Battle of Gettysburg (third day)
The Third Day
Sunset of July 2nd found the Army of the Potomac arrayed in a fishhook-shaped line anchored solidly along Cemetery Ridge, from Big and Little Round Top to Culp's Hill, the most threatened part of the Union line that evening. Based on the consensus of officers who attended the Council of War at Meade's headquarters, the Confederate foothold at Culp's Hill had to be driven off to secure the Union right flank, which covered the Baltimore Pike, the all important road into the Union rear. General Henry Slocum issued orders for his Twelfth Corps troops to return to Culp's Hill and retake the sections occupied by General Johnson's Confederate Division as early as possible.
Preparations for the attack were completed and at 4 AM, the Twelfth Corps counterattacked Johnson's men just as they were preparing to make their own attempt to storm Culp's Hill. Union artillery posted on the Baltimore Pike and Powers Hill blasted southern regiments that ventured out of the captured works or pinned them down so that movement was nearly impossible. Brig. General Alpheus S. Williams, who was placed in command of the corps by Slocum, sent his regiments into the fighting in waves. Each attack countered every move made by Johnson's men, pinning them into a tight area above Spangler's Spring and at the base of the hill proper. For six hours the battle on the hillside raged. The volume of musketry was ear-splitting and the carnage appalling, especially in the meadow near Spangler's Spring. A misunderstanding of verbal orders caused the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry and 27th Indiana Infantry to charge across the open meadow where they were caught in a cross fire from Confederates stationed behind stone walls and earthworks. Both regiments were decimated in the attack. The survivors staggered back to their starting point in the woods south of the field, now littered with the dead and wounded. Soon after this charge, an attempt was made by the 2nd Maryland Infantry (CSA) and 3rd North Carolina Infantry to break out of the Union entrapment. The result was as dismal as the Union attempt had been, the Marylanders suffering heavy casualties in their charge through a small field known today as "Pardee Field", named for Colonel Ario Pardee of the 147th Pennsylvania Infantry whose troops opposed the southern attack.
The Twelfth Corps had advantages over Johnson's southerners in holding fortified positions on the higher portions of the hill, more men and regiments were available to relieve those in the front line, and Union artillery that provided accurate support to Williams' soldiers. Despite their hold on the hill above Spangler's Meadow, Johnson's men could not make any headway through the strong Union defenses and had no artillery to support the attack. By 10 o'clock that morning, General Johnson realized that he could not break through or capture Culp's Hill and began to systematically withdraw his troops, being careful not to give the Union any advantages in counterattacking his retreat. General Steuart, whose brigade of Maryland and North Carolina troops had held the hill above Spangler's Meadow, was so distraught by his losses that he broke into tears. "My poor boys," he said, wringing his hands as he watched his exhausted and bloodied men march by, "My poor boys!"
Union regiments re-took the abandoned positions soon after and General Geary reported that the rebels had gone from his front. The point of the fishhook was no longer in southern hands.
General Lee had hoped to again force the Union flanks in the early morning hours. To coincide with his attacks, he had ordered his cavalry chief, JEB Stuart, to ride around the right of the Union positions and strike toward Meade's supply line. This disruption would threaten Union supply lines and communications, forcing Meade to withdraw troops to protect his threatened rear. But delays and the Union counter-attack that resulted in the defeat of Johnson's command at Culp's Hill, forced a dramatic change in plans. The loss of Culp's Hill left him with few options. Determined to strike again as soon as possible, Lee threw in his trump card: a grand assault against the enemy center preceded by a massive artillery bombardment. Believing that Meade had weakened his center to reinforce his flanks, Lee stated that a bold stroke on the Union center would break the weakest part of the fishhook. The charge would include troops from two corps- an estimated 18,000 men, preceded by a massive bombardment that would sweep the few Union batteries from this section of the Union line.
