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Chamberlain Angel Killers Essay, Research Paper

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, as depicted in Michael Shaara s The Killer Angels, was a leader of great valiance and courage. His actions at the Battle of Gettysburg exemplify his persistence, tenacity, and bravery. He had learned from McClellan, the former general in chief of the Union Army, the two things an officer must do to lead men. You must care for your men s welfare. You must show physical courage. Chamberlain wisely chose to follow the advice of his senior officer. The greatest of his many accomplishments were those at Little Round Top on July 2, 1863.

Chamberlain s first test leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg was his handling of the mutinous Second Maine troops. He was asked to take command of one hundred twenty rebellious men who had already served two years for the Union army. Surprisingly, Chamberlain succeeded in swaying the minds of one hundred sixteen of these men with just one powerful speech. Later, he managed to persuade three more men to join in fighting against the Confederate forces. This success exemplifies his great leadership qualities.

He displayed these qualities in many other ways as well. Chamberlain always insisted on walking alongside his horse, creating a strong outward appearance of courage for his troops to observe. Even after receiving repeated wounds in battle he maintained a respectable image for his men. He went into battle courageously and didn t allow anything to get in his way. When his troops discovered an escaped slave Chamberlain realized precisely what he was fighting for. He was fighting for the dignity of man and in that way he was fighting for himself. …the American fights for mankind, for freedom; for the people, not the land. He truly displayed the physical courage required to be a successful leader as described by General McClellan.

The great admiration Chamberlain s troops held for him is surely some indication of his character. Throughout Shaara s account of the battle the men constantly looked up to him for guidance and direction. His younger brother, Tom, went on for hours talking about Lawrence with bursting pride. Likewise, Chamberlain was proud of his men. He had great confidence in them as he led them into battle. Their number having been lessened in earlier confrontations, only the strong remained for the battles at Gettysburg. He followed McClellan s advice every step of the way in caring for his men s welfare.

The event that most accurately depicts Chamberlain s character was the arrival of the moment of truth atop Little Round Top on July 2, 1863. The orders were to defend the left flank of the Federal line and he did just that, despite all complications and obstacles. In a time of desperation Chamberlain did the impossible, successfully repulsing repeated attacks by the Confederate troops of Alabama. The Maine men were in a state of utter crisis, their ammunition was low and the troops were exhausted.

Just when it seemed as though there was no hope for the Union Army Chamberlain heroically came to the rescue. With an insubstantial supply of ammunition remaining an ordinary leader might have decided to pull out and admit defeat, but Chamberlain knew the consequences of such an action and would not allow that to happen. His orders were never to withdraw. Thus, Chamberlain conceived the only possible solution: bayonets. He gave the order to fix bayonets and with a right wheel forward he swept the enemy back down the hill with amazing success. Many Confederate soldiers turned and retreated back down the hill, others surrendered, and others were taken prisoner.

If it were not for Chamberlain s valiance and determination the Federal army might have been destroyed, the battle lost, and the war along with it. If his troops had failed to hold their line against the Confederate army the right flank of the Union would have been left exposed and the destruction of the men in blue would have been the inevitable result.


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