William C. Oates is best remembered as the Confederate officer defeated at Gettysburg's Little Round Top, losing a golden opportunity to turn the Union's flank and win the battle--and perhaps the war. Now, Glenn W. LaFantasie—author of Twilight at Little Round Top—has written a gripping biography of Oates, a narrative that reads like a novel and that reveals, for the first time, the compelling and sometimes astonishing dimensions of this remarkable individual.
Oates was no moonlight-and-magnolias Southerner, as LaFantasie shows. Raised in the hard-scrabble Wiregrass Country of Alabama, he ran away from home as a teenager, roamed through Louisiana and Texas—where he took up card sharking—and finally returned to Alabama, to pull himself up by his bootstraps and become a respected attorney. During the war, he rose to the rank of colonel, served under Stonewall Jackson and Lee, was wounded six times and lost an arm. Returning home, he became wealthy investing in land and cotton, married a woman half his age, and launched a successful political career, becoming a seven-term congressman and ultimately governor. LaFantasie shows how, for Oates and many others of his generation, the war never really ended—he remained devoted to the Lost Cause, and spent the rest of his life waging the political battles of Reconstruction. Yet in one of the final acts of his political career, Oates championed the cause of suffrage for black Americans, delivering an impassioned speech at his state's constitutional convention. Here then is a richly evocative story of Southern life before, during, and after the Civil War, based on first-time and exclusive access to family papers and never-before-seen archives.
“Exhaustively researched and elegantly written, this captivating biography is a signal contribution to Civil War historiography.”—Library Journal (starred review)
In this excerpt from Gettysburg Requiem, exclusively made available to the Gettysburg Discussion Group website (courtesy of Oxford University Press), Glenn LaFantasie tells of William Oates’s failed attempt during the last decade of his life to raise a monument on Little Round Top in memory of his brother, John A. Oates, and all soldiers of the 15th Alabama Infantry who fell on July 2, 1863.1
Little Round Top’s Missing Monument
Glenn W. LaFantasie
The disputes over a fitting and proper memorial at Ground Zero in New York City to honor the victims of the 9/11 attacks—not to mention controversies during the past decade about displaying the Enola Gay, the depiction of Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the Mall in Washington, D.C., and the National Park Service’s plans to build a new visitor center at Gettysburg National Military Park—reveal how Americans can often disagree vehemently over their public monuments to the past. This is nothing new. At Gettysburg, which displays the most monuments of any Civil War battlefield, the location and design of memorials have been contentious ever since the first ones were erected in the 1880s. But the nearly 2 million visitors who tour Gettysburg National Military Park every year are largely unaware of monuments that were proposed but never built. One such unraised monument on Little Round Top—to the 15th Alabama regiment—left its proponent, former Confederate Colonel William C. Oates, angry and bitter over how the park’s commissioners made their decisions about monuments. But it also left him profoundly sad. Oates had his personal, as well as his public, reasons for wanting a monument on Little Round Top. In the end, his unsuccessful effort meant that he and his men experienced defeat for a second time on that hill’s slopes—and both times the famous commander of the 20th Maine infantry, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, played a crucial role in making sure Oates and his Alabamians gained no foothold on that hill.
It was Oates who had led his regiment in an attack on Little Round Top during the late afternoon of July 2, 1863; and it was Oates who had ordered his men to retreat just as the 20th Maine came driving down the hillside with all the force of a runaway locomotive. After five concerted assaults against Colonel Chamberlain and his stalwart men from Maine, Oates and his regiment retreated in a rout and managed, against all odds, to escape being captured by the pursuing Union soldiers. But what troubled Oates more than the defeat of his command, although that was certainly bad enough, was the fact that he had to leave behind his wounded brother, John A. Oates, who eventually died in a Union field hospital twenty-five days after the battle. Leaving his brother behind to die in enemy hands haunted Oates for the rest of his life.
Even his significant accomplishments as a Confederate hero (he was wounded six times during the war and lost his right arm at Petersburg), a seven-term congressman from his home state of Alabama from 1880 to 1894, a one-term governor of his state in the mid-1890s, and a brigadier-general in the United States Army during the Spanish-American War, could not dull Oates’s sense of loss and his terrible grief over what had happened at Gettysburg. Every year he dreaded the arrival of two different days on the calendar—July 2 and December 24. The first date, as he explained to his son long after the war, marked that awful day on Little Round Top when he had to leave his brother John behind, never to see him again; the second date was John’s birthday. “Had he been killed outright,” Oates told his son, “it would not have been so sad[,] but he fell into the hands of the enemy and died a prisoner of war.” Entrapped by his wrenching memories of his lost brother, Oates concluded by saying: “He was a noble young man and died for his country and in a just cause as he and I both saw it.”
