The 20th Maine was an infantry regiment in the Union Army during the American Civil War, renowned for its action on Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg of the American Civil War.
Mustered with over 1,600 troops on July 2, 1862, after Lincoln’s second call for volunteers, the 20th Maine was reduced to under 300 by the time they arrived at Gettysburg. They were commanded by Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain, a former modern languages professor at Maine’s Bowdoin College.
In late May 1863, the 20th Maine was joined by the remainder of the 2nd Maine Regiment, three-year enlistees who were more experienced combat veterans. These soldiers were in a state of mutiny, however, because much of the regiment had been two-year enlistees who had been discharged and the regiment disbanded. The remaining men had been recruited from the same area where Chamberlain had grown up; he was able to inspire them to fight, distributing them among his less-experienced soldiers. He also sent a letter to the governor of Maine to ask him to personally write to the men about the confusion between the two- and three-year contracts.
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.
20th Maine Articles From History Net Magazines
Battle of Gettysburg: Major Eugene Blackford and the Fifth Alabama SharpshootersAs fighting swirled all around the little town of Gettysburg, Major Eugene Blackford and his sharpshooters infiltrated the usually quiet streets to snipe at Union soldiers often mere paces away. It was dangerous duty, but also a sort of reckless sport.
Multi-Media Review: Sid Meier’s Gettysburg – CWTSid Meier’s Gettysburg! Electronic Arts, (800) 245-4525, $49.95. Imagine you’re a Confederate general. It’s July 3, 1863, and you’re in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Across the open fields before you, the Union’s seemingly impenetrable line on Cemetery Ridge glares at you menacingly. After two days of fierce fighting, you have been ordered to lead your tattered division …
MANTLED IN FIRE AND SMOKE – July ’99 America’s Civil War FeatureMANTLED IN FIRE AND SMOKE By David F. Cross The Battle of Gettysburg, and perhaps the fate of the Union, was decided in one hour of desperate fighting on the rocky ledges of Little Round Top. In June 1863, Confederate military fortunes in the East were at their zenith. The Union Army of the Potomac …
Nothing But Glory Gained – Account of Pickett’s Charge at GettysburgJust before 3 o’clock on the morning of July 3, 1863, Robert E. Lee rose by starlight, ate a spartan breakfast with his staff, and mounted his famous gray horse, Traveller, for the ride up Seminary Ridge at Gettysburg. He went in search of his "Old War Horse," Lieutenant General James Longstreet, commander of I …
Union General George Stannard at Gettysburg – July ’96 America’s Civil War FeatureThe first Vermonter to enlist in the war, Union General George Stannard helped turn the tide at Gettysburg.By Anthony Buono The third day of the Battle of Gettysburg was hot and humid. The battlefield, littered with thousands of dead and dying, bore grim testimony to the fierce fighting of the previous two days. The smell …
Horsepower Moves the Guns – March ’96 America’s Civil War FeatureWorking side by side with soldiers, horses labored to pull artillery pieces into battle.Without them, field artillery could not have been used to such deadly effect.By James R. Cotner The field artillery of the Civil War was designed to be mobile. When Union or Confederate troops marched across country, the guns moved with them. During …
Did ‘Baldy’ Ewell Lose Gettysburg?After disobeying Robert E. Lee's orders to avoid a general engagement at Gettysburg, Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell received an order to 'press those people.' His failure to do so created a controversy that survives to this day.
Battle of Gettysburg: Union General George Stannard and the 2nd Vermont BrigadeThe first Vermonter to enlist in the war, Union General George Stannard helped turn the tide at Gettysburg.