The Stroke of Arms that shook the
Continent-Longstreet opposed the Attack as planned and made-The Confederate
Column of Assault-It was weak in Numbers but strong in Spirit-Tremendous
Artillery Combat begins the Day's Fighting-Charge of Generals Pickett, Trimble,
and Pettigrew-Armistead falls by the Side of the Federal Guns-The Federal
Cavalry Charge of General Farnsworth-The Commander falls with Five Mortal
Wounds-Could the Assaulting Column have been safely augmented from Longstreet's
Right?-Testimony as to that Point-Where rested the Responsibility for
Disaster?-Criticism of the Battle as a whole-Cemetery Hill stronger than
Marye's Hill at Fredericksburg-Controverted Points -Casualties of the Three
Days' Fight-Organization of the Forces engaged.
GENERAL LEE reported of arrangements for the day, -
"The general plan was unchanged. Longstreet,
reinforced by Pickett's three brigades, which arrived near the battle-field
during the afternoon of the 2d, was ordered to attack the next morning, and
General Ewell was ordered to attack the enemy's right at the same time. The
latter during the night reinforced General Johnson with two brigades from
Rodes's and one from Early's division."
This is disingenuous. He did not give or send me orders for
the morning of the third day, nor did he reinforce me by Pickett's brigades for
morning attack. As his head-quarters were about four miles from the command, I
did not ride over, but sent, to, report the work of the second day. In the
absence of orders, I had scouting parties out during the night in search of a
way by which we might strike the enemy's left, and push it down towards his
centre. I found a way that gave some promise of results, and was about to move
the command, when he rode over after sunrise and gave his orders. His plan was
to assault the enemy's left centre by a column to be composed of McLaws's and
Hood's divisions reinforced by Pickett's brigades. I thought that it would not
do; that the point had been fully tested the day before, by more men, when all
were fresh; that the enemy was there looking for us, as we heard him during the
night putting up his defences; that the divisions of McLaws and Hood were
holding a mile along the right of my line against twenty thousand men, who
would follow their withdrawal, strike the flank of the assaulting column, crush
it, and get on our rear towards the Potomac River; that thirty thousand men was
the minimum of force necessary for the work that even such force would need
close co-operation on other parts of the line; that the column as he proposed
to organize it would have only about thirteen thousand men (the divisions
having lost a third of their numbers the day before) ; that the column would
have to march a mile under concentrating battery fire, and a thousand yards
under long-range musketry; that the conditions were different from those in the
days of Napoleon, when field batteries had a range of six hundred yards and
musketry about sixty yards.
He said the distance was not more than fourteen hundred
yards. General Meade's estimate was a Mile or a mile and a half (Captain Long,
the guide of the field of Gettysburg in 1888, stated that it was a trifle over
a mile) ' He then concluded that the divisions of McLaws and Hood could remain
on the defensive line; that he would reinforce by divisions of the Third Corps
and Pickett's brigades, and stated the point to which the march should be
directed. I asked the strength of the column. He stated fifteen thousand.
Opinion- was then expressed that the fifteen thousand men who could make
successful assault over that field had never been arrayed for battle; but he
was impatient of listening, and tired of talking, and nothing was left but to
proceed. General Alexander was ordered to arrange the batteries of the front of
the First and Third Corps, those of the Second were supposed to be in position
; Colonel Walton was ordered to see that the batteries of the First were
supplied with ammunition, and to prepare to give the signal-guns for the
opening combat. The infantry of the Third Corps to be assigned were Heth's and
Pettigrew's divisions and Wilcox's brigade.
At the time of the conversation and arrangement of the
assault by the Confederate right, artillery fire was heard on our extreme left.
It seems that General Lee had sent orders to General Ewell to renew his battle
in the morning, which was intended, and directed, as a co-operation of the
attack he intended to order on his right, but General Ruger, anticipating,
opened his batteries against Ewell at daylight. The Union divisions - Ruger's
and Geary's - were on broken lines, open towards the trenches held by the
Confederates, so that assault by our line would expose the force to fire from
the enemy's other line. Ruger had occupied the trenches left vacant on his
right, and Geary reached to his left under Greene, who held his line against
the attack of the day before. It seems that the Confederates failed to bring
artillery up to their trenches, and must make their fight with infantry, while
on the Union side there were some fifteen or twenty guns playing, and many more
at hand if needed.
