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The Killer Angels


July 2, 1863: Chapter 4

Summary July 2, 1863: Chapter 4

Summary—Chapter 4: Chamberlain

Chamberlain raised his saber, let loose the shout that was the greatest sound he could make, boiling the yell up from his chest: Fix bayonets! Charge!

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Afternoon, south of Gettysburg. Chamberlain and his men are finally called upon to move, just as the Confederate attack begins. Chamberlain forms his regiment and waits for his orders. His commanding officer, Colonel Vincent, finally begins the march. As the men move forward, they begin to come within range of the artillery exchange. Chamberlain orders his brother Tom to move to the rear of the regiment, before it becomes “a hard day for mother.” The regiment passes Big Round Top and begins to move up onto Little Round Top. Vincent places Chamberlain’s regiment, the Twentieth Maine, on the southeastern side of Little Round Top. He tells Chamberlain, “You are the extreme left of the Union line. . . . The line runs from here all the way back to Gettysburg. But it stops here. . . . You cannot withdraw. Under any conditions. If you go, the line is flanked. . . . You must defend this place to the last.”

Chamberlain’s men immediately begin digging in, piling up rocks to build a stone wall. Chamberlain orders one of his men, Morrill, to take his company farther out to the left, in case the Confederates try to go around the Twentieth Maine and surprise them from the side. Chamberlain goes to the top of the hill and sees that the Union forces in the peach orchard are being overrun and that the Confederates will soon reach Little Round Top. He returns to his regiment. He tells the six prisoners from the former Second Maine that if they join the regiment now, there will be no charges. Three of the men take him up on the offer.

The infamous “Rebel yell” is heard, and the Confederate forces are on their way. Chamberlain finally realizes that he is the end of the Union line and that he has been ordered never to retreat.

The Confederates attack. The Twentieth Maine succeeds in repelling the initial charge. Chamberlain tries to reach Morrill to see if he and his company are all right, but a second attack quickly follows the first. This time, Kilrain is shot, but the wound seems slight, just under his armpit. Chamberlain jumps up on a rock and is promptly knocked down by a shot that lands near his foot. His foot hurts, but there is no hole in the boot. He climbs up on another boulder to get a better view and is shot again. This time the bullet glances off his sword scabbard.

Chamberlain calls all the commanders to him and orders them to hold the line. He says that they are about to be flanked on the left and that they have to stop the Confederates at all costs. He outlines a strategic maneuver, and the commanders quickly leave to execute his orders. Chamberlain returns to Kilrain, who is becoming weaker from his wound.

The Twentieth is beginning to run out of ammunition. The next attack hits hard all along the line. Chamberlain’s men hold, but they are running very low on bullets. The next attack knocks a hole in the line, and Chamberlain instinctively orders the nearest man to fill it—his brother Tom. Tom survives the attack without injury.