Oates visited Gettysburg three times after the battle, but walking the ground where he and his men had fought did not exorcize his personal demons. Every time he climbed the slopes of Little Round Top, he immediately went to the place where John had been left behind some boulders, but he could never determine where his brother’s body had been buried. On his second visit, in 1896, he saw for the first time the granite monument and stone flank markers of the 20th Maine on Little Round Top. The monument had been dedicated in 1889 by Joshua Chamberlain and the surviving veterans of the Maine regiment, and the memorial itself sat high on an outcropping of rocks and dominated the southern slope of the hill. In the sunlight, the monument looked all white and bright on the rocky ledge, like a turret on an ancient castle wall. If Oates felt that the Maine memorial unfairly commanded the attention of sightseers to Little Round Top, he did not say so. But the seeds of wanting to erect a monument to his own regiment may well have been planted during this summer visit to Gettysburg in 1896.
Two years later he visited the battlefield again, this time with his wife and son. It was during this visit that he decided to look into erecting a monument to his lost brother and to the other members of the 15th Alabama who had given their lives on July 2, 1863. The Gettysburg National Battlefield Park Commission, which had been established under the War Department by a federal statute passed in 1894, had been working hard to improve roads, erect iron observation towers, and place markers with narrative descriptions of the battle around the field. His own desires for a memorial coincided with a campaign being waged by William M. Robbins, the only former Confederate serving on the Gettysburg park commission, who hoped to persuade the former Confederate states to appropriate money for monuments in remembrance of the units who had fought on Lee’s army at Gettysburg.
Before the War with Spain ended, and while he still wore his two general’s stars, Oates wrote to Robbins about the possibility of a monument to the 15th Alabama. Robbins, who had served in the 4th Alabama regiment during the Civil War and had also fought in the assault on Little Round Top, took a dim view of Oates’s request. At issue was Robbins’s belief that Oates wanted to elevate the prestige of the 15th Alabama at the expense of the other Alabama regiments—including the 4th and 47th Alabama—that had tried to dislodge the Union forces on Little Round Top. Nevertheless, Robbins answered Oates’s query politely and forward it to John P. Nicholson, the commission’s chairman.
The following summer, after receiving no word from Robbins or Nicholson, Oates wrote again to Robbins and asked what a monument might cost. Robbins went to a local stonecutter in Gettysburg, got cost estimates and some diagrams for a monument, and put the drawings and cost figures in his files while mailing copies of them back to Oates. Delighted with this response, Oates assumed that plans for his monument were moving forward and that the commissioners had approved of his efforts. As far as he could determine, Robbins had put aside his earlier objections and had convinced his fellow commissioners to overlook a standing rule to the effect that all monuments in the park must be located along a unit’s position in line of battle (where they had been deployed to begin fighting), as opposed to its position when it became engaged in combat (where the opposing forces actually met on the field). By rights, that meant that Oates’s monument would have to be erected on Confederate Avenue, which ran along the crest of Seminary Ridge, about a mile to the southwest of Little Round Top.
In mid-September 1900, Robbins sent Oates a proposed drawing of the monument and how it would be positioned in the vicinity of the 20th Maine memorial. Oates was thrilled by this progress. But two years later, the monument was still no closer to being raised than it had been in the summer of 1900. As Oates made plans to join his wife and son in Europe in the spring of 1902, he wrote again to Robbins and asked him to arrange for the cutting of a proper stone for the monument. He hoped to see the results when he returned from Europe that July. Oates also included the legend he wished to be inscribed on the monument:
To the Memory of Lt. John A. Oates
and his gallant Comrades
who fell here July 2nd, 1863.
The 15th Ala. Regt., over 400 strong,
reached this spot, but for
lack of support had to retire.
Lt. Col. Feagin lost a leg
Capts. Brainard and Ellison
Lts. Oates and Copy and
33 men were killed, 76 wounded
and 84 captured.
Erected 39th Anniversary of
Gen. Wm. C. Oates
who was Colonel of the Regiment.
