A union officer in the Civil War named Joshua Chamberlain was a student of theology and a professor of rhetoric, but not really a soldier. Nonetheless, when duty called, Chamberlain answered. Along the way, he climbed the ranks to become Colonel of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
On July 2, 1863, Chamberlain and his three-hundred-soldier regiment were all that stood between the Confederates and certain defeat. At 2:30 P.M., the 15th and 47th Alabama infantry regiments of the Confederate army charged; but Chamberlain and his men held their ground.
Thereafter, a second, third, fourth, and fifth charge all followed. By the last charge, only 80 blue clad men stood standing. Chamberlain himself was knocked down by a bullet that hit his belt buckle; but the 24-year-old schoolteacher got right back up. Little did he know that this was to be his date with destiny.
When a certain Sergeant Tozier informed Chamberlain that no reinforcements were coming and his men were down to one round of ammunition per soldier, Chamberlain knew he needed to act decisively. Just then, a lookout informed Colonel Chamberlain that the Confederates were forming rank.
Of course, the rational thing to do at that point, with no ammunition and no reinforcements, would have been to surrender. But Chamberlain made a defining decision. In full view of the enemy, Chamberlain climbed onto a barricade of stones and gave a command. He pointed his sword forward and yelled, "Charge!"
Though vastly outnumbered, his men fixed bayonets and started running straight at the Confederate army. They caught them off guard by executing a great right wheel. The result was that, in what ranks as one of the most improbable victories in military history, 80 Union soldiers literally captured 4,000 Confederate soldiers inside of five minutes.
As astounding as that is, many historians believe that if Chamberlain had not charged when he did, the Confederate army would have gained the high ground, likely won the Battle of Gettysburg, and even eventually won the war. After all, just over the hill from where Chamberlain captured the Confederates lay an 80 mile stretch of railroad line running all the way into Washington, D.C. - one that was completely undefended by any Union Army!
And herein lies the great lesson for all of us: one man's courage definitely saved the day, likely saved the war, and even arguably saved the Union!
Batterson’s summary of that day’s events has particular meaning for me. Joshua Chamberlain’s great grandson, Charlie Chamberlain, was for years a member of the church where I currently serve as pastor. I was privileged to get to know this man in depth before he passed on to Heaven. As I did, I was blessed to hear him share with understandable pride about his famous forbear, who was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his exploits at Gettysburg.
Of course, Batterson’s whole point in including this illustration in his book is to make the very point that his sub-title asserts: on any given day, each and every one of us truly are just one decision away from a totally different life. We never know when destiny will come calling. But when it does, we, like Joshua Chamberlain of old, must be willing to step forward and answer the call. And if we are, we might well find out that we can change not only our own lives, but the lives of others around us forever!
To date, since its inception, a total of 3,524 United States Congressional Medals of Honor have been awarded. It is safe to say that not one of the recipients got out of bed the day they earned their medal with the stated intention of doing so. Nonetheless, in each and every case, when the opportunity presented itself, the would-be recipient stepped forward and acted bravely and decisively!
As a result, the lives of each and every American alive since that day have been affected. Our freedoms have been guaranteed and our future has been secured. Therefore, as we celebrate our nation’s independence over the next couple of days, I pray we will remember the willingness of these men and women to take whatever steps they were called upon to take on our behalf.
That willingness changed their destiny. It changed ours as well!
SOURCE: Mark Batterson, All In: You Are One Decision away from A Totally Different Life (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2013), pp. 33-34.
SEE ALSO: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joshua_Chamberlain.
AS WELL AS: http://www.mohhsus.com/medal-of-honor.