20th Maine Reunion and Chamberlain's Sign

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Gettysburg Greg

Sergeant
Joined
Jun 6, 2010
Messages
822
Location
Decatur, Illinois
In 1889, General Joshua Chamberlain and other members of the 20th Maine came to Gettysburg for the dedication of their monument on Little Round Top. In the then and now photograph below, Chamberlain is seen sitting at right center with the furled colors next to him. Chamberlain was not happy to see rock breastworks lining the position held by the 20th during the battle. He claimed his men fought in the open, completely exposed, during the repeated attacks by Oates' Alabamians so the "modern" breastworks were misleading. As I understand it, Chamberlain first insisted that the works be removed. However, a compromise was reached when Chamberlain agreed to leaving the works in place as long as a sign was prominantly located that clearly stated they were not there during the July 2nd fight. Chamberlain's sign can be seen today along the modern Sykes Avenue directly in front of the rock wall. I will also include a photo I took of the sign last year.
maine reunion.jpg


cham sign.jpg
 

Wallyfish

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 26, 2015
Messages
1,568
Location
Greensburg, Pa
Greg, great post.

With the book and movie popularity of Chamberland and the 20th Maine, more people visit this monument than ever before. Below is a portion of Chamberland's October 1889 dedication speech to their monument. I always have used that monument as an anchor to that day's fighting but JLC places the center of the line to the left of the monument.

Regardless of where the center of their line was or how advanced the 15 th Alabama was, that portion of the Gettysburg battlefield is one beautiful place. It is a shame that no 15th Al monument resides in that area.

Portion of JLC 1889 dedication speech.

I am certain that the position of this monument is quite to the left of the center of our regimental
line when the final charge was ordered. Our original left did not extend quite to the great rock which
now supports this memorial of honor. When we changed front with our left wing and extended it by
the flank and rear, the color was brought to mark the new centre, which was to become the salient
of our formation; and it was placed, I was sorry to do it, on the smooth and open slope, and in a
position completely exposed. Beyond this the left was refused and extended in single rank. When
the charge was made I was beside the color-bearer, and I know well that we struck the enemy where
their line was open to view, and the ground comparatively unobstructed. The color advanced in the
direction of the proper front of the right wing, and passed the rock altogether to our left. I am not
at all criticising the judgement of our comrades who selected the great boulder for the base of the
monument. It was entirely fitting to mark it with that honor, as it became so conspicuous an object
during the terrible struggle - the centre and pivot of the whirlpool that raged around.

Link to the 1889 dedication speeches to the 20th Maine.

http://www.gdg.org/Research/People/Chamberlain/20ded.html
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

History36

Private
Joined
Jul 5, 2016
Messages
75
It is a shame that no 15th Al monument resides in that area.
Agreed. I've chatted with a lot of folks who want to put more monuments up to JLC at LRT. Not that he doesn't deserve to be recognized, sure, but these same folks have little or no interest in how how Lieutenants James Nichols & Holman Melcher + Captain (acting Major) Spear contributed to what actually made the charge possible. Ironically, there was a TV series called Legends & Lies and I thought it fitting that the show discussed more of Melcher, Nichols, and Spear than they did of JLC (whom they mentioned only as an aside). Those lieutenants were unsung heroes. It's always interesting how history is wrote and later re-written. I've read numerous books printed back in the 1960s to commemorate the War Between the States and hardly any mentioned JLC. Once you get to post 1993 due to the film (a work of historic fiction, by the way), all you hear is JLC. It was actually refreshing to see a recent TV series talk about other heroes of the fight as they too deserve just as much respect, recognition, and honor.

As for the Confederate monuments, I doubt that we'll see any going up any time soon as most are being pulled down to pacify / appease the minority few. But, even though I didn't have any relatives in this particular unit, I have always advocated for a 15th Alabama monument to be built there as they marched - like 30 miles just to get to Gettysburg, on dry canteens, in layers of wool and leathers, and amazingly came within an inch of actually taking the hill...truly an amazing feat of human strength and determination. North or South - these men were all 'Americans' indeed. And, that's why I feel that no monument should indicate only one man. 'If' any monument goes up, I truly hope that it symbolizes the common soldier.

Btw, the rock that JLC is sitting on in the picture posted above is just behind the stone wall. Glad that they didn't blow that up when converting the grounds into a park.
 
Last edited:

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Messages
19,347
Location
Central Pennsylvania
Oh I don't know. If there were markers commemorating every man deserving recognition on the battlefield you wouldn't be able to walk. They all deserve it, it's just not feasible. Spears was also weirdly hostile towards Chamberlain post war, never been able to ascertain why. IMO it's a famous story because it's a good one not because Chamberlain told us it was. He seems to suffering for a decision made by an author to use Chamberlain's battle to tell ' Gettysburg '. Backlash has been pretty unreasonable. The guy marched off to war, managed to live through it and told his story like so many others.