The last gamble
General Lee studied the Union line that morning and presented his plan. General Longstreet was assigned overall command of the attack and ordered to execute the charge. Freshly arrived on the field, Maj. General George Pickett's Division of Virginia troops would form the right half of the attacking column with two divisions from A.P. Hill's Corps to form the left half. If all went well, the attack would be carried out before noon though assembling the required number of men and artillery was another matter. Due to heavy losses suffered on July 1, Hill's six brigades committed to the assault could only muster about 6,000 men. Combined with the 5,500 under Pickett's command and 1,600 men from Anderson's Division of Hill's Corps, barely two-thirds of the desired strength was available. By mid-morning, two of Pickett's brigades were lying in a shallow depression north of the Spangler Farm with the third just behind at the edge of Spangler Woods. Troops from Hill's corps were arrayed in battle lines behind the trees on Seminary Ridge. Inevitable delays held up the attack and by noon an eerie silence had descended on the field, broken only by scattered rifle shots of sharpshooters between Gettysburg and Cemetery Hill. Another hour would pass before all of the preparations were complete.
Late on the morning of July 3rd, Union General Henry Hunt rode to the crest of Cemetery Ridge. "Here a magnificent display greeted my eyes," he wrote. "Our whole front for two miles was covered by batteries already in line or going into position. They stretched... from opposite the town to the Peach Orchard, which bounded the view to the left, the ridges of which were thick with cannon. Never before had such a sight been witnessed on this continent. What did it mean?"
Little did Hunt know that this line of approximately 120 cannon was arranged by General Longstreet to prepare for the greatest charge of the war. In command of the center of the artillery line was 28 year-old Colonel Edward P. Alexander, who's overwhelming duty was to direct his artillery battalion and judge the effect of the artillery barrage on the enemy line. Alexander later wrote that his guns were in a "splendid position" to strike Cemetery Ridge, though his primary concern was for ammunition. The southern artillery had to achieve good results within the first half-hour for them to properly support the infantry assault and would require a fresh supply as soon as the infantry advanced. Alexander's commander, Colonel James Walton, ordered the supply train brought forward to a location near the front lines so that empty ammunition chests could be quickly replenished.
It was just before 1 PM when General Longstreet sent orders to the Washington Artillery of New Orleans, stationed in the Peach Orchard, to fire the signal shots to begin the bombardment. The afternoon calm was broken by two loud booms followed by a violent, simultaneous blast of fire from the solid line of Confederate cannon. Surprised Union artillerymen ran to their cannon and returned fire. The battlefield shook under the weight of explosions. Fire and dense smoke covered the ridges and rolled across the fields. Gunners toiled over their heated guns as shells churned up the earth around them, knocking men and horses to the ground. Caissons and limber chests of two Union batteries erupted in massive explosions. Alexander anxiously watched the Yankee line through binoculars. It appeared that nothing could live under the weight of the bombardment on that narrow ridge, but the Union gunfire did not subside; these determined Union cannoneers simply would not quit. Alexander's fears were proving true; the Confederate guns were not doing as much damage as he had hoped in the initial attack and with the high rate of fire necessary to suppress the Union artillery, his ammunition chests would quickly be depleted. Adding to the problem was the poor quality of some southern-made artillery fuzes and shells, many of which failed to explode. Inexperienced gunners in several batteries had difficulty aiming their cannon properly and many shells sailed over Cemetery Ridge into the Union rear, doing little damage to the front line troops and guns. The bombardment continued toward its second hour when ammunition chests began to empty. Artillery drivers took their caissons to the site where wagons loaded with extra ammunition were located, only to find them gone. General William N. Pendleton, Lee's artillery chief, had ordered the wagons away for their protection and not bothered to tell Alexander or any of his subordinates where they had been sent. Staff officers rode off to search for the wayward supply wagons as Alexander's gunners began to empty the last level of artillery shells in the limber chests.
General Hunt, who had earlier remarked on the impressive display of Confederate ordnance, had also prepared the Union artillery line that morning by insuring fresh batteries could be sent forward from the Artillery Reserve when needed. When his active batteries ran low on ammunition, Hunt could replace them with new units from the reserve. After forty minutes of constant shelling, those batteries near the center of the line were low on long range ammunition or partially disabled. Hunt ordered those gunners to cease fire and sent couriers to bring fresh batteries forward. The Union fire slackened as the guns went silent. Artillerymen in several batteries limbered their smoking guns and prepared to leave, yet many could not- the tremendous barrage had killed or maimed most of the horses, which lay in heaps in front of the limbers and caissons still strapped into their harnesses. Through the dense battle smoke, Alexander observed several Union batteries withdraw and immediately sent a note to General Pickett: "Come quick. The guns in the cemetery have gone. Come quick or I cannot properly support you." Pickett immediately reported to General Longstreet in Spangler's Woods and presented Alexander's note. Seated on a fence at the edge of the woods, Longstreet silently read the note without uttering a word. "Shall I advance, sir?" Pickett asked. The sullen general could barely nod his approval. Racing to his horse, Pickett mounted and wisped a hasty salute before turning to ride to his troops. Longstreet remained on his fence quiet and dour, his eyes downcast while his troops moved into position to begin the mile long march to Cemetery Ridge.
