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Department 1

Civil War Institute


The order to hold to the last, to continue fighting, to refuse to break no matter the cost, is often held to be a noble and heroic concept, especially in the Victorian context of the nineteenth century and the American Civil War. The most famous action of this kind at the Battle of Gettysburg is of course the stand of the 20th Maine on Little Round Top on July 2, 1863, which has been popularized through the writings of Michael Shaara and the 1993 film Gettysburg. The 20th Maine’s commanding officer, Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, reflects upon this unique brand of orders in the film, philosophically wondering what “to the last” can mean, even as his men prepare to receive the enemy. Paradoxically, such a stand only becomes glorious when it is not forced to fulfill the true measure of its orders. Gallant reinforcements arrive to stem the tide; the enemy is broken before the can succeed; the defenders lose hope and retreat rather than being annihilated. Indeed, seldom is the occasion on which men have truly stood “to the last.” One is the case of the 16th Maine at Gettysburg. [excerpt]


This blog post originally appeared in The Gettysburg Compiler and was created by students at Gettysburg College.