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Chamberlain or Oates, Who Had the More Difficult Task?

Discussion in 'Battle of Gettysburg' started by General Butterfield, Nov 3, 2017.

  1. General Butterfield

    General Butterfield Sergeant

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    Chamberlain or Oates, Who Had the More Difficult Task?

    First off I'm sure this has been discussed before, I apologize if this is a repeat, and feel free to point me towards any threads of use.

    I've been reading Edward Longacre's book Joshua Chamberlain: The Solider and the Man. I previously read his book on Henry Hunt which I found to be an outstanding bio. This book i'm not as crazy about he doesn't seem to like Chamberlain very much. Anyways the part I found most interesting is his take on the battle for Little Round Top. Longacre downplays Chamberlain's accomplishment and makes it seem as though Oates men had a far harder task. That the Confederates were "thirsty" "bone-weary" and had been moving through harsh terrain. On Chamberlain's side meanwhile he says "Legend has Chamberlain's regiment battling two-one odds but due to Oates' many detachments, for at least a portion of the fight on Little Round Top almost 500 defenders engaged fewer than 400 attackers."

    Who do you think had the more difficult assignment? Chamberlain defending or Oates attacking? Also what do you think of Longacre's statements? Who really outnumbered who?
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2017

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  3. chucksr

    chucksr Corporal

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    Clearly offense is more difficult than defense and especially so if the point you are attacking has equal to or more defenders than you have as an attacker. Seems pretty cut and dried to me--I don't see where the quoted author has erred.
     
  4. bankerpapaw

    bankerpapaw 2nd Lieutenant

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    Chamberlain held a defensive position. Oates had to charge the high ground. I believe Chamberlain held the better hand.
     
  5. General Butterfield

    General Butterfield Sergeant

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    Thanks for the reply both of you. Longacre's thesis seems to be that Chamberlain exaggerated alot and played himself up. I wanted to make sure he was factually correct in regard to Little Round Top. I'm not very up on Chamberlain is their a consensus around here on him?
     
  6. photoman475

    photoman475 Sergeant

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    I think both had a difficult task-after all, Chamberlain's men had to get up Little Round Top before they could defend the end of the Union left! Oates's troops had the harder task, making several uphill charges before being chased down the hill. Both sides were tired and it was miserably hot that day, even fighting in the shade of the trees.
     
  7. chucksr

    chucksr Corporal

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    Chamberlain wasn't the only soldier to take advantage of his Civil War service but there is no doubt he used his war time service to become Governor of Maine in four elections, to receive a late Congressional Medal of Honor, to become President of Boudin College, and at least one federal appointment after the War. Whether his war time achievements were "exaggerated" is a matter of opinion. He obviously served the American people well as an officer in the Army of the Potomac.
     
  8. JohnW.

    JohnW. Sergeant Major

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    Colonel Oates by FAR had the more difficult task....He was the proverbial one legged man in an a$$ kicking contest.
     
  9. JohnW.

    JohnW. Sergeant Major

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    If Oates would have had 1,000 men he couldn't have taken that hill.
     
  10. infomanpa

    infomanpa Sergeant

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    Exactly. Holding and defending a position on the high ground is almost always less difficult than an uphill offensive charge. It's a no-brainer to me.
     
  11. Cavalry Charger

    Cavalry Charger Sergeant Major

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    The 15th Alabama:

    upload_2017-7-1_18-56-3-png.146253.png

    Image: 'The 20th Maine & 15th Alabama at Gettysburg' by Dale Gallon

    "In their attack on Little Round Top, the 15th Alabama would be joined by the 4th and 47th Alabama Infantry, and also by the 4th and 5th Texas Infantry regiments. All of these units were thoroughly exhausted at the time of the assault, having marched in the July heat for over 20 miles (37 kilometers) prior to the actual attack. Furthermore, the canteens of the Southerners were empty, and Law's command to advance did not give them time to refill them.[22] Approaching the Union line on the crest of the hill, Law's men were thrown back by the first Union volley and withdrew briefly to regroup. The 15th Alabama repositioned itself further to the right, attempting to find the Union left flank which, unbeknownst to it, was held by Chamberlain's 20th Maine.[23]

    Seeing the 15th Alabama shifting around his flank, Chamberlain ordered the remainder of his 385 men[25] to form a single-file line. The 15th Alabama charged the Maine troops, only to be repulsed by furious rifle fire. Chamberlain next ordered the southernmost half of his line to "refuse the line", meaning that they formed a new line at an angle to the original force, to meet the 15th Alabama's flanking maneuver. Though it endured incredible losses, the 20th Maine managed to hold through five more charges by the 15th over a ninety-minute period.[17]

    (Wikipedia - 15th Regiment Alabama Infantry)

    The regiment was commanded by Colonel Oats and brought 499 men to the field. Captains J. H. Allison, Henry C. Brainard and James H. Ellison and 28 enlisted men were killed, Lieutenant John C. Oates was mortally wounded, Lt. Colonel Isaac Ball Feagin, Lieutenant William J. Bethune and 47 enlisted men were wounded, and 90 men missing. Lt. Colonel Feagan was captured and would spend eleven months in prison before being exchanged.

    http://civilwarintheeast.com/confederate-regiments/alabama/15th-alabama-infantry/

    The 20th Maine:

    upload_2017-7-1_19-7-41-png.146256.png

    "Bayonet - July 2nd, 1863" by Don Troiani


    On July 2, 1863, the 20th Maine was positioned by Col. John Vincent at the far left of the Union line on Little Round Top with the rest of Vincent’s brigade: the 44th New York, 16th Michigan, and 83rd Pennsylvania. As the enemy began their attack, Capt. James H. Nichols, the commander of the 20th Maine’s Company K, alerted Chamberlain that the enemy seemed to be pushing toward the regiment’s left. Chamberlain ordered a right-angle formation, extending his line farther to the east.

