Today was the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg 150 years ago. The success of Robert E. Lee’s army in the fighting on July 1 encouraged him to renew the battle on the second day. An early morning reconnaissance of the Federal left revealed that their line did not extend as far south as Little Round Top. Lee directed Longstreet to take two divisions of I Corps and march south until they reached the flank of the Federal forces. They would attack from this point, supported by a division of A.P. Hill’s corps – a total force of nearly 20,000 men. While Longstreet carried out the main offensive, Ewell was ordered to conduct a demonstration against the Federal right. However, he was given discretion to mount a full-scale attack should the opportunity present itself.
On the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Union forces were recovering from initial defeats and hastily regrouping into defensive positions on a line of hills south of the town. Sensing the momentary vulnerability of the Union forces, the Confederates began an attack against the Union left flank. Sent to defend the southern slope of Little Round Top by Col. Strong Vincent, Joshua Chamberlain found himself and the 20th Maine at the far left end of the entire Union line. He quickly understood the strategic significance of the small hill, and the need for the 20th Maine to hold the Union left at all costs. The men from Maine waited until troops from the 15th Alabama Infantry regiment, under Col.William C. Oates, charged up the hill, attempting to flank the Union position. Time and time again the Confederates struck, until the 20th Maine was almost doubled back upon itself. With many casualties and ammunition running low, Col. Chamberlain recognized the dire circumstances and ordered his left wing (which was now looking southeast, compared to the rest of the regiment, which was facing west) to initiate a bayonet charge. From his report of the day: “At that crisis, I ordered the bayonet. The word was enough.” While battlefield conditions make it unlikely that many men heard Chamberlain’s order, most historians believe he initiated the charge.
This young man who did all this was a teacher from Bowdoin College in Maine. Chamberlain studied for three years beyond his college education at Bangor Theological Seminary in Bangor, Maine, returned to Bowdoin, and began a career in education as a professor of rhetoric. He eventually went on to teach every subject in the curriculum with the exception of science and mathematics. In 1861 he was appointed Professor of Modern Languages. He was fluent in nine languages other than English: Greek, Latin, Spanish, German, French, Italian,Arabic, Hebrew, and Syriac.
There is a saying that goes, “Those who can – do. Those who can’t – teach.” Not so. Joshua Chamberlin didn’t singlehandedly save the Union but was a key part of the second day at Gettysburg. Think about those who taught you as you grew up and appreciate the sacrifices they made to teach you and hundreds like yourself and give thanks to God for good teachers.