The 20th Maine was mustered into service on August 20, 1862. They joined the 1st Division, V Corps of the Army of the Potomac as part of Colonel Strong Vincent's Brigade. They were initially led by Colonel Adelbert Ames, yet at the time of the Battle of Gettysburg, they were commanded by Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.
On July 2, 1863, Union General Daniel Sickles was not satisfied with the position he was ordered to occupy by General George Meade. He instead moved his men one half mile to occupy higher ground. This however created a dangerous salient in the Union left flank, and left Little Round Top, a critical position on the battlefield unoccupied.
Union Brigadier General Gouvenour K. Warren, also a civil engineer in civilian life, realized the strategic importance of Little Round Top and sought to find troops to defend it. His aide was sent for help and ran across Colonel Strong Vincent in the vicinity. Without notifying his superiors, Vincent advanced his brigade made up of the 16th Michigan, 44th New York, 83rd Pennsylvania and 20th Maine regiments toward the hill. He placed the Maine regiment on the extreme left of the position, which also happened to be the extreme left of the Union army. He instructed Colonel Chamberlain on where to position his men and let him know he could not retreat under any circumstances.
Chamberlain and his second in command, Major Ellis Spear began positioning their men along the ridge and ordered them to pile up branches and rocks in creating a strong defensive position. Just then Confederates from the 15th Alabama attacked the Union positions and the fight for Little Round Top had begun.
Wave after wave of Confederates rushed up the hill and each time they were repulsed. At one point, Chamberlain was forced to extend his lines dangerously thin positioning his men at a right angle to counter the Confederates trying to overextend his lines.
The fighting went on for some time until the Union defenders ran out of ammunition. There is some speculation about what happened next yet most historians will agree that Chamberlain ordered his men to fix bayonets. The order was given to charge and they rushed down the hill and overwhelmed the exhausted Confederates. Many were taken prisoner and the rest were either killed, wounded or driven from the field.
This action effectively ended the assault on Little Round Top and 30 years later, Chamberlain would win the Medal of Honor for "daring heroism and great tenacity in holding his position on the Little Round Top against repeated assaults, and carrying the advance position on the Great Round Top."
The 20th Maine gained additional notoriety in recent years after the Civil War movie "Gettysburg", and the novel "The Killer Angels" that depicted their heroic stand in the Battle of Gettysburg. The Gettysburg movie depicts the actions of the regiment brilliantly and is a much watch for every student of the American Civil War.
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