June 30, 1863
I woke up that morning thinking the war was over, like I did every other day before dawn. Something told me it would go on forever.
I knew that yesterday Lawrence had fell prey to heat exhaustion. I also knew he would still travel with us regardless of his weakness.
When I stepped out of my tent, the sun said it was past breakfast time. My stomach growled at the thought of food; a nice hot home-cooked meal made by Mother's loving hands.
I went by Sgt. Kilrain's tent, but one of the officers told me he'd gone to deliver a message to Colonel Chamberlain. I saluted him and left to find my brother. I wanted to know if he was better. 'Course, he would have done the same thing for me.
I admired the way he seemed to throw his position away when in battle. However, if an officer was cheeky, he'd play the Colonel and put him back in his place. He often did that to me, now that I think on it. He understood that we were brothers in the war, and that seemed altogether to affect how his decisions were made. If rebel artillery fired at us, he'd tell me to keep my distance from him. I remember Mother's letter telling him to keep me safe. I know I'm the youngest of the five of us siblings, but I wasn't 18 anymore. I was 23 and proud of it.
I reached his tent just as he emerged. "Morning, Lawrence. How are ya? You're lookin' kinda peaky."
He straightened up and looked down his nose at me. "Darn it, Tom, don't call me Lawrence." He muttered something to Kilrain and strode briskly towards the new recruits. 120 mutineers. I followed him in eagerness.
The men of the 2nd Maine regiment had fallen out of rank and were resting comfortably beside the officers' shade tree. Their captain was a laid back man, and he did not address people with respect. "You're Chamberlain?"
"Colonel Chamberlain, to you," came the curt response.
He saluted and said "Captain Brewer, sir. 118th Pennsylvania. If you're the commanding officer, sir, then I present you with these prisoners here. And you're welcome to 'em. Lord knows, I had to use the bayonets to keep 'em movin'. You have to sign for 'em."
Lawrence handed me the papers. "Sign it, Lieutenant." I did so, and returned them to the captain. "You are relieved, Captain."
Brewer was persistent in his point. "You're authorized to use whatever force necessary, Colonel. You wanna shoot 'em? You go right ahead. Won't nobody say nothin'."
My brother glanced at the men. "I said, you are relieved, Captain."
The captain saluted once more and left for his own regiment.
Lawrence turned to the 2nd Maine boys. "My name is Chamberlain. I'm the Colonel of the 20th Maine." He looked them over. "When did you fellas eat last?"
A soldier spoke up. "They're tryin' to break us by not feeding us. We ain't broke yet."
His face changed from military politeness to a pained look: he knew there was almost no time to feed these men. "They just told me you were coming a little while ago, so... I'll, uh... get the cook going. The meat may be a little raw, but there's not much time to cook. We've got quite a ways to go today, and you'll be coming with us, so eat hearty. Sgt. Tozier, see to it." The flag-bearer ran to give the cook an order for a meal for 120 men. "Well, you boys go eat. Then I'll come over and hear what you have to say."
The soldier who spoke earlier got up. "Colonel, we've got grievances."
He nodded. "Come with me. The rest of you boys go eat."
I came out from under the shade tree where I had been listening to him speak. "Gosh, Lawrence."
"Smile. And don't call me Lawrence. Are they moving?"
"Yes, sir." I hated using formalities, but it was necessary under the watchful eye of the 2nd Maine private who followed him to his chair under the tree. It was as if he knew we were related.
"Good. Go make yourself useful and get me some coffee."
"Yes sir." I left him with the soldier.
When I came back, they were deep in conversation. "I'm sick of these... these gentleman from West Point. Think they can just push us around like we was dogs or cows or... or worse."
Sgt. Kilrain interrupted. "The courier, Sir."
He had a message from Colonel Vincent, the commanding officer of our brigade: fall in and march at the head of the line.
Lawrence sent Captain Clark to collect the 20th Maine. Then he sent Pr. Bucklin to eat with his regiment in the shade of a large tree on the south side of the camp. I came to him with news. "The boys from the 2nd Maine are being fed, Lawrence."