    Elements the 15th and 47th Alabama, led by Colonel William C. Oates, had been ordered to find the Union left, turn it and capture Little Round Top. The 20th Maine’s Company B, deployed along the regiment’s left front flank, was subsequently cut off by this flanking movement.

    After an hour and a half under heavy attack and running low on ammunition, Chamberlain saw the rebels forming for another push and ordered a charge down the hill with fixed bayonets, which caught the enemy by surprise. During the charge, a second Confederate line tried to make a stand near a stone wall. The isolated Company B, now in a position from which to provide the rest of the regiment with support, fired into the Confederate’s rear, giving the impression that the 20th Maine had been joined by another regiment. This, coupled with the surprise of Chamberlain’s bold attack, caused panic among the Southerners’ ranks.

    The Confederates scattered, ending the attack on the hill. If the 20th Maine had retreated instead, the entire line would have been flanked and the Union likely would have lost Gettysburg. Holding the hill helped the Union win Gettysburg and turn the tide of the war.

    http://www.historynet.com/20th-maine

    "Chamberlain reported capturing 400 prisoners. In addition, 150 dead or wounded Rebels were found in his front. These numbers seem exaggerated; at least Oates thought so. He admitted that in a roll call after the battle only 223 enlisted men and half the officers (19) of his regiment responded. The 20th Maine had only 200 of 386 officers and men still effective. The Confederate assault on the south slope of Little Round Top had been repulsed".

    http://www.historynet.com/little-round-top


    Oates men came into the battle exhausted. Making several uphill charges in that state, it would seem they had the more difficult task. Chamberlain's men being on the extreme left flank, and ordered to hold that position, had to confront repeated rebel charges. Finally, with a lack of ammunition, a bayonet charge was their last resort.

    Both men had a desperate and difficult task. Winning the day may have made Chamberlain's task seem easier.
     
  12. Aussie Billy Sherman

    Aussie Billy Sherman First Sergeant

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    Oates had some things going for him though. All the momentum of the Longstreet corps attack with the Federals retreating and Chamberlain only getting into position with minutes to spare. But in the end, Chamberlain had the better of it.
     
  13. redbob

    redbob 1st Lieutenant

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    There is a military adage that states that it takes at least a 3 to 1 advantage in personnel for an offensive force to take a defensive position, especially one that is well dug in or on high ground and yes, I think that Chamberlin was more than willing to take the credit for other people's actions. If it wasn't for the movie Gettysburg, I don't believe that Chamberlin would enjoy the popularity that he does today.
     
  14. kel1985

    kel1985 2nd Lieutenant

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    IMO Oates had the more difficult task. He had to make an offensive move against an enemy who had the advantage of ground/position.
     
  15. Andy Cardinal

    Andy Cardinal Sergeant

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    I agree that Oates had the more difficult task. In addition to making an attack uphill, his men had also marched 26 miles and went into the attack with no rest & no water. Also, if Oates had succeeded in driving the 20th Main from Little Round Top, I doubt they could have held the position without reinforcements, which were not available.
     
  16. JohnW.

    JohnW. Sergeant Major

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    Agreed.....also, if not for the movie, very few people would even know of J. L. Chamberlain......or the 20th Maine.
     
  17. Andy Cardinal

    Andy Cardinal Sergeant

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    Chamberlain certainly had the advantage of surviving the battle and the war, and he was persistent in telling his story. There were many heroes on Little Round Top (and elsewhere) whose stories are less well well known simply because they didn't survive.
     
  18. JohnW.

    JohnW. Sergeant Major

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    I am certain that I read something in some book (probably in his book...I will have to pull it off the shelf and look see) that Col. Oates admits that IF he had succeeded in taking LRT, that without support following him up the hill (and ALOT of it)...that he could have possibly held LRT for 15-20 minutes tops before being forced back down the hill.
     
  19. Wallyfish

    Wallyfish Sergeant Trivia Game Winner

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    I would call it a draw. JLC knew he was the end of the line. That had to bring incredible pressure on him. Many would crumble under that pressure. Also, next time you visit the 20th Maine monument on LRT, pay attention to the elevation change between the monument and the saddle of land between Big Round Top where the 15th charged through. There actually is much elevation change so they didn't have the advantage of real "high ground".

    Oates had an equally challenging task of an offensive charge on unknown ground by foot weary soldiers.

    Regardless of JLC's post battle bravado and hyperbole, I would call their efforts a draw.

    I do wish that there was a monument to the 15th Al in the LRT area.
     
  20. Jimklag

    Jimklag Captain Forum Host Silver Patron Trivia Game Winner

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    No brainer. Oates by a mile. Long march over rough terrain, no water, uphill through woods and boulders.
     
  21. Tom Elmore

    Tom Elmore First Sergeant

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    Chamberlain was the better writer, and those who can communicate well have the advantage in history. Caesar had his Commentaries, and there's little doubt that is why he is considered one of the great captains. Of course, one still has to be successful against a formidable opponent to achieve lasting renown. Chamberlain made the most of his circumstances with his excellent tactical decisions, but Oates was clearly a worthy foe. It helped Chamberlain's cause that Oates also wrote an impressive account of the battle. Chamberlain can thank Oates, just as Caesar could thank Vercingetorix.
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2017
    AndyHall, Georgia Sixth, FZ11 and 8 others like this.

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