Although we typically think of the founding fathers and history only in terms of those who worked our country through its establishment in the Revolution, there are a second set of founding fathers: those who kept our country together as one nation during a time that it nearly splintered apart.
Any Civil War Buff worth his salt will know a little something about Union officer Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Thanks to the Michael Shaara novel The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War)
and the movie adaption Gettysburg, Chamberlain has garnered a resurgence of attention and adoration through the last few decades.
This attention seems to have been well-earned. Wounded six times, credited for the Union’s brilliant defense of Little Round Top, and having risen to the rank of Brigadier General, this professor-turned-soldier was also a Renaissance man of sorts, skilled in arts, letters, languages, and politics.
Chamberlain’s old-world courtesy, moreover, was on display the day of the South’s surrender, when he called upon his troops to offer a respectful salute as their opponents laid down arms at Appomattox Courthouse in April of 1865.
The question as to Chamberlain’s place in history centers on his actions at the Battle of Little Round Top. Although he no doubt led his troops with remarkable bravery and courage, there is some question as to whether or not Chamberlain actually issued the orders for which he is so famous: to “fix bayonets” and “charge.”
Historian John Pullen, author of Joshua Chamberlain: A Hero’s Life and Legacy as well as The Twentieth Maine: A Classic Story of Joshua Chamberlain and His Volunteer Regiment, stated that in all likelihood, the charge was an “impulsive forward movement of the whole regiment,” inspired by the leader on whom they kept their eyes and followed implicitly.
Whether or not Chamberlain actually issued a verbal order or not, it’s clear from the actions of the men under his command that they would have followed him anywhere. Because July of 1863 is considered the “high water mark” of the Confederacy, and since the defense of Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg had much to do with checking the South’s advance, Chamberlain’s place in history seems assured.
As we revisit our Nation’s history, time and time again we see a reoccurring trait of all our great Patriots — leadership matters.
Joshua Chamberlain: hero, warrior, patriot.
At *your* service,
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