"Yeah-... Tom, don't call me Lawrence."
"Darn it, Lawrence, I'm your brother."
He sighed heavily. "Just be careful about the name business in front of the men, alright? Just because you're my brother, don't-... it looks like favoritism-"
I interrupted. "God Almighty! General Meade's got his own son as his aide-de-camp." I put on a hurt look. He was being unfair.
"Well, that's different. Generals can do anything."
I glared at him while pouting.
"Nothing quite so much like God on Earth as a general on a battlefield." Lawrence turned his attention to the men seated under the tree.
I was curious. "What're you gonna do with them, huh, sir? Colonel, sir?"
He turned and faced me again.
I pressed on. "You can't shoot 'em. You'll never go back to Maine if you do that."
He nodded. "I know that. ... I know. ... I wonder if they do.
Now came my favorite part of that day. I had loved listening to Lawrence's resonant voice tell stories when neither of us could sleep a wink. It had a ring to it that morning I had never heard him use before. Perhaps one could call it a sentimental air, filled with hope.
He gathered the Maine recruits around him and spoke slowly, clearly. "I've been talking with Private Bucklin. He's told me about your problem. There's nothing I can do today. We're moving out in a few minutes, and we'll be moving all day. I've been ordered to take you men with me. I'm told that, uh... if you don't come I can shoot you. Well, you know I won't do that. Maybe somebody else will, but... So, that's that. Here's the situation: The whole reb army is up that road aways waiting for us. So, this is no time for an argument like this, I tell you... We could surely use you fellas. We're now well below half strength. Whether you fight or not, that's...that's up to you. Whether you come along is... is... well, you're coming. You know who we are, what we're doing here, but if you're gonna fight alongside us, there's a few things I want you to know. This regiment was formed last summer, in Maine. There were a thousand of us then. There are less than three hundred of us now."
He paused, remembering the deaths at Fredericksburg.
"All of us volunteered to fight for the Union, just as you did. Some came merely because we were bored at home. Thought this looked like it might be fun." He caught my gaze and winked. I looked away, feeling the heat rise to my face. Fortunately the men didn't notice. "Some came because we were ashamed not to. Many of us came because it was the right thing to do. All of us have seen men die. This is a different kind of Army. If you look back through history, you will see men fighting for pay, for women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land. Power. Because a king leads them, or, or just because they like killing. We are here for something new. This has not happened much in the history of the world. We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground. All of it. Not divided by a line between slave state and free. All the way. From here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow, no man born to Royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here is the place to build a home. But it's not the land. There's always more land. It's the idea that we all have value. You and me." He came out of his reverie to find that their eyes were glued to him. "What we're fighting for, in the end, is each other." I swore I saw tears form, but he blinked them back. His mind seemed to return to Earth piece by piece. "Sorry, I uh... didn't mean to preach. You go ahead. You talk for a while. If you, uh... if you choose to join us, and you want your muskets back, you can have 'em. Nothing more will be said by anybody anywhere. If you choose not to join us, well, you can come along under guard, and when this is all over, I'll do what I can to see that you get a fair treatment, but for now, we're moving out. Gentlemen, I think if we lose this fight,... we lose the war. So if you choose to join us, I'll be personally very grateful." He walked over to me, laid a reassuring hand on my shoulder, squeezed once, and left to give the order to move out.
We had been traveling all morning, and my horse was sluggish. She didn't step as carefully as I would have liked, and she almost ran me into the ranks.
I asked the officer watching the 2nd Maine if he could take down the number of men willing to join us. He said he had the number: one hundred and fourteen. I was so exited. My brother's words must have been really effective.
I rode up beside him, dismounted, and nearly collided with Sgt. Kilraine, who took my horse as I saluted. "Hey, Lawrence! What d'ya think?" I swore under my breath; my brother didn't swear as a rule and hated it when I did. I suppose it was a brotherly thing to do to keep me in line. "What d'ya think?"
I was overjoyed. "About the 2nd Maine boys! What else?!"
He brightened. "Oh. Are any of them going to join us?"
My face spread into a wide grin. "Would you believe it? All but six!!!"