General George Edward Pickett's Division was composed of three brigades of Virginia regiments. Brig. General Richard Garnett and Brig. General James Kemper led the two brigades arranged in the first line, with the third brigade, commanded by Brig. General Lewis Armistead, just behind. Lt. J. Irving Sale of Company H, 53rd Virginia Infantry, recalled General Armistead standing at the front of his old regiment. "Just before we started," wrote Lt. Sale, "he tore off his cravat, put his hat on his sword, and cried: 'Remember your homes, your wives and your sweethearts!'" There were similar addresses by officers of other regiments, yet the most inspiring words may have come from General Pickett himself who called on his men to remember their homes, "wives and sweethearts", and the importance of being a native of Virginia. With that, the advance began, the long columns tramping steadily forward in almost perfect alignment past the Emmitsburg Road and across open farm land toward the smoldering Union line on Cemetery Ridge.
Almost immediately, Union artillery from Cemetery Hill to Little Round Top opened fire, sending sold shot and shell into the thick, gray-clad columns.
North of Pickett's Division, three lines of southern infantry emerged from the woods on Seminary Ridge and quickly advanced through the William Bliss Farm, past the smoking remains of the house and barn which had been burned that morning. The regular commanders of both divisions having been wounded, Brig. General James J. Pettigrew led Heth's Division, and Maj. General Isaac Trimble led a portion of Pender's Division. The troops marched in perfect alignment until Union shells hit the left flank of the line where Colonel John Brockenbrough's small Virginia brigade marched. Nearly shattered on the first day of the battle, Brockenbrough's men could not stand the fire and fled. General Trimble quickly ordered his two brigades to the left to bolster the wavering line while Pettigrew continued to urge his men forward.
The Union center was held by the Second Corps commanded on July 3rd by General John Gibbon, the same officer who Meade had warned about an attack on his front the night before. Gibbon realized what this bombardment meant and had done all he could to prepare his infantry who suffered under the barrage. Many a veteran complained of the frustration of being unable to fight back against an enemy at long range. Some even expressed a sense of relief to finally see the Confederate infantry emerge from the woods and fields to begin their charge. At last they would have their chance to fight back.
At the center of Gibbon's line, referred to as "the Angle" for the sharp corner of the stone fence located there, was an infantry brigade of regiments raised entirely within the county limits and city of Philadelphia. The "Philadelphia Brigade" had fought with distinction during the Peninsular Campaign, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. Now, they were witnesses to the greatest charge of the war and would soon find themselves at its center, commanded by an officer unfamiliar to a majority of them.
Brig. General Alexander Webb was given command of the Philadelphians barely three days before the battle, and had little time to become acquainted with his officers or men. Yet his troops had fought admirably on July 2nd, and now the astute Webb observed that the charge was headed toward his position at the Angle clogged with the scattered remains of Battery A, 4th US Artillery, commanded by 21 year-old Lt. Alonzo Cushing. His battery was a shambles- bridled horses lay dead, still strapped to the limbers and caissons, two of which had exploded from direct hits. The torn bodies of gunners and drivers lay amidst the scattered equipment and by one of his disabled guns. Despite this destruction, Cushing asked permission of Webb to remain with his last two operating guns that he ordered be pushed to the stone wall adjacent to infantrymen of the 71st Pennsylvania. Webb gave his permission to the severely wounded lieutenant, and watched as he and his few remaining artillerymen pushed the guns forward and piled charges of canister by each. One was manned by volunteers from the 71st, who jammed rocks and several discarded bayonets into the muzzle of the gun over the canister round. Around the guns, infantry had taken up and loaded discarded muskets, leaning them against the wall so they could be quickly used. The grim wait then began as the southern column appeared, moving steadily forward despite the shot and shell that fell into their ranks.
