These are the words of Joshua Chamberlain, the Union hero who won the Congressional Medal of Honor for the defense of Little Round Top on the second day of fighting at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863. His story is featured in the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara and in the film Gettysburg that was based on this book.
It is fitting that we think of him on this anniversary of his deeds. After Gettysburg he went on to become one of the war's most extraordinary soldiers and later the Governor of Maine. But I would like to focus on his other profession today. Prior to the war he had been a professor of Rhetoric at Bowdoin College. (He could read in seven foreign languages: Arabic, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Syriac.) After the war he returned to Bowdoin to teach and to become its president.
In his excellent book, Hallowed Ground: A Walk at Gettysburg, James McPherson tells of Chamberlain's return to Gettysburg in 1886 to dedicate a monument for his Twentieth Maine regiment. Let us read more of Chamberlain's speech and his rhetoric:
"In great deeds, something abides. On great fields something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear, but spirits linger, to consecrate the ground for the vision-place of souls. And reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart-drawn to see where and by whom great things were suffered and done for them...."
Done for us.
[Image: Little Round Top, 1863. It is from the Library of Congress Selected Civil War Photographs collection.]