The attack did not come until almost 5:00pm on July 2, 1863. The Yankees under the command of General George Meade held on to Cemetery Hill, and Ridge, south of the town of Gettysburg. Situated across the open ground of boulders, corn fields, and wheat fields waited the Confederates commanded by Robert E Lee. Lee’s forces had failed to capture the high ground on day one, and were forced to settle for the less desirable Seminary Ridge.
On the second day, action had concentrated on the southern end of the battle field. Fighting in the Wheat Field, and the Devil’s Den played prelude to the main assault on Little Round Top.
Two summits lay at the end of Cemetery Ridge, and the smaller of the two was vulnerable to any flanking maneuver by the Rebs massing below. The Alabamians could have deployed around the far left and attack inside Union lines. But, that risk lessened when Union Colonel Strong Vincent detected Confederates assembling below.
Boys from Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, and Maine were ordered to double-quick around rubble strewn Little Round Top. At the end of that line stood Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and his 20th Maine. And as many already know, Chamberlain held off three attacks by the Rebs climbing the steep terrain. Out of ammo, Colonel Chamberlain finally ordered a bayonet charge, downhill against the foe. And it worked.
Less well known were the Yankee soldiers who guarded the hill that night. Under orders to watch for any further action, these guards could hear the moans and piteous cries of their comrades dying below in the darkness.
One of the soldiers was said to have remarked, “Don’t they realize they saved our country today?”
And those words bear repeating on this sad day of honor and remembrance.
To the faithful members of the US Capitol police force, you who defended our nation on January 6, “Don’t you realize you saved our country today?”
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-volume memoir, “River of January,” and “River of January:Figure Eight.” Both titles are available on Kindle.
Many thanks from the other Chamberlains.