Battle of Gettysburg began 150 years ago today
|Pickett's charge at Gettysburg by Edwin Forbes|
Pickett's Charge took place on the second day of the battle:
The charge is named after Maj. Gen. George Pickett, one of three Confederate generals who led the assault under Longstreet. After Confederate attacks on both Union flanks had failed the day and night before, [Robert E.]Lee was determined to strike the Union center on the third day. On the night of July 2, General Meade correctly predicted at a council of war that Lee would try an attack on his lines in the center the following morning. The infantry assault was preceded by a massive artillery bombardment that was meant to soften up the Union defense and silence its artillery, but was largely ineffective. Approximately 12,500 men in nine infantry brigades advanced over open fields for three-quarters of a mile under heavy Union artillery and rifle fire. Although some Confederates were able to breach the low stone wall that shielded many of the Union defenders, they could not maintain their hold and were repulsed with over 50% casualties, a decisive defeat that ended the three-day battle and Lee's campaign into Pennsylvania.
Lee was determined to attack the well-entrenched Union army, and General James Longstreet tried to convince him that it was a bad idea:
"General," he told Lee in a last face-to-face endeavor to dissuade him from extending what he believed was an invitation to disaster, "I have been soldier all my life. I have been with soldiers engaged in fights by couples, by squads, companies, regiments, divisions, and armies, and should know as well as anyone what soldiers can do. It is my opinion that no 15,000 men ever arrayed for battle can take that position." [Later: This actually sounds like bullshit, like something people think that they should have said but didn't. I bet it comes from Longstreet's autobiography. He was opposed to Lee on the wisdom of Pickett's charge, and he was right. But the quotation sounds fishy. Foote doesn't provide a citation for it, but I'll do some more digging. Even later: No, I can't find the quotation in Longstreet's memoirs: From Manassas to Appomattox.]
(pages 529, 530 from Shelby Foote's excellent, three-volume "The Civil War: A Narrative," Volume 2. Foote was one of the primary talking heads in the Ken Burns documentary on the Civil War.)
Fortunately for the Northern cause, Lee rejected Longstreet's advice and ordered the attack.
After the battle, Pickett encountered Lee:
One among the fugitives most in need of encouragement was Pickett, who came riding back with an expression of dejection and bewilderment on his face. Leading his division into battle for the first time, he had seen two thirds of it destroyed. Not only had his great hour come to nothing; tactically speaking, it added up to considerably less than nothing. Lee met him with instructions designed to bring him back to the problem now at hand. "General Pickett, place your division in rear of this hill," he told him, "and be ready to repel the advance of the enemy should they follow up their advantage." At least one bystander observed that in his extremity Lee employed the words "the enemy" rather than his usual "those people." But Pickett was in no state to observe anything outside his personal loss and mortification.
"General Lee, I have no division now," he said tearfully; "Armistead is down, Garnett is down, and Kemper is mortally wounded..."
"Come, General Pickett," Lee broke in. "This has been my fight, and upon my shoulders rests the blame. The men and officers of your command have written the name of Virginia as high today as it has ever been written before...Your men have done all that men can do," he added after a pause for emphasis. "The fault is entirely my own." (pages 567, 568)