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[425] occupy Little Round Top, which they just then discovered was the key to their position. The force thrown upon this point was so strong as to seize our right, as it were, in a vice.

Still the battle on our main line continued to progress. The situation was a critical one. My corps had been fighting over an hour, having encountered and driven back line after line of the enemy. In front of them was a high and rugged ridge, on its crest the bulk of the Army of the Potomac, numbering six to one, and securely resting behind strong positions. My brave fellows never hesitated, however. Their duty was in front of them and they met it. They charged up the hill in splendid style, sweeping everything before them, dislodging the enemy in the face of a withering fire. When they had fairly started up the second ridge, I discovered that they were suffering terribly from a fire that swept over their right and left flanks. I also found that my left flank was not protected by the brigades that were to move en echelon with it. McLaws' line was consequently spread out to the left to protect its flank, and Hood's line was extended to the right to protect its flank from the sweeping fire of the large bodies of troops that were posted on Round Top.1 These two movements of extension so drew my forces out, that I found myself attacking Cemetery Hill with a single line of battle against no less than fifty thousand troops.

My two divisions at that time were cut down to eight or nine thousand men, four thousand having been killed or wounded. We felt at every step the heavy stroke of fresh troops — the sturdy regular blow that tells a soldier instantly that he has encountered reserves or reinforcements. We received no support at all, and there was no evidence of co-operation on any side. To urge my men forward under these circumstances would have been madness, and I withdrew them in good order to the peach orchard that we had taken from the Federals early in the afternoon. It may be mentioned here, as illustrative of the dauntless spirit of these men, that

1 The importance of Round Top, as a point d'appui, was not appreciated until after my attack. General Meade seems to have alluded to it as a point to be occupied, “if practicable,” but in such slighting manner as to show that he did not deem it of great importance. So it was occupied by an inadequate force. As our battle progressed, pushing the Federals back from point to point, subordinate officers and soldiers, seeking shelter, as birds fly to cover in a tempest, found behind the large boulders of its rock-bound sides, not only protection but rallying points. These reinforcements to the troops already there, checked our advance on the right, and some superior officer, arriving just then, divined from effect the cause, and threw a force into Round Top that transformed it, as if by magic, into a Gibraltar.

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