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Maine's 20th Regiment

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Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Item 4273 info
Maine Historical Society

While most Civil War regiments were created with men from one geographical region, the 20th Regiment Infantry, Maine Volunteers was formed in August 1862 to absorb the overflow of volunteers.

Its members came together from across the state, in response to President Abraham Lincoln's call in July 1862 for 300,000 volunteers.


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17th Maine Infantry volunteers, 1864

17th Maine Infantry volunteers, 1864

Item 4127 info
Maine Historical Society

In late 1865 Joshua Chamberlain wrote of the 20th Maine, "It was made of the surplus recruits drifted together, the last of a call for 300,000 more.

"It was without pride. No county claimed them. No city gave them a flag. They received no words of farewell on leaving their state. No words of welcome on their return."


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Scouts and guides with the Army of the Potomac

Scouts and guides with the Army of the Potomac

Item 4288 info
Maine Historical Society

Being primarily farmers and lumbermen before they enlisted, most of the men had no military background, but many were used to hard work and surviving in an often unforgiving environment, were familiar with firearms and had the benefit of having volunteered for service.

Colonel Adelbert Ames of Rockland, commander of the regiment, knew the soldiers were an independent lot and would not always obey orders with questioning or commenting on them.


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Bowdoin College in 1862

Bowdoin College in 1862

Item 4334 info
Maine Historical Society

Also lacking military experience, a number of officers were well educated, including 10 who had graduated from Bowdoin College.

Many were named officers because of their success at recruiting volunteers for the Maine regiments.

Commanding officer Col. Ames was trained as a military officer. He was a graduate of West Point and recipient of the Medal of Honor for his actions during the First Battle of Bull Run.


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Joshua L. Chamberlain, ca. 1862

Joshua L. Chamberlain, ca. 1862

Item 5187 info
Maine Historical Society

Joshua L. Chamberlain was the regiment's lieutenant colonel.

A professor at Bowdoin College before his enlistment, Chamberlain lacked military training, but made up for that deficit with his intelligence.

Chamberlain was a graduate of Bowdoin College and the Bangor Theological Seminary.

When Chamberlain went to the Governor of Maine to acquire a commission in the Army, the Governor offered him the rank of Colonel.

Chamberlain declined, saying that he would like to learn the position first and took the rank of lieutenant colonel instead.


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Battlefield of the United States Civil War, 1861-1865

Battlefield of the United States Civil War, 1861-1865

Item 4287 info
Maine Historical Society

Soon, the 20th traveled by rail and steamer to Washington, D.C., to join the Army of the Potomac as part of Butterfield's "Light Brigade" of the Fifth Corps.

From there, they marched to Antietam (Sharpsburg), Maryland, and were held in reserve with the rest of the 5th Corps during the battle of September 16-17, 1862.

The Battle of Antietam, known as the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, was the 20th's first taste of the war.

The Union Army won a strategic victory as Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia withdrew after suffering considerable losses.

The Battle of Antietam also gave President Lincoln the victory he needed to implement a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862 that freed slaves in rebel states. He issued the more detailed Proclamation in January 1863.


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Thomas Chamberlain, Brewer, ca. 1864

Thomas Chamberlain, Brewer, ca. 1864

Item 4332 info
Maine Historical Society

Colonel Ames, who attempted to turn the untrained volunteers into an effective regiment, was respected by the troops -- but not liked.

Thomas Chamberlain, a young non-commissioned officer summed Ames up best when he wrote, "I tell you, he is about as savage a man you ever saw . . . I swear the men will shoot him the first battle we are in."

Chamberlain was the brother of Lt. Col. Joshua Chamberlain, later the commander of the regiment.


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General Joshua L. Chamberlain

General Joshua L. Chamberlain

Item 4330 info
Maine Historical Society

In May 1863, Col. Ames was promoted to a Brigadier General in General Oliver Otis Howard's corps.

Joshua Chamberlain was promoted to Colonel and commander of the regiment.

The men took to Chamberlain, admiring him for his willingness to get into the midst of things alongside of them.


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Map of Gettysburg battlefield, 1863

Map of Gettysburg battlefield, 1863

Item 4327 info
Maine Historical Society

Throughout the winter and spring of 1863 the Union and Confederate Armies were making their way north with only a few minor engagements.

It was not until Gettysburg that the armies met in a full-scale fight.

The Battle of Gettysburg began July 1, 1863, and at the end of the first day the Union Army had dug in on Cemetery Ridge and had command of the battlefield while the Confederate Army had taken position on Seminary Ridge.


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Dead artillery horses after fight at Trostle's house in Gettysburg

Dead artillery horses after fight at Trostle's house in Gettysburg

Item 4286 info
Maine Historical Society

On July 2, 1862, Confederate Gen. James Longstreet recommended that the rebel army move around the end of the Union line, get behind Gen. George Mead's army and attack from that position, but Gen. Robert E. Lee ordered a direct attack.

Because Sickle's Third Corps failed to take its assigned position at the left end of the Union line, after the Confederate attack began, four regiments of Vicent's Brigade, including the 20th Maine moved into position at Little Round Top.

Chamberlain managed to move his troops into a position that surprised the Confederates and then, when the 20th Maine was close to losing its hold on the hill, Chamberlain ordered an unlikely attack with bayonets -- as the regiment was out of ammunition -- on the resting Confederate soldiers.

The 20th Maine suffered heavy casualties, but held Little Round Top and allowed a Union victory at Gettysburg.




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McLean House at Appomattox

McLean House at Appomattox

Item 4285 info
Maine Historical Society

The regiment later participated in every major battle with the Army of the Potomac, but Gettysburg had been its moment in the sun.

It would never again have as many men in its ranks as it did at Little Round Top.

Col. Chamberlain was soon put in command of a brigade and in 1865 was promoted to Brigadier General and later put in command by Ulysses S. Grant of all Union troops during the surrender of the Confederates.


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Chamberlain and 20th Maine, Gettysburg reunion, 1889

Chamberlain and 20th Maine, Gettysburg reunion, 1889

Item 4163 info
Maine Historical Society

The 20th Maine regiment was mustered out of service on June 16, 1865. Out of a total enlistment of 1,621 men, nine officers and 138 enlisted men were killed or mortally wounded and one officer and 145 enlisted men died of disease, for a total of 293 lost.

The war had a profound affect on many soldiers and transition back into civilian life was not always easy. Abner R. Small summed up the war well when he wrote in a letter to a friend, "War and heroes sound well in history but the reality is known to but the few that survive the strife."

Sources:
John J. Pullen, The Twentieth Maine: A Volunteer Regiment in the Civil War, Dayton, Ohio: Morningside House, 1984.

Thomas A. Desjardin, Stand Firm Ye Boys From Maine: The 20th Maine and the Gettysburg Campaign, Gettysburg, Pa.: Thomas Publications, 1995.


This slideshow contains 12 items