on her correspondence as well as Fannie’s:

“chronic depression, her sense of being neglected of not abandoned, and her status as an unappreciated appendage to her husband’s celebrated public career caused her to retaliate in a manner calculated to get her husband’s attention while visiting on him some of the misery she had long endured.” [91]

The bitterness in their relationship at the time was shown in his offer to her of a divorce; a condition very similar to what many combat veterans and their families experience today. After he received news of the allegations that Fannie was spreading among their friends around town, Chamberlain wrote to her:

“If it is true (as Mr. Johnson seems to think there is a chance of its being) that you are preparing for an action against me, you need not give yourself all this trouble. I should think we had skill enough to adjust the terms of a separation without the wretchedness to all our family which these low people to whom it would seem that you confide your grievances & plans will certainly bring about.

You never take my advice, I am aware.

But if you do not stop this at once it will end in hell.” [92]

His words certainly seem harsh, especially in our time where divorce, be it contested or uncontested does not have the same social stigma it did then. Willard Wallace writes that the letter “reflects bewilderment, anger, even reproof, but not recrimination; and implicit throughout is an acute concern for Fanny, who did not seem to realize the implications of legal action. The lot of a divorcee in that era in a conservative part of the country was not likely to be a happy one.” [93] This could well be the case, but we do not know for sure his intent. We can say that it speaks to the mutual distress, anger and pain that both Joshua and Fannie were suffering at the time.

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Joshua and Fannie Chamberlain (Dale Gallon)

The marriage endured a separation which lasted until 1871 when his final term of office expired they reconciled, and the marriage did survive, for nearly forty more years. “Whatever differences may have once occasionally existed between Chamberlain and Fanny, the two had been very close for many years.” [94] The reconciliation could have been for any number of reasons, from simple political expedience, in that he had been rejected by his party to be appointed as Senator, and the realization that “that politics, unlike war, could never stir his soul.” [95] Perhaps he finally recognized just how badly he had hurt her over all the years of his neglect of her needs. But it is just as likely that deep in his heart he really did love her despite his chronic inability for so many years to demonstrate it in a way she could feel. Fannie died in 1905 and Chamberlain, who despite all of their conflicts loved her and grieved her, a grief “tinged with remorse and perhaps also with guilt.” [96] The anguished widower wrote after her death:

“You in my soul I see, faithful watcher, by my cot-side long days and nights together, through the delirium of mortal anguish – steadfast, calm, and sweet as eternal love. We pass now quickly from each other’s sight, but I know full well that where beyond these passing scenes you shall be, there will be heaven!”

Chamberlain made a final trip to Gettysburg in May of 1913. He felt well enough to give a tour to a delegation of federal judges. “One evening, an hour or so before sunset, he trudged, alone, up the overgrown slope of Little Round Top and sat down among the crags. Now in his Gothic imagination, the ghosts of the Little Round Top dead rose up around him….he lingered up the hillside, an old man lost in the sepia world of memory.” [97] He was alone.

Chamberlain died on a bitterly cold day, February 24th 1914 of complications from complications of the ghastly wound that he received at Petersburg in 1864. The Confederate minié ball that had struck him at the Rives’ Salient finally claimed his life just four months shy of 50 years since the Confederate marksman found his target.

Sadly, the marriage of Joshua and Fannie Chamberlain is all too typical of many military marriages and relationships where a spouse returns home changed by their experience of war. This is something that we need to remember when we encounter those changed by war and the struggles of both them and their families; for if we have learned nothing from our recent wars it is that the wounds of war extend far beyond the battlefield, often scarring veterans and their families for decades after the last shot of the war has been fired.

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