Ames at Gettysburg

Adelbert Ames was the original commander of the 20th Maine, and he made a mark on the regiment with his strict discipline. The regiment made a name for itself on Little Round Top under Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain during the fighting at Gettysburg on July 2. Ames, however, did not have a particularly glorious experience at Gettysburg. He entered the fight on July 1 as the commander of the second brigade in Francis C. Barlow’s first division of the XI Corps, and ended it as division commander following Barlow’s wounding. The division was driven back from its advanced position on the rise known today as Barlow Knoll and suffered a casualty rate of nearly 60 percent. When he reported to Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard on Cemetery Hill, Ames said, “I have no division; it is all cut to pieces.”

Like Barlow, Ames did not have much respect for the many Germans in his command. Ames’s official report of the day’s fight is relatively terse. He devoted fewer than 200 words to the events of July 1. Among them: “My brigade was ordered to a number of different positions, and finally it formed in rear of some woods, near a small stream some half a mile from town. From this position we were driven, the men of the First Brigade of this division running through lines of the regiments of my brigade (the Second), and thereby creating considerable confusion.”

At the end of that trying day, Ames found space in the cemetery gatehouse and went to sleep. He shared the room with Charles Wainwright, who handled the artillery for the I Corps. Wainwright took time to observe the young Maine general over the next few days. “I found him the best kind of man to be associated with, cool and clear in his own judgment, gentlemanly, and without the smallest desire to interfere,” said Wainwright. “We consulted together, but during the whole time we were here he never once attempted to presume on his superior rank. Ames is a gentleman; and a strange thing in the army, I did not hear him utter an oath of any kind during the three days!”

Ames suffered more disappointment in the waning daylight hours of July 2, when his division was in the thick of a fight for East Cemetery Hill and did not perform well. Fortunately, Winfield Scott Hancock sent a II Corps brigade under Samuel Carroll to East Cemetery Hill and the reinforcements arrived in time to repulse the attacking Rebels. Ames was terse about the evening’s fight when he wrote his report. It is not difficult to detect some tight-lipped fury between the three short sentences he contributed. “On the evening of the 2d, an attempt was made to carry the position we held, but the enemy was repulsed with loss,” Ames wrote. “Colonel Carroll, with a brigade from the Second Corps, rendered timely assistance. The batteries behaved admirably.” He pointedly did not mention how his own infantry had behaved. Ames did single out three officers for praise—his assistant adjutant general, Capt. John Marshall Brown; Harris of the 75th Ohio; and Young of the 107th Ohio. It’s probably no coincidence that none of them had a German surname.

On July 3, 1863, Ames dashed off a note to Chamberlain after hearing about the 20th Maine’s fight on Little Round Top. “I am very proud of the 20th Regt. and its present Colonel,” he wrote. “I did want to be with you and see your splendid conduct in the field.” Perhaps Ames was thinking about his own disappointments at Gettysburg when he added, “The pleasure I felt at the intelligence of your conduct yesterday is some recompense for all that I have suffered.”

In a letter written home that August, Ames recounted how he was reunited with his old regiment. He was riding with Gouverneur Warren when the men they were passing began shouting and waving their hats. Ames thought they were cheering Warren, but the engineer corrected him. They were cheering Ames. “I soon found it was the 20th,” he wrote. “They gave me three times three. They will do anything for me.” He also mentioned that the regiment’s officers had chipped in to buy him a sword, sash, and belt. “The sword is very elegant. It has some fine carbuncles on the hilt—It was made to order, and all cost some two hundred dollars.” All that strict discipline had paid off.

MRGCover

Adapted from Maine Roads to Gettysburg. The book is available for purchase now! You can find it on Amazon.com, or any fine bookseller near you.

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Flag Day

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This is the national flag that the 20th Maine had on Little Round Top during the battle of Gettysburg. It’s on display in the Maine State Museum.

Truth be told, I have mixed feelings about museums. In general I think they are among the greatest things in the world. Sometimes, though—and I hate to admit this—they bore me. I don’t like to read a lot of explanatory placards when I visit a museum. I don’t go to read things. I go to see things and feel a connection with historical artifacts.

In that respect, my recent visit to the Maine State Museum did not disappoint.

When I was a kid living in Augusta, my dad would take us to the museum when it was still housed in the State Capitol. The museum moved to its more modern facility in 1971. I had been through the current museum before, but I couldn’t tell you when. The last time must have been when my own children, now in their 20s, were young, and we were in Maine for our summer vacation. When I visited Maine in January 2018, I enjoyed going through the museum again, and was pleasantly surprised by its size and scope. There were cars and trains and boats; recreations of Maine living rooms and kitchens and factories; and even a huge section of the square-rigged ship St. Mary. Launched in Phippsburg in 1890, the vessel sank on its maiden voyage, after colliding with another ship while trying to make it around the “Horn” at the tip of South America and eventually running aground in the Falklands.

I also enjoyed the wildlife dioramas, realistic slice of the Maine wilderness, populated by mounted specimens of the deer, moose, bear, birds, and fish you would expect to find in the great outdoors today. There were also some live trout in the streams. I remember being fascinated by the dioramas when I was a kid and I was still captivated as an adult.

All that stuff was great, but I came to see the Civil War material. The museum had a bigger Civil War display during the 150th anniversary commemorations, but that exhibit has been taken down. Fortunately, there was still an exhibit of Civil War flags. The state’s banners had been displayed for years in glass cases in the capitol building, where they deteriorated badly. After significant restoration, flags now rotate through the permanent exhibit, where they are displayed in low light to preserve the fragile silk.

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The regimental flag of the 16th Maine.

On the day of my visit, I was pleased to see the regimental flag of the 16th Maine on display. This was not the banner the regiment had at Gettysburg. The soldiers tore that one up and distributed the pieces among themselves before being overwhelmed by the Rebels on July 1. (I saw one of the pieces in the collections of Abner Small at the Maine Historical Society in Portland. The state museum had another fragment on display, too.) I was also pleasantly surprised to see a guidon from the 31st Maine, the regiment to which my great-grandfather, Daniel True Huntington, belonged.

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A guidon from the 31st Maine.

The exhibit’s star attraction was the U.S. flag of the 20th Maine, the same banner the regiment had when it defended Little Round Top on July 2, 1863. A photograph shows that same flag when veterans returned it to Round Top in 1882. Even then the flag was in bad shape, but at least it’s been cared for since. This was the banner that Andrew Tozier supported in the crook of his elbow as he fired at the approaching soldiers of the 15th Alabama. Chamberlain recalled seeing Tozier through the whirling clouds of smoke, “defending his sacred trust in the manner of the songs of chivalry.” (As I wrote in a previous post, Tozier is now buried in the same Litchfield cemetery where my grandparents and great-grandfather are.)

Nearby, in a glass case, is the Colt pistol that Joshua Chamberlain captured from Lt. Robert Wicker of the 15th Alabama after the Maine soldiers charged down the hill and ended the fighting.

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The pistol that Joshua Chamberlain captured on Little Round Top.

The soldiers who carried these relics are long gone, but at least these things of metal, wood and silk remain to remind us of what the soldiers did during that horrible, terrible, fascinating war.