Battle of Gettysburg "Pickett's Charge" July 1-3, 1863
At 3:00pm on July 3, 1863, 11,000 steady and disciplined Confederate soldiers emerged from the trees on Seminary Ridge and formed perfectly aligned battle ranks facing the Union position a mile away on Cemetery Ridge. For two days, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia had bested Maj. Gen. George G. Meade's Union Army of the Potomac in heavy fighting in and around Gettysburg, PA. But Meade's troops still occupied a defensive position south of town, and Lee was determined to attack him there.
Three of the nine brigades in the attacking Confederate force were commanded by Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett, a 38-year-old career soldier from Virginia. Pickett's division spearheaded the assault, advancing with parade precision. Almost immediately, gaps were blown in the Confederate lines from Union artillery positions. Under orders not to fire and not to let loose their Rebel Yell, the Confederates closed the gaps in their lines and kept advancing. Union artillery changed from shells to canister- tin cans packed with iron balls that made giant shotguns of the cannon- and mowed great swaths through the Confederate ranks. As the attackers continued to close, Union infantry sent volleys of minie' balls into the still-ordered Southern troops.
Surviving Rebels returned fire and charged the Union line. Desperate hand-to-hand fighting ensued as the Union line was penetrated, but there were not enough Confederates left after the charge to hold the line. The Confederates' only choice was to surrender or go back across the mile of open ground.
Almost 4,000 Confederate soldiers were captured. General Pickett's division lost 70% of its men. The Union forces, just half as numerous as the Rebel attackers, suffered only 1,500 casualties- only one-fifth of the number they inflicted. Gen. Robert E. Lee had thought his army was invincible. The proof to the contrary was a blow from which it would never recover.
Fascinating Fact: The artillery exchange preceding Pickett's charge was heard 140 miles away in Pittsburgh, making it one of the loudest noises on the North American continent up to that time.
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