The following is the introduction to the book Pickett's Charge : Eyewitness Accounts by Richard Rollins. This introduction is placed here with the author's permission for the reading pleasure of the Gettysburg Discussion Group and may not be used further without the author's permission.
Levi Baker, an artilleryman in the 9th Massachusetts Light Artillery, had manned a gun on Cemetery Ridge that day. Years later he would recall that shortly after the Charge had been defeated and the Confederates had retreated down the slope and across Emmitsburg Road, he and his comrades knew that they had participated in an event that would become legendary. They wandered down to the Angle, where men were still dying from their wounds, and stood there surrounded by the human wreckage of fierce combat. Near what remained of Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing's Battery they looked over the field and mused about the events of the day: "I recognized then and there that this battle was to be, in all probability, regarded as a great turning point in history," he wrote. "I did not believe the Confederates would ever surpass their efforts on that gory field. The ridge where Cushing went down beside his guns, where the hand to hand conflict took place, is regarded as the high water mark of the Rebellion. . . "(1)
Baker and his friends were not alone in their realization that they had participated in something that went beyond average experience, even beyond the typical experience of combat. The feeling was widespread that Pickett's Charge had been a significant event, perhaps the significant event, in the war. On July 4th Charles M. Blackford, an adjutant on Lieutenant General James Longstreet's staff, would write to his wife that "they vastly outnumbered us, and though our men made a charge which will be the theme of the poet, painter and historian of all ages, they could not maintain the enemy's lines much less capture them... Our loss in men and officers exceeds anything I have ever known."(2) Three weeks later, a Southern officer who participated in the event referred to it as the "celebrated charge,"(3) and thus recorded the language the men were using in their private conversations to think about and discuss what had happened. As soon as the Charge failed, the mythic quality of Pickett's Charge emerged as easily recognizable and quickly entered a part of America's folklore.
The veterans themselves contributed to the legend of Pickett's Charge. For many, it was the high point of their time in the army, perhaps even in their lives. After the war, and especially with the rise of the veterans' organizations in the 1880s, they spent much time talking about it, and even writing about it. Much of what they wrote ended up in obscure places, or was never published, and thus is unavailable to the modern reader. This volume is in part an effort to make more available their accounts of their experiences.
Today Pickett's Charge is one of the most celebrated of all American military encounters, ranking with the actions of the minuteman at Lexington and Concord, the incident at Little Big Horn, and the invasion of Europe in 1944. As Blackford predicted, it has come down to us through poetry, painting and historical studies as a riveting moment in time. Indeed, it may well be the most mythic of all American military events: the gallant soldiers of the South, the golden-haired Pickett at their head, bravely walking through shot and shell, led over the wall by the valiant Armistead, only to be beaten back by the stalwart sons of the Union.
While Pickett's Charge has a firm place in American folk-lore, and though at times it seems that every man at Gettysburg on July 3,1863, left an account of it, surprisingly little secondary scholarship exists. The only full-length, in-depth study of the event is George Stewart's excellent and absorbing Pickett's Charge: A Microhistory of the Final Assault at Gettysburg, July 3. 1863 , published over thirty years ago.(4) Kathy Georg-Harrison's Nothing But Glory: Pickett's Division At Gettysburg, is equally impressive, but covers only that fraction of the battle experienced by the men of Pickett's Division. (5)
Single chapters in the works of Glenn Tucker, Edwin Coddington, and Douglas S. Freeman all concentrate on various aspects of the Charge.(6) It is the nature of historical narrative to concentrate on the story, not on the individual, and thus much is left out of even the best work by any historian. Furthermore, it is often the case that, in telling the historically significant aspects of the battle, an author emphasizes the important decisions of the leaders, not the experiences of the rank and file. This compilation of individual experiences is therefore a supplement to those works, not an attempt to replace them.
As it unfolded, Pickett's Charge had virtually no chance of success. Major General George Gordon Meade and his subordinates had well prepared their defensive position. With over 150 guns lined up between Cemetery Hill and Little Round Top, and many more available in the Artillery Reserve, and elements of the 1st, 5th, 6th, 11th and 12th corps available as reinforcements, the Federal position was likely secure.
However, Pickett's Charge was certainly neither conceived nor planned to be as ineffective as it became, and therein lies a significant and somewhat overlooked story. Was General Robert E. Lee so poor a military tactician that he would send his men across that valley, amidst the shot and shell of over 150 cannon and infantry massed behind a stone wall, towards almost certain death? That long march across the valley-a hallowed essence of the moment-is but an essence only, and not the entire story. Indeed, the larger story and the larger significance is more complicated and confusing than what we usually imagine.
