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Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine Transcript
Headquarters 20th Maine Volunteers
To His Excellency Abner Coburn
I embrace a rare opportunity – namely a day’s halt within a mile of our baggage – to write you in reference to the affairs of our Reg’t in which, I am well aware, you feel the deepest interest.
In the first place, allow me to thank you for the honor you have done me in entrusting to my care this noble Regiment. I trust I shall always be worthy of the confidence you have thus placed in me. I consider it an officer’s first duty to look after the welfare of his men. To this he is bound no less by the responsibility which the arbitrary nature of his power imposes than by the regard he should have to the service in which he is engaged. My experience in several trying campaigns has taught me that the way to ensure the efficiency of the army is to keep the men in the best possible condition, physically and morally.
Within a month this Regiment has been engaged in the most active & honorable service – taking a conspicuous part in three fights in as many different states within that time & in all of them doing as well as the best. At the great battle of Gettysburg, however, the Regiment won distinguished honor. We were assigned to the extreme left of our line of battle, where the fiercest assault was made. A whole Rebel Brigade was opposed to this Regiment, charging on us with desperate fury, in columns of Regiments, so that we had to contend with a front of fresh troops after each struggle. After two hours fighting on the defensive, our loss had been so great & the remaining men were so much exhausted, having fired all our “sixty rounds” & all the cartridges we could gather from the scattered boxes of the fallen around us, friend & foe, I saw no way left but to take the offensive & accordingly, we charged on the enemy trying “cold steel” on them. The result was we drove them entirely out of the field killing one hundred and fifty of them and taking three hundred & eight prisoners and two hundred & seventy five stand of arms.
The prisoners taken were from five different Regiments from Alabama & Texas – twelve of the numbe were officers – four of the staff of the General commanding their Brigade. They admitted they had charged on us with a Brigade & said that they had fought in a dozen battles, and never had been stopped before.
We were afterward ordered, or asked to carry a height which afforded the Rebels a very advantageous position & was considered by our Generals a strong point to carry; and exhausted as we were, the one hundred & ninety eight bayonets I had left after that days fighting, charged up that hill & carried everything before them – taking many more prisoners and arms, but what is better, taking the heights & holding them - the darkness which had now come on deceiving the enemy as to our numbers.
Our services have been officially acknowledged, though no partial friend has published our praises in the state whose name we are proud to bear & which, we believe, we have not dishonored.
I protected my men in every possible way, but I grieve over the loss of two fellows who fell on that field which their courage helped to make a “field of Honor” and I regret to lose the services of 102 wounded there. Besides this in our other fights we had a loss of three killed and sixteen wounded & missing. I fear I have written too freely but this is not an “official” letter & I know you desire to be informed reliably of the service rendered by your regiments.
I am sorry to say that Lieut. Col. Gilmore was obliged to leave us on our march through Maryland & is now in Baltimore not yet fit for duty. We all suffered for want of medical attendance. Our toilsome & hurried marches broke down a great many & I had to be surgeon and father as well as Colonel, to the extent that I fell sick myself & came near dying, but was providentially able to lead my gallant fellows into the fight. The surgeons recently appointed have reported & and we are highly gratified with their appearance.
I should be glad to have Rev. Mr. Brown whom you recommended with Hon. J.J. Perry & others appointed Hospital Steward at report at once. I very much need a field officer. I had to go through the fights alone. Is there any objection to following the suggestion of Col. Ames in the appointment of Major? I should heartily endorse that.
Very respectfully your ob’t serv’t
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