As the Union batteries opened, Johnson advanced and
assaulted the enemy's works on his right towards the centre and the adjacent
front of the new line, and held to that attack with resolution, putting in
fresh troops to help it from time to time. Ruger put two regiments forward to
feel the way towards Johnson's left. They got into hot engagement and were
repulsed; Johnson tried to follow, but was in turn forced back. He renewed his
main attack again, but unsuccessfully, and finally drew back to the trenches.
Ruger threw a regiment forward from his left which gained the stone wall; his
division was then advanced, and it recovered the entire line of trenches.
While this contention was in progress the troops ordered for
the column of assault were marching and finding positions under the crest of
the ridge, where they could be covered during the artillery combat. Alexander
put a battery of nine guns under the ridge and out of the enemy's fire to be
used with the assaulting column.
General Lee said that the attack of his right was not made
as early as expected, which he should not have said. He knew that I did not
believe that success was possible; that care and time should be taken to give
the troops the benefit of positions and the grounds; and he should have put an
officer in charge who had more confidence in his plan. Two-thirds of the troops
were of other commands, and there was no reason for putting the assaulting
forces under my charge. He had confidence in General Early, who advised in
favor of that end of the line for battle. Knowing my want of confidence, he
should have given the benefit of his presence and his assistance in getting the
troops up, posting them, and arranging the batteries; but he gave no orders or
suggestions after his early designation of the point for which the column
should march. Fitzhugh Lee claims evidence that General Lee did not even appear
on that part of the field while the troops were being assigned to position, a
As the commands reported, Pickett was assigned on the right,
Kemper's and Garnett's brigades to be supported by Armistead's; Wilcox's
brigade of the Third Corps in echelon and guarding Pickett's right; Pettigrew's
division on Pickett's left, supported by the brigades of Scales and Lane, under
command of General Trimble. The brigades of Pettigrew's division were Archer's,
Pettigrew's, Brockenbrough's, and Davis's. (General Archer having been taken
prisoner on the 1st, his brigade was under command of Colonel Fry; General
Scales being wounded on the same day, his brigade was commanded by Colonel
Lowrance.) The ridge upon which the commands were formed was not parallel to
that upon which the enemy stood, but bending west towards our left, while the
enemy's line bore northwest towards his right, so that the left of the
assaulting column formed some little distance farther from the enemy's line
than the right. To put the troops under the best cover during the artillery
combat they were thus posted for the march, but directed to spread their steps
as soon as the march opened the field, and to gain places of correct alignment.
Meanwhile, the enemy's artillery on his extreme right was in
practice more or less active, but its meaning was not known or reported, and
the sharp-shooters of the command on the right had a lively fusillade about
eleven o'clock, in which some of the artillery took part. The order was that
the right was to make the signal of battle. General Lee reported that his left
attacked before due notice to wait for the opening could be given, which was a
mistake, inasmuch as the attack on his left was begun by the Federals, which
called his left to their work. General Meade was not apprehensive of that part
of the field, and only used the two divisions of the Twelfth Corps, Shaler's
brigade of the Sixth, and six regiments of the First and Eleventh Corps in
recovering the trenches of his right, holding the other six corps for the
battle of his centre and left. He knew by the Confederate troops on his right
just where the strong battle was to be.
The director of artillery was asked to select a position on
his line from which he could note the effect of his practice, and to advise
General Pickett when the enemy's fire was so disturbed as to call for the
assault. General Pickett's was the division of direction, and he was ordered to
have a staff-officer or courier with the artillery director to bear notice of
the moment to advance.
The little affair between the skirmish lines quieted in a
short time, and also the noise on our extreme left. The quiet filing of one or
two of our batteries into position emphasized the profound silence that
prevailed during our wait for final orders. Strong battle was in the air, and
the veterans of both sides swelled their breasts to gather nerve and strength
to meet it. Division commanders were asked to go to the crest of the ridge and
take a careful view of the field, and to have their officers there to tell
their men of it, and to prepare them for the sight that was to burst upon them
as they mounted the crest.
Just then a squadron of Union cavalry rode through
detachments of infantry posted at intervals in rear of my right division. It
was called a charge, but was probably a reconnoissance.
Colonel Black had reported with a hundred of the First South
Carolina Cavalry, not all mounted, and a battery of horse artillery, and was
put across the Emmitsburg road, supported by infantry, in front of Merritt's
brigade of cavalry.
When satisfied that the work of preparation was all that it
could be with the means at hand, I wrote Colonel Walton, of the Washington
"HEAD-QUARTERS, July 3,1863.