I don't think markers indicating Confederate positions would attract negative attention. It was a battle, the Union army wan't fighting thin air. There again I've seen contention over attention given the 15th Alabama when other regiments were there, too. I'm not sure anyone can ' win ' with this stuff.
 

History36

Private
Joined
Jul 5, 2016
Messages
75
...part of the reason why Spear & JLC differed in the post war era pertains to accounts, such as a story in which JLC was attending a Bowdoin graduation ceremony. Students whispered, 'there goes the hero of Little Round Top.' JLC turned & snapped in reply to the students, 'I took it; and I held it!' Folks in attendance at the time, and even today, felt that it was rather bad taste for JLC to not give credit to the many other participants of the battle like Melcher, Nichols, & Spear. Hence, my argument in the above post my advocating for a monument to the common soldier - not to only one man.

The other issue between Spear & JLC involves JLC's account of Fredericksburg in which JLC described (amongst other things) events rather too dramatically in which Spear believed were not historically accurate. For instance, JLC describes how a 'noble dog sat with his face to the enemy with all dominance.' However, Spear said that no such thing ever happened - if anything, the little dog was whimpering in fear due to the loud cannonade & Spear had to hold him until they stepped off to charge Marye's Heights. It's accounts like this that didn't help their friendship. If folks read Dr. Dennis Rasbach's book on JLC's account of Petersburg, this seems to be a reoccurring theme in JLC's accounts. Not minimizing JLC's experiences or writings, but just trying to make it plain in how essential it is to examine multiple sources & historical works to gain a much clearer understanding of the situation.

Respect to all & with best wishes!
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

wescul

Private
Joined
May 15, 2012
Messages
89
Spears was also weirdly hostile towards Chamberlain post war, never been able to ascertain why
Chamberlain was a liar and that's putting it mildly. Chamberlain repeatedly embellished his role in The Battle of Little Round Top....In letters, he goes from stating he held off a regiment to the 20th Maine fought off an entire division by themselves.....
 

wescul

Private
Joined
May 15, 2012
Messages
89
felt that it was rather bad taste for JLC to not give credit to the many other participants of the battle like Melcher, Nichols, & Spear
History36 you pretty much summed it up when it comes to Chamberlain....He and HE ALONE fought the Battle of Little Round Top against Law's entire Brigade.....
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Messages
19,347
Location
Central Pennsylvania
...part of the reason why Spear & JLC differed in the post war era pertains to accounts, such as a story in which JLC was attending a Bowdoin graduation ceremony. Students whispered, 'there goes the hero of Little Round Top.' JLC turned & snapped in reply to the students, 'I took it; and I held it!' Folks in attendance at the time, and even today, felt that it was rather bad taste for JLC to not give credit to the many other participants of the battle like Melcher, Nichols, & Spear. Hence, my argument in the above post my advocating for a monument to the common soldier - not to only one man.

The other issue between Spear & JLC involves JLC's account of Fredericksburg in which JLC described (amongst other things) events rather too dramatically in which Spear believed were not historically accurate. For instance, JLC describes how a 'noble dog sat with his face to the enemy with all dominance.' However, Spear said that no such thing ever happened - if anything, the little dog was whimpering in fear due to the loud cannonade & Spear had to hold him until they stepped off to charge Marye's Heights. It's accounts like this that didn't help their friendship. If folks read Dr. Dennis Rasbach's book on JLC's account of Petersburg, this seems to be a reoccurring theme in JLC's accounts. Not minimizing JLC's experiences or writings, but just trying to make it plain in how essential it is to examine multiple sources & historical works to gain a much clearer understanding of the situation.

Respect to all & with best wishes!

Interesting, thank you! I've never been able to track down why Spear's was so hostile towards Chamberlain. I'm not huge on creating pedestals for anyone, from Grant to Lee to anyone because humans don't sit well up there. We're too fallible. It's always seemed to me Chamberlain did what he did and his actions that day were certainly notable. He was also a politician post war, politicians not always adverse to blowing their own horn. It's what they do.

Guessing Spears allowed the differences to rankle and built up a head of steam- his part in LRT was equally astonishing and it had to have been galling to see so much fuss over one man. I'm not too impressed with the differences between both men's dog account- that seems more interpreting what they saw than Chamberlain making stuff up. I'm not defending either account except to say it does seem to be splitting hairs a tad.

