Mainiacs, shoes, and the accident that was Gettysburg. The historical role of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment

Bachelor Thesis, 2014
43 Pages, Grade: 100.0


Table of Contents

Thesis Proposal

Contextual Essay

Literary Review

Annotated bibliography


Secondary Sources

Primary Sources

Thesis Proposal

The Battle of Gettysburg is one of the most well-known battles of the American Civil War and in American military history. It was widely believed that this battle ultimately set the course of the war’s outcome, turning the tide in favor for the Union Army. The 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, a unit largely comprised of Maine’s undesirable, leftover volunteers, was resupplied by the soon-to-be-court-martialed mutineers of the 2nd Maine Volunteer Infantry. It was posted at the far left of the Union army’s defensive line, atop Little Round Top on the 2nd of July, 1863, the second day of the battle. Aside from shedding light on the strategic importance of the 20th Maine’s defensive position, at Little Round Top, for the Battle, and more importantly—the war in whole, this thesis will also take a deeper look into the enlisted men of 20th Maine, their commanding officers, and the mutineers of the 2nd Maine who were sent to reinforce them before the battle. It will examine the claim that Colonel Joshua Chamberlain was not the one who ordered the 20th Maine to make their famous bayonet charge into enemy line, but rather his subordinate officer.

Most regiments were comprised of men who grew up together in the same county, or even the same town. The volunteers of the 2nd Maine had all enlisted from the city of Bangor.

The core of the 20th Maine, however, was comprised of the state’s spare volunteers: men from Portland, Augusta, Brewer, Brunswick, Lewiston, and even from across the Saint John River in what is now the federated nation of Canada. This thesis will examine how a depleted unit of rag-tag left-over outcasts came together under the leadership of then-colonel Joshua Chamberlain to prevent the far-left of the Union line from being flanked, and how influential this was on the battle.

While part of this thesis will be dedicated to the strategic importance of the 20th Maine’s role in the battle, there will also be a significant portion dedicated to taking a closely scrutinize how these individuals, having volunteered late, without the same level of honor as the first volunteers, were sent off to war without a farewell party and with no county or city to claim them. Who were these individuals who came together under the leadership of Joshua Chamberlain at a pivotal moment in history, to stand together and hold the Union army’s defense at the Battle of Gettysburg on Thursday, the 2nd of July 1863? How did they leave their mark on history?

This thesis will use a variety of secondary sources, such as journal articles and monographs, and eventually many primary sources, such as newspaper articles, soldiers’ diaries, letters, and memoirs. Some of the articles that will be included are “Maine at Gettysburg,” by Brian Swartz of the Bangor Daily News, Martin Pengelly’s “The Maine Lesson of Gettysburg,” “Why Gettysburg is a Maine Battlefield,” by Tom Bell of the Kennebec Journal, and “A Savage Conflict: the Decisive Role of Guerillas in the American Civil War,” published in The Historian by William B. Feis. Other secondary sources will include Two Communities in the Civil War by Andrew J. Torget and Edward L. Ayers, and Lincoln and His Generals and Military Leadership in the North and South, both by T. Harry Williams.

There were two outstanding sources that were intended to be used: James M. McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era and “The Dear Old Regiment,” published in the New England Quarterly by Crompton B. Burton. Unfortunately, the source from the New England Quarterly could not be relocated during the period of note-taking, and the McPherson source, while valuable, did not have sufficient information to draw from for the subject of Little Round Top.

Contextual Essay

The Battle of Gettysburg is one of the most famous battles in the bloodiest war in United States history. The name of the battle, which occurred between the first and third days of July, 1863, can be recognized by nearly all American citizens. The result of this battle is said to have shifted the outcome of the war and the destinies of two nations of brothers. It was so pivotal that it spurred then-American president, Abraham Lincoln, to travel to the devastated fields of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, just a few months after the war had reached the town, to deliver the Gettysburg address. This is where the significance of the battle was forever immortalized in just two-hundred thirty-two words. To sum up the already to-the-point speech:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.

