One hundred fifty years ago this summer, the Battle of Gettysburg was fought on July 1-3, 1863, at the town of Gettysburg, Pa.

In terms of casualties, the battle was the costliest of the American Civil War for both sides, with 3,155 Union dead and 14,531 wounded and 4,708 Confederate dead and 12,693 wounded.

More than 165,000 men fought in this three-day engagement, which is viewed as the turning point of the war to preserve the Union. Union Maj. Gen. George Meade’s Army of the Potomac defeated Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, thus ending Lee’s invasion of the North.

Fifteen Maine units participated in the battle on the Union side: the 2nd, 5th and 6th Batteries; the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 16th, 17th, 19th and 20th Regiments; the 1st Maine Cavalry, the 10th Battalion; and Company D of the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters.

On the second day of the battle, the critical defense of Little Round Top on the Union’s left flank was accomplished by the 20th Maine’s dramatic bayonet charge led by Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain, later general, governor of Maine and president of Bowdoin College.

A week after the Battle of Gettysburg ended, the Kennebec Journal for July 10, 1863, wrote under the headline of “Rejoicing”:


“The glorious news of the victory of the Army of the Potomac under General Meade by the defeat of General Lee’s army thrilled the hearts of our people the present week and caused personal, and household, and public rejoicings. On Wednesday at noon the bells were rung and cannon fired in this city amidst the general and pleasing congratulations of citizens. The activities of war at length yield their fruits. The government will be saved, and thanks be to those brave and patriotic men.”

A week later, on July 17, 1863, the Kennebec Journal struck a sadder note:

“In the midst of our rejoicings over the recent glorious victories of the Union army, we have to turn to those realities which ever attend fierce and terrible conflicts upon the battlefield. Every city, every town, every neighborhood, nearly every family, has made the sacrifice in this contest which will make immortal the names of those who dared to die for their country. Our own city has an interest deep, profound, eternal in Gettysburg. Fellows and Rowe and Burdin and Williams went forth to fight for the Constitution, and at Gettysburg sealed it with their blood. The latter, Sergeant Albert W. Williams, a fireman, was a member of the Nineteenth Regiment. While in the hottest of the fight, a ball struck him, and he survived long enough to communicate to a friend a message to assure his comrades that he was willing to die in such a cause, and had no regrets that he had volunteered in the service of his country.”

Twenty-six years after the Battle of Gettysburg, Maine veterans met on that battlefield on Oct. 3, 1889, to dedicate the state’s official granite monuments to the units that served there. All of those monuments were carved in Hallowell by the Hallowell Granite Works.

Joshua Chamberlain’s dedicatory address ended with the following words:

“In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know not us and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream.

“This is the great reward of service. To live, far out and on, in the life of others; to give life’s best for such high stake that it shall be found again.”

Earle G. Shettleworth Jr. is Maine’s state historian.

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