Cumberland Times-News

Jim Goldsworthy - Anything and Everything

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.

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Jim Goldsworthy - Anything and Everything
  • 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

  • They’d have fallen like Autumn leaves

    So there we were, minding our own business (at least momentarily), leaning against the cannon at Little Round Top.

    July 13, 2014

  • Better read that french fry before you eat it

    People give me otherwise-insignificant items they hope will amuse or inspire me. I appreciate this. I’m always glad for free entertainment, which as Goldy’s Rule 33 says is everywhere. All you have to do is wait and it will come to you. Also, I have been writing columns for 37 years and embrace inspiration anywhere I can find it.

    July 6, 2014

  • The moose is loose, and it’s coming for you

    So how would you like to look out your kitchen door window onto your porch and see a moose looking back at you from close range?

    June 28, 2014

  • There are some debts you can never repay

    Today’s column will be relatively short, as my columns go, for reasons that should become apparent, and I thought long and hard before writing it.

    June 21, 2014

  • It could have saved the county a lot of money

    Random thoughts sometimes occur to me when I least expect it, usually when my brain has become tired.
    When I voice these thoughts at work or in other places, people may tell me, “Goldy? It’s time for you to go home.” Yes, ma’am.
    Here are two random thoughts of recent vintage:
    • If Bugs Bunny were an Emergency Medical Technician, would that make him a MedicHare?
    • If Daisy Duck got a job driving for United Parcel Service, would she be an UPS-a-Daisy?
    I wouldn’t blame you if you think that sounds Goofy — or Daffy.

    June 15, 2014

  • These two were part of the Not Top Ten

    Occasionally, at this time of year, I see reference to a “class orator” or a “class speaker.”

    Nothing wrong with that — people can call such things whatever they want, as far as I’m concerned — but it makes me wonder. Have “valedictorian” and “salutatorian” become politically incorrect, and I didn’t notice? It may come as a surprise to you, but I really have not kept up with what is politically correct or incorrect. That’s what people tell me, anyway. With some of them, it actually seems to be a compliment.

    June 8, 2014

  • Coming soon to a highway near you?

    People say to me, “Goldy? Can I ask you a stupid question?”

    In theory — and theory only — the correct response is: “The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask.” Not so much. There ARE stupid questions, some of them so stupid that to call them stupid is to damn them with faint praise. Other questions are — on the face of it — legitimate questions, but shouldn’t be treated as such ... not if you subscribe to the same philosophy that I do: Free entertainment is everywhere; all you have to do is wait, and it will come to you.

    June 1, 2014

  • This was a skill that proved very useful

    The Belmont Park stewards have decided to let California Chrome wear his nasal strip during the Run for the Carnations. Nasal strips usually are worn by people who snore and may have saved numerous marriages. It helps the Triple Crown hopeful to breathe, and some twolegged athletes wear nasal strips for the same reason. In this case, Chrome’s nasal strip may keep him from (wait for it) ... losing by a nose.

    May 25, 2014

  • He made a big splash by asking this question

    “I don’t know who you were talking to last night,” said Capt. Gary, “but you were talking and moaning in your sleep. Never heard you do that before.” Neither has anyone else, I said. Besides, I had told him not to be surprised if we had visitors. I wasn’t at the top of my game for a couple of days, and he said some of our friends asked him if I was all right. It’s not the first time for this, so now I’ll know to watch out for it. It can affect you and is not something to play around with — as our friend Cathy found out.

    May 18, 2014

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