Why was the Battle of Little Round Top important to both the North and the South? What was the final result of this battle? What was the strategic move made by a Union officer (name him) who would decide the outcome of this battle?
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In the rolling green hills of south central Pennsylvania, Little Round Top represented the "high ground", from which you could station your cannons and observe the enemy's movements. Both the Union and Confederate armies recognized its importance.
Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a college professor before the war, was in charge of the 20th Maine Regiment, and was ordered to occupy and hold Little Round Top to the last man. If the rebels beat him to it, the Union position would be flanked and forced to withdraw. Along with a few remnants of the 2nd Maine and the 81st Pennsylvania, and outnumberd four to one, Chamberlain and his men fought doggedly knowing there was nowhere for them to retreat to. They beat back numerous charges and finally, out of ammunition, charged down the hill with bayonets fixed in a rarely used maneuver called a "Right Wheel Flank". They took the Confederates completely by surprise and the battle was won.
This gave the Union its command of the high ground, and it, among other factors, led to Union victory in the Battle of Gettysburg. This was the turning point of the war.
The fight on Little Round Top was the decisive action on the second day during the Battle of Gettysburg. Little Round Top, defended by the brigade of Colonel Strong Vincent, was the extreme left flank of the Union position. It was important for two reasons: First, it had to be held in order to protect the Union left. More importantly, it served as protection for the left of Cemetery Ridge, a key position being held by Federal troops. If Little Round Top was captured by the Confederate troops, not only could the Union left be turned, but Cemetery Ridge would be exposed to artillery fire and would have to be abandoned.
Little Round Top was still undefended on the second day of battle, but both sides recognized the importance of the location. On his own initiative, Vincent marched his four regiments to the top of the hill. Crack Confederate troops under Brigadier General Evander Law (of Major General John Bell Hood's famous division) stormed the slopes, only to be repeatedly repulsed by Vincent's brigade. Vincent received what would prove to be a mortal wound, and Colonel Joshua Chamberlain took charge. When he realized his dwindling troops had little ammunition left, Chamberlain ordered two classic military maneuvers, first turning his formation to "refuse the line." Seeing the Confederates preparing for yet another charge, Chamberlain ordered a "right wheel flank"--a "simultaneous frontal assault and flanking maneuver"--advancing his left flank forward in a bayonet charge; when they were aligned with the remaining troops, the entire force--though heavily outnumbered--advanced downhill at the tired and surprised Alabamans. This maneuver was akin to the closing of a swinging door, and the Southern troops were routed, with a large number of troops captured. Chamberlain's attack by such an inferior-numbered force became one of the greatest triumphs of the war, and certainly proved to be the decisive action of the second day's action at Gettysburg. Chamberlain was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his day's work.
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