His eyes widened. "What...?!
"I counted by actual vote, an' a hundred an' fourteen voted to pick up their rifles!"
Now he looked happy. "Well, I'll be!"
I gripped his jacket. "You did good, brother! You did real good!!!" It was an expression we four Chamberlain brothers used when we were too proud of ourselves to say anything else.
"Good, good. Now see to it they march together."
I had other news for him. "Sir, Glazier's got the hotheads in tow. There were six of 'em."
"Good. Get their names and put 'em in different companies. I want 'em spread out I don't want 'em bunched up together."
I saluted. "Yes, sir."
"See about their muskets."
"Yes sir. Colonel, sir." I ran off to complete my new assignment.
July 2, 1863
We had marched to a field near Gettysburg yesterday and set up tents. I took a nap while Lawrence and Sgt. Kilrain had a deep conversation. I woke up hearing him mutter, "Mama's favorite."
"Lawrence, what-... What's happening?"
Colonel Vincent himself had come to order us to march to a hill they called Little Round Top. I was sure there'd be fighting today. Hopefully it wouldn't be as bad as Fredericksburg. At least it wasn't cold and rainy.
The colonel led us to a spot in the woods on the southwest side of the hill. On the way there, my brother sent me to look for stragglers, lagging soldiers. He handed me his pistol, loaded with 10 rounds. "Keep your distance from me." A shell burst not 10 feet from where he stepped. "Another one a bit closer, and it could be a hard day for Mother."
"Lawrence, I... I don't...I-"
He glared at me, slightly annoyed.
I left to complete my assignment.
When I reached the end of the regiment, the ranks were formed loosely. I tightened the lines, scanned the surrounding area for rebels and found none in sight.
The bugler played the officers' call. I figured that Lawrence had his own plans besides the placement by Colonel Vincent, so I hurried back to where the colors were posted.
Lawrence had his arms crossed. He looked at each of us in turn, counting. When he got to me, his eyes watered, but he blinked furiously to keep the tears at bay. He cleared his throat and began. "Gentlemen, the 83rd Pennsylvania, 44th New York, and 16th Michigan will be moving in to our right, but if you look to our left, you will see that there is no one there. That's because we're the end of the line. The Union Army stops here. We are the flank. Do you understand, gentlemen? We cannot retreat. We cannot withdraw. We are going to have to be stubborn today. So, put the boys in position. You tell them to stay down. Pile the rocks up high for the best protection you can. I want the reserve pulled up about twenty yards. It's sloping ground, it's good ground. If you have any breakthroughs, if you have men wounded, if you have a hole in the line, you plug it with the reserve. How are we fixed for ammunition?"
Captain Spear responded. "Sir, I think about 60 rounds per man."
He nodded. "Yes, that's good. About 60 rounds. Yes, that's... adequate. Any questions?"
A cocky officer spoke up. "Sir, it seems to me the fighting's on that side of the hill."
"Seems to me that we're the back door. Everything's going on at the front door." His friend chuckled.
Lawrence glared to get their attention. An old professor's trick he used in class. "No. Gentlemen, that hill is steep, it's rocky. It's bare. To come straight up, it isn't possible. No. The reb army is going to swing round, it's going to come up through that notch, over there." He pointed downhill. "It'll move under the cover of trees, trying to get around the flank. And gentlemen, ... we are the flank." He saluted, and the whole lot of us officers straightened up and returned it. "God go with you."
The fight started with the 44th New York. The smoke from the battle wafted in our direction by an earlier clear breeze. I was terrified. I had been in a battle before, but it wrenched the courage out of me to think this might be my last. I silently prayed that Lawrence and I would come out untouched.
Before I knew it, the rebs were headed our way.
"Here they come!!!"
Lawrence turned to me. "I want you to stay with me, but keep down. You. keep. down. You hear?" He squeezed my shoulder in reassurance, as if he could sense my fear. "Buster!"
"I bet the whole damn reb army is coming this way." Sgt. Kilrain limbered along with us as we moved down the line, cautioning the boys to keep down and fire carefully.
