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Galinn Karisson

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American military history can often be considered one of continuous ingenuity under fire, especially with citizens soldiers, as opposed to the many fully professional armies of Europe and Asia. One of the greatest examples of this ingenuity is from one of the most famous actions of the American Civil War, and one of the most unlikely figures of that conflict, Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and his defense of the Union left flank at the Battle of Gettysburg.

 

Col. Chamberlain was originally a professor at Bowdin College, in the state of Maine in New England, who was adept at language (he knew nine), rhetoric, and literature. His great-grandfathers and his father had all served in past wars and conflicts, leaving the grown Chamberlain the inheritor of a proud military tradition. On the outbreak of the Civil War, Chamberlain joined the Union cause (after a great fight from the college faculty), and despite great political connections, humbly refused to serve as Colonel of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and rather serve as Lieutenant Colonel, so as to learn the tactics and duities of command, using his rhetorical knowledge to study and commit military laws and the military manual. It would come in handy.

 

From Wikipedia:

 

"On the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Union forces were recovering from initial defeats and hastily regrouping into defensive positions on a line of hills south of the town. Sensing the momentary vulnerability of the Union forces, the Confederates began an attack against the Union left flank. Sent to defend the southern slope of Little Round Top by Col. Strong Vincent, Chamberlain found himself and the 20th Maine at the far left end of the entire Union line. He quickly understood the tactical significance of the small hill, and the need for the 20th Maine to hold the Union left at all costs. The men from Maine waited until troops from the 15th Alabama Infantry regiment, under Col. William C. Oates, charged up the hill, attempting to flank the Union position. Time and time again the Confederates struck, until the 20th Maine was almost doubled back upon itself. With many casualties and ammunition running low, Col. Chamberlain recognized the dire circumstances and ordered his left wing (which was now looking southeast, compared to the rest of the regiment, which was facing west) to initiate a bayonet charge. From his report of the day: "At that crisis, I ordered the bayonet. The word was enough."

 

The 20th Maine charged down the hill, with the left wing wheeling continually to make the charging line swing like a hinge, thus creating a simultaneous frontal assault and flanking maneuver, capturing many of the Confederate soldiers and successfully saving the flank. Chamberlain sustained two slight wounds in the battle, one when a shot hit his sword scabbard and bruised his thigh, and another when his foot was hit by a spent bullet or piece of shrapnel. For his tenacity at defending Little Round Top he was known by the sobriquet Lion of the Round Top."

 

Though hidden in the carnage and actions of the three day Battle of Gettysburg, it became apparent that Chamberlain's application of an obscure textbook move in the heat of battle most likely saved the entire Federal Army from complete rout, and which possibly prevented a Confederate advance on major American cities, including Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, D.C., and an ultimate defeat of the Union cause. Chamberlain's examples shows the value of versatility and diligence in command, while possessing the ability to keep a cool head under fire. Most importantly, it showed that a simple civilian could complete wonders in the heat of battle, with the right preparation and training. Chamberlain, himself, went on to be wounded four more times in combat, promoted to brevet major general, elected governor of Maine, and later awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic defense of Little Round Top. Chamberlain also later became immortalized in such books as "The Killer Angels" (periodic required reading by the U.S. War College, West Point, and many other military academic institutions), the movie "Gettysburg."

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Military strategy is one of a triumvirate of "arts" or "sciences" that govern the conduct of warfare; the others being tactics, the execution of plans and manœuvering of forces in battle and logistics or the maintenance of an army. However, many people forget Colonel John (Richard) Boyd (23 Jan 1927 - 09 Mar 1997), a former fighter pilot and military strategist of the late 20th century whose theories have been highly influential in the military and in business.

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