Bordering the Emmitsburg Road were stout rail fences, which were too strong to be knocked down or pushed over, and the southerners were forced to climb over or crawl through the rails where sections had not been torn out during the previous day's fighting. The Union line came alive with musketry as Pickett's soldiers scaled the fences, many of the men taking shelter in the shallow ditches on each side of the road while the rest climbed the next fence and pushed onward. Armistead's brigade arrived close behind Garnett's men, and immediately scrambled over and through the unbending obstacle. "I tried to crawl through the fence," recalled Lt. Sale, 53rd Virginia, "and heard the shot striking ping - ping on the rails all around me. My head got caught between two rails and I recall the horror of the thought that I might be killed and left hanging there dead. I jumped over the fence and came on. It was awful the way the men dropped."
Those who had weathered the artillery and kept up with their commanders, huddled behind the regimental flags that danced crazily above the ranks, the color bearers making every attempt to keep their banners aloft. General Garnett, one of the few officers who rode into the charge, cheered his men forward and up the incline where the Union line anxiously waited. Randolph Shotwell of the 8th Virginia remembered: "With a shout we start to run up the slope. Lo! From behind the breastworks on the crest arises a dense rank of blue coats whose polished musket barrels are seen to glitter for an instant. Then bursts forth a puff, a blinding, withering blaze, a long sheet of lightning as if from the summit of the hill had suddenly sprung a vomiting volcano. Think of the havoc such a volley must make in the compact columns swarming up the ascent! All around me were men weltering in their life-blood, some on their faces, some on their backs, some writhing and moaning, others still forever. Half the flags of the division fell with the first fire, but quickly they were raised by the survivors and borne forward."
From behind their stone wall, Gibbon's troops unleashed a merciless fire into the southern columns, joined by Union batteries that let loose double charges of canister. With the front of Webb's infantry, Lt. Cushing was at his single gun, supervising every discharge into the seemingly unstoppable Confederates. "I'll give them one more shot," he told his sergeant as he took up the lanyard and pulled. The sharp report of the cannon covered the whiz of the southern bullet that smacked into Cushing at the same moment, killing him instantly, his lifeless body falling over the trail of the gun. Out in front, Pickett's men dropped by the hundreds. All organization was lost as the men pushed together to fill gaps in the ranks, the different regiments soon hopelessly intermingled. Waving swords and shouting commands, officers encouraged their men onward. The explosion of shells, whine of bullets and rattle of musketry was deafening and commands could not be heard above the din of battle. All followed the flags forward into the smoke, storming up the gentle slope to the stone wall at the Angle where Pickett's command intermingled with troops from General Pettigrew's column, and together crashed into the wall, driving back part of the Union infantry. Hopelessly intertwined, the milling crowd of southerners hesitated, shooting at shadows in the smoke ahead and around them. The whine of bullets through their ranks told them that the Union soldiers had not fully retreated and the area within the angle was a no man's land.
General Webb's troops fought back desperately. Though the 71st Pennsylvania had been forced back from the wall, they had been joined by the 72nd Pennsylvania, which formed a solid line of blazing musketry at the eastern end of the Angle. Forcing his way through the crowd, General Armistead approached the front ranks and shouted for the men to follow. Lt. Sale was right behind the general: "General Armistead was right ahead of me. When we poured over the wall, he waved his hat and sword and yelled: 'Now give 'em the cold steel, boys!'" Followed by officers and men from his and Garnett's commands, Armistead leapt the wall and ran to one of the abandoned guns of Lt. Cushing's battery. Lt. Sale and his men followed: "I was only a few feet behind him when he fell. The next moment I was surrounded and gave up my sword." Once Armistead went down, the rush forward apparently lost much of its initiative and the men took cover behind the cannon or charged into the dense thicket of trees nearby, later to be known as the "High Water Mark of the Confederacy."