"COLONEL, -Let the batteries open. Order great care and
precision in firing. When the batteries at the Peach Orchard cannot be used
against the point we intend to attack, let them open on the enemy's on the
" JAMES LONGSTREET,
Lieutenant- General, Commanding."
At the same time a note to Alexander directed that Pickett
should not be called until the artillery practice indicated fair opportunity.
Then I rode to a woodland hard by, to lie down and study for some new thought
that might aid the assaulting column. In a few minutes report came from
Alexander that he would only be able to judge of the effect of his fire by the
return of that of the enemy, as his infantry was not exposed to view, and the
smoke of the batteries would soon cover the field. He asked, if there was an
alternative, that it be carefully considered before the batteries opened, as
there was not enough artillery ammunition for this and another trial if this
should not prove favorable.
He was informed that there was no alternative; that I could
find no way out of it; that General Lee had considered and would listen to
nothing else; that orders had gone for the guns to give signal for the
batteries; that lie should call the troops at the first opportunity or lull in
the enemy's fire.
The signal-guns broke the silence, the blaze of the second
gun mingling in the smoke of the first, and salvoes rolled to the left and
repeated themselves, the enemy's fine metal spreading its fire to the
converging lines, ploughing the trembling ground, plunging through the line of
batteries, and clouding the heavy air. The two or three hundred guns seemed
proud of their undivided honors and organized confusion. The Confederates had
the benefit of converging fire into the enemy's massed position, but the
superior metal of the enemy neutralized the advantage of position. The brave
and steady work progressed.
Before this the Confederates of the left were driven from
their captured trenches, and hope of their effective co-operation with the
battle of the right was lost, but no notice of it was sent to the right of the
battle. They made some further demonstrations, but they were of little effect.
Merritt's cavalry brigade was in rear of my right, threatening on the
Emmitsburg road. Farnsworth's brigade took position near Merritt's and close on
my right rear. Infantry regiments and batteries were broken off from my front
line and posted to guard on that flank and rear.
Not informed of the failure of the Confederates on the left
and the loss of their vantage-ground, we looked with confidence for them to
follow the orders of battle.
General Pickett rode to confer with Alexander, then to the
ground upon which I was resting, where he was soon handed a slip of paper.
After reading it he handed it to me. It read:
" If you are coming at all, come at once, or I cannot give
you proper support, but the enemy's fire has not slackened at all. At least
eighteen guns are still firing from the cemetery itself,
Pickett said, "General, shall I advance ?"
The effort to speak the order failed, and I could only
indicate it by an affirmative bow. He accepted the duty with seeming confidence
of success, leaped on his horse, and rode gayly to his command. I mounted and
spurred for Alexander's post. He reported that the batteries he had reserved
for the charge with the infantry had been spirited away by General Lee's chief
of artillery; that the ammunition of the batteries of position was so reduced
that he could not use them in proper support of the infantry. He was ordered to
stop the march at once and fill up his ammunition-chests. But, alas ! there was
no more ammunition to be had.
The order was imperative. The Confederate commander had
fixed his heart upon the work. Just then a number of the enemy's batteries
hitched up and hauled off, which gave a glimpse of unexpected hope. Encouraging
messages were sent for the columns to hurry on, -and they were then on elastic
springing step. General Pickett, a graceful horseman, sat lightly in the
saddle, his brown locks flowing quite over his shoulders. Pettigrew's division
spread their steps and quickly rectified the alignment, and the grand march
moved bravely on. General Trimble mounted, adjusting his seat and reins as if
setting out on a pleasant afternoon ride. When aligned to their places solid
march was made down the slope and past our batteries of position.
Confederate batteries put their fire over the heads of the
men as they moved down the slope, and continued to draw the fire of the enemy
until the smoke lifted and drifted to the rear, when every gun was turned upon
the infantry columns. The batteries that had been drawn off were replaced by
others that were fresh. Soldiers and officers began to fall, some to rise no
more, others to find their way to the hospital tents. Single files were cut
here and there, then the gaps increased, and an occasional shot tore wider
openings, but, closing the gaps as quickly as made, the march moved on. The
divisions of McLaws and Hood were ordered to move to closer lines for the enemy
on their front, to spring to the charge as soon as the breach at the centre
could be made. The enemy's right overreached my left and gave serious trouble.
Brockenbrough's brigade went down and Davis's in impetuous charge. The general
order required further assistance from the Third Corps if needed, but no
support appeared. General Lee and the corps commander were there, but failed to