Gettysburg — the Story of Little Round Top

Good leaders correctly size up situations and take swift decisive action.

View toward northern side of battlefield

Our visit to Gettysburg National Military Park had a profound impact upon me. We stood on the rocky slope of a hill known as Little Round Top. From this vantage point we gained perspective of the immense battlefield.

Like the large size of the field, the story of Gettysburg is huge. It is difficult to write about it and convey all of it in a single blog post or even in a series of blog posts. Therefore, today’s post will focus specifically on the Union Army’s fight to hold Little Round Top.

View west toward Devil’s Den

It is a general rule of war: You must obtain and hold the high ground. General Meade moved divisions of his army onto the high ground south of Gettysburg.

The position of Little Round Top was strategically important. However, due to some confusion and unauthorized troop movement by a controversial general, Little Round Top was left unprotected by the boys in blue. The Union’s flank was exposed.

Brig. Gen. Warren

The story hinges on the decisions made by many leaders from both sides. Although, this area was only one part of the battlefield, the decisions made here affected the outcome of the entire battle of Gettysburg and some would say, ultimately, the entire war.

Three key men helped to win the Union victory at Little Round Top:
• Brig. Gen. Gouverneur Kemble Warren was sent by General Meade to investigate the field. A topographical engineer, he immediately perceived the Union line’s vulnerability and took action. He dispatched a message to warn Gen. Meade of the danger and he continued to look for units to protect the flank.
• Col. Strong Vincent intercepted Warren’s messenger. He took it upon himself to deal with the immediate danger. He didn’t just send the message on and wait for someone else to take care of it. He pulled other officers into solving the imminent danger.
• Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was one of those officers. Col. Vincent instructed Chamberlain to hold Little Round Top at all costs. As wave after wave of Confederates stormed up the small hill, Chamberlain’s 20th Maine held their ground. Finally, when the 20th Maine troops were out of bullets, Chamberlain ordered a desperate bayonet charge. He positioned his men to utilize a swinging door maneuver, which closed the door on the Alabamian soldiers. He outflanked them.

The counterattack led by Chamberlain is one of the most famous parts of the Battle for Gettysburg. Although, this skirmish alone did not secure a Union victory, it did protect the Union Flank.

It is important to remember that just one hero or just one leader does not win a military victory all by themselves. Some sources suggest Chamberlain is given too much credit for securing Little Round Top. Indeed, many more officers contributed to the victory. And none of it would have been possible without the courage of the 20th Maine’s individual soldiers and those of Col. Patrick O’Rorke’s 140th New York whom Warren rushed to bolster Col. Vincent’s line.

Travel Light Tips:
Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center:
(A short video on the website gives info to help you plan your visit.)
Summer Hours:
April – Oct, 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Winter Hours:
Nov – March, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

(Please note the longer hours below for the park grounds)
Battlefield Park Grounds and Roads:
Summer Hours: April – Oct, 6:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Winter Hours: Nov – March, 6:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
• Obtain a Self-Guided Auto Tour map at the Museum/Visitor’s Center.
• Drive around the entire Gettysburg Battlefield to better understand the size of the battle.
• Walk around Little Round Top. Follow the trails through the vegetation. Be sure to read the markers, statues, and commemorative stones for greater understanding of what took place at each location.
• Find the statue of Brig. Gen. Warren on Little Round Top.

A statue of Brig. Gen. Warren is placed on a rock where it is believed he stood to survey the potential disaster unfolding at Little Round Top. From this rocky outcropping, he was fully exposed to Confederate sharpshooters. Imagine how different the story may have been if he had been killed.

I stand in awe of the courage and determination of all those soldiers and officers, be they known or unknown. My visit to the Gettysburg National Battlefield impacted me greatly. I pray I will never forget the numerous lessons I learned there.

What places have you visited that have left an impact on you? Tell me about them in the comments below.

Until next time . . . Travel Light,

©2018 SuZan Klassen

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