To think of Pickett's Charge as solely a doomed infantry charge is to oversimplify what actually occurred. It ignores the overall conception of the operation and the elements that actually came into play. It blinds us to the important role played by Confederate artillery and calvary, and perhaps even more importantly, the role of the Federal artillery in the repulse. It narrows our focus to a small section of the field, a few hundred square yards around the Angle. It limits our scope of understanding to a small percentage of the deeds of individuals who saw action in it, all the way from the Rail Road Cut and Oak Hill to Little Round Top, and from the Calvary battlefield to the staging areas west of Seminary Ridge. Pickett's Charge involved all elements of the two armies-infantry, artillery, cavalry-as well as all levels of soldiers, from Lee and Meade at the top to the common foot soldier and even the support elements, including cooks and teamsters.
All who were there sensed the high drama of the moment. During the morning of the 3rd a rumor swept through the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee would send the entire army, or most of it, in a frontal assault all along the line. Colonel E. P. Alexander heard it, and passed it on to Major General George Pickett.(7) Lieutenant General A. P. Hill heard it, went to Lee and "begged General Lee to let me take in my whole Army Corps. He refused, and said what remains of your corps will be my only reserve. . ."(8)
Many Southerners went into battle thinking that this was the crucial moment of the war. The outcome of the war seemed to hang in the balance. As one participant said:
... From the teamsters to the general in chief it was known that the battle was yet undecided-that the fierce combat was to be renewed. All knew that victory won or defeat suffered, was to be at a fearful cost-that the best blood of the land was to flow copiously as a priceless oblation to the god of battle. The intelligent soldiers of the South knew and profoundly felt that the hours were potential-that on them possibly hung the success of their cause-the peace and independence of the Confederacy.(9)
Pickett's Charge was an event that was shaped by, and is best understood as a result of, two basic factors. First, it is the logical result of the strategic plan of the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania, as filtered through the specific individuals who organized that campaign: Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and the political leadership of the Confederacy. Second, on the level of battlefield tactics, it was a logical extension of the events of July 1 and 2, 1863.
On the strategic level the planning of Pickett's Charge started not on July 2nd but back in Richmond in May. After the victory at Chancellorsville the leadership of the Confederacy discussed their overall Grand Strategy. Should they concentrate on another campaign in the east, or send troops to the western theater to help defeat Grant at Vicksburg or Rosecrans in Tennessee?(10) At a meeting in Richmond with Secretary of War James Seddon on May 6, Lieutenant General James Longstreet suggested sending two of his divisions west, and Seddon and President Jefferson Davis liked the idea. Four days later Lee telegraphed his view to Seddon. He opposed the idea: it probably wouldn't help in the West and it exposed his army to an attack by a much greater force. Lee pointed out that it might in fact end up with the Confederacy losing in both theaters. He apparently convinced Longstreet of his views, for on the 13th Longstreet wrote to a Confederate Senator: "When I agreed with [Seddon] and yourself about sending troops west it was under the impression that we would be obliged to remain on the defensive here. But the prospect of an advance changes the aspect of affairs."(11) Two days later Lee met in person with Seddon and Davis and presented his idea for an alternative plan: invade Pennsylvania and inflict a crushing defeat on the Federal army on their own ground.
