Lt. Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s baptism of fire came at Fredericksburg… His 20th Maine regiment was part of the disastrous third assault wave on Marye’s Heights. After receiving the withering Confederate fire before the stonewall, the brave men of Maine got their second foolish order of the day- to hold their ground.
Chamberlain and his troops would have to endure an indescribably horrific night… freezing on a battlefield littered with dead and dying comrades. The men of the 20th Maine, trapped by Confederate fire, were surrounded by incomprehensible misery and death. Chamberlain did his best to put it into words:
“It was a cold night. Bitter, raw north winds swept the stark slopes. The men, heated by their energetic and exciting work, felt keenly the chilling change. Many of them had neither overcoat nor blanket, having left them with the discarded knapsacks. They roamed about to find some garment not needed by the dead…Necessity compels strange uses. For myself it seemed best to bestow my body between two dead men among the many left there by earlier assaults, and to draw another crosswise for a pillow out of the trampled, blood-soaked sod, pulling the flap of his coat over my face to fend off the chilling winds…”
“But out of that silence rose new sounds more appalling still; a strange ventriloquism, of which you could not locate the source, a smothered moan, as if a thousand discords were flowing together into a key-note weird, unearthly, terrible to hear and bear, yet startling with its nearness; the writhing concord broken by cries for help, some begging for a drop of water, some calling on God for pity; and some on friendly hands to finish what the enemy had so horribly begun; some with delirious, dreamy voices murmuring loved names, as if the dearest were bending over them; and underneath, all the time, the deep bass note from closed lips too hopeless, or too heroic to articulate their agony…”