August 16, 2022

Updated: Aug 17

Bayonets! Charge!


"What cannot be helped must be borne. Welldoing is not a smooth road and its rewards do not instantly appear. But good heart, nevertheless! Dear poor Tom Pinch knew all about it. 'Wher's the pudding? said Tom, for he was cutting his jokes, Tom was.'"


- Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (d.1914), The Passing of the Armies, posthumous 1915.



Regimental Commander Chamberlain of the 20th Maine, whose deeds list long, may be known for: General Grant's charge to him to receive the actual surrender of the Confederate Army at Appomattox on April 12, 1865 (3 days after Lee surrendered to Grant), Gettysburg's Little Round Top order to bayonet charge, and College Professor whose Victorian prose is exemplified above.


His bayonet charge is a good illustration of the above quote (which from now on I will simply refer to as "the quote"), though the two are not correlated by Chamberlain himself. In a tribute to Chamberlain dated 1914 in a section on Little Round Top, to borrow some of the wording, mentions are made of the "boulder-strewn hill" the enemy in "fierce onslaughts" and left flank maneuvers frequently tried to surmount. Our family visited Little Round Top, years ago, and the boulders are memorable, the steep incline, and so is the wooded area on the left flank. Chamberlain thinned his line having stretched his lines left countering the enemy flanks. Tired by the day's battle, running out of ammunition, dead, wounded, now the thorny, uncomfortable prick of desperation, Chamberlain gave the order to bayonet charge; the tribute then paraphrases with a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., "pine swung against the palm" - the tempest fury began.


(a position of 20th Maine looking down Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, U.S.A.)



The quote's immediate context in the book Passing Armies was Chamberlain's account of the 20th Maine and the rest of the Potomac Army marching back north to Washington, D.C. after the war's end in Appomattox. There the Potomac Army will undergo a final review from the Capitol to the White House along Pennsylvania Avenue. Just prior to the quote he wrote, "man and beast, were drenched and sodden, - body and soul." During the march, he described the "soggy ground", "pitchy darkness", and a difficulty to harmonize with such turmoil, which seemed to be everything at that point. Not just the war nor solely the march north, but no art, civilization, bareness, a lack of fire or will in that pitchy darkness of the soul, for there was a difficulty in the tragic moment to harmonize with a "Promethean will or human need": the last words before the quote.


Upon reflection of the quote, to put it into my own words, man cannot make happen; what must be born. Things will not get better without hardship - it is "not a smooth road". At times, there may not even by any sign or "rewards" of something better coming at all. Stay encouraged - "but [of] good heart" - in the face of surmounting odds stretching you thin due to constant flanks, remember, Tom Pinch did know!


Chamberlain at that point had quoted Charles Dicken's, Martin Chuzzlewit, specifically the character Tom Pinch. Tom and his sister, Ruth, were in hard times and had just moved to a new location. It's a whole new beginning one might say, especially if things do get better. His sister had been abused in her labors by her previous employer. Tom was writing a resume in search of a job at the kitchen table when Ruth decided to make pudding. Tight on money, not wanting things to get worse, the scene is of them making the best of life.


(Tom and Ruth in kitchen; scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham, Victorian Web.)


It starts in one's household, I want to point out. His sister, while making the beefsteak pudding, and Tom, eventually putting away his resume, find themselves caught-up in an experiment: Will the end product be the pudding she set out to make? Tom at one point says, "We may make some wonderful discovery, perhaps, and produce such a dish as never was known before." Ruth warmly laughs in agreement. When Tom asked "Wher's the pudding?" Ruth shows him the unfinished mix and she says, "Where! Look at it!" Yet, the pudding is not done, she knows it, and he knows it; they both continue to enjoy the time in merriment while awaiting the discovery of the pudding.


Times are tough, the ammo's running low, marching and sleeping on soggy ground with pitch darkness all around with civilization seemingly in decay - no Promethean will. An inevitable desperation experienced upon seeing the "pine swung against the palm" all the while with "good heart, nevertheless!" amongst cheerful good company - not for man's but God's glory! Joy, a movement forward in life beyond a mere eked, lifeless existence. What's the point of life? Wher's the smooth road and the reward for any and all of this: "Wher's the pudding?" Tom Pinch smiles and amidst all this and more nevertheless sees a glimmering hope and gives the order: Bayonets! Charge!


What though their angry cry is flung

Across the howling wave, -

They smite the air with idle tongue

The gathering storm who brave;

Enough of speech! the trumpet rings;

Be silent, patient, calm, -

God help them if the tempest swings

The pine against the palm!


- Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (d.1894), "A Voice of the Loyal North", 1861.

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