GETTYSBURG NATIONAL MILITARY PARK, PA —The 155th anniversary of the Civil War's decisive Battle of Gettysburg is July 1-3. The battle is called the "High Watermark of the Confederacy" because the Southern cause went pretty much all downhill from there.
Those are just facts. The lessons about Gettysburg which are not taught so much anymore could go a long way in showing American youth how best to live and maybe even how best to die.
That's why a group of young School of Leadership students came from Spokane, Washington's Victory Faith Fellowship with their pastors to Gettysburg for a chance to learn about values and selfless sacrifices they may never have heard about in public schools.
Taking Little Round Top Might Win The War
Their pastors, true American history buffs, took them straight to the hill known as Little Round Top because of the monumentally crucial and historic event that unfolded there on the second day of the 1863 Gettysburg battle.
As the day began, some of the Confederate commanders theorized if they could take an unmanned hill called Little Round Top located just at the end of the Union line, they could hit the line from the side, "roll up" and shred the Union's main army, leaving them an open road all the way to Washington D.C.
The Union commander, Gen. George Gordon Meade, sent his chief of engineers, Brig. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren to assess the situation. Almost alone on Little Round Top, he saw the Confederates moving fast toward the hill and begged his superior to send cannon and troops immediately.
They Knew Their Retreat Would Kill Their Army
Union Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, a devout Christian, and his 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry hurried to the thickly forested southern slope of Little Round Top where the Confederate troops would come charging up minutes later. These 358 men of Maine determined very quickly they had to hold the hill at any cost from those thousands of Confederate soldiers because retreating could well mean the defeat of the Union Army and possibly the end of the United States as a country.
Many believe history is determined by the decisions of great leaders and vast movements of people. But sometimes it comes down to the decisions of just a few, and even "the little guys." Such was the case that day on Little Round Top.
Hundreds of Confederate soldiers charged up the hill, again and again, shooting many of the men from Maine.
"It's amazing, the sacrifice these men made to stand the ground when a lot of people would have cut and run," Victory Faith's Senior Pastor Craig Lotze said to the students as they walked the forested path to where the 20th Maine made their stand.
Did The Holy Spirit Stop Him with a 'Queer Notion?'
A letter Chamberlain received years later from a Confederate veteran of the battle informed him that God himself had intervened that bloody day to save Chamberlain's life.
Pastor Trevor Seaman read aloud from that Confederate's letter to Chamberlain, quoting, "You were standing in the open behind the center of your line, fully exposed. I knew your rank by your uniform and your actions, and I thought it a mighty good thing to put you out of the way. I rested my gun on a rock and took steady aim."
The letter continued, "I started to pull the trigger, but some queer notion stopped me. Then I got ashamed of my weakness and went through the same motion again. I had you perfectly certain. But then that same queer something shut right down on me. I couldn't pull the trigger, and I gave it up."
Seaman turned to the young people listening and said, "That queer feeling we would know to be the power of the Holy Spirit. God's divine intervention at that moment stopped someone from shooting Joshua Chamberlain."
Chamberlain would rise in rank from colonel to major general by the end of the war.
Photo credit: Library of Congress
When The Men From Maine Charged, They Knew Death or Defeat Was at the Door
But it appeared the colonel and all his men might perish as the Confederates came on in wave after wave. The 20th Maine fired so many volleys, they ran out of ammunition. As the Confederate soldiers rushed up towards them one more time, Chamberlain made the boldest of decisions -- to fix bayonets and charge right into the teeth of the enemy.
He yelled, "Bayonet!" at the top of his lungs, and after his men affixed the long sharp blades to their rifles, he and his commanders yelled, "Charge!"
Most of the men gave a roar as they raced down Little Round Top. But instead of being instantly mowed down by the Confederate force in front of them, Pastor Lotze described what many believe was a miraculous outcome.
Pointing down the slope, he said, "As they charged down this hill, it shocks the Confederate soldiers, and the 20th Maine ends up capturing them and winning the day."
Just Like a Battle in the Bible
"It was supernatural," Seaman stated, comparing that charge to the many battles in the Bible where God intervened.
"Some confusion went into the enemy's camp. And somehow, these men without bullets, charging down, making this roar, pushed back the enemy," he added,
The students got it -- the far-outnumbered 20th Maine held the end of the Union line, saving their army and probably their country on that July day.
"300 people influenced the course of an entire nation in one act of obedience and one act of courage," said Cameron Khoma.
'We're Not Going to Back Up. We're Not Going to Give Up'
Lotze said he wants that same "Stand in the Gap" anointing those men of Maine had.
The pastor declared, "It's fix bayonets! We're not going to back up. We're not going to give up. We're going to pray. We're going to cry out for mercy for our nation."
And the students began to do it right then and there on the battlefield.
"We thank you for the courage that you gave Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine; that they accomplished your will," student Nick Kuiper prayed. "Lord, all they needed to do was just say 'yes,' even when it was hard. So, in the name of Jesus, we receive the boldness that they had, Lord."
"I thank you for the sacrifice that's represented on this ground," Trebor Angerman, Victory Faith's youth director, called out. "You want to start something, God, and you have to start somewhere, so we say start with us. We say we're willing."
Khoma joined in, asking, "Create inside of us such a fire, Lord, to live a holy life for you. That we would be completely sold out just like Joshua Chamberlain, who if you would have asked him for his life, he would have laid it down for you, and for this nation, Lord."
"Take up the cause, the battles of our day. The battle of race, the battle of abortion — Lord, that we would be a voice when others want to abandon the post," Pastor Seaman prayed, adding, "We ask that you would impart to us that ability to live beyond ourselves."
If the Schools Won't Teach These Lessons, Someone Else Must
Khoma believes if young people would learn about Civil War soldiers' dedication and sacrifice, it could make them better citizens. And he said if the public schools won't teach about these heroic values to America's youth, someone else must.
"It's not necessarily that there's a fear inside of me for what students aren't learning," Khoma told CBN News. "But it's a passion inside of me that's stirring, saying, 'OK, if they're not teaching this in the schools, then this baton's got to be passed onto the church for the church to teach it.'"
That's why Pastor Lotze brings young people to places like Little Round Top. He says God told him on one such trip, "If you will take those young ones, stand them on the ground and tell them the stories, they'll never get away from it."
Here Stood a Group of Men Small in Number
"It inspires me to keep saying 'yes' to the Lord. He's just asking for somebody with a willing spirit. Here stood a group of men small in number, but they had the strength of the Lord on their side. And they were willing to say 'yes,' and they were willing to do what it took. And so, I want to be a person who is willing to do what it takes and to always say 'yes,'" student Kassidy Newsom told CBN News.
Chamberlain was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on July 2. He was wounded six times during the war, and after the war served as the governor of Maine and president of Bowdoin College. He was asked many times about how he and his men managed to pull off such a monumental, perhaps nation-saving act of heroism.
"In battle, some of the highest qualities of manhood are called forth — courage, self-command, and sacrifice of self for the sake of something held higher," he once answered.
The American Civil War lasted four years across a theater of bloodshed that spread from Virginia to Arizona. More than 620,000 men perished.
But in the end, the decision of who would win that war and make America a re-united nation may have been decided on the slopes of Little Round Top by just a few hundred men willing to give their all.