The campaign plans lacked a clear focus, but Davis and Lee hoped, from the beginning, that it would achieve in some way a significant military victory that would have far-ranging political effects, including the possibility of an end to the war itself. It might result in a defensive battle, like Fredericksburg, or an offensive one, like Chancellorsville. Perhaps a successful invasion, with no battle but maneuvers threatening Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington and New York, would be enough. The invasion would coincide with a trip north by Vice-President Alexander Stephens, who left Richmond on July 3rd, bound for Washington and negotiations with the Lincoln administration. Machinations were underway in France and England to secure political recognition from the European powers.(12) On the march north Lee wrote to Davis urging him not to reject any peace feelers, and to take advantage of any negotiations. With peace negotiations under way, "the war would no longer be supported" in the North, "and that after all is what we are interested in bringing about."(13)
Robert E. Lee has come down to us as a man with a singular military outlook, one who kept above politics. This is far from accurate, for Lee was involved in nearly all significant political decisions after his rise to command of the Army of Northern Virginia in 1862. The Gettysburg campaign would be a perfect example of Von Clausewitz's dictum that military action is an extension of diplomacy: Lee meant to achieve political ends by military means. On June 27, he told Major General Isaac Trimble of his plans for the forthcoming battle. When the Army of the Potomac followed him into Pennsylvania, he said, "I shall throw an overwhelming force on their advance, crush it, follow up the success, drive one corps back on another, and by successive repulses and surprises ... create a panic and virtually destroy the army ... [Then] the war will be over and we shall achieve the recognition of our independence."(14) Colonel Eppa Hunton of the 8th Virginia spent half an hour talking with Lee as they rode in front of Brigadier General Richard B. Garnett's brigade on the road into Pennsylvania. Hunton expressed doubts about the campaign, but Lee replied that the invasion would be a great success, and if so, "would end the war.. ."(15)
After Second Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the defeated Army of the Potomac had simply walked back to Washington and reorganized. Thus these were hollow victories, essentially without significant political results. At Gettysburg on July 2nd and 3rd Longstreet would suggest a flank movement followed by a defensive posture. Lee firmly and repeatedly rejected this maneuver. To his way of thinking, that could only lead to more bloody and indecisive combat. Lee wanted none of that here in Pennsylvania. He wanted to win, and win big. Robert E. Lee did not march into Pennsylvania to win another useless battle.
Historian James McPherson, in his Pulitzer-Prize winning book Battle Cry of Freedom, summed up the concept that was to govern the campaign:
The invasion of Pennsylvania would remove the enemy threat on the Rappahannock, take the armies out of war- ravaged Virginia, and enable Lee to feed his troops in the enemy's country. It would also strengthen Peace Democrats, discredit Republicans, reopen the question of foreign recognition, and perhaps even conquer peace and recognition from the Union government itself.(16)
All of this was in Lee's mind as the battle opened. He may not have gone into Pennsylvania to precipitate an offensively aggressive fight, but by the end of July 2nd all the elements were in place. He was supremely confident of his men; he believed the center of the Federal line to be Meade's weak point. Pickett's Charge, coming after two days of indecisive but bloody combat reminiscent of previous battles, would be one final attempt to break the Federal lines and destroy the Army of the Potomac.
On the tactical level the specific elements of Pickett's Charge began taking shape on the evening of July 2nd and continued to evolve in the minds of Lee and his subordinates until the Charge took place. The military operation, as conceived on the evening of the 2nd, changed considerably on the morning of the 3rd. During its execution several of its major components failed, were altered by the events of the moment, or never took place. The result was an attack that varied significantly from what was planned, or what Lee ordered.
Lee's official report is explicit. Every word is significant and must be carefully considered. He believed his army had done reasonably well through the first two days of the battle. The plan on the 2nd had been to attack up the Emmitsburg Road toward the town of Gettysburg. On the 3rd, he stated, "the general plan was unchanged."
The result of the day's operations induced the belief that, with proper concert of action, and with the increased support that the positions gained on the right would enable the artillery to render the assaulting columns, we should ultimately succeed, and it was accordingly determined to continue the attack.(17)
Longstreet's corps, including all three divisions commanded by McLaws, Hood, and Pickett, "was ordered to attack the next morning, and General Ewell was directed to assail the enemy's right at the same time." Lee went on to say that "General Longstreet's dispositions were not completed as early as was expected. . ."(18) Longstreet and Lee normally tented near each other, and it was Longstreet's habit to ride to Lee's tent at the end of a days' fighting and discuss matters with Lee. He did not do so on July 2nd, and one can easily imagine Lee waiting for him until he went to sleep or until he thought it was too late to talk.
Longstreet says he was not ordered on July 2nd to attack early on the 3rd.(19) The weight of historical evidence strongly suggests otherwise. Perhaps the courier did not reach him with the order. Perhaps Longstreet was so emotionally opposed to the Charge that he simply denied the existence of the order. One doubts that Robert E. Lee would officially report that, on the evening of the 2nd, he had ordered Longstreet to attack early on the 3rd, if he had not actually done so. In addition, we know that Lieutenant General Richard Ewell, commander of the Second corps on the far left of the Confederate line in front of Culp's Hill, received orders to move at dawn on the 3rd.(20) Brigadier General William N. Pendleton, Chief of Artillery, stated he had received orders from Lee that the artillery of all three corps were to prepare for opening, "as early as possible ... a concentrated and destructive fire, consequent upon which a general advance was to be made."(21) Colonel E. P. Alexander, who commanded Longstreet's artillery during the Charge, had received orders and was placing guns at 3 o'clock in the morning.(22)
Together these reports signify that Lee's plan on the evening of July 2nd was for an artillery barrage to precede a morning attack by Longstreet's Corps, timed to coincide with Ewell's advance, which was designed to distract the Federal right and tie down reinforcements.
