Pickett’s Men at Gettysburg

The Claims of Superiority for the Virginia Troops There Questioned
By W. R. Bond
Formerly First Lieutenant and A. D. C. in Pettigrew’s Brigade
Mr. Troutman, in his contribution to THE ANNALS OF THE WAR, published in THE WEEKLY TIMES of June 17, is very entertaining, but on one or two points he is inaccurate. In referring to the assault on the third day at Gettysburg he draws a comparison between the endurance displayed by the Virginia and North Carolina infantry in that action, and repeats probably with the best intentions the slander which originated in Richmond nineteen years ago, and which, though refuted time and time again, still seems to flourish in some quarters. He has heard that the right of the assaulting column was composed of Virginians and the left of North Carolinians. If he saw the charge he knows that the brigade on the extreme left was the first to give way, and this, too, before they were fairly under fire. Now this brigade was composed entirely of Virginians. He also knows that after the valley had been nearly passed another brigade, which then constituted the left, after having borne with fortitude both a front and a flank fire until it was nearly destroyed, gave way. But he does not know that this body had been badly cut up in the first day’s battle and before retreating had lost more men killed than any one of Pickett’s Brigades. It was the brigade of General Joseph Davis, nephew of President Davis. Troops on the extreme right were the next to go and after a few minutes, the whole line retired. Trimble’s men fell back only when directed by him and returned in good order. Pickett’s men were panic stricken, and it was several days before one thousand of them could be got together. That afternoon was the only time they did any fighting during the year 1863, and the outcry they raised about their slaughter was heard all over Virginia and its echo is still heard in the North. I have the amusing fact, upon the authority of a Georgia commissary, that after our army had crossed the river and had assembled at Bunker Hill, Pickett’s Division of dead men drew more rations than any division in the army.


I will state in what order the assaulting column proper was formed and will give from official reports of the battle of Gettysburg the casualties of the Virginia and North Carolina troops which engaged in the last assault. The right consisted of three Virginia brigades under Pickett. Two of them were on the frontline and the other formed the second line. Heth’s Division, commanded by Brigadier General Pettigrew, formed the front line on the left. Archer’s Tennessee and Alabama Brigade was the right of this body and joined onto Pickett. Then came Pettigrew’s North Carolina Brigade, commanded by Colonel Marshall. Next to that was Davis’ Brigaded, consisting of three Mississippi and one North Carolina regiment and next to that, which made the extreme left, was Brockenbrough’s Virginia Brigade. This division was supported by two North Carolina brigades commanded by General Isaac Trimble, of Baltimore. The three divisions were commanded by General Longstreet. The following is a list of casualties: Armistead, Va., 88 killed, 460 wounded; Garnett, Va., 78 killed, 324 wounded; Kemper, Va., 58 killed, 356 wounded; Brockenbrough, Va., 25 killed, 123 wounded. Total killed and wounded, 1,512.

Pettigrew, N. C., 190 killed, 915 wounded; Fifty-fifth Regiment, N. C., 39 killed, 159 wounded; Scales, N. C., 102 killed, 322 wounded; Lane, N. C., 41 killed, 348 wounded. Total killed and wounded, 2,116.

General Lee’s army was too weak numerically to afford him the luxury of having a body of troops who were always to be held in reserve for extraordinary occasions, or for rounding up his victories like Napoleon’s Imperial Guard. With him his steadiest troops were oftenest called upon. Virginia had in this battle eight brigades and three regiments of infantry, whose loss in killed and wounded was two thousand three hundred and forty-six. North Carolina had seven brigades and three regiments and the loss in killed and wounded of only four of them was two thousand seven hundred and sixty-two. There were several other brigades besides these four that had more men killed than any of General Pickett’s, but as none of them were as good at writing as they were at fighting they are never heard of; at least they are never praised. Pettigrew’s Brigade of four regiments, which remained on the field as long as the longest and had more men killed than any other brigade in our army ever had, is still sometimes blamed. If we except the Virginia brigades of Johnson’s Division, which surrendered after a feeble resistance at Spotsylvania the following spring, there was hardly a brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia whose mortality from after Gettysburg to the close of the war was not much greater than any of the above-mentioned Virginia brigades. And from Gettysburg to Pickett’s defeat at Five Forks, there was not a Georgia, North Carolina or Mississippi brigade was mortality was not three times as great.

Scotland Neck, N. C., 1882.