About half an hour in to the fight, we were engaged. The rebs did not approach the left flank. I didn't need to use my pistol.
Captain Clark came and reported minor head and shoulder wounds to the right side of our brigade. Then out of the trees came a new regiment of rebs, aiming for the left. "They're coming again, boys! They're coming again!"
We held for a while longer until yet another regiment came in. "I don't think we'll be able to hold another one. Buster, get all company commanders up here on the double."
When we had assembled, he gave orders sharply. "We're about to be flanked. Now here's what we're going to do. I want you to keep up a good hot masking fire, keep a tight hold on the 83rd, on old Pennsylvania over there. I want no break in the line. Captain Clark, that's you. You understand? No breaks. Alright. Right wing is going to sidestep to the left, thinning out to twice the present distance. You see the colors? The colors are going to end up down to the extreme left. When you reach that point, we are going to re-fuse the line. We''ll form a new line at right angles. We'll pull up as much of a reserve as possible. We've got to be able to counter attack whenever there's a hole. Is that understood? Any questions?"
The officers uttered a collective "no, sir", and moved to thin the regiment.
It was amazing to watch the whole entire reserve squeeze so tightly into two lines. One kneeling, the other standing behind. Most likely the rebs won't hit here, I thought, and we'll use only one or two reserves.
The area between us and the rebs was masked in smoke. I couldn't see a thing, except for the occasional sun ray that peeked through the trees, reminding us of the beauty we were missing. That made us fight even better. Most of us just wanted everything to end, and if we won this fight, it could be the turning point of the war.
About two thirds of the way into the battle, Sgt. Kilrain was shot in the arm. My brother, being a gentleman and a friend of his, ran to check on him.
"Ah, it's nothing. Plays hell with me target practice though." Kilrain was a sharpshooter. I had never seen a man who could fire a musket and hit a reb every time. Now his glory days were just a memory, God bless him.
An officer at his shoulder: "Colonel, my men are gettin' low on ammunition."
Lawrence turned to me. "Tom, go to the 83rd, ask them to send what they can."
I ran off behind the line of fire and delivered his request.
"I'm sorry, lieutenant, but we ain't got nothin' either," was the disappointing reply.
I swore under my breath, then saluted and ran back.
When I returned, I noticed my brother's sheath was bent slightly. Had he been hit?
"Lawrence! They can't send help form the 83rd. The Pennsylvania boys said they got troubles of their own!"
He swore heavily. I didn't know he knew that many words. He must have learned a lot from his students.
"Colonel, would like to report." Sgt. Owen saluted and waited.
"what, What, WHAT?!"
"Colonel Vincent is badly wounded."
I was devastated. There was too much death in war. It needed to end now. I could feel the anger rising, tried to control it, but failed miserably.
"He got hit a few minutes after the fight started. We've been reinforced at the top of the hill by Weed's brigade up front. This is what they tell me. But Weed is dead. And so they moved Hazlett's battery of artillery up there. But Hazlett's dead. As far as I can tell-"
"Is there any way you can get ammunition from up there?"
"I don't know, sir. Everything's a mess. But they're holding good. The rebs are having a hard time coming up that hill. It's a steep hill."
"Well we're going to need the ammunition."
Another officer arrived. "Colonel, sir. The better of my men are wounded. If the rebs come up that hill any stronger, I don't think we can hold 'em."
"Send out word to take ammunition from the wounded. Make every round count. Go!"
Sgt. Kilrain lifted his carbine. "Here they come again!!!"
I was seething in rage against Death. I could kill the whole damn reb army, and it wouldn't be enough revenge.
The rebs had advanced farther than I could've ever believed. I shot with deadly accuracy. I don't know how many I picked off; 20, 30, maybe 40. I had 10 shots left when Lawrence sent me to plug a hole in the ranks. To this day, he regrets doing it. I knelt, stabbed my rapier into the ground next to me and pulled out my pistol.
"Tom, watch your left!" While I reloaded, he covered me, and I did the same. We made a great team until I had one bullet left in the carriage. I didn't tell him about it; he'd heard enough from the officers already. I shot a reb officer with his pistol pointed at me, and then I had nothing left. I aimed at a reb private, his sights trained on me.