On the morning of the 3rd the Federals attacked the Confederates on Ewell's front just past daybreak, and thus ruined the idea of coordinating attacks. When Lee and Longstreet met in the morning it was already too late for an early attack. After a long discussion during which they rode up and down the lines and peered through glasses at the Federal position, Longstreet tried to convince Lee to flank the Federals rather than attack head-on, but Lee decided to renew the attack up the Emmitsburg Road to the center of the Federal line.
The plan as it evolved during the morning of the 3rd was not a simple infantry charge against a strong position. It was instead a complicated plan involving infantry, artillery and cavalry, a "combined operation" in modern military jargon. Unfortunately, no member of the high command of the Army of Northern Virginia chose to describe it in all its particulars. In the only significant written comment Lee would make after the war, he remarked that victory would have been gained in the Pennsylvania campaign if "one determined and united blow [could] have been delivered b your whole line."(23) That characterization, though it is cryptic and much must be read into it, is as good a definition of Pickett's Charge as any left by those who commanded it.
Since not one of the men involved in the conceptualization of the Charge left a concise account of all the elements of the plan and how they were to have worked in coordination, we are left to piece it together. Adjutant James Crocker of the 9th Virginia in Armistead's brigade, who was wounded in the Charge and spent the rest of his life believing that the Charge had failed in execution, not in conceptualization, did describe it in nearly modern terms. Crocker spent a good deal of time after the war studying the battle, corresponding and talking with other veterans, and writing about it. He summarized it as follows:
It was to be made in the morning-presumably in the early morning-with the whole of Longstreet's, corps, composed of the divisions of Pickett, McLaws and Hood, together with Heth's division, two brigades of Pender and Wilcox's brigade, and that the assaulting column was to advance under the cover of the combined artillery fire of three corps, and that the assault was to be the combined assault of infantry and artillery-the batteries to be pushed forward as, the infantry progressed, to protect their flanks and support their attack closely. The attack was not made as here ordered.(24)
Add to Crocker's outline the participation of Stuart's cavlary and the support of the brigades of Brigadier General Ambrose Wright and Brigadier General Carnot Posey in Major General Richard Anderson's division of Hill's corps, and a full outline of the plan of the Charge begins to emerge.
The artillery must achieve a key objective: it must subdue the Federal artillery all along the line, from the "rocky hill," as Little Round Top was known, to Cemetery Hill. Some batteries would move forward to support the advance, firing from spots just ahead of the infantry to keep up the pressure on the Federal artillery on the ridge. This would include not just the guns of Longstreet's corps, but those of Hill's and Ewell's corps as well. Batteries as far east as Benner's Hill and as far north as the ten rifled pieces near the Rail Road Cut along the Chambersburg Road, would be involved.(25) This was such an important goal that Lee got nearly his entire artillery involved. Of the 51 batteries of artillery in the Army of Northern Virginia on July 3rd, only 6 did not participate in the cannonade or Charge. To put it another way, 88% of Lee's batteries became involved in the cannonade, the Charge, or both.(26)
The infantry would consist of nearly two-thirds of the entire Army. The Charge would consist of an advance by Pickett, supported by the divisions of Major Generals Henry Heth and William Pender, of Hill's corps. The latter two were wounded on July 1st, and replaced by Major Generals Johnston Pettigrew and Isaac Trimble. Critical to its success would be support from Anderson's division of Hill's corps, which was supposed to advance when the attack succeeded. The brigades of Brigadier General Cadmus Wilcox and Colonel David Lang would follow Pickett on the right flank. In addition, Anderson had Brigadier General Ambrose Wright's and Brigadier General Carnot Posey's brigades ready to support the break- through.(27) Longstreet would have Major General Lafayette McLaws' division in place ready to follow up.(28) Finally,just north of the Bliss property and roughly half-way between Seminary Ridge and Cemetery Ridge would be four additional brigades, under the commands of Brigadier General Edward Thomas and Colonel Abner Perrin of Pender's division, and Brigadier Generals George Doles and Steven Ramseur of Major General Robert Rodes' division in Ewell's corps. They would be within easy striking distance if needed.
