News: Maine Militia memorialized
Story by Sgt. Angela Parady
GETTYSBURG, Pa. - Having fought long and hard the previous day, with ammunition supplies running short, he knew his men could not withstand another Confederate assault. Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain led the men of the 20th Maine Regiment in a rare counterattack. Affixing bayonets to their rifles, Chamberlain’s men charged into the 15th Alabama Regiment, down a boulder-filled hill in Pennsylvania that would later be called Little Round Top. The bayonet charge deflected the Confederate attack and has been credited with winning the Battle of Gettysburg, and changing the direction of the Civil War.
July 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. On the evening of July 17, more than 160 servicemembers from the Maine and Alabama National Guards returned to the site of Little Round Top. It was not a reenactment of the brutal, game changing battle. This time, it was one of friendship, of shared history. Soldiers from both states fell into one formation alongside one another, a sea of digital army green.
Brig. Gen. James D. Campbell, the Adjutant General for Maine, believes understanding history gives purpose and direction to young servicemembers and helps develop better leaders.
“If we didn’t have our traditions, our history, we would have nothing,” said Campbell. “Our sense of who we are as an organization, leadership examples to follow, and lessons we can learn from. Timeless traditions from places like this are just invaluable. Not only in making us better at our jobs, but in helping us understand who we are, why what we do is so important. You have to understand the past to improve the present.”
Maine Governor Paul R. LePage, also attended the ceremony Wednesday. He pointed to Maine’s longstanding military tradition.
“During the Civil War, 7,000 Mainers volunteered or were drafted into the war,” said LePage. “Union uniforms were made right here in Lewiston. Even then, Maine had the highest percentage fighting in the civil war, and today we have the largest population per capita of veterans.” LePage pointed out a strong Army National Guard and Air National Guard has protected state interests, national interests, and has stood up when called to action.
“We are very proud of our military in Maine,” he said.
Heritage, history, heraldry are all key components to building pride, espirit de corps, and morale. Prior to the ceremony, the guardsmen spent the day with guides well versed in the deep rooted history of Gettysburg. Alabama servicemembers visited the sites where their predecessors had fought, and learned lesser known facts about the roles Alabama and Maine played.
Army Staff Sgt. Heidi Darling, a cook from Waterville, Maine, preparing to deploy with the Forward Support Company, 133rd Engineering Battalion, never focused on history in high school. The staff ride gave her a history lesson that made her want to learn more.
“This is humbling to say the least,” said Darling. “You are standing here, and you know that you are where they once stood.”
Staff rides are a longstanding military tradition that gives a hands-on approach to history, demonstrating the importance of strategy, organizational and tactical leadership to all ranks and grades. Darling said that having all levels of military, from privates to generals, present for the ride added to the educational aspect of the trip.
“Not only are you here with all ranks, just like you would have been during the Civil War, but you get the added knowledge,” she said. Noncommissioned officers shared their experiences alongside officers. Maine servicemembers talked with Alabama guardsmen about the past, the present and the future.
“Leadership, is about being able to educate your troops,” said Darling. “For me, getting the knowledge here, and being able to give them tidbits, lessons learned, is great. I want to learn more now.”
Darling connected the past to the present as she traced the lineage of the 133rd to each of the Maine regiments that represented Maine during the Civil War. “It’s amazing to know the history, the long ago, and see how we have progressed to the now.”
Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Field is a contract specialist with Maine’s 1968th Contingency Contract Team. He said that the staff ride helped him gain appreciation for how things were done in the past, how those lessons learned led to how we operate today, and renewed his pride in the Maine National Guard.
“This motivates me more. I am going forward with the pride of the rich history, legends that come with wearing the Maine patch.” he said. “It is important to instill the esprit de corps. Knowing where you come from and never forgetting those who have come before us. We couldn’t do our jobs, if they hadn’t done theirs.”
The speakers of the day all spoke of the citizen soldier, the man that has a dual role. What it was like in the 1700’s, and what it is like for the citizen soldier today.
Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau, spoke at the ceremony as well. “It is so important to study history. Study these warriors that came here. Where they came from are the same places you come from today. They were citizens, they were militia. Their governor sent them off to fight for a cause. And they did it. As you look to this history, bring it forward. Bring these samples of great leaderships to your soldiers, to your units, and teach them these lessons.”
The distinguished guests emphasized the importance of learning from the past. They spoke of pride: pride in your background, pride in your lineage, pride in your heritage. They spoke to changing times, thoughts, and technologies.
Almost 130 years ago, Chamberlain spoke of future generations visiting the ground he and his men battled on. During the July staff ride, servicemembers from both Alabama and Maine had the opportunity to learn from the past.
“In great deeds, something abides,” said Chamberlain in a speech he gave during the dedication of the 20th Maine’s monument. “On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass; bodies disappear; but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls… 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, shall come to this deathless field, to ponder and dream; and the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”