Pickett's Charge " But one field officer in the whole command escaped in that terrible third day of July slaughter, and alas! Alas! For the men who fearlessly followed their lead on to certain death"Ã¯Â¿Â½ (Gettysburg 157). These where the words the famous General Pickett wrote in his letter to his fiancÃÂÃÂ©, Miss LaSalle Corbell, after the deadly charge was over. Many men died on this day carrying out the orders of their commanders. On both sides the death tolls were enormous. The Confederates lost an estimated five thousand six hundred men while the federals more then one thousand five hundred (Kennedy 212). Pickett's Charge was the battle to decide the ultimate victor in the American Civil War.
The Battle of Gettysburg was a huge three-day battle in which the Union army won a decisive victory over the Confederate army. This battle was fought from July first through the July third next to the town of Gettysburg.
This once small town, now forever known in American history, was turned into the pivotal point of the civil war. Not because it had a population of around two thousand four hundred but because it was the meeting place of ten roads leading to towns in Maryland and Pennsylvania (Kennedy 207). From these roads the Confederate army would be able to march anywhere it chose to roam in the north. This is one of the reasons why the Federal army could not afford to lose this battle. Also this was the battlefield where Federal army was able to take control over the war that they seemed to have been losing.
Pickett's Charge started on July third around one o'clock in the afternoon. After taking heavy loses from the previous days battles General Lee would not back down. He decided to go for a decisive victory, which would catapult the Confederates into winning the war. He knew the outcome of this blood bath of war would determine the overall winner of the war. He would not surrender from this opportunity; both because all the troops were assembled, and because retreating now would hurt his troops moral. The Confederates were required to fight and win if they had any chance of becoming victorious in this war.
General Lee was going to wage a full frontal assault on the Federal army concentrating on the middle of the Union line. This was the wall that Lee had hoped would crumble under the pressure of the Confederate forces. He figured that the flanks, which is where the Confederates attacked the day before, would be reinforced and that the middle of the line would be the breaking point of this impenetrable line. General Longstreet also known as the "old war horse"Ã¯Â¿Â½ was one of Lee's best generals; said that the attack was suicidal and that they would lose. Despite Longstreet's testimony General Lee decided to carry out his orders anyway. Lee and Longstreet had gathered twelve thousand men in eleven different brigades, three of which were fresh from Pickett's brigade (Kennedy 212). The other eight were exhausted from yesterday's brutal battle. Despite the superiority in numbers that the Federals had, Lee still wanted to go on with his plan.
By twelve o'clock Lee's men were in position headed by James Longstreet, Johnston Pettigrew, Isaac Trimble, and Cadmus M. Wolcox. At around one o'clock in the afternoon the Confederates opened an artillery barrage of which America has never seen before. The Confederate artillery opened up with one hundred and eighty guns including those of Ewell's corp. (Kennedy 212). The Federals returned their fire with about one hundred and eighteen guns from the line and Cemetery Hill (Coddington 497). During this devastating show of artillery General Winfield Scott Hancock rode up and down the lines inspiring his troops. An officer urged him to dismount and Hancock replied, "There are times when a corps commanders life does not count"Ã¯Â¿Â½ (Gettysburg 124). However affective Lee thought his gunners were shooting about nine tenths of their shots passed over the heads of the Union troops (Coddington 494). The Confederates never took the time to lessen the elevation of the guns, yet instead just kept firing. It was safer for the troops on the open field then the men and women behind the lines. The Federals however, took their time to aim and make every shot count. Even with aiming General Meade of the Federal army was told that the cannonade was doing little more then filling the battlefield with smoke. While the Federals thought that their gunners kept over shooting the cannonballs kept finding their mark. The shells kept landing in the forest right behind the Confederate gunners, which is, where the army was laying in wait. In Pickett's divisions some regiments took heavy losses. One even lost eighty-eight men to the shelling (Coddington 498). In of this, Meade gave the order to stop firing in hopes that the Confederates would do the same and told the troops to be prepared for an assault.