It is a measure of Lee's determination to achieve a smashing victory that he probably ordered the infantry to utilize a specific tactic: the bayonet charge. This maneuver, which a recent military historian characterized as a "shock attack," was designed not to kill the opposing infantry (though much of that would necessarily occur), but to shock and disorganize them.(29) It would do what Lee had told Trimble he planned to do: "create a panic and virtually destroy the army."
A bayonet charge entailed several elements. The troops would be instructed to fix bayonets on their rifles and move rapidly toward the enemy. They would be told to hold their fire until very close to the enemy's lines, thus ensuring both a greater effectiveness of fire and developing a psychological element in surprising their opponents. They would be instructed to yell when they got close, thus causing more fear. Finally, they would break the enemy's lines, and, with support troops coming up behind them, clear the area and destroy the enemy's lines.
The bayonet charge was a tactic well known to military leaders on both sides. It had been taught at West Point, and used in the Mexican War. It had been used successfully by both sides, most notably by John Bell Hood's brigade at Gaines' Mill during the Peninsula campaign in 1862. Hood had led his troops to the Federal lines, yelling "don't halt here! Forward! Forward! Charge right down on them and drive them out with the bayonet!" Indeed Hood had become famous, and won promotion to division command, for his skill and leadership in this type of attack. As Paddy Griffith has said, "the aim (of the bayonet charge) was to get close, break into the defender's carefully prepared firing line and then exploit the confusion which followed."(30)
This maneuver required an inordinate amount of self-control for the Civil War soldier. The typical battle consisted largely of two relatively static opposing lines firing at each other. Later in the war, as the use of earthworks and fortifications became widespread, battles became even more static. Moreover, the bayonet charge required men to hold their fire while running into the face of direct fire from both musketry and cannon. They must control their fears: "it took exceptional leadership, or exceptionally high quality soldiers, to make the system work." Lee's supreme confidence in his men is revealed in a letter he wrote to John Bell Hood in May. "I agree with you in believing that our army would be invincible if it could be properly organized and officered,"said Lee. "There never were such men in an army before. They will go any where and do anything if properly led." Men of this calibre could carry Cemetery Ridge in a bayonet charge.(31)
Longstreet's men had used the bayonet charge before, and Lee no doubt missed Hood, who had been wounded on July 2nd. It was a calculated risk, but Lee had been successful before with unorthodox tactics, and he was determined to win a major victory on July 3rd. As Griffith said, "the essence of shock tactics was the deliberate acceptance of a higher risk in order to achieve a more decisive result."(32) Robert E. Lee was just the man to take such a risk. In the recesses of his mind Lee remembered the words written to him by Secretary of War James Seddon on June 10th, words that Lee probably read somewhere in Pennsylvania. As his superior, Seddon had urged Lee to take "some risk to promote the grand results that may be attained by your successful operations."(33)
Lee's plan hinged partially on reinforcements following Pickett's men. Wilcox's and Lang's brigades did step off toward the ridge, but were too little, too late, and without clear directions of where they were supposed to go. Anderson had Wright's and Posey's brigades in motion, but upon Longstreet's order, pulled them back.(34) Longstreet himself says that the "divisions of McLaws and Hood were ordered to move to closer lines ... to spring to the charge as soon as the breach at the centre could be made." He added that "the general order required further assistance from the Third Corps if needed..." and that "McLaws was ordered to press his left forward. .."(35) Though no exact count can be made, it is clear that plans for throwing fresh troops into the breach made by Pickett did exist.
Finally, Lee's plan included a key role for the cavalry, the here to fore missing Stuart. Reinforced by Jenkins' brigade, Stuart would circle around to the rear of the Federal position on Cemetery Hill, and either cut off a Federal retreat, or attack the vulnerable rear of the army of the Potomac as Pickett's Charge hit the front.(36) Thus all three elements of the Army of Northern Virginia, and all three infantry corps, would be involved.
But of course Pickett's Charge did not concern only the Army of Northern Virginia. On the evening of July 2 it was apparent to Meade and his officers that battle would resume on the next day. They were satisfied, as Longstreet knew they would be, to let Lee dictate, by and large, what would happen. But they did begin planning their defense on the evening of the second, and did not stop until after the repulse. Their plans included preparation by all the infantry corps on the field, as well as the artillery and cavalry.(37) Thus on the Federal side as well as the Confederate side, Pickett's Charge was not a static, set-piece, but a military operation that evolved over time.
