Heartaches of the Past
September 8, 1913
His feet carried him up the slope, just below the summit in a small woody place where a stone wall rested. In places the pathway was long ago worn down by countless visitors who had come to see the historic spot. But he could remember a time when it hadn't been so worn, when it had been nothing more then a small hill they called Little Round Top. As the waves of gray had been charging up the slope, he hadn't eve known the name.
He wore the old blue uniform, the one with the two stars that marked his last rank in the army, Major General. Back on this hill he had only been a colonel, before that a schoolteacher up in Maine. But he had been placed on the hill, could still hear Strong Vincent's orders ringing in his ears. "You're the end of the line." Vincent himself had been mortally wounded not long afterwards, yet he had held the ground, he had held to the last.
If he closed his eyes, he could see that battle again before his eyes, the advancing rebel regiments, the bullets whipped through the air all around him, the fallen bodies of the men, both blue and gray. It was as if he could hear the cries of pain all over again, taste the gunpowder in his mouth and feel the sting of the smoke in his eyes. For him, every time he visited Little Round Top, he could travel back in time and once again be the colonel of the 20th Maine.
"General Chamberlain." He turned as he had thought he was alone, could almost hear the word Lawrence instead of his rank and last name. Even though it had been years, Tom's face and voice were just as vivid in his memory. Tom who had also been so alive and full of energy but yet hadn't really been the same after the war, had developed a reputation for drinking and womanizing. Chamberlain, however, would always remember the youthful, energetic officer from their earlier years, who also had been his younger brother.
His brother was dead, and so when he turned around, his eyes met someone's who he had not seen in years. While time had changed some features, the face was still the same, just older, like his own. But he recognized him in an instant, the man also wearing his old army uniform. Nodding once, he greeting him. "Joseph Bucklin."
"Do you often come up here along?" Bucklin asked, stepping forward to stand alongside Chamberlain. He was one of the old 2nd Maine boys, had joined not long before Gettysburg because he had signed three year papers and even though his regiment had gone home, he and a few others had been moved to the 20th Maine. They had not wanted to come at first, Chamberlain remembered, but he had talked to them and they did come.
He looked out along the wall and down the hill before answering the question. "Sometimes I do, it's a good place to come and think. My family used to come with me, my children, Daisy and Wyllys, came with me but they left me along here for now, so that I can remember."
Bucklin didn't say anything, followed Chamberlain's gaze down the hill. It was like that, that Daisy and Wyllys found them when they came back. "Dad," Wyllys said softly, "We've found a place nearby where we can eat."
"We don't need to go anywhere," Chamberlain replied, "Just being here is enough and I do thank you for coming with me. I won't be able to climb up here much longer."
"Dad, it's your birthday," Wyllys insisted, "Please, we just want to take you somewhere."
It was unspoken between them, but neither of them knew if Chamberlain would make it for another year. His health was starting to fail, not really bad except for the old war wound, a result of Petersburg, June 1864. They had thought that it would kill him then, although he had survived. Still, the wound had never really gone away but had stuck with him. He knew it would be with him until his dying day.
When he heard the word birthday, Bucklin turned to look at Chamberlain. "Happy Birthday sir," he stated.
Chamberlain remained silent for a moment as his gaze didn't leave the hillside. He was locked in the past, the wild charge that earned him the Medal of Honor. All of the men who had died flashed before his eyes as he remembered something he could never forget.
But at last he turned to his children, then glanced at Bucklin. "Alright, I'm coming. Although Private Bucklin is invited to join us."
"I'd be delighted sir," Bucklin replied, as he followed Chamberlain and his children down Little Round Top. Chamberlain hesitated at the bottom, looking back up, almost as if he knew it was that last time he'd ever be there. But always, would the people remember, and so the story would still live on…
Historical Note: While this meeting on Little Round Top was made up from my imagination all the facts I based it on are entirely true. All the people in this story really existed and the facts mentioned in the writing about the war did happen. The only fictional part is the actual meeting and the visit to Gettysburg I had the people make.