Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Gettysburg: Day 3

Pickett's Charge, July 3, 1863
Gen. James Longstreet

After attacking both left and right flanks of the Union line on July 2nd, General Lee decided to make a massive assault on the center on July 3rd  with the division of George Pickett and brigades from A.P. Hill's corps. Pickett's division was part of the corps of Lee's his principal subordinate, General James Longstreet's First Corps.

Longstreet vehemently opposed Lee's plan and attempted to dissuade him from ordering the attack. He noted that the Confederates would have to cover almost a mile of open ground, negotiating several sturdy fences while under constant Union artillery and infantry fire. Rather, Longstreet proposed an attack circling behind the Union positions. According to Jeffry Wert's 1993 biography, Longstreet said to Lee:

General, I have been a 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 any one, what soldiers can do. It is my opinion that no fifteen thousand men ever arranged for battle can take that position.   

Lee would not change his mind, so after an artillery barrage/duel that has been described as "the most massive on the North American continent," Pickett's division with the attached brigades from A.P. Hill's corps, set off across the mile of open land toward the entrenched Union army.

Some of the Confederate soldiers reached the Union artillery,  but were quickly killed, captured, or driven back. This point on the battlefield has come to be known as the High-water mark of the Confederacy.

More than 50% of the Confederates who made Pickett's charge were killed, wounded, or captured. General Longstreet attempted to bring artillery to support his retreating troops; General Lee rode on his horse, Traveler, out into the field to meet the men staggering back to the Confederate lines. The are the most poignant scene in the 1993 film, Gettysburg.

Gen. George Pickett

As I wrote in the first of the three posts commemorating the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg,it was as I stood at the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy” on the Gettysburg battlefield almost 50 years ago  looking across huge field that Confederate General Pickett’s charged, directly into the guns of the Union army, that my interest in the place and battle was formed. Several years later it was in part the memory of that moment that encouraged me to become a peacemaker. 

The High Water Mark of the Confederacy

There is, of course, more to the story of Gettysburg which I shall address tomorrow.

The videos in this post come from the superb 1993 film, Gettysburg, which was based upon he most moving and remarkable book about Gettysburg that I have ever read, Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels: A Novel of the Civil War (Modern Library).

If anything I have presented in the three posts commemorating the battle of Gettysburg has peeked you interest, you may wish to explore:

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you, sir. You have done pricked my interest. I shall get the Gettysburg film as soon as I can.