Having said that it's always seemed a little much to have made a big deal over Oate's positioning of the monument to Alabama's part in the fight. It really does belong there.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

wescul

Private
Joined
May 15, 2012
Messages
89
I've never been able to track down why Spear's was so hostile towards Chamberlain
Guessing Spears allowed the differences to rankle and built up a head of steam
I think Spears, Melcher and the others were just plain sick of the lies....Particularly when they were so blatant and served no real purpose in Chamberlain's life (he was promoted to Brigadier General upon what was presumed his death bed after the Battle of 2nd Petersburg} as he rose no higher than Governor of Maine in his political career.... so again, why the constant lies and embellishment of established facts....Dude was not capable of telling the truth even if it stared him in his face. Chamberlain was/is the TEXTBOOK 101 case of being a narcissistic and egomaniac.

JPK Huson 1863, below is what I said about Chamberlain awhile back

What part of Chamberlain's story do you disbelieve?
Very articulate and scholarly response Matthaevs. I think we have a play on words going on. It's not that I do NOT believe Chamberlain's story as he was there and I was not, but I've done enough scholarly research on my own to know that a large part of HIS role at Gettysburg and HIS part of the Battle of Little Round Top was grossly exaggerated by the man himself. He contradicts himself several times in HIS own writings, personal papers, and journals (He published 25 such writings). Like I posted earlier.....
"I was attacked by a FULL BRIGADE...." It was one and a half regiments. 15th Alabama and a diminished 47th Alabama
"My left was not bent back....." But yet during the battle it is stated that Captain Orphues Woodward commanding the 83rd Penn., noticed that bullets were coming over his head from his rear....Now I'm not the smartest man, but surely sounds like that left wing of the 20th was turned for the bullets to be coming in from that direction."
"My regiment occupied the Center of the Brigade Line" (Umm, I thought it was the 16th, 44th, and 83rd in that order..)
"Bulger surrendered his sword to me and not to Colonel Rice..." Lt. Colonel Bulger gave his sword to Rice who promptly sent for a doctor.
"I ordered the bayonet. The word was enough. It ran like fire along the line....."
"In fact, to tell the truth, the order was never given..."

"As a last, desperate resort, I ordered a charge...." Chamberlain, WHICH IS IT??????
"I used to think very highly of General Chamberlain; he was always very nice to me, but during the last two or three years I have come to the conclusion that he was more anxious to claim credit to himself than accord it to his associates..." Wrote by Oliver Wilcox Norton staff member of Col. Strong Vincent
As I said before, most respected historians have pretty much debunked the Chamberlain mystic. I have to give credit where credit is due though and that is....He was a masterful story teller (gentlemanly way of saying liar)....Lol
 

History36

Private
Joined
Jul 5, 2016
Messages
75
...in elaborating a tad on Little Round Top, I 'believe' I read that JLC claimed that he sent word over to Spear on the left that the regiment was about to advance down the hill (moving down the hill was initially advocated by Lt. Holman Melcher). However, Captain Spear (also acting as Major) maintained that he received no such word from JLC. To play devil's advocate, the messenger, sure, could have been mortally wounded and hence never delivered the message to Spear. But, the point remains that Spear doesn't get enough credit for he knew that a line (no matter how thin) is strongest when kept *together.* It was he, when he saw the right advance, who took it upon himself to keep that line together, which helped to shape the 'charge' & make it what many people today think how grand it was based on the film Gettysburg (a film based on historical fiction, by the way). For that, Lt. Melcher & Captain Spear don't receive the recognition they so truly deserve. And, to answer one of the questions above, that's an additional reason for the Spear & JLC controversy. Then again, they both knew that, in the end, they were still brothers in arms nonetheless because Spear still advocated for JLC to receive medical assistance from the state & misc. jobs in the post-war era. Proof that they weren't bitter enemies, but each envisioned the war differently.

Nevertheless, as many folks here already pointed out, a lot of JLC's writings do contradict with other historical accounts. I can't stress Dr. Rasbach's book enough in that it exposes a lot of those accounts at Petersburg, such as JLC not receiving the only battlefield promotion by General Grant, JLC wasn't stranded out in front all by himself as he claimed, & how he attacked an entirely different Confederate entrenchment altogether, etc. Can one imagine if such books exposed, say for example, Fredericksburg or heaven forbid *Gettysburg* under the same scrutiny? That poor author would be blacklisted for life, lol. Anyhow, I certainly don't intend to make folks feel that I am anti- JLC in the least as I'm not - I'm still an admirer of the man. Memories fade, things were moving so quickly at the time that soldiers didn't take the best records, etc. I get that. I suppose my point is simply that it's good to read other accounts besides just one source or one officer. Post revisionist history is always the most interesting to me because it takes another look at the sources from everyone involved and reevaluates for better accuracy in my humble opinion...
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Messages
19,347
Location
Central Pennsylvania
Post war newspapers are full of vets contradicting each on pretty much any action of the war. Some were more famous than others but boy could they get acrimonious. Century magazine saw a gold mine and printed them, finally coming up with the best ACW book out there. A LOT of vets remembered their part differently, who knows why? All contributing were there, no one was inventing their role in whatever action was being discussed- they remembered it variously. It's entertaining stuff.

