Sunday, October 27, 2013

President's Weekly Letter #59

In the late afternoon of July 2, 1863 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania during the Battle of Gettysburg, Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, commanding the 20th Maine Regulars of the Union army, led perhaps the most famous counterattack of the American Civil War.  It saved the defense of Little Round Top and is credited for saving the Union Army commanded by Major General George Meade, winning the Battle of Gettysburg and setting the South on a long irreversible path to eventual defeat.  Historians have slightly differing versions, but what essentially happened is as follows.

In June 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee began a second invasion of the North to try to separate the Union Army from Washington. The war had started in 1861 with the major battles in Chancellorsville and Shenandoah Valley won by the Confederates. This was not altogether helpful to the Confederates because the industrial North could more easily replace its men and equipment than the South.  So the Confederate army was weakening by attrition.  By July 1 forces for both the Confederate and the Union were assembling in and around Gettysburg.  Skirmishes erupted.  The Union forces were spread thinly and incurred heavy losses and were forced to retreat to Cemetery Ridge. Confederate General Ewell failed to carry out orders that day to attack Cemetery Hill which would certainly have brought a quick decisive victory for the Confederates. 

Cemetery Ridge resembled an inverted fish hook with Culp’s Hill on the north on the hook, down Cemetery Ridge south to the hill Little Round Top.  Little Round Top’s strategic importance was obvious because the enemy occupying it with cannons would decimate the Union line to the north on Cemetery Ridge.  On July 2nd an enormous battle was waged all along Cemetery Ridge at the Wheatfield, Devil’s Den, Peach Orchard, Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill.

Union Colonel Chamberlain was ordered to, “Defend Little Round Top at all costs.”  With his 386 infantrymen and other defenders, he did just that.  They fended off wave after wave of Confederate attacks on the hill.  In the late afternoon men on both sides were tired and thirsty and the 20th Maine had run out of ammunition. Then, the 20th could hear the next Confederate attack coming; they knew the battle and probably the war would be lost if Little Round Top fell.  With empty rifles and his resolve for his cause, Colonel Chamberlain then issued the famous command; “Fix Bayonets and charge!” Surprisingly, The Confederates assumed fresh reinforcements were attacking so they ran.  The 20th Maine soldiers were shocked.  Many Confederates were taken prisoner and escorted back to the stockade with empty rifles pointing at them.

I can only imagine what thoughts were going through those men’s heads to make that charge. What a level of commitment it would be to know you are about to make the ultimate sacrifice for your cause and do it willingly.

As a side note, on July 3rd the battle continued to rage.  The Confederates made a dramatic 12,500 man assault midway along Cemetery Ridge, where the 20th Maine was positioned for protection and rest from their heroic actions the day before. This assault is known as Pickett’s Charge. The charge was repulsed.  When General Lee asked General George Pickett to withdraw his men for a Confederate retreat, General Picket in effect said, “General Lee, I do not have any men.”  The Union General Meade refused an order by President Lincoln to attack and destroy the decimated army of the South and end the war as the two armies faced each other in the driving rain on July 4th.  General Lee slipped away and led his defeated army back to Virginia.  The war raged on for 2 more years.  About 50,000 soldiers from both armies were casualties in the three day battle.  The war ended in 1865 with about 750,000 non civilian casualties and remains the bloodiest war in American history.

We read of the same type of valor in Alma 43 after Moroni was appointed Chief Captain over the armies of the Nephites.  The Lamanites came against the Nephites in war after the Zoramites joined the Lamanites.  The armies of the Lamanites saw that Moroni had prepared his people with breastplates, shields, armor and thick clothing to protect their bodies.  Because of the armor, the Lamanites dared not fight but went to attack a weaker part of the land in Manti.  Moroni knew of their plans and set a trap.  The Lamanites intended to destroy their brethren and fought for power to bring them into bondage and establish their own kingdom.  The Nephites fought to preserve their lands, liberty, freedom, homes, wives, children, church and rights of worship. 

 43 … the Lamanites did fight exceedingly; yea, never had the Lamanites been known to fight with such exceedingly great strength and courage, no, not even from the beginning.
 44 … they did fight like dragons, and many of the Nephites were slain by their hands, yea, for they did smite in two many of their head-plates, and they did pierce many of their breastplates, and they did smite off many of their arms; and thus the Lamanites did smite in their fierce anger.
 45 Nevertheless, the Nephites were inspired by a better cause, for they were not fighting for monarchy nor power but they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church.
46 And they were doing that which they felt was the duty which they owed to their God…
48 And it came to pass that when the men of Moroni saw the fierceness and the anger of the Lamanites, they were about to shrink and flee from them. And Moroni, perceiving their intent, sent forth and inspired their hearts with these thoughts—yea, the thoughts of their lands, their liberty, yea, their freedom from bondage.
 49 And it came to pass that they turned upon the Lamanites, and they cried with one voice unto the Lord their God, for their liberty and their freedom from bondage.
 50 And they began to stand against the Lamanites with power…
 51 Now, the Lamanites were more numerous, yea, by more than double the number of the Nephites …” (DC 43:46-48)

The Nephites much like the 20th Maine were committed to their cause.  They were willing to sacrifice everything.  They too probably expected to be killed in the effort.  I can only imagine what they were thinking and the depth of their commitment to their cause as they continued fighting against such great odds.

Elders and Sisters, the men who fought in these two battles were heroes.  But, they were just ordinary people, like you and me, and they were doing extraordinary things.  You are engaged in the gathering of Israel in a war against evil that is attacking truth and all that is wholesome and good.  Your cause is just and great.  No one is asking you to die, but to be a hero in your own sense by doing extra ordinary things by diligent work and sacrificing what you must to develop the same level of commitment as the example of these warriors in tougher physical circumstances. Stories like this of valor and courage offer strong incentive to squarely face your own battles and fight your own cause with the same commitment.
President Robinson     

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