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(1863) Battle of Gettysburg
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Larry Purtell
Little Meadows
PA USA
Posts: 870

Chamberlain verses Oates
Posted on: 7/25/2019 5:12:09 PM

Joshua chamberlain and William Oates spent many post war years arguing about the fight on LRT and especially how Oates and his 15th Alabama advanced. Currently watching a discussion on another board and in the question of who was telling the truth Chamberlain is not faring well. I'm curious how the members here on MHO feel. Did chamberlain try to play up the accomplishments of the 20th Maine? Was Oates stretching the truth about how far the 15th Alabama advanced? Were both guilty of unit pride and let it change their memories of the battle?

Larry
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"My goal is to live forever. So far, so good.
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4088

Chamberlain verses Oates
Posted on: 7/26/2019 7:28:33 AM

Chamberlain was a professor of Oratory, wasn’t he ?

Perhaps that led him to rely on the rhetorical flourish to an extent that undermined substance and enhanced style.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
morris crumley
Dunwoody
GA USA
Posts: 2408

Chamberlain verses Oates
Posted on: 7/26/2019 9:36:38 AM

Larry, it would be interesting to note what the general jist is of those on the other site is.

I think it clear that Chamberlain engaged in beautifully written, poetic, hyperbole. I also feel that the 20th Maine, under his leadership, is worthy of the story written. So were others that day. ( 1st Minnesota)

The 15th Alabama gets short-shifted a bit in the telling. They were on the loosing side, and the victors write the history. Oates men had to march over 30 miles to get there from New Guilford, in dusty heat and humidity, with little rest since 3:00 AM...went almost straight into action-canteens collected and sent to be re-filled and never to arrive, then scaled the steep slopes of Big Roundtop to drive off US SS. With hardly any chance to catch their breaths, Law`s courier arrives, telling Oates to push forward to Little Roundtop. So already exhausted men, without water, move down the slope, cross the draw, to then engage a Federal battle line in an uphill attack, as men are falling out, not from bullets, but heat stroke...and still they manage to attack and drive back the defenders four times, only to be driven back themselves.

Both the 20th, and the 15th Ala fought like tigers. But the 15th Alabama, at one point is also taking enfilade fire from the 83d Pennsylvania..as well as direct from Chamberlain`s men.
I have no doubt that there was confusion surrounding the exact event of the bayonet charge Chamberlain ordered, and the precise manner of it`s execution. Chamberlain wrote his wife that his 20th Maine had staved off the attack of an entire brigade ( true only if he intended to mean all of Vincent`s men) and Oates who had determined to "fight it out till supports arrived" realized no more were coming, his men were fought to a frazzle and then was in the process of withdrawal when the 20th Maine counter-attacked. Add to it, Oates had detailed one company to his right to harass Federal supply wagons...while Chamberlain`s decision to detail his company B and some dozen or so 2cd USSS to protect his own left, was what convinced Oates that he was confronting fresh Federal regiments and put an end to the affair, even though Oates was ending it anyway.

Chamberlain`s linguistic artistry allowed him to promote himself and his regiment, and though his intention might have been the promotion of his "lads" he was the main beneficiary of the naming of almost as many things in post-war Maine as the naming bonanza of Robert Byrd in West Virginia.

But the story of Chamberlain and the 20th should not be diminished, though there was a certain degree of inflation.

My thoughts, Morris
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"You are a $70, red-wool, pure quill military genius, or the biggest damn fool in northern Mexico."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4088

Chamberlain verses Oates
Posted on: 7/27/2019 11:25:46 AM

On my shelves, amongst dozens of books on Gettysburg, there is a title THE ATTACK AND DEFENSE OF LITTLE ROUND TOP.

It's author is Oliver Wilcox Norton : he wrote in 1913, with failing sight, and a determination to produce a comprehensive array of reports from the various officers on both sides who had their respective stories to tell.

Norton had served in that sector of the battle as a private soldier, and he wanted to make good his project as he entered the last phase of his life.


In effect, it's a kind of Battles and Leaders essay, confined to the arena of the battle that saw Chamberlain and Oates confront each other.


I've dipped into it, but not read it properly.


I hope that I can find time to revisit it and contribute to this thread.


Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
morris crumley
Dunwoody
GA USA
Posts: 2408

Chamberlain verses Oates
Posted on: 7/27/2019 12:47:15 PM

Phil, it would be very interesting to hear a summary of the book you have.

I assume the controversy that Larry was following on another site was that which sprang up from the attempt to position a 15th Alabama marker on Little Roundtop.

Col. Oates was attempting to get approval from the Gettysburg Monuments Commission to place a memorial marker, and there developed a controversy between Chamberlain`s opinion of where it would accurately be placed, and where Col. Oates felt it should be. Oates lost a brother during the fight, and worst of all..his brother did not die outright, but was wounded and captured..left to the enemy..to die at a farmhouse nearby and Col Oates was haunted till his dying day.

I think Oates, who would ultimately find that his brother was buried in a common grave, that the bones were removed to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, and that there was only a general position of where they had been re-interred, was wanting this 15th Alabama marker to be a memorial of his brother, and the others in his regiment, a tombstone that could "mark the loss."

