Speaking to the new and disturbing phenomenon of athletes refusing to honor the flag, Former Secretary of Education William Bennett said, “These men and women were never taught the stories of bravery, courage and heroism from our nation’s great history! This is in no way excuses their behavior; however, it does shed light on a generation who seems to know nothing of our grand history. The story of George Washington’s troops at Valley Forge, Col. George Armistead leading the brave men at Fort McHenry, and Joshua Chamberlin who led the 20th Maine at Gettysburg.”
They should know of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who in Gettysburg Pennsylvania on the hot, humid day of July 2, 1863 was in the fight of his life. Earlier that day, a Colonel Vincent had placed Chamberlain and his men of the 20th at the end of that line, saying, “Whatever you do, you can’t let them come through here.” Chamberlain couldn’t withdraw and he knew it. If the Confederate Army overran them, the rebels would gain the high ground, and the Union Army would be quickly defeated. In essence, eighty thousand men would be caught from behind on a downhill charge with no protection. To win, the grey-clad Confederates would have to come through Chamberlain.
At 2:30 p.m., the first charge came from the 15th and 47th regiments. The 20th stopped the rebel charge and pushed them back down the slope… Only to face a second then a third charge! On the fourth assault, Chamberlain was knocked down by a bullet that hit him dead center-in the belt buckle. The attack came again. On this, the fifth charge, the 15th and 47th Alabama broke open the wall and fighting raged on both sides. Somehow, the 20th Maine pushed the rebels downhill another time.
They’d started that morning with three hundred. Now they were down to eighty. “How are we for ammunition?” the Colonel asked.
As Tom ran to check, a twelve-year-old lookout had climbed a tree. He yelled, “They’re forming up again, Colonel!” Chamberlain looked up to see the boy pointing down the hill. “They’re forming up right now. And they’ve been reinforced. Sir, there’s a lot more of them this time.” Chamberlain’s brother came running back. “Joshua,” he said, “We’re out! One…two rounds per man at the most. Some of the men don’t have anything at all!” “Colonel”… It was his brother. “Here they come! Here they come!”
Chamberlain stepped to the top of the wall in full view, crossing his arms and staring down at the advancing enemy. The 15th and 47th Alabama with their pale, yellow-gray uniforms, now reinforced by a Texas regiment, moved up the hill as their high-pitched shriek-the rebel yell-coursed up toward Chamberlain and his men. Chamberlain stood there for a moment, deep in thought, quickly sorting the situation. He turned his back on the advancing rebels, looked down at his mean, and said, “Fix bayonets!”At first, no one moved. They just stared at him with their mouths open.
“Fix your bayonets now!” he commanded again. “Execute a great right wheel of the entire regiment. Swing the left first. Do it now!”
Lieutenant Melcher spoke first, confused. “Sir,” he asked, “What is a great right wheel?” But the Colonel had already jumped from the wall and was moving to the next group of men. Sergeant Tozier answered the question. “He means to charge, son!
“Charge! Charge!” they cried tumbling over the wall into a history about which most people in our country have never heard.
For when the Confederate troops saw Chamberlain, the leader of the opposition, mount the wall they immediately stopped, unsure as to what was happening. And when the Colonel pointed his sword toward them and commanded his men to charge, they turned and ran. Many threw down their loaded weapons. Within five more minutes, that ragged group of eighty men under Chamberlain’s command-without any ammunition-captured over four hundred soldiers of the enemy.
An amazing story, and absolutely true. But here’s what most people never consider… Historians have determined that had Chamberlain not charged that day, the rebels would have won at Gettysburg.
Further, historians tell us, had the rebels won at Gettysburg, the South would have won the war…and the war itself would have been over by the end of the summer. Historians insist that if the South had won the war, we would now live on a territorially fragmented continent much like Europe-North America would be divided into nine to thirteen countries.
Which means: When Hitler swept across Europe in the 1940s, had Chamberlain not charged on that afternoon so long ago, there would not
have existed a United States of America to stand in the breach. When Hirohito systematically invaded the islands of the South Pacific, there would not have been a country big enough, strong enough, wealthy enough, and populous enough to fight and win two wars on two fronts at the same time. The United States of America some say exists as it does today because of a single man. May we all remember the difference each of us can, and must make! Future generations are depending on you!
This writer’s opinion is their own and not the opinion of this newspaper
Tim Throckmorton is the Midwest Director of Ministry for the Family Research Council. He can be reached at 740-935-1406