I heard Lawrence's voice cut through the smoke. "TOM!"
The hammer of my pistol clicked down on an empty cap.
Lawrence and I turned in relief to see who had spared my life. It was Pr. Bucklin. I nodded to him in thanks. He shrugged, as if to say, "it's nothing" and saluted me. I returned it, and turned to Lawrence. "Sorry."
He exhaled slowly, as if he had been holding his breath for that space of an eternity between me and the now-passed-on rebel private. "Thank God," he muttered, just loud enough for me to hear.
I got up slowly, breathing hard. I didn't use my pistol much as a rule before that battle, so I was surprised to see that all of my shots had hit and killed. I must have been braver than I gave myself credit for.
Captain Spear reported in. "Sir, half my men are down. Most of the rest are wounded. The left is too thin, sir."
"How is our ammunition?"
"It's almost gone, sir."
A voice called out. "Sir, we're running out. We don't have much left to shoot with. Some boys got nothin' at all."
"Sir, sir. What do we do for ammunition, sir? My boys had to pick up reb muskets and are firing back with them. Sir, we oughta pull out!"
Lawrence shook his head. "No, we can't do that."
"We can't hold 'em again, sir. You know that."
"If we don't hold them, they'll go on by, and over the hill, and the whole flank caves in.
I glanced at the rebs coming up the slope. There were a lot of them. Maybe the officer was right. We had no choice but to pull out.
"We can't run away. If we stay here, we can't shoot. Let's fix bayonets."
Everyone stared at him in surprise. A bayonet charge? Was the colonel crazy?
"We'll have the advantage of moving down the hill. They gotta be tired, the rebs. They gotta be close to the end if we are, so fix bayonets. Ellis. Wait, Ellis, you take the left wing, I'll take the right. I want a right wheel forward of the whole regiment."
Captain Spear stared in disbelief. "What, you mean charge?"
"Yes, but here's what we're going to do. We're going to charge swinging down the hill. Just like we pulled back the left side of the regiment, now we're gonna swing it down. We swing like a door. We're gonna sweep them down the hill just as they come up. Understand? Does everybody understand?"
"Ellis, take the left wing. When I give the command, I want the whole regiment to go forward singing down to the right."
"All right, sir. Fine." Captain Spear nodded.
He hurried to the other end of the regiment to tighten the left flank. It didn't matter; we were going to charge at the double-quick. In military terms that meant run like crazy, but run simultaneously.
Lawrence almost screamed. "Bayonets!!!"
The command shot like a bullet through the ranks. I didn't need to repeat the word as I ran to the end of the right flank. Lawrence caught up with me, waited impatiently for the regiment to prepare itself.
"Left wing, right wheel. Charge."
Captain Spear flung his rapier in an arc around his head, signaling a right wheel. "Charge!!!"
The men moved faster than I thought possible. They were just as loaded as their guns should have been.
My brother waited until the regiment was straightened out before he yelled, "CHARGE!!!"
The whole line of the regiment swung down the hill. It was glorious. I couldn't stop running towards the rebs. It's a miracle I didn't get shot or impaled.
July 3, 1863
I sent a detail out that morning to search for any remaining bodies. I asked them to take what they could from the dead, but they were not to lay a finger on the living, unless it was a reb. Then they could take him prisoner.
They came back with a small amount of ammunition and some coffee. I thought of Lawrence, sitting on a rock at the summit, and had them brew some for him, and since I knew he was sitting alone, I personally delivered it.
"Colonel, sir." I handed him the mug. "What're you doin' up here?"
"Oh, just resting my leg." He accepted it, drank, and smiled at me.
I returned it, and sat next to him, my legs crossed, hanging over the ledge of the boulder. "Alright. ... Sure can see a-ways from here."
He nodded. "Yeah. Where 've you been?"
I told him about the detail, and he grimaced.
"You're a ghoul." He sipped his coffee, deep-set blue eyes trained on the foliage spread before us.
He turned his head to look at me; hearing his nickname on my lips always got his attention, but this time there was no reproachful word about my lack of formality.
