There’s a lot more than Joshua Chamberlain to the story of Maine at the Battle of Gettysburg. Chamberlain, the colonel of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry who fought with his regiment at Little Round Top, has reached almost legendary status since the battle. But soldiers from Maine made their presence felt all over the battlefield during the three days of fighting in July 1863. Telling Maine’s story at Gettysburg provides a unique lens on a conflict that still fascinates millions.
Published in 2018 by Stackpole Books, Maine Roads to Gettyburg follows the soldiers from the Pine Tree State from the beginning of the American Civil War until the conclusion of the bloody fighting at Gettysburg. It tells the stories of the Maine soldiers who fought and died at Bull Run, on the Peninsula, at Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville before they followed Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia into Pennsylvania.
The 20th ME wasn’t the only Maine regiment that made a valiant stand at Gettysburg. So did the 16th ME, which was sacrificed on July 1 to buy time for its division to safely retreat. The 17th ME played its role in the Wheatfield on July 2. The 19th ME helped repulse Pickett’s Charge on July 3, around the same time that the 1st ME Cavalry was helping defeat Confederate cavalry far behind the Union lines.
Over those three days in July 1863, thousands of Maine men risked and sometimes lost their lives. One of the casualties was John F. Chase, a soap boiler from Augusta who enlisted in the 5th Maine Battery. At the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, Chase had been one of the few members of his unit still capable of firing his gun, and then he and another man worked together to muscle the cannon off the field and away from the enemy. Chase was less lucky at Gettysburg, when an exploding shell riddled him with iron. His 48 wounds included the eventual loss of an arm and an eye. As though that weren’t bad enough, the terribly wounded soldier remained lying on the battlefield for two days. No one realized Chase was still alive until he was being carted off for burial. Regaining consciousness, Chase asked his burial party, “Did we win the battle?” Amazingly, he survived his wounds and lived until 1914, when he died in Florida.
Chase was just one of some 4,000 Maine men who fought at Gettysburg over those three bloody days in July 1863. For many of those who survived, Gettysburg remained the high point of their lives. Some would talk about it until the day they died—others would bury it deeply into their unconsciousness and try to forget its horrific events. None of them left the field of Gettysburg unchanged, and whether they liked it or not, they were a band or brothers. As Joshua Chamberlain told some of the survivors in October 1889, “Those who fell here—those who have fallen before or since—those who linger, yet a little longer, soon to follow; all are mustered in one great company on the shining heights of life, with that star of Maine’s amorial ensign upon their foreheads forever—like the ranks of the galaxy.”
Maine Roads to Gettysburg tells their stories.
About the Author: Tom Huntington is the author of Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg, as well as Guide to Gettysburg Battlefield Monuments, Pennsylvania Civil War Trails, and Ben Franklin’s Philadelphia, all published by Stackpole Books. He is also the former editor of American History and Historic Traveler magazines, and his writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Air & Space, American Heritage, Invention & Technology, British Heritage, and Yankee. Although he now lives in Pennsylvania, Huntington is Maine born and bred.
Here are some reactions to Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg:
Much more than another Civil War biography, Tom Huntington’s gripping personal ‘search’ for George Gordon Meade is unique and irresistible: a combination life story, military history, travelogue, and cultural commentary that brings us closer than ever to the old general and his strange reputation—and also opens new windows to our own unending search for an understandable national identity. —Harold Holzer, Chairman, Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation
“Despite his great victory at Gettysburg and his command of the army that forced Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, George Meade saw his fame eclipsed by that of Lee, Grant, and other Civil War generals. This book does a great deal to redress that historical injustice. Tom Huntington has invented a new genre of biography that shifts between past and present as he tells the story of Meade’s life and describes his own pilgrimage to the key sites of that life. The result is an engrossing narrative that the reader can scarcely put down.” —James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era
“Searching for George Gordon Meade is a splendid book! Well-researched, well-reasoned and well-written, it’s a timely and vital addition to the all-too-meager literature on this neglected American hero. Strongly recommended for serious historians as well as for a general readership. Excellent!” —Ralph Peters, author of Cain at Gettysburg