Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Gettysburg – Pickett's Charge

As the fighting was raging on Culp's Hill, Longstreet was still trying get Lee to cancel the attack entirely. He later remembered telling him:
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 anyone, what soldiers can do. It is my opinion that no fifteen thousand men every arranged for battle can take that position.
Lee would not listen to Longstreet, remaining unconvinced and believing it was too late to change the plan. But he did decide to shift the focus of the attack from the Confederate right to the center as the troops on the right were too hard to disengage. Supporting Pickett would be brigades from Heth and Pender. These divisions suffered heavily on the first day, and they were now commanded by Pettigrew and Trimble. The charge would be very difficult, across a long portion of open ground on the Federals on Cemetery Ridge. To make the assault easier, it would be preceded by an artillery bombardment by Colonel Porter Alexander. Alexander, however, only had enough ammunition for one more bombardment. The fate of the battle of Gettysburg would hang upon this change.

Union line
At about 1 pm 163 Confederate guns along a mile long artillery line opened upon the Cemetery Ridge. It was the largest artillery bombardment of the Civil War. It was a terrible experience for the Union troops at which it was directed. One veteran later wrote:
It makes my Blood Tingle in my veins now; to think of. Never before did I hear such a roar of Artillery, it seemed as if all the Demons in Hell were let loose, and were Howling through the Air. Turn your eyes which way you will the whole Heavens were filled with Shot and Shell, Fire and Smoke.
Although noisy and terrifying, the Confederate bombardment did did not do terrific damage. It was well nigh impossible to aim with the clouds of smoke which quickly covered the ridge, and most Confederate shells went over the Union soldier's heads. Even many which were aimed properly failed to explode. After an hour bombardment, the time had come for the infantry to advance. Pickett found Longstreet and asked him if he should attack. Longstreet, believing the attack would be useless, could not bring himself to give the order, and so simply sadly nodded his head. The orders were given, and the attack moved out. Riding along his lines, Pickett said, “Up, Men, and to your posts! Don't forget today that you are from Old Virginia!” Nine brigades containing 13,000 men moved out, with more available to support a breakthrough.

Pickett Charging
The Confederates advanced in an imposing line across a mile of open ground toward a corpse of trees. The Union artillery immediately opened on them, tearing great gaps in the Confederate line. Some batteries had held their fire during the Confederate bombardment, and so had plenty of ammunition to beat back the infantry. Onward the Southerners pressed across the field. In 15 minutes they reached the Emmitsburg Road, and after climbing the fences reformed their line, closed the gaps and moved forward. The Union troops shifted to canister and the infantry opened fire. Many rebels fell, but some still pressed forward. As the officers were hit the organization began to fall apart. The attack began to falter.

Brigadier General Lews Armistead, at the head of his brigade, with his sword in hand and his hat upon the top, shouted out, "Come on, boys, give them cold steel! Who will follow me?" Several hundred men rushed with him towards the position called the Bloody Angle. The rebels, with Armistead at their head, rushed in among the Yankees fought hand to hand occurred. They captured and turned around two Union guns, but there was no ammunition to fire them.

Union reinforcements quickly pressed down on the Confederates who had made it over the wall, overcoming the remnants of Garnett's and Armistead's brigades. The Southern officers had fallen, so the men either made their way back to their lines, or were rounded up and captured. 5,600 men had been lost in this charge, 50% of the men engaged. The Union defenders lost only about 1,500. Lee came out to meet his beaten soldiers, telling them the defeat was all his fault. When he ordered Pickett to rally his division to defend against a possible Union counter attack, the young general replied, “General Lee, I have no division.” Lee had believed his men were invincible, and the break down of coordination doomed the unlikely attack.


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