Today we stand at the Angle and look straight across the valley to the Virginia monument. We like to imagine the Confederates emerging from the woods at that point. In fact, that was an artillery and support area: no infantry emerged from there and marched straight across to the Angle. The left flank of Pickett's division came out 100 to 200 yards south, and the right flank of the Pettigrew-Trimble line about 100 yards north of that spot. The right flank of Pickett's line was nearly a mile south, on the other side of the Spangler farm; the left of Pettigrew and Trimble, over a half mile north. In addition, these distances are measured in a straight line. The ground covered by Pickett's Charge is not flat, and thus the lengths they marched are slightly longer than the measurements given here.
The rolling nature of the land is significant and must not be overlooked. It played an important part in the memories of the eyewitnesses. If one walks from the Virginia monument to the Angle today, using the path marked out by the Park, the land appears more or less level. But if one walks from the swale south of the Spangler Farm, where Brigadier General James Kemper's brigade on the right of Pickett's division stepped off, to the Emmitsburg Road and then to the Angle, one will find three swales from which neither Cemetery Ridge nor the left of the Confederate line can be seen. And if one walks from where the left of the Pettigrew-Trimble line stepped off to the Angle, the same phenomena will be observed. There are two swales, one west of the Bliss barn and one east of the Bliss barn, from which neither Cemetery Ridge nor the right of the Confederate line can be seen. This probably explains some, and perhaps most, of the numerous Confederate accounts of the Charge in which an author recalls being unable to see Confederate troops to their right or left.
From one perspective, Pickett's Charge was made by two separate wings designed to come together at the Angle. Pickett's division, the main attack force, came not across the valley from the Virginia monument area, but from the south-west, moving in a north-easterly direction. The right of Kemper's brigade brushed from the Klingle house, several hundred yards south of the Codori barn, and crossed the Emmitsburg Road in that vicinity. They marched almost due north, through the Plum Run valley and up the Emmitsburg Road, their line being broken by the Codori Farm. They made a left oblique near Plum Run. It is possible that some of the men in Kemper's brigade may have crossed the Emmitsburg Road a second time, and then a third time as they charged up the slope to the stone wall, though no documentation of this exists. The Pettigrew-Trimble wing moved south- east from Seminary Ridge, across the Bliss property.
The area covered by the Confederate infantry during the Charge formed a trapezoid. It extended along Seminary Ridge from the MacMillan house to the swale on the south side of the Spangler farm, a distance of 2,000 yards; from the swale to the stone wall, some 1500 yards; and from the stone wall to the MacMillan house, a distance of 1,333 yards. The stretch of the Federal line they hit, along the stone wall from the Brian barn south to just past the copse of trees, is about 450 yards. The total ground covered is approximately 1/2 of a square mile.(38)
When one considers the artillery action associated with the charge, the area expands dramatically. The operation demanded, and received, the attention and cooperation of Confederate artillery batteries in all three corps, including the artillery reserve of each corps. Hill's artillery reserve, north of the Chambersburg Road on Oak Hill, had two Whitworth rifles, the most accurate long-range weapons available to the South. They enfiladed the Federal artillery and infantry on Cemetery Ridge.(39) Guns in the artillery reserve of Ewell's corps, located on Benner's Hill some 2,500 yards east and north of Cemetery Ridge, fired on the Federal artillery and successfully enfiladed the line. Major Thomas Osborn, commander of the Federal 11th corps artillery on Cemetery Hill, described the initial effectiveness of the fire from their rear:
The fire from our west front had progressed 15 to 20 minutes when several guns opened on us from the ridge beyond East Cemetery Hill. The line of fire from these last batteries, and the line of fire from the batteries on our west front, were such as to leave the town between the two lines of fire. These last guns opened directly on the right flank of my line of batteries. The gunners got our range at almost the first shot. Passing low over Wainright's guns they caught us square in flank and with the elevation perfect. It was admirable shooting. They raked the whole line of batteries, killed and wounded the men and horses, and blew up the caissons rapidly. I saw one shell go through six horses standing broadside.(40)
On the southern end of the field, Federal guns on Little Round Top, a distance of some 3 miles from the Whitworths, fired on Pickett's men.
