July 1, 2013

Gettysburg: 'A most unexpected battle'

Mainers are among the visitors at the site of the 20th Maine's heroic charge at Little Round Top.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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A Maine flag is planted near the base of the monument to the 20th Maine Regiment, located on the slopes of Little Round Top where the Battle of Gettysburg was fought.

Kevin Miller / Washington Bureau Chief

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Re-enactors pose for a tintype photograph Sunday following a re-enactment of Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1863, the last major event of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Kevin Miller / Washington Bureau Chief

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While Miller has been a re-enactor for about five years, Henry Wakefield has been doing it for 47 years.

"It's my way of paying tribute to those guys and all of the veterans who have served," said Wakefield, who has eight ancestors who served in the Civil War.

It was a convergence of fate -- and roads -- that brought 97,000 Union soldiers and 75,000 Confederates together in Gettysburg in 1863.

The National Park Service does not have estimates of how many people will travel those same roads today -- passing by simple stone farmhouses that likely look much like they did 150 years ago -- to participate in the 150th anniversary observances. But more than 6 million people have passed through the doors of Gettysburg National Military Park's visitors center since 2008.

Maine units participated in almost every major battle at Gettysburg, from Little Round Top to the Wheat Field, from the first major assault on the first day to Pickett's fateful and final charge on the last. More than a dozen monuments to those Maine units are scattered across the military park, although the 20th Maine's monuments on Little Round Top attract the most attention.

On Sunday, Mainers also seemed to be everywhere -- whether as tourists, re-enactors or guest speakers.

Tom Desjardin, an author and former Gettysburg park curator who is now a historian at the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, told about 250 people about the "Joshua Chamberlain You Didn't Know."

Desjardin told about Chamberlain's lifelong but little-known struggle with stuttering and about how, contrary to popular perception, life after the Civil War for Chamberlain was not easy. The four-term Maine governor struggled financially and suffered for 50 years until his death with extreme pain from a musket ball that passed through both of his hips.

"Chamberlain's service didn't end with that 'happily ever after,' " Desjardin said.

As the day's shadows lengthened, thousands gathered near the Soldiers' National Cemetery where 3,500 soldiers are buried and where President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. In her keynote address, presidential author and Colby College alumna Doris Kearns Goodwin sought to link the struggle at Gettysburg with the wider battle over slavery and to the civil rights battles that followed and continue today.

"We can look upon these graves ... knowing that each of these soldiers sent forth ripples of hope" that led to the end of slavery, she said.

Following the ceremony as night fell, visitors and invited guests paid one more tribute to Gettysburg's fallen by marching to the military cemetery to light candles at each of the graves -- including those marking the final resting places of 104 Maine men who arrived in Gettysburg 150 years ago this week and never left.  

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com

On Twitter: @KevinMillerDC

 

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Additional Photos

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Soldiers’ National Cemetery holds the remains of 104 Maine soldiers who died during the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. In the background, Ken Quinn and his sons, Adrian and Sean, of Lisbon Falls pause to read placards placed at the graves of some of the Maine soldiers.

Kevin Miller / Washington Bureau Chief

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A tour guide Sunday discusses the 20th Maine Regiment’s bayonet charge on Little Round Top, which thwarted Confederate attempts to flank the Union lines at Gettysburg. Col. Joshua Chamberlain ordered the charge against the attacking forces because his troops were nearly out of ammunition and he was told to hold the far-left flank of the Union lines “at all hazard.”

Photos by Kevin Miller/Washington Bureau Chief

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Sgt. Charles W. Steel of the 20th Maine Regiment is one of 104 Maine men buried at Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg National Military Park.



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