But Oates returned to Montgomery that July and found not a single letter from Robbins or Nicholson. “I expected on my return [from Europe] to find a letter from you about it,” he wrote in exasperation to Robbins, “but I did not and have not up to this time.” Robbins, however, was going though yet another change of heart. He wrote to his fellow commissioners, Nicholson and Major Charles Richardson of New York, and asked them to confirm their stand that no monument to a single regiment should be approved for placement on the battlefield. Of course, countless Union monuments to single regiments—including the 20th Maine—dotted the landscape of the park. Now letting his true feelings be known, Robbins told the other commissioners that he did not want to be held responsible for conspicuously memorializing the 15th Alabama’s role in the battle for Little Round Top, while other regiments in the Alabama Brigade—including his own regiment, the 4th Alabama—received no recognition at all.
But this is not what Robbins told Oates. Instead, he said that the commissioners now believed they must enforce the regulation that called for monuments and tablets to be placed “in the positions where they formed line of battle and began the fight”—and not where a brigade, regiment, or company had actually engaged in combat. The letter hit Oates like a lightning bolt. In reply, he told Robbins that he could not understand why his proposal for “a simple inexpensive monument about where the center of my regiment stood at the most advanced spot, and where my brother and other officers were killed” should raise any objections. Oates could see no recourse but to take his case to Congress “and write it up in the newspapers[,] for I consider it a great wrong to our [Confederate] side.” The Civil War, in other words, was not over, and there was still a battle to be fought at Gettysburg.
Almost immediately, Oates worked to gain support for his monument from the surviving veterans of the 15th Alabama who were scheduled to meet again at another reunion in Montgomery on November 12. Eighty-nine veterans of the 15th Alabama attended the reunion from all over the state. Galvanized for action, the veterans unanimously approved a resolution (no doubt written by Oates) declaring that “we most heartily commend” Oates’s effort to raise a monument on Little Round Top and called on the battlefield commissioners to “grant permission to him to have such stone erected with such inscriptions as are pertinent, to stand as an eternal witness of the earnestness and gallantry displayed by our regiment on the evening of July 2, 1863.”
He reopened his correspondence with the Gettysburg commissioners in early December by sending them a formal letter “to apply to you for permission to erect a stone, or marble monument on the part of the Battlefield to which my regiment, the 15th Alabama, advanced on the evening of July 2nd, 1863.” He enclosed a copy of the resolution passed by the 15th Alabama veterans at their reunion. Robbins replied and suggested that Oates place his monument along Confederate Avenue (on Seminary Ridge) with a long inscription as to what the 15th Alabama had accomplished in its assault on Little Round Top. He steadfastly maintained that the “battle line” rule could not be broken for anyone, including Oates.
The whole affair was becoming convoluted and unseemly. To Nicholson, Oates pointed out that Robbins was “opposed to my scheme.” Around the same time, Robbins wrote to Oates and denied that he alone was blocking the 15th Alabama monument. If Oates could get the approval of the two Northern commissioners and the Secretary of War, Robbins said he would go along with his colleagues. But this statement led only to a new round of letters with Oates, who sought to convince Robbins of how during the battle for Little Round Top he had extended the 15th to his right and had “turned the left” of the 20th Maine.
Sometime around February 15, Oates sent Secretary of War Elihu Root—through the auspices of his congressman, Ariosto Appling Wiley, who delivered the document to the War Department—a formal application for a monument on Little Round Top. The application outlined the movements of the 15th Alabama on July 2, 1863, its advanced position in the regiment’s assault against three regiments of Vincent’s Brigade (the 20th Maine, the 83rd Pennsylvania, and the 44th New York), and made plain the fact that Oates’s brother had been “mortally wounded” on the hill “and died a few days thereafter a prisoner.” He appended a copy of the resolution adopted by the survivors of the 15th Alabama. A monument to the Confederates under his command who fell on Little Round Top, he said, “seems reasonable and a contribution to the truth of history.”
Oates could not understand why he was being so thoroughly and purposely entangled in red tape. In May 1903, he kept up his appeals to the commissioners and the War Department. Finally, Secretary Root invited Oates to visit the battlefield, hoping that the commissioners might explain their position to him in person and sort everything out. Concerned that Secretary Root’s invitation for Oates to visit Gettysburg might be accepted and might force the commissioners to approve the monument application, Nicholson thought up a tactical ploy that he felt would serve the commission well. If anyone could successfully challenge Oates’s narration of events about July 2 for accuracy, Joshua L. Chamberlain—the man who had commanded the 20th Maine at Gettysburg—seemed the logical choice for the job. So Nicholson decided to call in Chamberlain as a kind of expert witness, someone not in the War Department or employed by the Gettysburg commissioners who could give them, for the secretary’s benefit, what would be considered an impartial assessment of Oates’s case.