—The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated (this ground)—The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.—these dead shall not have died in vain—this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”—Abraham Lincoln (Gettysburg Address).[1]

While many understand how crucial this battle was in swaying the tide of war in favor of the Union, few realize that this famous, all-decisive and crucial, battle was an accident. It occurred by chance when a small skirmish broke out between Confederate and Union units that had one another’s paths while sneaking into the town to commandeer shoes from the shoe factory. This chance encounter escalated into a skirmish which evolved into a battle that would be recognized by latter generations as the battle that changed the war, and by doing so, changed the world.

On the 30th of June, 1863, a regiment of North Carolina volunteers, under the command of General J. Johnston Pettigrew went scavenging through the town for supplies, specifically shoes, which, for regiments on both sides of the conflict, had become scarce, and a luxury worth fighting for. They spotted a Union cavalry led by General John Buford, arriving in town from the south. It is widely believed the Buford and his cavalry were also in the town to scavenge for shoes, while others believe that he and his men were on a routine patrol of the area. Regardless of how these two units met one another, or their purpose for entering the town, they engaged in a skirmish the following morning, on the 1st of July, opening the first shots of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Neither unit was aware that the body of their opponents’ armies were located in close proximity to the town. The Confederate unit had thought that the cavalry was just a local Pennsylvania militia, while the Union cavalry had been under the impression that the unit of North Carolinians was simply a scouting unit.

Having a full view of what would become the battlefield, Union-General Buford knew that if a battle were to break out, the victor would be the one holding the ridge on top of a nearby hill, facing an open clearing. General George Meade, who had become the latest replacement in Lincoln’s search for a supreme commanding officer, was considered unfit to lead by many other officers in the Union. It was believed that if Buford had waited for Meade's orders, instead of engaging the Confederate forces and allowing the Union to take the high ground, that the Confederate army would have been positioned at the top of the hill while the Union would have had the strategic disadvantage on the field. When it was clear that there was a larger force backing the Confederate Skirmishers, Buford went into action and took the high ground, holding of the Confederate forces long enough for word to spread to the nearby Union forces to converge on the small town of Gettysburg, where the skirmish had bloomed into the iconic battle.

There is a good chance that the Battle of Gettysburg might never have occurred. The corps of the Union army was in the area while the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, led by General Lee, was making its second attempt to turn the northern states into a battle ground, to relieve the devastated fields of the south. The farms of the south had been depleted, the land had been devastated, and the cities had been looted. Although this devastation had been entrenched into the south, the Confederate army was on a winning streak and public opinion of the war, as well as Union moral, was low. Morale to the point where thoughts of protest and demands to impeach Lincoln would have been forming in the minds of the northern citizens. To break the spirit of the north and resupply his army, Lee knew he had to take his fight north, and so he did.

In the fields of Pennsylvania, the Union army had known that the Confederate army had crossed borders, though they were not certain exactly where they were located. At the same time, Lee’s scouts had disappeared and were not reporting on known Union positions. Lee did not want to move his army without his eyes wide open. He wanted to avoid the Union army and continue around them to pillage the land and break the spirit of the enemy. As Lee did not want to maneuver without his scouts, though it is likely that both armies could have walked past one another without realizing their proximity, he elected to remain put, forcing some of his regiments to loot nearby towns for supplies, towns such as Gettysburg, which was known to have a shoe factory.

Literary Review

To conceive a thesis on the human composition of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment and their significance to the outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg, and the American Civil War at large, an assortment of secondary sources, from journal articles to Monographs and anthologies will be used. Eventually, many primary sources, such as newspaper articles, soldiers’ diaries, letters, and memoires will also be included. These sources will come from a variety of authors from different time periods, such as the early 20th century, the 1960s, 1980 and 1990s, and even some as recently as 2013. This will be done so that the legacy of the 20th Maine will be apparent not just from a modern perspective, but over the course of the last century and a half of history.