Pickett's Charge also covered the ground from the staging and hospital areas west of Seminary Ridge to the East Cavalry Battlefield, a distance of some 3 or 4 miles. It certainly gained the attention of, and occupied the minds of, nearly all of the 150,000 men involved in the armies, their support elements, as well as citizens of Gettysburg. Thus the space occupied by Pickett's Charge is significantly greater than the area between Seminary and Cemetery Ridges.
The question of time in Pickett's Charge poses a fascinating and significant problem. First, standardized time was not introduced in the United States until long after the war was over. During the war each individual based his sense of time by what ever measurement he chose. For many it was the watch of a comrade; for others, the chiming of the village clock or church bells. This meant that there were often significant discrepancies among battle reports and other accounts of an activity. It has long been the common belief that the cannonade began at about 1:00 p.m., and ended two hours later. Today that would be from 2:00 until 4:00, since modern Daylight Saving Time is one hour ahead of standard time. In addition, 1:00 p. m. to one individual might be 1:30, 2:00 or even 3:00 to another. For example, Brigadier General Robert O. Tyler, commanding the Artillery Reserve of the Army of the Potomac, said the cannonade began at 12 o'clock and continued until after 3pm.(41) Colonel Theodore B. Gates, in charge of the 80th New York Infantry south of the copse of trees, reported the artillery beginning at 12:30.(42) Captain Emanuel D. Roath, 107th Pennsylvania, said it began at 1:30.(43) Colonel Thomas Smyth of the 1st Delaware Infantry of Brigadier General Alexander Hays' brigade, whose troops were behind the wall north of the inner angle, reported that the cannonade began at 2:00 and "continued without intermission until 5 p.m."(44) Captain Patrick Hart, 15th New York battery in McGilvery's line near the present location of the Pennsylvania monument, remembered that the cannonade ended and the charge began at 5:00 p.m.(45)
Second, for most of the men who were there, time as we know it disappeared during Pickett's Charge. The stress of combat gave time a subjective, elastic quality. Their intellectual and psychological faculties were so focused on the task at hand that, for some of the men, time halted all together, while for others it stretched out into infinity. As one private said, "every moment was so appalling and the horrid scenes all about us so dreadful we took no thought of swift passing time."(46) Brigadier General John Gibbon, who commanded the division of the 2nd corps defending the Angle, understood this and had this to say about time and the cannonade preceding Pickett's Charge: "How long did this pandemonium last? Measured by our feelings it might have been an age. In point of fact it may have been an hour or three or five. The measurement of time under such circumstances, regular as it is by the watch, is exceedingly uncertain by the watchers."(47) Lieutenant Tully McCrea, in Woodruff's battery on Cemetery Ridge, remembered this sensation for the rest of his life. Writing in 1904, he recalled that "the Artillery fire of the enemy, which I have since learned lasted two hours, but which seemed to me to have lasted two days, suddenly ceased. . ."(48) This subjective quality of time must be remembered when reading eyewitness accounts of Pickett's Charge. Too much reliance upon a writer's statement of time can mislead the reader.
A note should be added about the documents included in this collection, and the reasons for choosing them. George Stewart culled through some 450 eyewitness accounts in writing his book. I have looked at nearly all of the items he cited, as well as of those cited by authors who have written since 1959. I have even been fortunate enough to find a few that were apparently unavailable to previous students of the Charge. During this research I looked at regimental histories, memoirs, the Southern Historical Society Papers, the War of the Rebellion, (commonly referred to as the Official Record), Confederate Veteran, the various papers published by the state branches of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, and many others. I have also examined collections of documents in the Gettysburg National Military Park, Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, the University of Virginia, Duke University, Virginia Historical Society, Virginia State Library, The University of North Carolina, and the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.
The documents are presented in a certain order. Confederates are first,since they were the aggressors. With a few exceptions, the documents are presented in order of the rank of the author at the time of the battle, highest being first. On occasion I have placed an account by a lower ranking individual in advance of its natural place, usually because it is an account of the actions of a higher ranking person. I began with the intention of identifying each and every individual mentioned by name in each document, but soon gave it up. It would have taken years to complete.
