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
Did Robert E. Lee Doom Himself at Gettysburg?By blindly relying on poor intelligence and saying far too little to his generals, Lee may have sealed the Rebels’ fate.
Go To Gettysburg!: February/March 2009Noted historian Gary W. Gallagher gives his perspective in the Civil War Times bi-monthly column Blue and Gray.
Fighting Dick and his Fighting MenOn a bleak hillside overlooking the battleground of Sailor’s Creek, General Robert E. Lee watched as hundreds of his men fled through the fields and wooded ravines below. “Men without guns, many without hats,” one witness recalled, “all mingled with teamsters riding their mules with dangling traces.” A relentless barrage of Union attacks on the …
Union General Daniel SicklesOn two separate battlefields, Union General Daniel Sickles carelessly exposed his men -- and the entire army -- to possible defeat. Only the quick actions of other Federal officers managed to compensate for Sickles' errors and keep his mistakes from becoming disasters. It was life as usual for 'Devil Dan.'
Feeling the Past at GettysburgThe presence of the past can be felt at the Gettysburg battlefield, where so many Civil War soldiers laid down their lives.
Fighting and Dying for the Colors at GettysburgNearly two months after the battle of Gettysburg 24-year-old Isaac Dunsten of the 105th Pennsylvania Infantry lay on officers’ row at Camp Letterman, the large tent hospital established just east of the town. On July 2, 1863, the second day of the battle, a bullet had shattered the lieutenant’s right thigh. A splint was applied …
Letter From April 2007 Civil War TimesThe Age of Machines and Steel It will hardly be revelatory to most people reading these pages to point out that the Civil War materialized on the cusp of a technological revolution. What may be surprising to some is the scope of this transformation, and the depth to which it affected everything from battlefield tactics …
America’s Civil War: Defense of Little Round TopUnion Colonel Joshua Chamberlain has long been lauded as the hero of Gettysburg's Little Round Top. But do Chamberlain and the 20th Maine deserve all the credit, or did he have some unheralded help?
Battle of Gettysburg: Fury at Bliss FarmBack and forth, for 24 hours, soldiers at Gettysburg contested possession of a no man's land with an incongruous name--Bliss farm.
By John M. Archer
Battle of Gettysburg — Day TwoIf Robert E. Lee's bold plan of attack had been followed on Day 2 at Gettysburg, there might never have been a third day of fighting. As it was, confusion and personal differences between commanders would severely affect the Confederate assault on Cemetery Ridge.
17th Maine Infantry in the Battle of GettysburgThe 17th Maine helped transform a Gettysburg wheatfield into a legend.
By Jeffry D. Wert
America’s Civil War: Horses and Field ArtilleryWorking 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.
Frederick Stowe: In the Shadow of Uncle Tom’s CabinThe fame of novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe followed her son throughout the Civil War.
America’s Civil War: Union Soldiers Hanged in North CarolinaEight months after Major General George E. Pickett led his famous charge, he hanged Union prisoners in North Carolina.
Battle of Gettysburg: Union Cavalry AttacksAfter the conclusion of Pickett's Charge, ill-advised Union cavalry attacks killed dozens of Federal horsemen and a promising brigadier general.
Battle of Gettysburg: Fighting at Little Round TopThe 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.
Battle of Gettysburg: Confederate General Richard Ewell’s Failure on the HeightsFor the second day in a row, Confederate General Richard Ewell inexplicably failed to take the offensive at Gettysburg. 'The fruits of victory, Robert E. Lee lamented, had not been gathered.
Did Lt. Gen. Richard Ewell Lose the Battle of GettysburgAfter 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.
America’s Civil War: Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet at Odds at GettysburgAt Gettysburg, Longstreet told Lee that a direct assault would end in disaster -- but Pickett's Charge went forward anyway.
Book Review: Lee vs. Pickett: Two Divided By War : ACWLee vs. Pickett: Two Divided by War will stand as a groundbreaking study of a fascinating relationship.
Book Review: For Home and the Southland: A History of the 48th Georgia Infantry Regiment (by John Zwemer) : ACWFor Home and the Southland: A History of the 48th Georgia Infantry Regiment, by John Zwemer, NButternut & Blue, Baltimore, Md., 1999, $24.95. th Georgia Infantry Regiment went into action during the Peninsula campaign and fought in almost every significant Civil War battle on the East Coast. Its soldiers endured the heavy fire from Federal …
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.