Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Gettysburg 150 Years Ago Today DAY THREE


July 3, 1863    The 3rd Day


Today is the famous charge of Confederate General Pickett against the center of the Union line on Cemetery Ridge.




According to Wikipedia Pickett's Charge became one of the iconic symbols of the literary and cultural movement known as the Lost Cause. William Faulkner, the quintessential Southern novelist, summed up the picture in Southern memory of this gallant but futile episode.

"For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two o'clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it's all in the balance, it hasn't happened yet, it hasn't even begun yet, it not only hasn't begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it's going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn't need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose than all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago."


— William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust,


On day two Lee had hit the Union Right and Left with no success. Today he was going to hit the Union Center. James Longstreet continued to argue not to continue the battle at Gettysburg but to maneuver around the dug in Union Army and get between it and Washington DC on ground more favorable to the South which would force the Union out of their defensive positions. However Lee had faith that his army could end the war then and there. The boys in Gray had never let him down.
General Picket was to lead the charge across a mile wide open field an up the sloping hill to the center of the Union Line. When they hit the Union Line it was the high water mark of the Confederacy. 
To prepare the way 130 Confederate cannons planed almost hub to hub started fire with the heaviest bombardment ever seen on the North American Continent for two hours. The sound could be heard as far away as Philadelphia. Most of the shells landed over the Union Line.
Then, between 10,000 and 15,000 men started the 19 minute march across the field. It was the flower of Southern manhood. Longstreet, so sure of the coming slaughter could only node when Pickett asked if he could commence the charge.  Wikipedia describes the attack this way:
“ Three divisions stepped off across open fields almost a mile from Cemetery Ridge. Pickett inspired his men by shouting, "Up, Men, and to your posts! Don't forget today that you are from Old Virginia."[20] Pickett's division, with the brigades of Brig. Gens. Lewis A. Armistead, Richard B. Garnett, and James L. Kemper, was on the right flank of the assault. It received punishing artillery fire, and then volleys of massed musket fire as it approached its objective. Armistead's brigade made the farthest progress through the Union lines. Armistead was mortally wounded, falling near "The Angle", at what is now termed the "High Water Mark of the Confederacy". Neither of the other two divisions made comparable progress across the fields; Armistead's success was not reinforced, and his men were quickly killed or captured.”
Pickett's Charge was a bloodbath. While the Union lost about 1,500 killed and wounded, the Confederate casualties were several times that. Over 50% of the men sent across the fields were killed or wounded. Pickett's three brigade commanders and all thirteen of his regimental commanders were casualties. Kemper was wounded, and Garnett and Armistead did not survive. Trimble and Pettigrew were the most senior casualties, the former losing a leg and the latter wounded in the hand and later mortally wounded during the retreat to Virginia. Pickett himself has received some historical criticism for surviving the battle personally unscathed, establishing his final position well to the rear of his troops, most likely at the Codori farm on the Emmitsburg Road. Thomas R. Friend, who served Pickett as a courier, wrote that he "went as far as any Major General, Commanding a division, ought to have gone, and farther."[21]
“As soldiers straggled back to the Confederate lines along Seminary Ridge, Lee feared a Union counteroffensive and tried to rally his center, telling returning soldiers that the failure was "all my fault." Pickett was inconsolable. When Lee told Pickett to rally his division for the defense, Pickett allegedly replied, "General Lee, I have no division."[22] Pickett's official report for the battle has never been found. It is rumored that Gen. Lee rejected it for its bitter negativity and demanded that it be rewritten, and an updated version was never filed.[23]”


Bruce Catton in his book "This Hallowed Ground" wrote about the charge as follows:
"That moment would linger and shine in the American memory forever, the terrible unforgettable moment of truth that would symbolize inexpressible things......with banners, moving out from the woods ,into the open field by the ranking guns moving out of shadow into eternal legend..... battle flags tipped forward, sunlight glinting from musket barrels...General George Pickett's Virginians and ten thousands men from other commands, men doomed to try the impossible and to fail. it takes time to get fifteen thousand men into line, and these Southerners were deliberate about it... perhaps out of defiance, perhaps out of sheer self-consciousness and pride. then at last they had thing the way they wanted them and they went marching up toward, the clump of unattainable trees and all the guns opened again a great cloud of smoke and dust filled the hollow plain....... the rolling cloud crossed the fields and went up the slope and the crash of battle rose higher and higher as the men came to grips with each other on Cemetery Ridge...... Then suddenly it was finished. The charging column had been broken all to bits, survivors were going back to the Confederate lines ..... the battle of Gettysburg was ended."

The Union center had held! The Union would be saved! The Union  troops started to chant "Fredericksburg.... Fredericksburg" in reference to the Union defeat there when the Confederates held the high ground and destroyed the charging Union army.  Revenge is sweet!
Five years after the war Pickett and John Mosby paid a courtesy call on Lee in Richmond. On departing Pickett told Mosby “That old man had my division slaughtered at Gettysburg.” Mosby is reported to have said “Well, it made you immortal.”
 His Army broken by the attack, Lee had no choice but to retreat back to Virginia. Meade and the Union Army of the Potomac exhausted by the battle let Lee escape and the war continued for two more bloody years.
However, after Gettysburg the South never smiled again.
In Washington, President Lincoln could not contain his despair. “We had them within our grasp ….. we had only to stretch forth our hands and they were ours. And nothing I could say or do could make the army move."
It rained the next day at Gettysburg, July 4, 1863, the 87 Birthday of the United States of America.

A few months later on November 19,1863 Lincoln came to Gettysburg to dedicate the cemetery for those who had fallen and delivered one of the greatest speeches in history when he said:
 "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."