Cumberland Times-News

Columns

April 13, 2014

You’ll never guess who the real hero was (He was six feet tall and bulletproof)

Most folks know about the 20th Maine’s bayonet charge that repulsed the Rebels at Little Round Top because they watched the movie, “Gettysburg.”

Capt. Gary and First Sgt. Goldy post ourselves a hundred yards or so away from where it happened in real life. Tourists frequently ask us how to find it.

In the movie, the 20th Maine’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (wonderfully portrayed by Jeff Daniels), draws his saber, calls “Bayonets!” and leads the charge himself.

The reality may have been different in several respects:

For one thing, we don’t know if Chamberlain’s mustache really twitched as much as Daniels’ did.

Also, the movie (which was NOT filmed on location) shows the charge taking place on a slope that’s much longer and steeper than that of the actual site.

A Confederate bullet dents Daniels’ scabbard so badly that he can’t draw his saber from it — yet he does draw it in a later scene to lead the bayonet charge. You can’t have it both ways

Also in dispute is the idea that the 20th Maine kept the battle from being lost by preventing the Confederates from turning the Yankees’ left  flank, thus saving the Union.

No disrespect to them. Chamberlain and his men were brave soldiers who performed above and beyond the call of any duty.

However, thousands of other Yankees and their artillery were close at hand and would have proven a difficult obstacle for the Rebels to contend with.

There also is the contention that Chamberlain neither ordered nor led the charge.

Some say it was another officer. Others hold that Chamberlain’s men fixed bayonets and charged spontaneously because they were almost out of ammunition and wanted to serve the Rebels a helping of their own vittles.

Recently, I came across the idea that the 20th Maine’s charge actually was led by ... get ready ... wait for it ... I am not making this up ... here it comes ... none other than ... .

George Washington.

Yes, that George Washington.

I know. Several thoughts come to mind. But here are some points for you to consider.

The captain and I tell people we weren’t there. We rely on the accounts of people who were there and the writings of competent professional historians who did the research.

In 1913, Oliver Wilcox Norton authored a book about the attack and defense of Little Round Top (which wasn’t even called that at the time).

He included excerpts from the writings of soldiers who fought in the battle and stated, “A comparison of the accounts in these books shows that no two of them agree in their description of what took place on Little Round Top. With such differences, they cannot all be right.”

I have found the George Washington story in several places. Some say Washington first appeared to Chamberlain’s men on their way to Gettysburg — and that Chamberlain himself reported seeing such a man, but didn’t say who he thought it was.

Washington was described by those who saw him as wearing a Continental Army uniform and tricorn hat, brandishing a saber and riding a pale white horse.

The story gained such notoriety that Secretary of War Edwin Stanton sent Col. John Pittenger to investigate. What Pittenger found out, we don’t know. He never filed a report, nor was the incident officially mentioned anywhere else.

Why not? If you’re an officer in either the Union Army or the Confederate Army, are you going to file a report saying that you saw George Washington lead a bayonet charge?

Hell, no, and for the same reasons no modern-day American military or airline pilot is going to report having been chased by a UFO the size of an aircraft carrier (which some will say off the record that they have).

Such a thing has Section 8 — a mentally unfit for service discharge — written all over it.

Among others, Pittenger talked to Union Gen. Henry Hunt. A soldier who witnessed the interview recorded in his diary that Hunt told Pittenger he saw Washington come galloping onto the field, close enough to recognize his face, and that hundreds of other soldiers saw him.

A number of Confederates said they fired at Washington, but the bullets seemed to pass through him.

Wouldn’t have been the first time this happened. During a single battle in the French and Indian War, Washington had at least two horses shot out from under him and harvested four bullet holes in his jacket.

An Indian chief who was there said he personally shot 17 times at Washington but couldn’t hit him. This convinced him that Washington was under the care of the Great Spirit, so he told his men to stop firing at him.

During the Revolutionary War battle of Princeton, the Continentals were being routed. Washington rode out to the front and rallied them, riding back and forth between them and the British, who were firing volleys at him from 30 yards away. At 6’2” and 220 pounds, he was a big target — but they never hit him.

A friend asked me why George Washington would come back to lead a Civil War bayonet charge.

Washington was the father of our country, I said, and he knew it needed to be rescued. Can you can think of a better answer? Or a better place than Gettysburg for him to do it?