In Nicholson’s eyes, Chamberlain was an august figure, a hero who deserved respect and admiration. Having risen from the rank of lieutenant colonel to brevet major general during the war, Chamberlain later became governor of Maine for four consecutive one-year terms, president of Bowdoin College for twelve years, and a popular figure on the lecture circuit around New England. Throughout the postwar years, he took on a leading role in the Grand Army of the Republic, the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, the Society of the Army of the Potomac, and other veteran organizations. He enjoyed close relationships with Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, Gouverneur K. Warren, Alexander S. Webb, and other former Union generals. In August 1893, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery and leadership at Little Round Top.
On August 6, Nicholson wrote Chamberlain and sent along a copy of Oates’s letter of June 2 to Root. “The Commission is contending,” he said to Chamberlain, “that it should not be placed [away] from the Brigade [line] but on the Confederate Avenue facing the Union positions.” He believed that “some of the statements [in Oates’s petition] are so much at variance with the records that we thought we would ask your opinion upon the subject.” Chamberlain wrote back promptly and said “I should feel no objection to the erection of a monument to the honor of a regiment that had pushed its way so far around the flank of the Union line and made so gallant an attack.” But, said Chamberlain, “I should expect it to be placed on ground where it [i.e., the 15th Alabama] actually stood at some time during the battle.”
Confirming Nicholson’s suspicions, Chamberlain wrote: “Some of the statements of Colonel Oates in his letter to the Secretary of War differ widely from the well established record of facts in the case, and very materially from former statements of his in his papers published by him and in personal letters in the course of a correspondence with me.” Oates and his men, he said, could not have driven the right of the 20th Maine back upon its left. The positions held by the 44th New York and 83rd Pennsylvania on the hillside prevented the Alabamians from doing so, Chamberlain explained. Nicholson received with Chamberlain’s account with great elations. “You are entirely right in your statement in reference to the 20th Maine and the 15th Alabama Regiments,” Nicholson replied to Chamberlain, as if he had witnessed the engagement himself. What’s more, said Nicholson, “the statement of General Oates is at variance with the facts.” Nicholson later forwarded a copy of Chamberlain’s letter to Secretary Root.
In Montgomery, Oates put into motion the next phase of his campaign. On October 9, 1903, the Alabama General Assembly passed a joint resolution—written, of course, by Oates himself—that reminded the United States government of its obligation at Gettysburg “to allow the erection of markers and monuments to those who fell on each side, Confederate as well as Federals.” To that end, the resolution requested the Alabama delegation in the U.S. House and Senate to investigate why permission had not been given to Oates for his monument. At the same time, Oates enlisted the services of Judge William R. Houghton of Birmingham—who had served in the 2nd Georgia during the war and whose brother Mitchell had served in the 15th Alabama—to write and publish a scathing attack on the monument policies of the battlefield commissioners after visiting Gettysburg in the summer of 1903. Eventually Robbins attempted to rebut Houghton’s assault in the Southern press, but Judge Houghton—no doubt egged on by Oates—refused to be silenced and continued to publish scalding newspapers pieces about how the Gettysburg National Military Park failed to take the Confederate side of the battle into account.
After so much heat and controversy for more than a year, Oates finally decided in early July 1904 to visit Gettysburg and satisfy the commission’s insistence that he designate where he wanted his monument before receiving approval. On the evening of July 11, Oates —in the company of Congressman Wiley and two other friends, Judge and Mrs. R. B. Kyle, from Alabama (who happened to own a stonecutting company)—arrived in Gettysburg from Washington by train. The next morning, Oates met Robbins and Richardson in town, with friendly handshakes all around, but he bristled when he heard that Nicholson—through some unexplained “misunderstanding”—would not join them until the afternoon. Hiring an omnibus, the party rode to Little Round Top, where Oates and Robbins walked leisurely up the southern slope of the hill. At first Oates could not believe what he saw. Since his last visit to the park, the commission had constructed a road—which it named Chamberlain Avenue—that ran below the 20th Maine monument in a semicircle along a ridge and up the hill behind where Oates and his men had done their heaviest fighting. Although the commissioners emphatically insisted in their annual reports that all their work did not disturb the terrain of the battlefield as it had existed in 1863, Oates could see before him that the construction of Chamberlain Avenue had severely altered the landscape and had chopped away a portion of the hillside.