North of Pickett's command, Pettigrew and Trimble had succeeded in reaching the Emmitsburg Road but with great difficulty. Union artillery on Cemetery Hill continued to blast the Confederate formations, composed of North Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama troops, as they reached the strong fences at the road. Men poured through a handful of gaps while others scurried over the fences that averaged five and one-half feet in height. With formations lost, herds of Confederates followed their red battle flags past the road, the right regiments of Pettigrew's line headed toward the angle to join with Pickett's men while the remainder surged up the gentle slope. Pettigrew's Brigade, commanded by Colonel James Marshall during the charge, was the center brigade of the front line with the remnant of the 26th North Carolina Infantry at its center. The survivors of the terrible fighting on July 1st were now in a more deadly situation with nothing to provide cover or concealment. "The advance was made in perfect order," reported the 26th's commander Major John Jones. "When about half across the intervening space, the enemy opened on us a most destructive fire of grape and canister. When within about 250 or 300 yards of the stone wall behind which the enemy was posted, we were met with a perfect hail-storm of lead from their small arms." Knocked down by a spent ball, Jones refused to leave the field until he was certain that the charge had failed and those who could had escaped. General Trimble had just spoken with Pettigrew by the Emmitsburg Road when he was seriously wounded, a ball hitting him the leg, shattering the bone. Trimble relinquished command to General Lane and added with his compliments, "if the troops I've had the honor to command today cannot take those heights, then all hell cannot take them!" Seconds later general Pettigrew received a painful wound in the hand but remained on the field to rally his men.
Aligned in solid ranks behind stone walls and fence barricades from Ziegler's Grove to the Angle, troops under the command of General Alexander Hays were more than prepared to contest the Southern attack. Hays had put two of his largest brigades on the line, stacked shoulder to shoulder. In one place the men were four ranks deep. Many of these regiments had been forced to surrender to "Stonewall" Jackson at Harpers Ferry in 1862 without firing a shot and it was a stain that unjustly had followed them since. For many this was the first opportunity to "exact retribution" for the humiliation. Through the smoke the Union soldiers watched the butternut formations approach, awed by the discipline displayed in the southern ranks. The moment was not lost on the fiery General Hays:
- "Their march was as steady as if impelled by machinery, unbroken by our artillery, which played upon them a storm of missiles. When within 100 yards of our line of infantry, the fire of our men could no longer be restrained. Four lines rose from behind our stone wall, and before the smoke of our first volley had cleared away, the enemy, in dismay and consternation, were seeking safety in flight. Every attempt by their officers to rally them was in vain."
Having moved to the left to support Pettigrew's troops, Brig. General James Lane reached the Emmitsburg Road to find his North Carolina brigade on the front line facing a mass of blue-clad troops at the crest of Cemetery Ridge. "My command never moved forward more handsomely," General Lane reported. "The men reserved their fire, in accordance with orders, until within good range of the enemy, and then opened with telling effect, repeatedly driving the cannoneers from their pieces, silencing the guns in our immediate front... We advanced to within a few yards of the stone wall, exposed all the while to a heavy raking artillery fire coming from the right. My left was here very much exposed and a column of the enemy's infantry was thrown forward... which enfiladed my line." Lane's troops were trapped in a terrible cross fire with everyone else in the charge. Soldiers lay down to escape the shower of lead or crawled into any depression that could provide cover. No one could stand on that field and live.
The bloody Angle
While Pettigrew's troops struggled for survival, the situation at the Angle had reached a critical point with the most intense fighting centered around Cushing's wrecked battery. The 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry, intermixed with members of the 71st Pennsylvania, stood on the crest of the ridge firing into the mass of Confederates who had retreated back to the wall. Stubbornly refusing to move forward or backward, the "Fire Zouaves" fired wildly into Pickett's men as rapidly as they could load. Rifle fire and shouts of the combatants were a continuous roar. Lt. Frank Haskell, an aide to General Gibbon, realized that the regiment had to charge and spurred his horse to the front of the 72nd: "These men of Pennsylvania, on the soil of their own homesteads, the first and only to flee the wall must be the first to storm it. 'Sergeant, forward with your color. Let the Rebels see it close to their eyes once more before they die.' The color sergeant of the 72nd Pennsylvania, grasping the stump of the severed lance in both hands, waved the flag above his head and rushed towards the wall. Almost halfway to the wall, down go color bearer and color to the ground; the gallant sergeant is dead. The line springs... with a great roar, heaves forward its maddened load- men, arms, smoke, fire, a fighting mass. It rolls to the wall. A moment ensues of thrusts, yells, blows, shots and undistinguishable conflict..."
