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George Washington and the 20th Maine at the Battle of Gettysburg - Part Two

Part Two: George Washington appears again to rally the Union troops

By Jeffrey Calta


The official histories of the Union charge down Little Round Top differ in some areas. However, the action has become one of the most well-known military actions in history. Joshua Chamberlain writes in Through Blood and Fire at Gettysburg : “Desperate as the chances were there was nothing to do but take the offensive. The men turned towards me. One word was enough, - BAYONETS!. It caught like fire and swept along the ranks. It was vain to order “FORWARD”. No mortal could have heard it.” (He hints at the fact that the charge might not have been initiated by himself).

All at once, the 20th Maine unleashed a furious charge against the Alabama regiments. The ferocity of the charge startled the Confederate soldiers who thought the attackers were fresh Union re-enforcements. All resistance crumbled. Many Southern soldiers simply fell to their knees, threw down their weapons and said “We surrender! Don’t kill us!” Close to 400 were taken prisoner. The shock of the attack must have deeply affected the Alabama regiments because they were considered some of the South’s most elite and battle-hardened veteran soldiers.

After the battle many Union soldiers came forth to say that the mysterious white horse and a man wearing a blue uniform with a tri-cornered hat had re-appeared and was galloping back and forth along the Union line. The horse and rider had the same eerie glow others saw the day before. The soldiers were convinced that the rider was George Washington. Although the rider said nothing, he had his sword in the air and the sunlight gleaming from it resembled fire. The rider began to charge down the hill and the soldiers, infused with courage, followed the rider and the rest was history. Captured Confederate soldiers also told their story of the mysterious rider. Confederate troops interrogated after the battle said they saw a horse and rider with a blue uniform pass back and forth along the ridge top. They were shooting at the rider thinking he was a commanding officer but could not bring him down.

Joshua Chamberlain mentioned nothing of this second appearance of Washington in this book Through Blood and Fire at Gettysburg. However, the stories of the mysterious rider were so rampant that Lincoln’s Secretary of War Edwin Stanton could not ignore them. Stanton sent staff officer Colonel Pittenger to investigate the Little Round Top story. Much testimony was taken but no official report was ever completed. However, the soldiers that witnessed the event steadfastly defended their claims through the years. Chamberlain himself was interviewed by the Lewiston (Maine) Journal in June, 1913 and was asked about the mysterious rider. His reply was as follows:

“We know not what mystic power may be possessed by those now bivouacking with the dead. I only know the effect, but I dare not explain or deny the cause. Who shall say that Washington was not among the number of those who aided the country that he founded?”

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