I'd have thought if anyone would be challenged or at least the kind of present day target of scorn it'd be old Dan. Chamberlain did pretty much what he said he did and gave credit to his men. Sickles won the whole battle alllll by himself, just ask him, although seems to have been impeded by Meade and a few other villains.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

wescul

Private
Joined
May 15, 2012
Messages
89
Nevertheless, as many folks here already pointed out, a lot of JLC's writings do contradict with other historical accounts. I can't stress Dr. Rasbach's book enough in that it exposes a lot of those accounts at Petersburg, such as JLC not receiving the only battlefield promotion by General Grant, JLC wasn't stranded out in front all by himself as he claimed, & how he attacked an entirely different Confederate entrenchment altogether, etc.
History36, sounds about right concerning Chamberlain.....

Chamberlain did pretty much what he said he did and gave credit to his men.
JPK Huson 1863, are you being serious with that statement? Chamberlain contradicted himself numerous times about his role during the Battle of Little Round Top.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Messages
19,347
Location
Central Pennsylvania
JPK Huson 1863, are you being serious with that statement? Chamberlain contradicted himself numerous times about his role during the Battle of Little Round Top.

As in specifics, please? My biggest problem with the Chamberlain backlash is that out of entire, massive three day battle ( or four, really ), and who knows how many specific engagements involving good, bad and ugly moments by both leaders and regular soldiers and countless recollections post battle by honest men who disagreed on what, exactly occurred during some moment inside those days, somehow Chamberlain gets it in the neck for his accounts. He also gets it in the neck for accounts about him told by others.

As opposed to men who plain, old made stuff up ( Sickles...... ) , monumental blunders that got men killed ( again Sickles but Iverson's men sure paid a huge price ) and the uber famous miscalculation by Lee on Day 3, Chamberlain's actions are the ones continually discussed, contested and for some reason condemned. It's just weird.
 

wescul

Private
Joined
May 15, 2012
Messages
89
JPK Huson 1863 you hit the nail on the head for me when it comes to Chamberlain.....The other's blundered or made miscalculations but Chamberlain just FLAT out lied and lied for NO REASON other than being a narcissist. Sickles thought there was better ground in front of the Peach Orchard and moved without permission.....Iverson's North Carolinians being "ambushed" around Oak Hill....The "whys" to their actions can be debated in scholarly manner...even presented in military classes about the need to follow orders or understanding topography etc. How do you debate or justify the actions of a man that lies for no apparent gain.....Where do you even begin such a debate? I do follow your line of thinking to this point:
DEBATE:
Lee wanting to wait for the army to concentrate and not fighting at Gettysburg vs. pressing the fight after Day 1.....
Ewell taking or not taking Cemetery Ridge......
Longstreet's countermarch/not following Lee's Day 2 Plans.....
Hood wanting to move around the Round Tops......
Was Pickett's Charge to aggressive and doomed to failed.....
Meade attacking Lee after the 4th and not letting him get back across the Potomac.....
All of those points are debatable points and lend themselves to what if's etc....

How do I debate the lies Chamberlain told....

"My left was not bent back....." But yet during the battle it is stated that Captain Orphues Woodward commanding the 83rd Penn., noticed that bullets were coming over his head from his rear....Now I'm not the smartest man, but surely sounds like that left wing of the 20th was turned for the bullets to be coming in from that direction."
"My regiment occupied the Center of the Brigade Line" (Umm, I thought it was the 16th, 44th, and 83rd in that order..)
"Bulger surrendered his sword to me and not to Colonel Rice..." Lt. Colonel Bulger gave his sword to Rice who promptly sent for a doctor.
"I ordered the bayonet. The word was enough. It ran like fire along the line....."
"In fact, to tell the truth, the order was never given..."
"As a last, desperate resort, I ordered a charge...."
Chamberlain, WHICH IS IT??????
"I used to think very highly of General Chamberlain; he was always very nice to me, but during the last two or three years I have come to the conclusion that he was more anxious to claim credit to himself than accord it to his associates..." Wrote by Oliver Wilcox Norton staff member of Col. Strong Vincent
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Top