Oates argued that his 15th Alabama struck the flank of the 20th Maine, and bent it back ..almost upon itself, before the 20th famously charged to retake the ground. This is what he wrote to the commission, and would go on to communicate to Chamberlain.

Chamberlain somehow got the impression that Oates was saying the 15th Alabama had "turned Chamberlain`s flank." Not what he said. Chamberlain would insist that his history of the events was correct, and Oates never got that 15th Alabama monument marker approved. Rather pathetic if you ask me..and especially given the current central casting treatment that "Chamberlain and the 20th Maine" now has.
Maybe Larry can tell us the gist of the thread. I personally feel that Chamberlain was peevish and petty in this regard, not at all the "golden lion" who lauded victor and vanquished alike, as the "manly themes" of much of his writings about the war. Both men would be wounded five times during the war, Oates loosing his right arm in action around Petersburg, and Chamberlain nearly dying in action there.

Respects, Morris
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"You are a $70, red-wool, pure quill military genius, or the biggest damn fool in northern Mexico."
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4088

Chamberlain verses Oates
Posted on: 7/27/2019 4:01:45 PM

Morris,

This book that I’ve mentioned looks quite good : not least because it has a historiographical bent to it, that praises and rubbishes some of the accounts written by the various contributors, coming as it did in 1913, fifty years on. This reminds me of similar stuff that we had in 1994 when, after another half centennial, our people began to reappraise and question the accounts of D Day 1944 . Oh, Lord ! How time passes !

Vanderslice is alluded to quite a lot : he was the man in charge of the Monuments Commission. His book also occupies a proud place on my Gettysburg shelves.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Phil Andrade
London
 UK
Posts: 4088

Chamberlain verses Oates
Posted on: 7/29/2019 6:32:16 AM

Impression so far is that Oates gives a candid and sincere account, and I would place trust in him .

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Gregory C. White
Canton
GA USA
Posts: 248

Chamberlain verses Oates
Posted on: 7/30/2019 11:40:13 AM

Didn't Chamberlain submit his Gettysburg official report in the 1880s?
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"I do not believe that any man can adequately appreciate the world of to-day unless he has some knowledge of...[and] some feeling for...the history of the world of the past." Theodore Roosevelt
Michigan Dave
Muskegon, Michigan
MI USA
Posts: 5554

Chamberlain verses Oates
Posted on: 9/13/2019 5:05:48 PM

Here is one take of LRT, & Chamberlain!?

[Read More]

If you have time here is a lecture on the subject given at Gettysburg NMP!?

[Read More]

MD


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"The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."
Dave G
Halifax
NS Canada
Posts: 114

Chamberlain verses Oates
Posted on: 9/17/2019 10:32:57 AM

According to a North & South article (William C. Oates and the Death of General Elon Farnsworth — Glenn W. LaFantasie NORTH & SOUTH JANUARY 2005 • VOL. 8 • NUMBER 1) Oates was pretty mixed up during the years after the battle. In this article he insisted that General Farnsworth committed suicide. First he (Oates) claimed that just out of his line of sight, a Lt Adrian tried to take Farnsworth;s surrender, but Farnsworth instead shot himself in the head. Adrian asked Oates if he wanted the Yankee major's shoulder straps. Oates saw the straps and realized it was a General. (My own opinion was that he had mistaken Cushing --- who was wounded in the head -- for Farnsworth.) But when Farnsworth's body was found days later, by Union doctors there was no head wound.

From the article:
He walked over to where Farnsworth’s body lay on the ground. Small groups of Alabamians were taking a look for themselves, many never having seen a dead Union general before. The earth was bloody all around Farnsworth’s body. Oates noticed two or three bullet holes “in different parts of his body from which the blood was issuing.” He ordered one of his men to search the body, and the soldier extracted some letters from one of the coat pockets. Oates assumed the letters were from Farnsworth’s wife. They were clearly addressed to Farnsworth, which was how Oates learned the general’s identity. He tore up the letters and threw the pieces away. Putting the shoulder straps in his own pocket, Oates lingered only a few minutes where Farnsworth had fallen (probably in the vicinity of where the monument to the 1st Vermont Cavalry now stands on the western slope of Big Round Top), and he soon received orders for his regiment to resume its position on the Confederate right flank.

The Farnsworth suicide was later disproved but William Oates repeated the same bullshit at every opportunity for the rest of his life. Occasionally he had to revise his version (he did not get the straps from Adrian and they never showed up again, another soldier got the shoulder straps when the body was stripped, Farnsworth had shot himself in the heart instead if the head, etc). He was somewhat assisted in the story by John Bachelder who had learned about Farnsworth's death from John Oates, William Oates' brother. How William was an eyewitness was a bit strange since he had been wounded and left on Little Round Top the day before.

I think Oates found opinions on the battle he liked, and hung onto them no matter what anyone else said. If absolutely necessary, he adjusted the "facts." Why allow the facts to mess up a good story?
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Dave G

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