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill relished telling people what happened to him in the White House while he was visiting President Roosevelt during World War II (a time when both America and England needed rescuing.)

Churchill said he returned to his room one night after taking a bath, naked except for a cigar and an empty Scotch glass, to find Abraham Lincoln standing by the fireplace.

Never one to be at a loss for words or anything else, Churchill said, “Good evening, Mr. President. You seem to have me at a disadvantage.”

He said Lincoln smiled softly and disappeared.

If the father of our country continues to watch over it, so might be the man who inherited it and preserved it.

Do I believe George Washington led a bayonet charge down Little Round Top?

After what I’ve experienced in Gettysburg and at other times and places — often in the company of witnesses — I’m not inclined to write anything off as impossible, regardless of how improbable it may be.

What I do believe is that when we go back to Little Round Top, the captain and I are going to have one hell of a story to tell the tourists.

1
Text Only
Columns
  • Peanuts and Cracker Jack beat any foam finger

    Times have changed, and for the better, as this week marks the third year in a row NFL training camps have opened and have not taken center stage in the cities of Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Washington. That, of course, is due to the play of the three baseball teams that inhabit said cities, the Orioles, the Pirates and the Nationals — two of whom hold first place in their respective divisions, with the other one entering play on Wednesday just 2 1/2 games out of first.

    July 23, 2014

  • Big loophole Big loophole

    How ironic — and how sad — that the Potomac Highlands Airport Authority plans a closed executive session to discuss the open meetings law.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo 1 Story

  • Don’t do it. Don’t do it

    Temperatures have been moderate recently but are projected to rise to the upper 80s and low 90s later this week, so we want to remind you: Never leave children unattended in a vehicle.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • He means well, and this time they spared his life

    Our pal Phil is the only re-enactor certified in writing by both the Lee and Custis families to portray Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee (whose wife was Mary Anna Custis Lee). When he’s in uniform, he generally stops at the bottom of the path that leads to the summit of Little Round Top, salutes Capt. Gary and First Sgt. Goldy and asks permission to join us. (Get it? Generally ... General Lee?) We always return his salute and grant him permission, in part because he’s our friend and also because the real Lee never got to see what it really looks like from up there. (Get it? Grant ... Grant? U.S. Grant? Real Lee ... really? OK. I hear you. That’s enough. Seriouslee.) Phil gets a kick out of being able to sneak up on us while we’re distracted by tourists.

    July 20, 2014

  • It’s hotter here than in D.C. or Baltimore

    At this time of the year, the weather is a frequent subject of conversation, particularly the temperatures. We are now in the “Dog Days,” usually the hottest days of the year. The term comes from our sun appearing to be near the “Dog Star” (Sirius) and the “Little Dog Star” (Procyon). In reality, the sun is now about 94.5 million miles away while Sirius is 8.6 light years away with Procyon at 11 light years distance. Sunlight takes only 507 seconds to reach us, while the two dog stars’ light takes about a decade to travel to our eyes. So our sun is in the same direction (but not distance) as these two bright winter evening stars.

    July 20, 2014

  • Mike Sawyers and his father, Frank Sale of quart-sized Mason jars lagging, merchants claim

    The opening day of Maryland’s squirrel hunting season is Sept. 6 and I am guessing you will be able to drive a lot of miles on the Green Ridge State Forest and see very few vehicles belonging to hunters of the bushytail. It wasn’t always that way. In the early 1960s, when I was a high school student in Cumberland, there was no Interstate 68. What existed was U.S. Route 40 and in the last couple of hours before daylight on the opening day of squirrel season there was an almost unbroken line of tail lights and brake lights between Cumberland and Polish Mountain.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Hugo Perez Columnist, son are range finders, but where are .22 shells?

    We feel pretty lucky on this side of the Potomac to have a nice shooting range to utilize for free and within decent driving distance.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Opposition and inclusion understood

    Those of you who have been here before know how I feel about the late great Len Bias, who I will remember foremost as Leonard Bias, the polite, spindly Bambi-eyed kid from Hyattsville’s Northwestern High School, who could throw a dunk through the floor, yet had the most beautiful jump shot I have ever seen.

    July 17, 2014

  • Stopgap

    Kicking the can down the road was one of the things American kids did to pass the time in the old days, particularly if they lived in rural areas where there was little traffic to contend with.

    July 16, 2014

  • Further proof you should never bet on baseball

    Had you known in March that ...

    July 16, 2014