"You did real good yesterday. The way them rebs just kept comin'. You had to admire 'em."
His voice was softer than normal. "Yep."
"Think they're gonna come again today?"
He turned back to the forestry. "Doesn't look like they're planning to leave." Cannon fire rang out to the north.
I rested my hands against the ledge. "We don't have but a hundred men. Even with the whole flock from the 2nd Maine."
"This position's good," he muttered, half to himself.
More cannon fire.
I looked at him questioningly.
"Go alert the pickets. That may be a diversion down there. They may be coming this way again. Alright?" He handed the empty mug to me. "And where's that ammunition I asked for, huh? Go check the hospital, see about the boys, and check on Buster. Now run along."
"Yes, sir. We're gonna need ourselves another runner. If I keep comin' up an' down this hill, my legs are gonna fall off!" I sprinted to the pickets, relayed the message, saluted, and tore off for the hospital.
When I got there, the sight made my stomach turn, and I reeled, catching myself on a nearby tree. I couldn't breathe without fear of losing my last meal. My body eventually calmed itself down, and I walked through the mass of blood and limbs until I found a lieutenant with the casualty count.
"Sgt. Kilrain was here, sir, but he..." The man bit his lip.
I almost burst into tears, but remembering my manners I blinked back the excess moisture from my eyes and laid a comforting hand on his shoulder, just the way Lawrence would have done. "Where is he now?"
The lieutenant turned his eyes toward the sky, and I knew he had not survived the amputation "I was with him when he... well, you know. He sent a message to Colonel Chamberlain. Do you know where I can find him?"
"Better yet, I can relay it personally. He's my brother." I caught his glance and held it for the briefest moment. We were the same rank, so formalities didn't matter.
"He says..." He choked up, correcting himself. "He said to tell him goodbye, and that he was sorry."
There was no way on Earth I could have delivered that message without bawling in front of my brother. If God had put me on this Earth to be the bearer of bad news; well, then.
I couldn't bear it another minute. I saluted, promised to deliver the message, and ran off behind the hospital. I needed to find somewhere quiet where I could cry unheard. Every inch of ground was taken. I hurried to where our regiment was encamped.
My brother was in the middle of giving orders for the placement of the tents. I waited politely until the officers had left. Bad timing for formalities.
My voice caught in my throat. "Lawrence."
He turned in annoyance. "Thomas Chamberlain, I thought I told you not to- Tom? Tom!"
I saw navy blue, then black, then nothing.
When I came to, he was bent over me, with the worried expression Mother wore when we were unwell.
I tried to sit up, but he said, "I don't want you moving just yet. You were out for a good hour or so." I sank back against my pillow.
"I have a message to relay, Lawrence."
He nodded. "I figured that was why you came. I've sent Sgt. Owen for the casualties, by the way. What did you find out? Have you seen Buster?"
I couldn't help but let tears form; we were alone, it didn't matter here. I repeated word for word what the lieutenant had said. He got off the stool, sat on my bed, and pulled me close into a loving embrace. I cried openly, holding nothing back. I didn't care whether or not the men heard; they knew we were brothers, and how close we were. "Shhhhh... I'm right here, Tom. I'm right here... " He hummed a lullaby from our childhood, his resonant tenor voice ringing strangely. I felt moisture on my shoulder and realized he was crying too.
When I had calmed myself enough to breathe regularly, he let go. "Don't tell the men."
I nodded, pulling out a handkerchief to wipe away the tears. "I wouldn't. You know that. What's to tell? Every man's gotta have his moments. You know what I mean? It's not like it's unnatural."
Lawrence blinked several times. I handed him the handkerchief.
I looked away, embarrassed. He never thanked me anymore, hadn't bothered with it until now.
"Well, guess I should be going. Ellis wants a word. Send for me if you need anything, and get some sleep." He took a reluctant step towards the tent entrance, as if he would have rather stayed. I lay back and closed my eyes. There was a small orchestra playing a soft tune, and the last thing I knew was Lawrence's tenor harmonizing in and out of the musicians' melody.