After the two constant hours of the cannonade the Confederate army revealed themselves from within the trees behind the gunners. Now it was three o'clock in the afternoon. Lee's plan was to have Pettigrew's division of four brigades on the left and Trimble's two brigades picking up the rear and one on the right. Pickett's division on the right advanced with four brigades, two in the front one on the left flank and one in the rear. Twenty minutes after the troops progressed forward Wolcox's and Perry's brigade were supposed to march to the right of Pickett's troops to stop a the threat of being flanked (Pickett's Charge 1). After all the troops started moving the Union was looking at an assault of eighteen thousand men crashing down on them. They were deployed in line formation as the Confederates reopened their gunners to cover the advancement of their troops. Not long after the guns started blazing, the battlefield was covered in a blanket smoke. The Confederate troops could not even see their enemy until they were with in about two hundred yards of them.
The Confederate's had to trek a one mile distance, through cannonballs and canister shots to get to their target. When both divisions traveled about half the distance to the enemy they stopped and regrouped. There was a slight depression in the field in which the Confederates marched that practically protected them from enemy fire (Coddington 503). After their slight rest the Confederates marched again. The Union artillery tore great gashes in the Rebel lines but all the Confederates could do at this point was just fill in the gaps with survivors. Once the Rebels grew within three hundred to four hundred feet the Union opened up with their muskets and shotgun like blasts of canisters, which mowed down the lines of the rushing troops (Coddington 513). Yet the Confederates just kept coming. All of the men condensed and rushed towards one part of the Union line. This volley of deadly bullets sent the confederate soldiers into desperate panic. They rushed to their objective in clusters until Armistead stuck his sword through his hat and raised it high in the air. This was to show the soldiers where to go. Then he yelled at the top of his lungs "Come on boys! Give them the cold steel! Who will follow me?"Ã¯Â¿Â½ (Gettysburg 108). With that said the confederates surged forward. As the Rebels rushed towards the center of the Union line the right and left part of the lines swung down like doors to flank the Confederates. This happened because Pickett's division moved too far to the left for Wilcox and Perry to protect it as originally planned. While the flanking was going on, the Confederates lost many soldiers, either by being shot or because some soldiers simply lied down on the ground and started waving anything they had to signify surrender. Despite the heavy losses the Confederates took, they continued to press on. Once the Confederates had passed the wall they paused for a moment. Webb called this pause "the moment of defeat."Ã¯Â¿Â½ (Coddington 517). This was also the southerners' last chance for victory. That is why it is known throughout history as, the High Water Mark of the Confederacy (Coddington 517). Once the Confederates started to push forward yet again, the Union had put all their troops in perfect position to repel the enemy assault. As the federal reinforcements came rushing into the battle, Armistead fell mortally wounded. Without a leader the Confederates became disastrously unorganized and would be lethally marked targets every time one of them would come over the wall. This ensured the Union victory. With the confederate army destroyed all General Lee could do was ride up and down the lines of his men muttering to himself "It is all my fault. . . . It is all my fault."Ã¯Â¿Â½ (Gettysburg 108). This would mark the end of one of the bloodiest battles ever fought upon American soil.
This three-day battle during the month of July, in 1863 would mark the turning point in the American Civil War. The last day, being one of the bloodiest battles in American history should never have happened. Lee was obviously out numbered and his army out gunned. He should never have ordered Pickett's Charge that ultimately devastated his army in which he would never fully recover from. If he had only listened to General Longstreet, who said from the beginning, that this charge would be the downfall of the Confederate army they might not have lost. Instead, General Lee went along with his original plan and marched many of his soldiers to their untimely demise. Fate was on the Union side this day; for it seemed no matter what the Confederates did, General Meade's Army of the Potomac was one step ahead of them. They had an answer for everything and the Union totally up rooted and destroyed the Confederates in what would be know in modern day history as Pickett's Charge.
Works Citied Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1968.
Gettysburg: Voices of the Civil War. 1st ed. Virginia, 1995 Kennedy, Francis H. The Civil War Battlefield Guide. New York: Houghton, 1998.
Pickett's Charge. Home page. Home of the American Civil War. 12 Nov 2000