Jammed in the gray-clad crowd at the wall, Lt. John James, Company D, 11th Virginia, waited in vain for supports to arrive: "We saw the enemy advancing heavy reinforcements. We looked back for ours, but in vain; we were compelled to fall back and had to run as targets to their balls. Oh, it was hard, too hard to be compelled to give way for the want of men having fought as hard as we had that day. We gained nothing but glory and lost our bravest men." A handful of Confederates remained in the clump of trees. "After a few minutes of desperate hand to hand fighting," Colonel Hall reported, "the crowd... threw down their arms and were taken prisoner of war, while the remainder broke and fled." Webb's men pursued the southerners over the wall. Those who remained had no choice but to surrender. "Defeated, routed, the enemy fled in disorder," a relieved General Webb reported. "This brigade captured nearly 1,000 prisoners, 6 battle-flags, and picked up 1,400 stand of arms. The conduct of (my) brigade was most satisfactory. I lost gallant officers and men."
Hundreds of prisoners were herded together, disarmed, and then ordered to the rear, among them Lt. Sale who had followed Armistead into Cushing's guns. Having surrendered his sword, the young officer stepped over bodies, "lying all over so thick that you could scarcely help stepping on them." Everywhere soldiers rushed out to gather up prisoners and the prized southern flags, many lying abandoned in front the wall, their bearers having been shot down. One flag was given to the enthusiastic General Hays who rode along the front of his troops dragging the captured banner through the dust.
Leaderless survivors made their way back to Seminary Ridge. Among them rode a tearful General Pickett, in shock at the destruction of his once magnificent division. Of the 5,500 men who made the charge, over 2,800 were killed, wounded, or captured. The survivors were scattered and it took many hours for them to reorganize- barely a thousand answered to the roll call that evening. Likewise the destruction in Pettigrew's ranks was appalling. A mere handful reached a point within a few yards of the stonewall, only to be called in to surrender. The remainder turned back to Seminary Ridge, stepping over and around hundreds of bodies that covered the gentle slope. General Trimble was so seriously wounded at the Emmitsburg Road that it required the amputation of his leg. Pettigrew was also wounded, struck in the hand by a canister ball. The storm of Union fire, at one point from three directions, was more than anyone could stand and soldiers ran for their lives. "We fell back as well as could be expected," added General Lane who's troops were the last off that portion of the field. The loss in many regiments, including the 11th Mississippi and the 26th North Carolina, was especially frightful. "It was a second Fredericksburg affair," lamented Captain J.J. Young of the 26th North Carolina, "only the wrong way."
A footnote to the repulse of Pickett's Division was the misguided charge of Brig. General Cadmus Wilcox's brigade and Colonel William Perry's Florida brigade. By the time Wilcox received word to advance to support Pickett, smoke so obscured the field that he could not tell where Pickett's troops had advanced to. The two brigades crossed the Emmitsburg Road following Pickett's original route and charged into a perfect storm of artillery fire in Plum Run Valley, near the same position where they had fought the day before. Two large Vermont regiments from Brig. General Stannard's brigade had swung out to hit Kemper's flank and now turned toward the Confederates stuck in the marshy ground of Plum Run. The 14th and 16th Vermont Infantry Regiments tore into the flank as charges of canister shredded the southern ranks. For Wilcox, there was no recourse but a hasty retreat with Pickett's survivors. For the Vermonters, Gettysburg was their only battle. Stannard's entire brigade was mustered out of service two weeks after the battle and went home heroes, some bearing souvenirs from their participation in the repulse of Pickett's Division.
While directing the 16th Vermont into position, General Hancock was struck by a Confederate bullet that traveled through the pommel of his saddle and struck an artery in his groin. A quick thinking aid applied a tourniquet to stop the bleeding and also pulled a nail from the wound that the bullet had carried from the saddle into the general's leg. Despite the intense pain, Hancock dictated a final message to Meade, describing the repulse and ending with the remark that the Confederates must be low on ammunition for he was shot with a ten-penny nail! Gibbon, Webb, and many others were also wounded, but the center of the line had held.
