Round Top Debate in the National Tribune
A debate that would start not long after the battle as can be seen in: Big Round Top
, was resumed again here in the National Tribune in 1885.
What starts off as a seemingly harmless enough article by Holman Melcher soon turns into a debate with Fisher as seen on Page 5.
Mr. President Melcher undertakes to give a history of the taking of "Round Top" in the following style: First, he goes on to give a history of the
gallantry of the 20th Me., which I shall not controvert, for the simple reason that I know nothing about it, not having arrived on the
battleground until late in the afternoon, and of course do not know what feats of valor were performed by that organization, and hence have nothing to say.
At least this first statment helps to clear up any confusion that perhaps Fisher had helped Chamberlain in his charge at Little Round Top.
But Fisher contines,
After the enemy had fallen back, while Col. Rice and myself were engaged in conversation about the battle in which his (Rice's) brigade had taken
so conspicuous part, I called his attention to the hill now known as Round Top, and asked him whether he had not been annoyed by the
enemy's sharpshooters during the battle of the afternoon. He replied in the affirmative. I then said, "I will take that hill to night, as I regard it as a dangerous
position to be held by the enemy." Col. Rice remarked that the attempt to take that hill might prove a hazardous enterprise.
My reply to this was that all active warefare was more or less hazardous; to which the Colonel replied that if I was determined to take the hill
he would like to join me in the effort. I agreed to this, and said I would take two of my regiments and he could send one of his to report to me.
Col. Rice then called Col. Chamberlain and introduced him to me, and we all together talked the matter over. During this conversation I asked
Col. Chamberlain what guns his regiment was armed with, and he replied Springfield rifles, or muskets, I am not sure which.
I then said, "I will deploy your regiment as skirmishers, as my men are armed with Harper's Ferry altered muskets."
We at once started up the mountain, I being in command, and the 20th Me. deployed as skirmishers. We took the hill, and in doing so
captured a few prisoners and held the top of the hill until relieved on the next day by Gen. Wright, of the Sixth Corps.
Fisher's whole argument seems to be that he indeed deserves the credit for whatever Chamberlain did because
he outranked Chamberlain. Elisha Coan of the 20th Maine would take offence at Fisher's account and would write his own account starting on page 9.
On page 13 he states,
After the prisoners were sent to the rear a staff officer came to Col. Chamberlain and said: "Troops are to be sent up Round Top, and as you
have repulsed the flaking movement of the enemy, you can have the privilege of planting your colors upon its summit."
A hint was as good as a command to Col. Chamberlain, and just as the shades of night were settling down upon the battle-worn troops of the contending armies,
the 20th Me. reached that positon, planted its colors there, formed in line of battle, and sent out a skirmish line.
After our skirmishers had advanced down the hill two regiments of the Pennsylvania Reserves came up behind us and rested on their arms.
Up to this moment not an enemy had been encountered on Round Top. As our skirmishers were about to halt and remain on picket
they were challenged by a foe that could not be seen in the darkness of the woods, and by a little ruse 34 men, claiming to belong to
the 15th Ala., were taken prisoners without firing a gun. But the Confederates refused to be escorted to the rear by the small squad that could be
spared from the line, and so another company of the 20th was sent to bring them in. They passed through our regimental line at the colors,
and consequently the writer, being a member of the color-guard, knows whereof he speaks. As soon as the enemy found that a part of his picket-line
had been captured he fired a volley, the bullets going into the tops of the trees over our heads. The remainder of this article
the writer would fain omit, but as the gauntlet has been thrown down by Col. (or General) Fisher, he will give it, and affirm its truth under
the sanctity of an oath and on his honor as a solder.
Immediately after the volley referred to the two regiments of Pennsylvania Reserves that had come up behind us, and not more than a rod or two in our rear,
moved by the about face down the hill, and it was with difficulty that their commander was persuaded to return them again to our support.