Later that afternoon, at the Eagle Hotel in Gettysburg, Oates met with all the commissioners to discuss his plans. Nicholson led the meeting, apologizing at the outset for missing the trek to Little Round Top in the morning. The men talked informally about Oates’s proposed monument, and Oates emphasized that he had chosen a general location, which he had shown to Robbins, for the placement of the stone. Everything seemed to be going well, until Nicholson pulled from his pocket a copy of Joshua Chamberlain’s letter to him, written in August 1903, and read it aloud. Oates could not have been more surprised. Whether Nicholson read the letter word for word is not evident, but what Oates understood from Chamberlain’s communication with the commission was that the former commander of the 20th Maine “objected to my locating a monument any where I had indicated in my application.” Oates left no account of how the meeting in the Eagle Hotel ended, but he seems to have maintained his composure. But Nicholson had introduced a new component into the monument controversy. Everything seemed now to hinge on how Oates’s memory of the battle conflicted with Chamberlain’s.
When he returned to Alabama, Oates got to work attacking Chamberlain’s credibility. “Chamberlain is not accurate in his statements,” he told Robbins, “[and] his memory is at fault in some respects.” Oates sensed that Chamberlain, like so many other aging Civil War heroes, wanted to make himself “the big push.” But Oates did not feel overly threatened by Chamberlain’s conflicting account of their struggle for Little Round Top. Indeed, it appear as if the commissioners, despite Nicholson’s show at the Eagle Hotel, were inclined to approve Oates’s monument. Eventually, however, Oates realized that the commissioners kept encouraging him in person while they also worked to undermine his efforts.
Through it all, Chamberlain’s objections kept coming up. Oates wrote to Robbins to emphasize once more that Chamberlain’s account was the inaccurate one. He declared emphatically: “Just as sure as your name is Robbins and mine Oates[,] my regiment not only overlapped his left flank but drove the 20th Maine from that position back to where I showed you[,] and his right as well as his left was forced back but not too far. The more I have thought about it and examined the evidences the more fully convinced I am of the correctness of my claim.” Hurt by the mistreatment he had received, and frustrated by all the barricades the commissioners had erected in his path, he let them know that he was “not vain or boastful enough . . . to perpetuate a falsehood forty-two years after the occurrence by erecting a monument to the memory of my dead comrades on ground they never reached in their assault.”
But Nicholson was busy getting Chamberlain involved again in the dispute by sending a copy of Oates’s most recent letter to the former commander of the 20th Maine. Predictably, Chamberlain took offense that Oates “seems to have satisfied himself that I am incorrigible on the point he wishes to establish, and that he can never agree with me.” Although Oates thought of Chamberlain’s statements as “conflicting claims,” the Medal of Honor winner explained flatly: “I have simply stated the facts; first in my official report written on the march away from Gettysburg, and since in a more extended account on the same lines in a lecture, perhaps not accurately reported. I cannot change the facts, nor any statement of my own about them.” Trying to sound beneficent, Chamberlain assured Nicholson that he was “more than willing” to have the 15th Alabama monument “placed inside my lines, for some of these men were doubtless there, and I should feel honored by the companionship of the monument of so gallant a regiment on that historic crest.” But, he said, “the matter of monuments is in your charge, not mine.”
Nicholson, who seemed bent on pushing the dagger as deeply as it would go, sent a copy of Chamberlain’s most recent statement to Oates. Enough was enough. Oates decided to take the matter into his own hands and write to Chamberlain directly. In a letter dated April 14, 1905, he opened with an admonition: “General[,] neither of us are as young as we were when we confronted each other on Little Round Top nearly 42 years ago.” In the natural course of things, he said, memories tend to fade. He thought that Chamberlain may have unintentionally misrepresented his claim of having driven back the 20th Maine’s right flank. “I . . . did not claim to have turned your right,” Oates explained; he merely said he had pushed Chamberlain’s right wing back. However the misrepresentation occurred, said Oates, Chamberlain’s first letter to Nicholson “did the work and caused my application to be turned down.” In the end, Oates argued, it didn’t matter much whether Chamberlain agreed with him or not about the wavering of the 20th Maine’s right flank. They could both agree that Oates had driven back Chamberlain’s left, and that’s where he wanted to put the monument. Reflecting his own understanding of what modern military analysts call the “fog of war,” he said: “No one man can see all that occurs in a fight[,] even between two regiments.” Then he extended an invitation for Chamberlain to join him on the slopes of Little Round Top so the two old soldiers could work out their differing opinions of what had taken place there in the heat of battled.
