Book Review: The Lion of Round Top: The Life and Military Service of Brigadier General Strong Vincent in the American Civil War

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by Hans G. Myers

Philadelphia: Casemate Books, 2022. Pp. xx, 204. Illus., append., notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 1636241115

The Forgotten Hero of Little Round Top

Hans Myers has written a provocative biography of Strong Vincent, nicknamed “The Lion of Round Top”. In what is the first new treatment of the man in thirty years, Myers argues strongly that the Pennsylvania native was primarily responsible for “saving” the Round Tops on the second day of Gettysburg (July 2, 1863), and thus the Army of the Potomac’s left flank. Myers points out that while Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine were important to the Union Victory, their role in the battle was embellished, by Chamberlain and others, and further polished in Michael Shaara’s 1974 novel The Killer Angels, Ken Burns’s 1990 documentary series The Civil War, and Ronald Maxwell’s 1993 motion picture Gettysburg, all of which helped push aside the significance of Vincent’s heroic actions on that day, making him almost a footnote to that crucial turning point in the battle and the Civil War.

Myers’s well-written account, with a helpful foreword by Dr. Frank P. Varney, covers Vincent’s early life in a single chapter, followed by his wartime experience through his promotion to brigadier general on to the eve of Gettysburg. The next four chapters cover the Gettysburg campaign and battle, culminating in Vincent’s role in the defense of Little Round Top and his final moments. In his final chapter, Myers discusses Vincent’s legacy and why he came to be forgotten by both historians and enthusiasts of the war. He makes a good case that while Chamberlain and the 20th Maine do merit well-deserved praise for their renowned courage and bayonet charge on Little Round Top, Chamberlain almost immediately began to work very hard to shape the narrative of the battle, failing to always accurately deal with the events. He even changed his story several times over the forty years after the war, offering evidence from Ellis Spear, who was there that day, and Oliver W. Norton, who has written extensively on the battle, as to what they believed happened on that fateful afternoon. In short, it was Vincent who made the decisions that enabled the brave soldiers who held the line on Little Round Top, to be there in time to stem the Confederate tide.

The case for Chamberlain’s manipulation of the narrative is further explored in an appendix, “The Origins of the Chamberlain Myth”, which lays out Chamberlain’s very public, life-long campaign to bolster his record. In this effort, he was supported by endorsements from other Northern officers and even William Randolph Hearst, who published articles on the battle and the war, often by Chamberlain, further embellishing the general’s record, while Strong Vincent faded from memory.

In what is his first book Myers, a promising young historian, has written a first rate treatment of the life of this largely forgotten general, which will help the both scholars and buffs better understand who was the actual “Lion of Little Round Top”.

 

Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His previous reviews here include, , Voices of the Army of the Potomac, The Record of Murders and Outrages, Gettysburg 1963, No Common Ground, Confederate Conscription and the Struggle for Southern Soldiers, Stephen A. Swails, The Great ‘What Ifs’ of the American Civil War Chained to History, Grant vs. Lee: Favorite Stories and Fresh Perspectives from the Historians at Emerging Civil War, Spectacle of Grief, Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy, First Fallen: The Life of Colonel Ellsworth, and Their Maryland.

 

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Note: The Lion of Round Top is also available in e-editions.

 

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

www.nymas.org

Reviewer: David Marshall   


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