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Battle at Little Round Top

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Battle at Little Round Top

The Battle of Gettysburg was a battle between the Confederates and Unionists, which took place on July 1-3 1863 in Adams County, Pennsylvania. It was the bloodiest battle during the Civil War in the United States, which was considered a turning point in the conflict. The battle for Little Round Top was the main event of the second day of the battle at Gettysburg. The division of General Evander Law tried to take it by storm, and the 20th Maine Regiment under Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain commander defended it.1 Victory at the height of Little Round Top obtained only by courage determined the outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg and the whole Civil War.

Background

Army of South consisted of 10 divisions and 75,000 people, and the army of the North under the command of George Mead consisted of 20 infantry divisions. In total, there were about 88 000 people. On the first day of the battle, both sides had a chance to take Little Round Top without a fight. The Confederates had numerical superiority, but the character of the terrain was very convenient for the defense of the Northerners. If the rebels were able to establish their guns on Little Round Top, then they would easily break the resistance of the Northerners and have won a decisive victory. When rising to the top of the wooded hill, Chamberlain received an order to stay on top of Little Round Top at all costs. If the colonel was unable to fulfill this task, the rebels would probably circumvent the Union army from the flank and struck a devastating attack at the rear of the Northerners. It is highly probable that after the collapse of such a tactic, Meade would have averted his troops from the battlefield, which would ultimately lead to the defeat of the army and the subsequent signing of a peace agreement.

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Disposition of Forces

In the evening, and in the morning again, the two sides began to gather their forces. II, III, V, VI and XII Federal Corps arrived, and Longstreet’s Corps - Hood’s, McLaws’s and Pickett’s Divisions - had come to General Robert E. Lee. Lee knew that he was dealing with the entire federal army. However, he did not have enough information and did not know which forces confronted him and how they were located. Stuart’s cavalry has not yet approached and Lee has been forced to act and situate his forces blindly.

Northerners were placed on the cemetery hill and Cemetery Ridge. To defend from the enemy, Chamberlain built a chain of his soldiers in a “fish hook” along the rocky forest ledge. Five dozen men of Captain Walter G. Morrill were sent to the left flank, where a low stone wall was a convenient cover for the northern shooters. Confederate lines were arranged in parallel, approximately in 1600 meters away from the enemy. 3rd Corps of Major General George Sykes stood on the left flank of Northerners. They took Peach Orchard and the height of Little Round Top. General Lee was not aware of the presence of the 3rd Corps in these positions. General Lee’s plan included a double flank attack: demonstrative attack of the right-wing of the Northerners and the simultaneous circumvention of left-wing forces of the 1st Corps of Longstreet - divisions of Hood and McLaws. The 1st Corps had to overthrow the left flank, and General Anderson’s frontal attack would have completed the deal.

When the 3rd Corps of General Sykes arrived at Gettysburg, Major General George G. Meade ordered him to take Cemetery Ridge and join the right flank to the 2nd Corps, and to rely on the left flank on the height of the Little Round Top. Sykes did so, but then noticed the height in front of his front and decided to take it in order to prevent the Confederates from placing the battery there. Sykes took the height and Peach Orchard. Thus, his position formed a protrusion that could be attacked from three sides. In addition, the line of his defense has become too big for the two divisions.

The Major Phases of Battle

It is possible to highlight four major phases of the battle at Little Round Top. The first phase can be described as crossfire from both sides. The second one represents the breakthrough in the defense of the Northerners. The subsequent efforts to eliminate the consequences of this maneuver and counter-attack of Chamberlain’s forces is the third phase, and the fourth one is the ultimate success of the Northerners and the capture of captives.

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The Northerners have not been waiting for the arrival of the southern forces. The first phase began within an hour when the 15th Alabama Regiment commanded by Col. William C. Oates, which was supported by the 47th Alabama Regiment and the 4th Alabama Regiment, came close to the hill. Noticing the movement of the enemy, Chamberlain ordered to open heavy fire on the rebels. During the reflection southern attack, Chamberlain saw new units of Confederates, who approached the Little Round Top and tried to circumvent the 20th Maine Regiment from the left flank. In order to protect his people from the possible attack at the rear, Chamberlain sprained an infantry chain and drew back the left-wing of the detachment in a way that it stood at a right angle to the right-wing of the regiment. This phase of the battle is marked by long crossfires from both sides.