Union soldiers scoured the field collecting weapons, flags, and the wounded. General Hays' soldiers collected 2,500 discarded rifles, 15 battle flags, and took over 1,500 prisoners. Sharing in the victory was the 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, positioned far out in front of the Union line on skirmish detail. As the Confederate line approached Cemetery Ridge and bypassed the Ohioans, Lt. Col. Franklin Sawyer ordered his men to turn and fire into the flanks of Brockenbrough's and then Scales' and Lane's troops. The apparent confusion in the southern ranks was so obvious that Sawyer believed he had turned back the bulk of the Confederate left wing. Sawyer's men charged into the field to capture approximately 200 Confederates and pick up flags of the 34th North Carolina and 38th Virginia Infantry.
General Meade arrived near the Angle just as the last of Pickett's men were being driven away. The bombardment had sent he and his staff scurrying from the Leister House to another temporary headquarters, and he returned just in time to see a herd of Confederate prisoners moving to the rear. "Thank God," the general muttered, which he followed with a hoarse "Hurrah!" A Union band struck up "Hail to the Chief" as Meade galloped past the bloodied ranks of soldiers who had held the center. The chant of "Fredericksburg! Fredericksburg!" passed up and down the line. It was six months before at the Battle of Fredericksburg that these soldiers had experienced an identical trial by fire in a hopeless charge over open plain. Now they had paid the Confederates back in blood.
For George Gordon Meade, his first test as an army commander had been a successful one, but the strain of the past week had taken its toll. Outwardly the "old Snapping Turtle" was grateful to his officers and staff while still irascible with subordinates who did not move quickly enough or brought him bad news. "It was a grand battle," he confided to his wife in a letter two days later, "and is in my judgement a most decided victory, tho I did not annihilate or bag the Confederate army. The men behaved splendidly. They endured long marches short rations and stood one of the terrific cannonading I ever witnessed."
General Lee left his headquarters and rode south on Seminary Ridge to find General Longstreet still seated on the rail fence in Spangler's Woods. After a brief discussion, Lee rode to Colonel Alexander's artillery line at the edge of the woods, arriving just in time to witness the southern tide crest on Cemetery Ridge. Silently he watched the flags disappear in the battle smoke while hundreds, if not thousands, of his soldiers streamed back toward him. Most walked as if in a trance. Others were near panic, and raced as fast as their legs could carry them to safety. Alexander looked at his army chief, perhaps curious to see the great commander's reaction. At first motionless, Lee quickly sprang into action and rode into the fugitives speaking words of encouragement, calming the panicked. Lee was soon joined by Colonel Arthur Fremantle, a British Army officer who had accompanied Lee's army into Pennsylvania as an observer. To Fremantle, Lee's demeanor in the face of disaster was impressive: "He was engaged in rallying and in encouraging the broken troops, and was riding about... in front of the woods, quite alone. His face, which is always placid and cheerful, did not show signs of the slightest disappointment, care, or annoyance; and he was addressing to every soldier he met a few words of encouragement, such as 'All this will come right in the end; we'll talk it over afterwards; but, in the meantime, all good men must rally. We want all good and true men just now.' He said to me, 'This has been a sad day for us, Colonel, a sad day; but we can't expect always to gain victories.' In this manner I saw General Lee encourage and reanimate his somewhat dispirited troops, and magnanimously take upon his own shoulders the whole weight of the repulse."
For James Longstreet, the dismal failure of the assault was almost too much. Riding among the survivors, Longstreet encouraged the beaten men to rally themselves behind Seminary Ridge. For "Old Pete", the failure of the charge that afternoon would haunt him for the rest of his life. Among the survivors was a downcast General Pickett who rode silently, pale and in shock. General Lee approached, asking the general the condition of his command. "General, I have no division," Pickett replied. "Armistead is down, Garnett is down, and Kemper is mortally wounded." Lee responded with kind, comforting words, telling him to rally his men behind Seminary Ridge. Like Longstreet, Pickett would never forget this terrible moment at Gettysburg and is alleged to have later placed the blame for the failure of the charge directly on General Lee.