It took a while for Chamberlain to reply. When he did, in mid-May, he claimed to have “no objection whatever to the erection of a monument by you on the ground attained by the 15th Alabama or any portion of it during the battle.” He also asserted, “you will perceive by my personal letters to Col. Nicholson . . . my complete and cordial willingness to have the monument of the 15th Alabama placed within my lines on the slope of Little Round Top.” Although Chamberlain probably realized that his contradiction of Oates’s description of the battle, particularly regarding how far back the right and left wings of the 20th Maine had been pushed, would be enough for the Gettysburg commissioners to deny Oates’s monument application, he tried to placate Oates by affirming his support for the memorial to the 15th Alabama: “It is really my desire to have your monument set up, only let us make sure of our ground for the sake of historical fact.” He told Oates he would be willing to meet him “again” at Little Round Top, if the occasion ever presented itself.
Chamberlain forwarded a copy of his letter to Nicholson. “I wish to congratulate you,” Nicholson replied, “upon the dignified, manly, soldierly and gentlemanly way in which you have replied to him.” As for the monument dispute, Nicholson informed Chamberlain that “it is very clear that General Oates has not the slightest idea of admitting the views of any one in the controversy except himself.” Nicholson reported that the commissioners were turning all the documentation relating to the controversy over to the Secretary of War and leaving the final decision to him.
William Howard Taft, who was by this time serving as Secretary of War under Theodore Roosevelt, never made a decision about the monument. Instead, Oates’s application simply became forgotten and ignored. Oates himself corresponded off and on for more than a year with Lunsford L. Lomax, a former major general in the Confederate army from Virginia, who was named to the commission after Robbins died in May 1905. In the spring of 1906, Oates tried yet one last time to get Congressman Wiley to pressure the War Department into deciding the issue, but the Gettysburg commissioners relied on Chamberlain’s statements to demonstrate that the monument could not be placed where Oates wanted it to go.
Oates and Chamberlain never met at Little Round Top. In fact, they never met in person at all. In the end, the two men never could have comprehended how their own desires to erect monuments on Little Round Top sprang from very different motives. Having grieved every day since the battle for his younger brother John, Oates wanted the monument to memorialize his personal loss, the greater loss of the other men under his command who had fallen in the battle, and the memory of his regiment’s great deeds that day. He also knew a monument placed behind the Union lines would demonstrate the valor of the 15th Alabama and his own heroism—something of a consolation for the defeat he and his fellow Alabamians had suffered at Gettysburg. For Chamberlain, he wanted the bravery of his regiment and his own personal courage to be honored and remembered in stone, without the taint of having to admit that his lines had been bent back into a hairpin rather than the semi-circle he preferred to picture in his mind. In the end, Chamberlain’s status as a hero and his victor’s pride won the day.
To both men, the memory of the Civil War involved something more than just the erection of monuments or competing recollections of what had taken place on July 2, 1863. No doubt Chamberlain and the Gettysburg commissioners recognized, without explicitly saying so, that Oates hoped to gain control over the memory of Little Round Top by raising a monument to his regiment and placing precisely where it would challenge the victor’s story told by the exiting memorial to the 20th Maine. Beneath the surface of the dispute between Oates and the Gettysburg commissioners, including the role that Chamberlain played in the affair, were all the hatreds that lingered between old foes, North and South. Controlling the past in the present and ensuring how the battle would be known to generations yet to come became as important as the outcome of the battle that had been fought forty years earlier.
For Oates and Chamberlain, the bloody struggle for Little Round Top was an event that kept the Civil War alive in their hearts for half a century. Their wounds of war, both physical and emotional, would never fully heal. Perhaps these two old warriors are battling still in Valhalla. But one thing is certain. On Little Round Top, which is now the most visited spot on the Gettysburg battlefield, there is no monument to the 15th Alabama.
Glenn W. LaFantasie, the Richard Frockt Family Professor of Civil War History at Western Kentucky University, is the author of Gettysburg Requiem: The Life and Lost Causes of Confederate Colonel William C. Oates, published by Oxford University Press. He is also the author ofTwilight at Little Round Top(John Wiley & Sons, 2005), which stayed on the History Book Club bestseller list for more than 40 weeks, and other works.