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Chamberlain's Charge Saves Battle of Gettysburg

Joshua Chamberlain was a student of theology and a professor of rhetoric, not a soldier. But when duty called, Chamberlain answered. He climbed the ranks to become colonel of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Union Army.

On July 2, 1863, Chamberlain and his three-hundred-soldier regiment were all that stood between the Confederates and certain defeat at a battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. At 2:30 P.M., the 15th and 47th Alabama infantry regiments of the Confederate army charged, but Chamberlain and his men held their ground. Then followed a second, third, fourth, and fifth charge. By the last charge, only 80 blues stood standing. Chamberlain himself was knocked down by a bullet that hit his belt buckle, but the 24-year-old schoolteacher got right back up.

It was his date with destiny. When Sergeant Tozier informed Chamberlain that no reinforcements were coming and his men were down to one round of ammunition per soldier, Chamberlain knew he needed to act decisively. Their lookout informed Colonel Chamberlain that the Confederates were forming rank. The rational thing to do at that point, with no ammunition and no reinforcements, would have been to surrender. But Chamberlain made a defining decision: in full view of the enemy, Chamberlain climbed onto their barricade of stones and gave a command. He pointed his sword and yelled, "Charge!"

His men fixed bayonets and started running at the Confederate army, which vastly outnumbered them. They caught them off guard by executing a great right wheel. And in what ranks as one of the most improbable victories in military history, 80 Union soldiers captured 4,000 Confederates in five minutes.

Historians believe that if Chamberlain had not charged, the Confederate army would have gained the high ground, won the Battle of Gettysburg, and eventually won the war. One man's courage saved the day, saved the war, and saved the Union.

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