01 December 2010
The 15th Alabama is overdue its rightful acknowledgement
Many of you will know the story of Little Round Top, perhaps the CSA's greatest chance to take the far flank of the Union line at Gettysburg. The story was told by the victors, of course, glorifying the role of the 20th Maine and Col. Chamberlain. Very few Americans know of the 15th Alabama who faced the men from Maine, or their commander, Col. William C. Oates of Alabama.
Some 42 years after the battle in which his brother was killed, William Oates was by then an eight term congressman, senatorial candidate, former Governor of Alabama, and Brigadier General of the United States Army during the Spanish American War. Governor Oates sought to have a plaque honoring the suffering, sacrifice, and effort of the 15th Alabama at Little Round Top. His effort was unsuccessful. On the battlefield that has perhaps the most memorials of any American battlefield, no plaque has ever been placed to commemorate the Alabamians who fought and fell that day.
I came across a nice piece from 1997 describing Governor Oates' efforts in those later days, including an intriguing picture of a handwritten memorial laid by an admirer on the rock on which Lt. John Oates was mortally wounded:
In Storming Little Round Top, by Phillip Thomas Tucker, written in 2002, the author makes the claim that it was the Alabamians who were outnumbered, fighting in their second fight of the same day, their force already weakened, fighting against a semifortified position uphill, and the 15th Alabama nearly won. Moreover, the famous charge of Chamberlain's Maine men as portrayed in the movie Gettysburg, Tucker claims, was fiction. Oates wrote after the battle that the Alabamians were withdrawing under fire when the Maine regiment left their earthworks and retook lost ground downslope, nothing more.
While I feel a memorial plaque to the men of the 15th Alabama should be placed at Little Round Top, I fear the controversy of where to place the plaque would persist from 1905, even if the matter is only 50-75 yards from here to there. To place it lower on the slope would diminish what might have been the Regiment's true achievement, and to place the plaque as high as Oates' claim, even if it were the true marker of their advance, will surely arouse great passion in the cult of the Union and cult of Chamberlain. Not that it isn't worth the fight, mind you.
This cause should be taken up by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, as this is their duty as I see it, and perhaps an old wrong can be set aright.