GETTYSBURG, Pa. (AP) -- The booms of ground-rattling cannon fire Monday
marked the ceremonial start of the Battle of Gettysburg, 150 years to the
day after Union and Confederate troops fought the defining encounter of the
But instead of sabre-carrying soldiers, tourists and history buffs are now
swarming the battlefield in this small, south-central Pennsylvania town to
commemorate the milestone anniversary of the three-day battle.
Little Round Top figures was one of the most popular destinations today.
No place in Gettysburg has become more popular to visit in recent years than
the hill desperately defended by the 20th Maine Regiment on July 2, 1863 --
Day 2 of the three-day encounter -- in one of the key moments that
ultimately led to Union victory.
The first National Park Service program Tuesday morning at Little Round Top
had more than 500 attendees, roughly 10 times more than the typical turnout.
Thank a Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, a Ken Burns documentary and Hollywood
for turning the Maine soldiers and its commander, Col. Joshua Lawrence
Chamberlain, into Civil War stars 150 years later.
Chamberlain said, “Bayonets!” 6-year-old Luke Johnson recounted with a yell
as he held a toy rifle above his head as if he were swinging around a sword.
He was acting out a scene from the 1993 movie “Gettysburg,” in which
Chamberlain was played by actor Jeff Daniels
Luke’s mother, Wendi, 39 of Carterville, Ill., said Luke and his 5-year-old
brother Andrew had been watching the PG-rated film every day in the weeks
leading up to their vacation to Pennsylvania. Andrew “gets upset when I try
to turn the movie off. He says ‘The battle’s not over, Mom,” Wendi Johnson
said with a laugh. “I say, ‘You know how it ends!’”
Burns’ seminal 1990 documentary about the Civil War also looked at
Chamberlain. The 1974 novel, the “Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara inspired
the movie “Gettysburg.”
The movie has had an influence on some history buffs who decided to take up
the hobby of re-enacting. When asked, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett called
Chamberlain his favorite figure who emerged from Gettysburg.
“The Civil War came on in some respects for troops on both sides so quickly,
and so many people had to become leaders so quickly,” Corbett said during a
news conference for the opening Monday of the Seminary Ridge Museum,
Gettysburg’s newest attraction. “If you think of the story of Joshua
Chamberlain and had the opportunity to read the “Killer Angels” and what he
went through, he became my favorite.”
It’s no surprise, then, that the stone step path that leads to the memorial
to Maine soldiers has been replaced with a paved walkway to easily ascend
the hill, just in time for anniversary week. While the National Park Service
doesn’t keep official statistics by battlefield sights, the paving is a
clear sign of Little Round Top’s popularity.
The short story of Chamberlain and his men goes like this: In a desperate
move to hold the Union’s left flank, Chamberlain’s regiment was ordered on
the hill and placed at the end of a line shaped like a fishhook. Troops from
Alabama trying to take the hill were repulsed several times, but the Maine
soldiers were running out of ammunition. Chamberlain ordered a bayonet
charge down the hill that secured victory.
It was Chamberlain, as brigadier general, who formally received the
Confederate surrender at Appomattox in 1865.