Some of the local articles from Maine and other parts of New England will include “Maine at Gettysburg,” by Brian Swartz of the Bangor Daily News, Martin Pengelly’s “The Maine Lesson of Gettysburg,” “Why Gettysburg is a Maine Battlefield,” by Tom Bell of the Kennebec Journal. This local insight will illuminate the 20th Maine’s lingering legacy in the region, while more national articles will include “A Savage Conflict: the Decisive Role of Guerillas in the American Civil War,” published in The Historian by William B. Feis. Another regional source that will be analyzed is Charles F. Ritter’s Leaders of the American Civil War: A Biographical and Historiographical Dictionary, from Connecticut. The primary sources and modern opinions used and displayed by all of the above mentioned texts appear to be reliable.

They consist mostly of soldiers’ letters, diaries, newspaper articles, and monographs. These sources look like they will be valuable for the research.

Other secondary sources in the dissection of the heart of the 20th Maine and their vital role at Gettysburg include: Two Communities in the Civil War by Andrew J. Torget and Edward L. Ayers, Colonel Steve Betschart’s “Field Regulations & Practices 1st Oregon / 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry,” James M. McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, James R. Wright’s “Time on Little Round Top,” and “The Lion of the Union: The Pelvic Wound of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain” by William J. Harmon. In contrast to these secondary sources, sources from the southern United States or on the subject of the confederate forces that were massed at Gettysburg will also be analyzed. Some of these sources will include Richard M. McMurry’s John Bell Hood and the War for Southern Independence, and William Garrett Piston’s Lee's Tarnished Lieutenant: James Longstreet and His Place in Southern History, from Georgia. The anthology by Torget and Ayers appears valuable but may be more useful during the second semester. As for the sources on John Bell Hood and General Longstreet, I still think that I may use these sources for the thesis but I think that their subjects may be a bit out of my focus.

Several international sources are also being considered for the task or shedding light on Maine’s left-over sons. These will include “The Maine Lesson of Gettysburg,” printed in The Guardian in London, England, and “Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain—More Than Just the Hero of Little Round Top,” from the American Civil War Round Table of Australia, New South Wales chapter. Eventually primary sources such as “Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg” by La Salle Corbell-Pickett, the widow of one George Picket, and My Diary North and South by William Russell will be utilized, but not until later in the year. Finally, there are a few authors with several pieces of work being considered for this thesis, these authors are T. Harry Williams and the team of Gary J. Laine and M. Penny.

Annotated bibliography

Adelman, Garry E. The Myth of Little Round Top. Thomas Publications: Pennsylvania, 2003. Print.

This monograph presents decent counter arguments against the legacy of the twentieth Maine. The author appears to have done their research. He uses maps and statistics to argue his point. Mainly argues with opinion instead of facts. But the numbers appear accurate.

Bell, Tom. “Why Gettysburg is a Maine Battlefield,” Kennebec Journal, Kennebec Journal, Augusta, ME, 4 Sep, 2013. Print.

This article reviews the Battle of Gettysburg and how it could be called a “Maine Battlefield,” given the number of Maine infantry units that participated in the battle, giving special emphasis to the contributions to the 20th Maine Volunteer infantry. It provides a modern Mainer's perspective on the historic event. Because of this is does not appear to rely on many, or at least list any other formal sources.

Busey, John W., and David G. Martin. Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg, 4th ed. Hightstown, NJ: Longstreet House, 2005.

This monograph relies mainly on primary sources, such as reports, in his work. It is a very useful source and appears to be reliable.

Colonel Betschart, Steve. “Field Regulations & Practices 1st Oregon / 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry.” 20th Maine. 2009. Web. 16 Sep, 2013.

This manual was written by a United States Army colonel on the subject of the 20th Maine's military drills and camp life. It draws on the personal accounts of soldiers and officers as well and military record. I am sure that it will be useful in helping to set the scene for the regiment and the morality of the soldiers before the battle.

Corbell-Pickett, La Salle. “Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg” America, Vol VIII. Veterans of Foreign Wars: Chicago, 1923. Print.

This primary source is an account about Colonel Pickett and his charge at Gettysburg! It is written from the perspective of his widow. Given its date and the proximity of the author to the subject, it is more of a primary source, so it will be regarded later in the year rather than now.

Desjardin, Thomas A. Joshua L. Chamberlain: The Life in Letters. Osprey Publishing: Oxford, 2012. Print.