Confederate forces were caught in the crossfire of federal units. Col. Oates made a decision to lead his men into a deadly attack. The aim of this maneuver was to dissect the chain of northern troops into two separate parts and thereby weaken the strength of the enemy’s forces. However, the Southerners did not manage to overcome the fierce defense of the Northerners. Chamberlain’s soldiers decisively repulsed all efforts of Confederates by killing dozens of the attacking Southerners. Soldiers of the 20th Manx waited until the soldiers of the 15th Alabama Infantry Regiment under the command of Colonel William C. Oates began to attack, moving up the hill, intending to circumvent the Union’s troops from the flank. Time after time, the Confederates started the attack, but the 20th Manx stand on the position repulsing the attacks. However, Col. Oates’s people succeed in their efforts to ruin the chain of the Northerners and made a gap in their line. Thus, the breakthrough in the defense of the Northerners’ infantry can be noted as the second phase.

The number of victims increased and ammunition ended. Realizing that it was a critical moment, Joshua Chamberlain ordered his left-wing, which was situated at the southeast, while the rest of the regiment was turned to the west, to take a bayonet attack. It is noteworthy that when a gap in the chain of the Northerners’ infantry was formed, Chamberlain did not hesitate to send a small force of his younger brother Tom Chamberlain to breakthrough. The counter-attack was successful as the soldiers moved rapidly. In order to strengthen this success, Chamberlain ordered his left wing to attack the center of the enemy’s position. The counterattack of the Northerners was going down the hill along the diagonal line. Moving in the same ranks with his soldiers, Chamberlain entered the fray with a southern officer who aimed to shoot Colonel but missed. Chamberlain put his sword to the throat of his opponent and took him as a captive. As the Southerners began to hastily retreat from the hill, the Northerners intensified their onslaught. In addition, company G of the 20th Maine Regiment opened fire towards the rebels. In a short time, the Northerners under the command of Chamberlain smashed the forces of the Southerners and broke through the enemy’s line. Chamberlain’s efforts aimed to repel the attacks of the Confederate and counter-attack of the Northerners is the third phase of the battle at Little Round Top.

After that, Chamberlain’s people moved in the right direction, capturing all Southerners who stayed at the battlefield. 20th Maine rushed down the hill, like a closing door, producing both frontal assaults and flanking maneuvers. They captured enemy soldiers and successfully coped with the task of “hold until the last”. Thus, the Northerners captured at least 400 rebels. Those Confederates who fled to the east reached the Weikert farm. However, they soon were captured by a military alliance. This final stage may be noted as the last fourth phase of the battle at Little Round Top.

The Key Events

The key events of the battle at the Little Round Top can be described in the following sequence. The first element is the movement of the 15 Alabama Regiment and seven companies of 47 Alabama regiment under the command of Colonel William Oates. Oates aligned his men and sent them to the northern slope of Little Round Top in the saddle between the hills. Chamberlain had to maneuver to protect his left flank, which was actively engaged by the 47th Alabama along the whole front line. Chamberlain sent Company B commanded by Captain Walter G. Morrill to protect the left flank from the shooters. Morrill’s men cut off the enemy and hid behind a stone wall. There they were joined by 14 Berdan’s sharpshooters, who had previously been expelled from the front of Little Round Top. This event had important consequences later. The men of the same rank from 20 Maine created a line that resembled a letter V. 15th Alabama rushed forward against them. They were expected to protect the left flank; however, they were stopped by a sudden volley of a new left-wing of the 20th Maine. In a brilliantly executed maneuver, Chamberlain’s men charged forward. Stunned, Confederate troops surrendered.

The Outcome

As a result, the height of Little Round Top was left in the hands of Northerners and the next day its guns were firing at the enemy during an attack by Pickett. On the evening of July 2, the Northerners still held their positions on the Cemetery Ridge. General Lee’s plan failed. Now flank attack was impossible. Thus, the victory at Little Round Top changed the course of the whole battle of Gettysburg and made further attacks of the Southerners basically impossible. On July 3, the 20th Manx Regiment was transferred to Big Round Top on the hills to the north of Little Round Top. Success at Little Round Top was a tactical victory at a crucially important for the outcome of the battle site.

Conclusion

The Battle at Little Round Top was a battle between the forces of Confederates and Unionists, which took place on July 2, 1863. It became a turning point in the Battle of Gettysburg. The Southerners had numerical superiority, but the Northerners had decisive environmental conditions. 20th Manx Regiment was placed in such a place, where the geography and the landscape later allowed Chamberlain to brilliantly and comfortably repel the attacks of the Confederate. It was one of the bloodiest battles during which the generals from both sides have shown courage and tactical ingenuity. However, only the Northerners experienced a glorious victory.

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