It was soon after rallying his troops that a courier arrived to inform Lee of Stuart's defeat at the hands of Union cavalry three miles east of Gettysburg. Blocked by a strong Union cavalry force, Stuart withdrew his cavalry division from the field after a spirited battle. Union cavalry also tested the Confederate right, still held by General Hood's troops. A charge made by Union cavalry under General Elon J. Farnsworth was handsomely repulsed and resulted in Farnsworth's death.
This was little consolation. Lee knew that he could no longer remain in Pennsylvania. Late that evening, he dictated orders for his army to withdraw from Gettysburg and begin the retreat back to Virginia.
The effects of the battle were felt in Pennsylvania for many months after the armies had left. Approximately 5,500 soldiers from both armies were killed in the battle, with 22,000 wounded soldiers packed into churches, barns, and private homes throughout Adams County. Some of the wounded had no shelter except for the shade of trees. Overtaxed Union surgeons who had treated Union wounded continuously during the battle were now left with thousands of wounded Confederates to care for. Even with the the help of Gettysburg citizens and Confederate surgeons who remained, the situation appeared to be near calamity. But lessons learned from other battlefields had not been lost on the US Army Medical Department. Adams County was invaded once again that July, but this time by medical personnel with equipment and supplies who established a central hospital east of Gettysburg, dubbed "Camp Letterman". Wounded men were collected from remote locations to corps hospitals and then to Camp Letterman where surgeons and staff went immediately to work while civilian commissions assisted with nursing care and shelter. Once an individual was strong enough, he was shipped by rail to a permanent hospital in Philadelphia or Baltimore. Despite the best efforts of the army and charitable organizations, an additional 4,000 would succumb to their injuries either in Gettysburg or in the hospitals where they had been sent. Approximately 10,000 soldiers were captured during the fighting and both armies were burdened with their captives until they could be sent to prison camps.
With the wounded being cared for, attention turned to the sad condition of battlefield burials. Patriotic citizens of Adams County undertook efforts to establish a proper burial place for the Union dead and with funds provided by the Pennsylvania legislature, the process of reburials began that fall. The Soldiers National Cemetery was dedicated on November 19, 1863, and was the occasion of President Lincoln's highly regarded Gettysburg Address, when the president not only dedicated a cemetery but gave the north a reason to continue the struggle to reunite the nation, the focus of the American Civil War.
For the residents of Gettysburg, the experiences of those three terrible days were vivid for many years to follow. Many, such as store clerk Daniel Skelly, recounted their stories of the battle in letters, journals, and reminiscences. Many of these, such as the story told by Gettysburg school teacher Sallie Myers, related much of the horror of the battle and its immediate effect on the townspeople. Though life eventually returned to normal and repairs were made to damaged buildings, many homes in Gettysburg today still bear the scars of the battle.
- ↑ Busey and Martin, p. 125. "Engaged strength" at the battle was 93,921.
- ↑ Busey and Martin, p. 260. "Engaged strength" at the battle was 71,699. McPherson, p. 648, lists the strength at the start of the campaign as 75,000.
Books for Further Reference
- Busey, John W., and Martin, David G., Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg, 4th Ed., Longstreet House, 2005, ISBN 0-944413-67-6.
- Coddington, Edwin B., The Gettysburg Campaign; a study in command, Scribner's, 1968, ISBN 0-684-84569-5.
- Pfanz, Harry W., Gettysburg - The First Day, University of North Carolina Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8078-2624-3.
- Pfanz, Harry W., Gettysburg - The Second Day, University of North Carolina Press, 1987, ISBN 0-8078-1749-X.
- Pfanz, Harry W., Gettysburg: Culp's Hill and Cemetery Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 1993, ISBN 0-8078-2118-7.
- Wert, Jeffry D., Gettysburg: Day Three, Simon & Schuster, 2001, ISBN 0-684-85914-9.
CivilWarWiki Related Pages
- Gettysburg Union Order of Battle
- Gettysburg Confederate Order of Battle
- Gettysburg Address
- Gettysburg National Military Park
- Gettysburg (film), a 1993 movie portraying the Battle of Gettysburg
On the Web