The American Civil War was in full rage by 1863. On July 1, 1863 the armies were massing around a small town in Pennsylvania called Gettysburg. The battle that followed was one of the bloodiest and crucial in the war. Joshua Chamberlain was the Colonel of the 20th Maine, promoted after the battle of Chancellorsville. The 20th Maine was described as a “hell of a regiment”, which was not a compliment. Apparently, they were unruly and had some deserters that had to be forced back to duty at the point of a bayonet. I imagine this was par for the course in those days, however. Chamberlain was told by General Mead to “make them do duty or shoot them down the moment they refused.” Chamberlain took a softer approach as many of the deserters were men he knew from home. They were fed and added back into the ranks. They had orders to head home soon anyway. However, before they could go back to Maine, they received the call to march to Gettysburg double quick. They booked it to Pennsylvania, but once they got there it was dark. This is when things got strange.
According Colonel Chamberlain in his book Blood and Fire at Gettysburg, the officers reached a fork in the road and wasn’t sure which way to go. The account says, “Suddenly the clouds parted, and the moon shone down upon a horseman wearing a bright coat and a tricorn hat. Mounted on a magnificent pale horse, he cantered down one of the roads branching off before them. Turning slightly toward them, he waved them to follow.” If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is. Hundreds of soldiers were said to have seen this man on horseback. They followed the man on horseback, who led them wear they needed to be. Many of the officers assumed this was a Union general, the name General McClellan got bandied about. However, some of the men remarked on upon the strong resemblance the man bore to paintings of George Washington they had seen.
On July 2, Chamberlain was ordered to Little Round Top by Union commanders after they realized there were only signalmen guarding the strategic heights. Once again, the 20th Maine hustled and they only beat the first wave of General Longstreet’s Confederates by a few minutes. At any case, the 20th Maine were given the charge to hold Little Round top “at all hazards”, and soon they were under heavy artillery fire. The Confederates kept coming and soon there were outbreaks of deadly hand to hand fighting, but the line held. However, it was a close thing and Colonel Chamberlain worried that the line would not stand another assault and now there was gunfire behind them as well. There were fears among the exhausted men the Confederates had them surrounded. They were the last line of defense. If they fell, the battle and possibly the war and the union were lost. Here is where things get weird once again.
According to reports from troops after the battle, a tall man on a pale horse rode into their midst. He was in an old fashioned uniform and tricorn hat. Every man on the Union
side who saw him felt his courage renewed. The Confederates saw the rider as well and focused fire on the conspicuous target, but the rider never fell. Despite this moral boost, things were looking bleak for the 20th Maine. They were out of ammo and hope. Enter the strange phantom. According to Chamberlain, “Suddenly, an imposing figure stood in front of the line exhorting them to follow. The rays of the afternoon sun set his upraised sword aflame.” The men were filled with hope and bravery, and fixed their bayonet and charged into the line of Confederates. The men of the 15th Alabama were shocked at such a bold move, and didn’t have time to fire a defensive volley. The Confederates were mowed down by the men of the 20th Maine then caught in a pincer between them and the men of the 83rd Pennsylvania. Four hundred Confederates were taken prisoner and Little Round Top held.
Rumors went wild after the battle about the apparition and an investigation was conducted and many eyewitness testimonies were gathered. However, no conclusions were drawn. Chamberlain survived the war and went on to become Governor of Maine in 1866. In regard to this strange episode, Chamberlain said, “We know not what mystical power may be possessed by those who are now bivouacking with the dead. I only know the effect, but I dare not explain or deny the cause. I do believe that we were enveloped by the power of the other world that day and who shall say that Washington was not among the number of those who aided the country that he founded?” Who indeed?