Major General Joshua Chamberlain, the Battle of Little Round Top and the 20th Maine Volunteer Regiment: Lessons from the Historic Civil War Battle

Today, I’m going to share with you some historical information about the Major General Joshua Chamberlain and the Battle of Little Round Top.

I’ve chosen this battle because I grew up in Maine and therefore think very highly of the 20th Maine Volunteer Regiment.

In fact, Major General Joshua Chamberlain is one of my favorite Army Generals of all time (right behind General Patton).

In case you don’t already know who he is, MG Joshua Chamberlain, then a Colonel, led the 20th Maine Volunteer Regiment at the Battle of Little Round Top, in Gettysburg during the Civil War.

His bayonet charge eventually helped defeat the Confederates and earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor.

joshua chamberlain

Courtesy of Wikipedia creative commons

Here are a few quick facts about the Battle of Little Round Top:

  • Little Round Top is two miles south of Gettysburg Battlefield
  • The battle happened on July 2nd, 1863, which was the second day at Gettysburg
  • Confederate participants were the Alabama Brigade of Hood’s Division, commanded by Brigadier General Law. This included the 4th, 15th, and 47th Alabama Regiments and the 4th and 5th Texas Regiments.
  • Union forces were 20th Maine, 16th Michigan, 44th New York and 20th Maine Regiment.
  • Initially, the Confederates were attacking and the Union Soldiers were in the defense.
  • Despite heavy losses, the 20th Maine Regiment held through two Confederate subsequent charges.
  • After these charges, his men were nearly out of ammunition, so he ordered a “right wheel forward” maneuver and then did a frontal assault against the Confederates.
  • The 20th Maine charged down Little Round Top and captured/killed the enemy.
  • This was a major victory for Union forces.

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Here are a few quick facts about Joshua Chamberlain:

  • He was born in 1828 in Maine.
  • He attended Bowdoin College in Maine.
  • In college, he was a great student and talented musician.
  • He attended Bangor Theological Seminary in Maine.
  • He and his wife Fanny had five children (only two made it to adulthood).
  • After seminary, he became a professor at Bowdoin College.
  • When the Civil War started, he volunteered and was given a commission as a Lieutenant Colonel with the 20th Maine Regiment.
  • He participated in 20 battles during the Civil War and had more than six horses shot out from under him.
  • He was wounded six times.
  • And, he was personally chosen by General Grant to accept the surrender of the Confederates at Appomattox.
  • He retired as a Major General.
  • After the war, he became Governor of Maine for four terms.
  • After his fourth term, he was appointed as the Bowdoin College President.
  • He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for the Battle of Little Round Top (thirty years after the battle).
  • He died in 1914.

If you have never visited the Gettysburg Battlefield, you should.

In my opinion, it’s important to study history, so you don’t end up repeating the same mistakes in the future.

It’s also a great way to study tactics, leadership, and military history.

You can learn more about the Battle of Little Round Top by visiting the link below:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Round_Top

You can learn more about Joshua Chamberlain by reading the novel Killer Angels or by watching the movie Gettysburg.

Do you have any questions or comments?

Please post them below.

Have a great day!

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7 thoughts on “Major General Joshua Chamberlain, the Battle of Little Round Top and the 20th Maine Volunteer Regiment: Lessons from the Historic Civil War Battle”

  1. I don’t understand why schools don’t teach about lesser known historical military figures such as Major General Chamberlain. I would think that with Gettysburg being such a turning point in the Civil War that history books would discuss all the military leaders who played a part in such a decisive victory. We hear of Generals like Grant and Lee, Sherman and Jackson, but I had never heard of Chamberlain before I read this article. Thanks for the insights!

  2. I've both read the novel Killer Angels and seen the movie and I have to say it's one of the few movies that does (most) of the characters justice. They don't make Chamberlain larger than life. He's just a wise man who has a job to do and is damn good at it.
    Until I read the book I wasn't aware he received the surrender of the Confederates. The way that he and Gen. Grant and Gen. Lee handled the surrender definitely helped stem what could have become a long protracted guerrilla war. Both sides showed due respect and once again, as in 1776, the United States was lucky to have the right people in the right place at the right time.
    Also in my top 5 Generals.

  3. I love to read about how battles and wars were handled through strategy. Whether it was strategy, or just plain craziness, Major General Chamberlain pulled off a feat that is amazing to read about. Almost out of ammunition and doing a frontal charge was a great move. I have used similar techniques in the game of chess and won, so it is a strategy that can take an enemy out of their line of common sense and leave them baffled.

    As a Commander, it makes me happy that you all study strategic maneuvers. You just never know when they may need to be used. Thanks for this great post.

  4. I loved seeing this post. I had the privilege to do my OCS staff ride at Gettysburg (on my birthday, no less). We had to read the book Killer Angels and each of us did a presentation on a particular component of the battle of Gettysburg. It was very inspiring standing at Little Round Top and listening to the presentation! I feel like being on an actual historic battlefield makes things stick better, and makes you realize how incredibly far we’ve come in battlefield tactics. I liked being at Fort Lee, too, and getting to run at Petersburg on Veterans Day.

  5. I love seeing the wise words of quotes. This is a great list. I had not heard the quote about “if it’s stupid but works it isn’t stupid.” I think that is going into my collection. I’ve pulled out a well timed quoted at a leadership meeting to really drive a point home. A well-timed (and appropriate) quote can be priceless. Thanks for this great list.

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