This book relies primarily on letters and diary entries to layout the life of Joshua Chamberlain. Assuming that all of the primary sources the author utilized are authentic, it is a very reliable source.

Desjardin, Thomas A. Stand Firm Ye Boys from Maine: The 20th Maine and the Gettysburg Campaign. Thomas Publications, 1995. Print.

A well written monograph from Maine historian Thomas Desjardin that was even praised by the Confederate Book Review. I wide variety of secondary and primary sources, ranging from letters, to other monographs. Well research, very reliable, and quite useful.

Galeano, Eduardo. “Memory of Fire.” Faces & Masks, Vol 2. Nation Books: New York, 1987. Print.

This collection of short anecdotes from the time period mainly relates to Latin American History. Some of the anecdote about the American Civil War were used. The book lists a plethora of sources, almost entirely primary sources from newspapers.

Ellis, James H. A Ruinous and Unhappy War: New England and the War of 1812. New York: Algora Publishing, 2009. Print.

This monographs trove of sources cover all areas, such as newspapers and town records, and apparently other monographs. The book was helpful in providing information on Maine’s history in previous American wars.

Feis, William B. “A Savage Conflict: the Decisive Role of Guerillas in the American Civil War,” The Historian, vol 73, no 4. Wiley-Blackwell: Tampa, FL, Winter, 2011. Print.

This article discusses the importance of guerrilla in the civil war. As the 20th Maine issued part of their regiment to be sharpshooters/guerillas on their flank during the battle, I felt that it may too provide an interesting perspective. But again, it appears to be beyond my focus for the thesis, but it is still plausible that it will serve some use.

Harmon, William J. “The Lion of the Union: The Pelvic Wound of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.” The Journal Urology. 15 Oct 1999. Web. 16 Sep, 2013.

This article is focused on Joshua Chamberlain and some of his several wounds, a few of which he sustained at Gettysburg. I feel that the information provided may serve some purpose in revealing the character of Chamberlain. I have not been able to pinpoint all of the sources because only a biography is mentioned and there is no reference page.

Illias, Gerald P. “Generals in the Union Army.” Time for History. 2009. Web. 3 Apr, 2014.

This history website appears to be very professional and well maintained. The information found here was supported by other sources that have been examined throughout this investigation. The website itself does not appear to list its sources but it appears reliable. It was used to verify which general was commanding officer of the Union army at which point of the war.

Kirkby, Jennifer. “Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain—More Than Just the Hero of Little Round Top.” American Civil War Round Table of Australia: New South Wales, Australia, June 2003. Print.

This essay from an American Civil War Round Table based in Australia may be able to reveal the international presence that Joshua Chamberlain holds. There were a decent amount of secondary sources used in this essay, mostly monographs and biographies about Chamberlain. I am really looking forward to reading it in detail.

Laine, J. Gary & Penny, M. Law's Alabama Brigade in the war between the Union and the Confederacy. White Mane Publishing: Pennsylvania, 1996. Print.

This monograph is compiled from primary and secondary sources about the Alabama Brigade, whom the 20th Maine fought at Gettysburg. I thought that it might be helpful to see the battle from their perspective and I feel that this source could be useful. I am currently having difficulty finding this text again. It has been cited by several other texts though.

Laine, J. Gary & Penny, M. Struggle for the Round Tops: Law's Alabama Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg, July 2-3, 1863. Burd Street Press: Pennsylvania, 1999. Print.

This monograph is also compiled from secondary sources about the Alabama Brigade, and as it is such, I thought that it might be helpful in seeing the battle from their perspective. I feel that it could also be helpful in providing the entire perspective on Little Round Top. I am having the same issue with this text as I am with the other by the same author.


[1] “The Gettysburg Address.” Abraham Lincoln Online. 2013. Web. 27 Oct, 2013

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Mainiacs, shoes, and the accident that was Gettysburg. The historical role of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment
Westminster College
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gettysburg, chamberlain, maine, 20th maine, civil war
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Michael Gorman (Author), 2014, Mainiacs, shoes, and the accident that was Gettysburg. The historical role of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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