Summary and Analysis
Thursday, July 2, 1863 - 4. Chamberlain
It is late afternoon. Artillery fire is heard in the west. Chamberlain and Kilrain are ordered to form the regiment and follow Vincent. The Confederates are moving on the left flank. Vincent explains how Sickles moved his men into the Peach Orchard against orders and that he has endangered the whole Union line.
Vincent places Chamberlain's men on Little Round Top, emphasizing that they are the end of the Union line and must hold at all costs. He leaves to place the rest of his brigade.
Chamberlain looks over his men and the terrain and then places them. He sends one unit far into the woods to alert him if the enemy tries to flank them. They can see the battle below in the Peach Orchard and that Sickles' units are being flanked.
Chamberlain convinces three of the six remaining mutineers to fight. The last three will have no part of it, and Chamberlain wastes no men to guard them. He merely says he expects them to be there when this is over.
The fighting starts shortly after their arrival. Men go down. The action is fast. Wave after wave of Confederate attacks are repelled, but the cost is high. Kilrain is wounded, but keeps fighting. Chamberlain notices a flanking movement, climbs up on a boulder to direct the defense, and is hit. But he continues to fight. To counter any more flanking moves by the enemy, Chamberlain orders his line to be stretched out and then near the end turned at right angles to the rest of the line. This way, any flanking movement will be met head on.
They continue to repel attacks, but are about out of ammunition. Men are falling dead all around him, and Chamberlain keeps shifting men, taking ammunition from wounded, trying to make every last man and every bit of supplies count. At one point, Chamberlain even uses his brother Tom to plug a hole in the line. Chamberlain reflects briefly on this, noting Tom is okay.
With a third of the men gone, the rest exhausted, the ammunition used up, and the awareness that they can't pull out no matter what, Chamberlain does the only thing left. He orders his men to fix bayonets and execute a right wheel forward. They charge down the hill, overwhelm the Rebels, and take hundreds of prisoners. This battle is over.
Amazed congratulations come in from the other Union commanders. The Union men are exhausted, exhilarated, and triumphant. Their casualties number almost half the regiment, about the same number they took on when Chamberlain convinced the 2nd Maine mutineers to join them. They realize they fought off four Southern regiments. Yet there is gentleness shown to the prisoners. Chamberlain spared a man at lance point during the charge, and later he shares water with the vanquished soldiers.
Kilrain is seriously wounded. He was shot a second time during the battle, yet prevented someone from shooting Chamberlain. The two men share an emotional moment as Chamberlain wordlessly acknowledges the pride in Kilrain's eyes. They try to minimize the seriousness of Kilrain's wound, but Chamberlain feels alarm seeing the weariness in the old man's eyes.
Chamberlain is ordered by Colonel Rice to move his men to cover Big Round Top. Rice is the new brigade commander as Colonel Vincent was mortally wounded during the battle. Chamberlain reflects that they are again the extreme flank of the Union line. He readies the men and then says good-bye to Kilrain, the man who had welcomed him to the regiment, the man who had always been there. Chamberlain does not know what to say him and moves away. Looking over the battle scene one last time, he feels incredible joy at their success.
"Now we'll see how professors fight." This comment by Colonel Vincent alludes to the theme of Chamberlain's unusual background. He is not a politician, not a military man, but a professor. However, because he's not been trained to think like a West Pointer, he possesses the unique ability to objectively study situations and men, nurture and care for his regiment, see both sides of the fight, and do the unexpected.
It is these qualities that got the mutineers to join his group. Without his ability to influence people, the mutineers might not have joined the 20th Maine, and Chamberlain might not have had enough men to hold the flank. The entire Union line and the outcome of the battle were saved by the fact that he had enough men to do the job and that he could inspire those men to hold their positions. Chamberlain didn't have to threaten his men. He led them.
During battle, Chamberlain is calm, quiets the "talking" in his head, and just gets to work. In the middle of the fighting, he again shows that objective streak, noting that the men opposing him are very good. He feels strong emotions for Kilrain, like a son coming to the father to accept praise for a job well done. And he feels the loss when the man who has always been there is carried away. Lastly, Chamberlain experiences overwhelming joy when he reflects on what they've just done, and a sense of the importance of the moment.
Chamberlain struggles, however, with the morality of plugging the line with his brother. This issue has come up before and is now something Chamberlain needs to confront. He used his brother like a tool. He feels strong emotions for his brother, but must repress them, as he is first, a commander, second, a brother. This situation is not tolerable, though, and a change will have to take place.
Shaara's choice to have Chamberlain check on his men before the battle helps readers connect with these men on a personal level. You get to know the three mutineers who volunteer to fight, the Merrill brothers, Private Foss, and Amos Long. At the end of the chapter, you feel relief or loss as you learn who lived and who died. Shaara's descriptions put you right in the battle. You see the enemy approaching, feel the terror, and hear the bullets, rebel yells, and cries of pain. Shaara uses short sentences, quickly shifting scenes of the action, and vivid images of faces shot off, to create tension and reality.
the Bully Boy nickname for Sickles given by other Union officers suggestive of his temperament.
the Barton Key Affair Barton Key, son of Frances Scott Key who wrote The National Anthem, was having an affair with Sickles' wife. Sickles killed him and then pleaded temporary insanity, the first time that defense was used, and was found not guilty.
the colors the flag for a particular fighting unit, such as a regimental flag.
red battle flags flags used for Confederate units.
brogans a heavy work shoe, fitting high on the ankle.
refuse the line to form a new line at an angle to the existing one so as to cover any flanking move.
right wheel forward like a swinging door, the line of men moves forward as if swinging from a hinge point in the main line, sweeping across the front of the battlefield.
mick slang term for an Irishman.
shelter halves tarp halves used to make tents and shelters when setting up camp.
map error an error on the map shows the units on Little Round Top. The map shows the 118th PA on the top right. It was actually in the Wheat Field. The 16th Michigan was the unit next to the 44th NY on Little Round Top.