Let's Learn From the Past: Strong Vincent

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On July 2, 1863, a young lawyer-turned-colonel from Western Pennsylvania helped turn the tide of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Born June 17, 1837, Strong Vincent grew up in and around Erie and returned to his hometown to practice law after graduating from Harvard in 1859. Following the fall of Fort Sumter in April 1861, Vincent responded to President Abraham Lincoln's call for volunteers and enlisted as a private with the Wayne Guards, a company of the Erie Regiment.

By December 1862, the 25-year-old Vincent had risen to the rank of colonel in the 83rd Pennsylvania Regiment and led his men through one of the fiercest battles of the Civil War at Fredericksburg, Va. Seven months later, Vincent found himself in command of a brigade of the three regiments at the Battle of Gettysburg on the second day of fighting.

Upon arrival, Vincent intercepted a courier with a message from Gen. G.K. Warren urgently requesting troops to occupy Little Round Top, a strategically important hill anchoring the Union Army's left flank. Vincent did not wait for orders but immediately marched his 1,300 men to the unprotected hill, arriving only minutes before the enemy. He placed Col. Joshua Chamberlain's 20th Maine Infantry on the extreme left of his line, which had become the left flank of the army. If the Confederates turned this flank and took the rocky heights, enemy guns would threaten the entire Union line and the battle, and, possibly, the Union would be lost.

As Confederate units from Alabama and Texas attacked, things looked desperate for Vincent's troops. In an effort to encourage his men to keep fighting as ammunition ran low, Vincent jumped up on a rock, struck the air with his riding crop and ordered his men, "Don't give an inch, boys! Don't give an inch!" Exposed above the hand-to-hand fighting, Vincent was struck by a Confederate musket ball and died of his wounds five days later.

But thanks to his quick thinking and heroism, the Union Army successfully defended Little Round Top and earned victory at the Battle of Gettysburg, considered by many the turning point of the war.

Visitors to the Heinz History Center's new exhibition, "Pennsylvania's Civil War," presented by Mylan, can see a lifelike museum figure of Vincent along with photos and artifacts related to the Battle of Gettysburg. For more information, visit www.heinzhistorycenter.org/civilwar.

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