June 3, 1863 ~ Pickett’s Charge

In the summer of 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee determined that the only way to end the war between the states was to cross the Potomac River from Virginia into Union controlled territory and wage an offensive war on Union soil.

If he could inflict a major blow on Union forces, President Lincoln and the United States would be forced to accept peace with the Confederacy.

Lee moved his Army north through June and would eventually would collide with the Union Army under it’s new Commander George Meade at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on July 1st.

95,000 Union troops and 75,000 Confederates went head to head for 2-days. Battle lines ebbed and flowed, but neither side dislodged the other.

On July 3rd, Lee determined that his Army could not sustain battle indefinitely and would need to either knockout the union forces or retreat.

Ignoring his usual defensive-minded strategies successfully undertaken in past conflicts, Lee set his sights on breaking the Union center with a final climactic direct assault at Cemetery Ridge.

The majority of forces he chose to use were from General George Pickett’s Division under James Longstreet’s Corp.

Pickett’s Virginians had been held in reserve throughout the fight, so his troops were fresh for the challenge.

After a long Confederate artillery bombardment, 12,500 Confederate soldiers stretched over 1-mile marched through the open field.

The Confederates encountered heavy artillery fire while advancing nearly three quarters of a mile across open fields to reach the Union line.

All along the way, they were slowed by slopping terrains and fences in their path.

By the time they reached the Union line on Cemetery Ridge, the attack had been broken into many small units, that were being torn to pieces by Union infantry and artillery fire.

Despite the onslaught the confederates continued to advance towards two gaps in the Union lines.

At first, some union units retreated and it looked as though the attack would succeed as Lewis Armistead Brigade breached the stone wall.

His troops poured into Union lines with Armistead leading the charge until he was struck down by enemy fire.

As Union reinforcements arrived and charged into the breach, the Confederate cracked. With no officers remaining to rally the troops or call for a retreat, the weary soldiers began to slip away individually.

The failed attack effectively ended the battle of Gettysburg.

On July 4, Lee began to withdraw his forces to Virginia.

The casualties for both armies was staggering. Lee lost 28,000 of his 75,000 soldiers, and Union losses stood at over 22,000.

It was the last time Lee threatened Northern territory.

Gettysburg could never have been forgotten. But its place in American memory was enhanced when President Abraham Lincoln visited the site of the battle four months later, in November 1863 when he delivered his Gettysburg Address for the dedication of the National Cemetery.

Little known fact:

On July 3, the Confederacy reached its symbolic high-water mark, as Lee launched Pickett’s Charge. 5,000 South Carolinians watched from the sidelines as North Carolinians, Virginians and other Southerners moved forward against the union center. On that day, only one South Carolinian was part of the battle. 1st Corp commander, Gen James Longstreet was born in Edgefield, SC making him the only South Carolinian to participate in the attack.


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