A FINAL ATTEMPT
The Battle of Gettysburg: Day 3
Meade: 80,000 effectives holding three miles, 27,000 defending per mile or fifteen per yard
Lee: 50,000 effectives holding five miles, 10,000 per mile, six per yard
The fighting began at 4 A.M., when Slocum, attacked Johnson’s divisions at the base of Culp’s Hill. After six hours of fighting, Johnson was pushed back to Rock Creek, and Slocum regained control of Culp’s Hill.
Meanwhile, Longstreet was protesting Lee’s plan to attack the Union center. He didn’t believe a charge against Cemetery Ridge would be successful. Longstreet said “I have been a soldier all of my life. I have been with soldiers engaged in fights by squads, companies, regiments, divisions and armies, and should know as well as anyone what soldiers can do.” Lee ignored Longstreets warnings, and the proceeded with the plan.
It was Pickett’s division that was to charge across the open field from Seminary Ridge to Cemetery Ridge. Pickett was a young and inexperienced general. He had never led his division into battle before, but was delighted at his chance with glory and fame.
Supporting Pickett’s division were brigades commanded by Trimble and Pettigrew.
Note from Alexander to Longstreet
Longstreet massed 143 cannons to fire upon the Union center. At 1 P.M., the bombardment began. Immediately, Union cannons fired back. Shells came streaking down on the Union lines as the men ran for cover.
“...the scene was indescribably grand. All their batteries were soon covered with smoke, through which the flashes were incessant, whilst the air seemed filled with shells, whose sharp explosions, with the hurtling of their fragments, formed a running accompaniment to the deep roar of the guns.”
-Henry J. Hunt, Brevet Major General, U.S.A., Chief of Artillery, A.P.
During the cannonade, General Hancock calmly rode among his men. Hancock said “There are times when a corps commander’s life does not count.”
As the cannons on both sides fired, the recoil dug itself into the ground and caused the cannon to be aimed at a higher angle. This caused the shells to travel farther and miss their targets. Rather than punishing the Union front lines, the shells fell behind them, blasting those in the rear of the army. Meade’s headquarters was bombarded, and the General was forced to move his headquarters after a staff member was wounded in the neck and an orderly was torn in two.
As they silently advanced, cannons from Cemetery Hill and Little Round Top opened fire. A Union artillerist said “We could not help hitting them at every shot.” The Union guns smashed the brigades “with fearful effect, sometimes as many as ten men being killed and wounded by the bursting of a single shell.” The explosions formed gaps in the advancing Confederate lines. In the midst of hell falling down in the form of metal, Pickett stopped his troops, and gave the orders to redress the lines. Men stepped on their dying comrades and filled up the holes were the shells had fallen, and continued their march to Cemetery Ridge. They walked at a fast pace, toward the Union center, marked by a clump of trees. As they came closer, the Union cannons at Cemetery Ridge fired canisters, blasting huge holes in the lines. Union infantry hiding behind a stonewall opened fire, and sheets of bullets came down upon the charging Confederates. All of Pickett’s brigade commanders were dead except for General Armistead. Armistead with 300 men charged at a bent in the Union line known as the Angle. The band of Confederates broke the Union line and charged into a bloody fight of hand to hand combat and shooting at point blank range. Armistead cried “Give them the cold steel.” As he placed his hand over a captured Union cannon, Armistead was killed. Hancock and reinforcements arrived in time to patch up the hole in the Union line. Hancock was shot in the leg but remained present at the angle until the position was secure. All of the Confederate men who broke into the Union lines were captured or killed. The survivors of Pickett’s charge began wandering their way back to Cemetery Ridge.