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  • Sgt. Andrew J. Tozier, Medal of Honor Recipient of the Twentieth Maine
  • James A. Christian (bio)

The Medal of Honor for Andrew Jackson Tozier arrived by registered parcel post at his Litchfield, Maine, home in late September 1898. Bvt. Maj. Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Tozier’s former Twentieth Maine colonel, had successfully petitioned the War Department to award the prestigious medal to Tozier in recognition of his courageous defense of the regimental flag on July 2, 1863, at Gettysburg—some thirty-five years earlier.

The action for which Sergeant Tozier received the Medal of Honor was capsulized in the citation: “At the crisis of the engagement, this soldier, a color bearer, stood alone in an advanced position, the regiment having been borne back, and defended his colors with musket and ammunition picked up at his feet.”1 Michael Shaara memorialized the Twentieth Maine’s heroic defense of Little Round Top in his 1975 Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, The Killer Angels. A major strong point of Shaara’s novel is the painstaking attention he shows to placing actual historical personages, even relatively minor ones, in their accurate historical settings and relationships. Accordingly, Shaara did not fail to identify Tozier as the Twentieth Maine color-bearer at Gettysburg. The movie Gettysburg, which is the screen adaptation of Shaara’s novel, includes a scene where Chamberlain briefly engages Tozier, who is standing with the regimental colors.

How are you, Andrew?

I’m fine, sir. And you?

A bit worn.

The boys are putting up a hell of a fight.

They are indeed.2

However, Tozier is not shown loading and firing a rifle while standing alone with the flag—the singular action that would later earn him the Medal of Honor.

Defending the Sacred Trust

The Civil War color guard was composed of one color sergeant, who bore the flag, and a small number of color corporals, whose responsibility it was to defend the color-bearer and the flag. The color sergeant position was viewed within the regiment as a special post of honor. As the color-bearer always drew concentrated fire from an enemy intent on capturing his colors, this soldier had to be one of the bravest men in the regiment. Not the sacrifice of his life nor any cost in regimental lives was deemed too high a price to keep the colors safe from capture. Correspondingly, the loss of the regimental colors to capture was considered a great disgrace for that regiment.

Many years after the war, Chamberlain would recall Tozier’s almost-transfigured image standing alone with the flag. The battle’s opening discharges had virtually vanquished the small color guard unit, and the support companies on either side of the color guard had also sustained heavy casualties. Chamberlain recalled the scene at the center of his line:

I first thought some optical illusion imposed upon me. But as forms emerged through the drifting smoke, the truth came into view. The cross fire had cut keenly; the center had been almost shot away; only two of the color guard had been left, and they fighting to fill the whole space; and in the center, wreathed in battle smoke, stood the Color-Sergeant, Andrew Tozier. [End Page 81] His color-staff planted in the ground at his side, the upper part clasped in his elbow, so holding the flag upright, with musket and cartridges seized from the fallen comrade at his side he was defending his sacred trust in the manner of the songs of chivalry.3


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This lithograph by artist Nick Korolev titled “Sacred Trust” depicts Sergeant Tozier’s stand on Little Round Top.

Courtesy of Nick Korolev.

Bvt. Brig. Gen. Ellis Spear, then a major in command of the regiment’s left wing, also recalled Tozier’s audacious stand in postwar writings on the Twentieth Maine’s Battle at Gettysburg.

I walked to the center. It seemed to me most of the color guard were knocked out. I recall that [James A.] Knight of my company was on the ground. . . . What I most distinctly remember there, besides Knight, was the Color Sergeant [Andrew J.] Tozier, who had picked up a musket...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2377-0783
Print ISSN
2372-6059
Pages
pp. 81-90
Launched on MUSE
2015-12-30
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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