Originally published on forbes.com on July 4th 2013.
Around 4:30 PM on July 2, 2013, my covivant and I were approaching what I thought might be the high point of our Gettysburg experience, well my experience anyway. At 5:00 PM, Ranger Jim Flook presented the last of the Key Moment presentations at Station 1 - Little Round Top. Ranger Flook wanted us to learn how it took all soldiers operating in concert to save a position. General Governeur Warren perceives the importance of the position. We stood right behind the general's statue. General Warren was Chief Engineer of the Army of The Potomac with no troops under his command. He sends a courier to ask for troops to be detailed to defend the hill. Colonel Strong Vincent intercepts the courier, learns of the need and, on his own authority, moves his brigade to defend the position. Among the regiments in Colonel Vincent's brigade is the 20th Maine commanded by Joshua Chamberlain. It is Vincent that orders the regiment to hold at all costs.
Ranger Flook then took us back to the 20th Maine monument which is across the road from Warren's statue and a bit back into the woods. There he told us about the post-war epistolary dispute that raged between Chamberlain and Colonel William C. Oates of the 15th Alabama. By Oates account, he had decided that further attack on the hill was futile, particularly after he heard cannons which he thought to be Union artillery, and chose to withdraw. Then he saw the 20th Maine descending on him. Chamberlain, on the other hand, thought that he was hearing Confederate cannons and that the desperate charge was what provoked the 15th's withdrawal. Post-war memoirs are replete with such disputes and hard-core enthusiasts love to debate them to this day.
Where Were The Real Timers ?
We lingered on Little Round Top as long as we dared given our concern about not wanting to miss the last shuttle, since the buses ran only to 6:30 PM. I was hunting for familiar faces. I had told CV about the real timer phenomenon. When I was at Antietam in September, I ended up chatting with two fellow who recognized one another from Bull Run. Real timers are a peculiar self-recruited unorganized group response to the sesquicentennial. According to the two fellows, there are about thirty or so of them. Real timers seek to be on the exact location of critical events at the exact time 150 years later (They seem to be liberal about day light savings time throwing things off by an hour). They do not care whether there are any activities going on and from what I could gather would be just as happy if the only people there with them were a handful of other real times.
One example of a hard-core real timer is my friend George. I met him as we were walking towards the Cornfield at Antietam around 6:00 AM on September 17th. From his accent I inferred that he had come from a distance. I was right. George grew up and lives in Bavaria. This was grounds for immediate bonding since the most colorful teacher I ever had (And believe me, I had quite a few colorful ones) was Father Harreis, who was supposed to be teaching us German in our senior year at Xavier High School. Instead he mostly regaled us with stories that usually began with "Venn, I vas a young boy in Chermany". Street fighting among Catholic youth, Nazis and Communists in the streets of Munchen was a common topic. At any rate, I asked George what the Park Service had planned for the day. It is one thing to drive from Massachusetts to Maryland on a whim, but coming all the way from Europe, you would think a little advance research would be in order. He didn't know and didn't care. He just wanted to be in the Cornfield at the right time.
George is one of those scary smart people who came to a Civil War obsession through board gaming. His favorite was Gleam of Bayonets, which is about Antietam. He was motivated to improve his English in order to be able to read the instruction manual. I knew George was planning to be at Vicksburg during his six-week vacation (It really stinks to be a European doesn't it ?) this year, but I hoped I would glimpse another familiar face. No such luck. After several days of battlefield wandering (particularly when you include Chancellorsville), CV is becoming skeptical about the existence of real timers. I keep telling CV that my obsession is moderate and my knowledge superficial. CV has become confident that the real timer club has only one member and it is somebody that CV knows. I, on the other hand, have concluded that all the real real timers are at Vicksburg, which actually has much more strategic significance than Gettysburg.
A Sea of Blue
Off duty, but fully attired Union generals were on the scene (They are doing weekend events). Some of them, including General Grant, had their ladies with them.
There were also a couple of green-coated US Sharpshooters, who had played a critical role in the action. Thanks to the Civil War Heritage Foundation, Joshua Chamberlain was on the scene in the person of Roland Servant from Southbridge, MA not very far at all from Oxford where CV and I live. (I have been obsessively adding birthplace of Clara Barton whenever someone asks me where I am from) We had a nice chat about being Governor of Maine and President of Bowdoin College. It is inspiring to know that Chamberlain's bravery on Little Round Top was not a fluke:
In January 1880, there was a dispute about who was the newly elected governor of Maine, and the Maine State House was occupied by a band of armed men. The outgoing governor, Alonzo Garcelon, summoned Chamberlain, the commander of the Maine Militia, to take charge. Chamberlain sent home the armed men, and arranged for the Augusta police to keep control. He stayed in the State House most of the twelve-day period until the Maine Supreme Judicial Court's decision on the election results was known. During this time, there were threats of assassination and kidnapping, and on one occasion he went outside to face down a crowd of 25-30 men intending to kill him, and both sides offered bribes to appoint him a United States senator. Having gratified neither side in the dispute, he did not become a senator, and his career in state politics ended
Mr. Servant told me that Chamberlain actually died of one of the six wounds he received during the balance of the war. I still kind of think being 83 might have had something to do with it. Just saying.
As it turned out even though it was a key moment and resulted in the best movie clip ever
Little Round Top was not the high point of my experience. That would be on Day 3, which will be coming soon.
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I actually met Joshua Chamberlain three times in my real time adventures. The first time was at Chancellorsville, where he was sitting it out due to small pox in his regiment. Not to nit pick, that fellow needs to work on his Maine accent. Mr Servant at Little Round top is the next picture. The last is actually a distant cousin of Chamberlain. He is wearing the uniform of a Major General and the medal of honor that Chamberlain did not receive until the 1890s. I met him the night before the Gettysburg address ceremonies in November.