This collection could easily be several times its current length. The job of choosing what to include and exclude was not an easy one. I used several criteria in selecting items. First, the ability of a text, in conjunction of the rest of the documents included herein, to tell the story of the Charge as fully as possible, as we know it today. Second, a document generally must have a level of specificity of content. The more personal it is, the better, and an effort was made to include a diversity of experiences, from general officers to individual privates and newspaper reporters. Third, preference is given to those that tell the story of the common soldier. Fourth, a document that is written shortly after the battle is preferable to one written decades later, for obvious reasons. Fifth, an effort was made to assure authenticity of the text. The only items included that have any significant doubt associated with them are the letters from George Pickett. In that case I have included a short statement about the debate over their authenticity and directions on how to look into that particular question a little further. I felt that their extraordinary content demanded inclusion. Finally, I have included the relevant passages from the "classics" of Pickett's Charge: the essays written by Frank Haskell, Edwin Porter Alexander, and James Longstreet.
It may help the reader to look at an account not included. Captain George K. Griggs, Co. K, 38th Virginia, Armistead's brigade, kept a diary. It has some interesting features, but ultimately failed the six-part test:
3 AM ordered forward moved to right of Gettysburg some six miles we formed with the division line battle in front of it rained little in the morning but cleared off very hot. 8P.M. I have just gotten through one of the most terrible ordeals of my life. Thank God I am alive thought I have a severe flesh wound in my right thigh a minnie ball having passed
Friday. July 3rd 1863. Our division charged the enemy across a field about half- mile wide they being behind a rock fence, dirt works %c we had no protection had to climb two fences the enemy throwing shell grape & all kind of missiles of death at us, but we moved steadily forward, driving them from their strong position capturing all their guns but we had lost too many to hold our trophies & having no reinforcement & the enemy being on our flanks & rear had to cut our way back. our loss was heavy & do not know now what Col. Edmonds & Capt. Towns are reported killed. Al my Lieuts are wounded 20 of my Co. are wounded & 17 missing. I do not know who is living. I carried 49 muskets in fight. Kind Heavenly Father we would humbly pray Thee to Comfort those who lay wounded from to days work & soon restore them to health go to the many distressed families & enable them to bear their losses without Complaint.(49)
This might be called a "standard account." It lists the precise number of casualties in the company, which is of some importance, but adds little to our understanding of the event. It contains no information about planning, preparation, tactics, nor any specifics about individual experiences. One gets little sense of place or experience. With out the date, it could be a description of almost any engagement during the war.
Some of the authors have made obvious mistakes, such as estimating the Confederate force at 30,000 men. Others have made less obvious errors. Not wanting to indulge in an ongoing dialog of corrections, I have generally not pointed out all the errors; the reader should beware of taking every word at face value. Some authors contradict others; I leave it to the reader to decide for himself or herself which to believe.
A word needs to be said about the structure of this collection. I considered two different organizational strategies. My original inclination was to treat these essays as literature, and present each one intact, in general order of significance or in rough chronological order. I found that this would present the reader with too much repetition of detail. Instead I have chosen to divide the event of Pickett's Charge into nine categories of experience: the planning of the charge; the preparation for battle on the morning of July 3rd; the cannonade; the Confederate and Federal left and right flanks, the Angle, and some post-battle comments. Thus the present structure reflects chronological development, Federal and Confederate perspectives, and geographic separation. It does require that some accounts be broken into segments and presented piecemeal in more than one section. On the other hand, some accounts contain a little material that could be included in a section different from the one in which they are first introduced, but in my judgment not enough to stand alone. In such cases, such as Arthur Fremantle's descriptions of Longstreet during the battle, I have included them in the original presentation. Thus there is some overlap, and some repetition. I could find no perfect solution to this problem.
I have generally left the documents as written. Be aware that spelling was far less standardized in the 19th century than it is today. You will see many different spellings of Emmitsburg, as well as other words. I have added [sic] only in the most obvious cases, those in which I felt that if I didn't, the reader would think it was a typographical error.
Finally, I call this action Pickett's Charge because Pickett was the field commander; his division was the spearhead of the attack, and in 1863 and after that is what the participants called it. What to call this event did not become a topic for debate until the controversy between the Virginians and North Carolinians broke out a decade after the war. No diminution of the efforts of the men in the Pettigrew-Trimble line is intended. Likewise the Army of the Potomac, for one could easily argue that the event should be called "The Meade-Hunt-Hancock Defense of Cemetery Ridge," or some variation of that phrase. Neither "The Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Charge," nor 'Longstreet's Grand Assault" roll easily off the tongue. All fall strangely upon the ear. Any or all of these phrases may well better describe the historical reality of the event, but Pickett's Charge is what the general public knows it as, and no other title seems to work quite so well.