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Pickett’s Charge: the Great Confederate Attack at the Battle of Gettysburg, July 3rd, 1863

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Pickett’s Charge: the Great Confederate Attack at the Battle of Gettysburg, July 3rd, 1863
Leonaur Original
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Author(s): Arthur Griffiths, James E. Crocker, LaSalle Corbell Pickett, James I. Metts, Helen D. Longstreet & James Longstreet
Date Published: 2017/05
Page Count: 216
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-597-5
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-596-8

The high water mark of the Confederacy

The Battle of Gettysburg, in early July, 1863, began promisingly for Lee and his Confederate forces, but as the fighting progressed it became clear that in a pounding match where Meade’s Union force remained nailed defensively to high ground it would take a master stroke on Lee’s part for the Confederates to prevail. Attacks to turn the Union flank had failed leading to a decision to launch a concerted direct assault of converging regiments on the centre of the Union line, which was commanded by Hancock. The initiative seemed born of desperation and the Confederate general, Longstreet had little faith in its success. The attacking Confederates were compelled to march for over a mile across a wide expanse of open ground, under the most punishing enemy fire, before they could reach Union lines. Nevertheless, upon the order, the ranks of grey and butternut stepped bravely forward, under the commands of Pickett, Trimble and Pettigrew, and despite suffering fearful losses, some of them actually broke into the lines of the soldiers in blue. There they were killed, captured or faltered and fell back in retreat. ‘Pickett’s Charge’, as this valiant debacle came to be known, was set upon a task almost certain to fail. Only the courage of those who charged is beyond question, for this attack has been the subject of intensive debate and much controversy. This Leonaur book on this pivotal action contains several essential perspectives by different authors and includes many maps and illustrations.

Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

After two hours of incessant firing the storm at last subsides. It has been a grand and fit prelude to what is now to follow. All is again silent. Well knowing what is shortly to follow, all watch in strained expectancy. The waiting is short. Only time for Pickett to report to his lieutenant-general his readiness and to receive the word of command.
Pickett said: “General, shall I advance?”
Longstreet turned away his face and did not speak. Pickett repeated the question. Longstreet, without opening his lips, bowed in answer.
Pickett, in a determined voice, said: “Sir, I shall lead my division forward,” and galloped back and gave the order, “Forward march!”
The order ran down through brigade, regimental and company officers to the men. The men with alacrity and cheerfulness fell into line. Kemper’s brigade on the right, Garnett’s on his left, with Heth’s division on the left of Garnett, formed the first line. Armistead’s brigade moved in rear of Garnett’s, and Lane’s and Scales’ brigades of Pender’s division moved in the rear of Heth, but not in touch nor in line with Armistead. As the lines cleared the woods that skirted the brow of the ridge and passed through our batteries, with their flags proudly held aloft, waving in the air, with polished muskets and swords gleaming and flashing in the sunlight, they presented an inexpressibly grand and inspiring sight.
It is said that when our troops were first seen there ran along the line of the Federals, as from men who had waited long in expectancy, the cry: There they come! There they come! The first impression made by the magnificent array of our lines as they moved forward, was to inspire the involuntary admiration of the enemy. Then they realized that they came, terrible as an army with banners. Our men moved with quick step as calmly and orderly as if they were on parade.
No sooner than our lines came in full view, the enemy’s batteries in front, on the right and on the left, from Cemetery Hill to Round Top, opened on them with a concentrated, accurate and fearful fire of shell and solid shot. These ploughed through or exploded in our ranks, making great havoc. Yet they made no disturbance. As to the orderly conduct and steady march of our men, they were as if they had not been. As the killed and wounded dropped out, our lines closed and dressed up, as if nothing had happened, and went on with steady march. I remember I saw a shell explode amidst the ranks of the left company of the regiment on our right. Men fell like ten-pins in a ten-strike.
Without a pause and without losing step, the survivors dressed themselves to their line and our regiment to the diminished regiment, and all went on as serenely and as unfalteringly as before. My God! it was magnificent—this march of our men. What was the inspiration that gave them this stout courage—this gallant bearing—this fearlessness—this steadiness—this collective and individual heroism? It was home and country. It was the fervour of patriotism—the high sense of individual duty. It was blood and pride of state—the inherited quality of a brave and honourable ancestry.
On they go—down the sloping sides of the ridge—across the valley—over the double fences—up the slope that rises to the heights crowned with stone walls and entrenchments, studded with batteries, and defended by multiple lines of protected infantry. The skirmish line is driven in. And now there bursts upon our ranks in front and on flank, like sheeted hail, a new storm of missiles—canister, shrapnel and rifle shot. Still the column advances steadily and onward, without pause or confusion. Well might Count de Paris describe it as an irresistible machine moving forward which nothing could stop. The dead and wounded—officers and men—mark each step of advance.
Yet under the pitiless rain of missiles the brave men move on, and then with a rush and cheering yell they reach the stone wall. Our flags are planted on the defences. Victory seems within grasp, but more is to be done. Brave Armistead, coming up, overleaps the wall and calls on all to follow. Brave men follow his lead. Armistead is now among the abandoned cannon, making ready to turn them against their former friends. Our men are widening the breach of the penetrated and broken lines of the Federals. But, now the enemy has made a stand, and are rallying. It is a critical moment. That side must win which can command instant reinforcements. They come not to Armistead, but they come to Webb, and they come to him from every side in overwhelming numbers in our front and with enclosing lines on either flank. They are pushed forward.
Armistead is shot down with mortal wounds and heavy slaughter is made of those around him. The final moment has come when there must be instant flight, instant surrender, or instant death. Each alternative is shared. Less than 1,000 escape of all that noble division which in the morning numbered 4,700; all the rest either killed, wounded or captured. All is over. As far as possible for mortals they approached the accomplishment of the impossible. Their great feat of arms has closed. The charge of Pickett’s division has been proudly, gallantly and right royally delivered.
And then, at once, before our dead are counted, there arose from that bloody immortalised field, Fame, the Mystic Goddess, and from her trumpet in clarion notes there rang out upon the ear of the world the story of Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg. All over this country, equally North and South, millions listened and returned applause. Over ocean Fame wing’s her way. Along the crowded population and cities of Europe she rings out the story. The people of every brave race intently listen and are thrilled. Over the famous battlefields of modern and ancient times she sweeps. Over the ruins and dust of Rome the story is heralded. Thermopylae hears and applauds.
The ancient pyramids catch the sound, and summing up the records of their hoary centuries, searching, find therein no story of equal courage. Away over the mounds of buried cities Fame challenges, in vain, a response from their past. Over the continents and the isles of the sea the story runs. The whole world is tumultuous with applause. A new generation has heard the story with undiminished admiration and praise. It is making its way up through the opening years to the opening centuries. The posterities of all the living will gladly hear and treasure it, and will hand it down to the end of time as an inspiration and example of courage to all who shall hereafter take up arms.
The intrinsic merit of the charge of Pickett’s men at Gettysburg, is too great, too broad, too immortal for the limitations of sections, of states, or of local pride.
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