03 Jul 2019

Pickett’s Charge

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Today is the 156th Anniversary of the Third Day of the decisive Battle of Gettysburg.

Crossing the Emmitsburg Road


“Give them cold steel.” — Brigadier General Lewis Armistead (February 18, 1817–July 3, 1863)


“Dr. Joseph Hold of the 11th Mississippi, Davis’ brigade, anticipated that the afternoon would be busy and set up his dressing station early in a shelter behind Seminary Ridge. . .When the cannonade opened and the Federals’ guns replied, stretcher bearers, crouching low, began bringing in the wounded. Among the first was an athletic young man with reddish golden hair, “a princely fellow,” the doctor called him, with a calm manner and a delightful smile, one of that gay, turbulent company that had left with the University Greys of Oxford to form Company A of the 11th Mississippi.

“The physician examined the left arm, cut off at the elbow, and offered encouragement.

“‘Why, doctor, that isn’t where I am hurt.’ The boy pulled back a blanket and showed where a shell had ripped deep across his abdomen, carrying away much that was vital. ‘I am in great agony,’ he said, still smiling. ‘Let me die easy, dear doctor.’

“But before the lad had drunk the cup containing the concentrated solution of opium, the doctor held up his right arm so he could write: ‘My dear mother. . .Remember that I am true to my country and my regret at dying is that she is not free. . .you must not regret that my body cannot be obtained. It is a mere matter of form anyhow. . .Send my dying release to Miss Mary. . .’ He signed, JERE S. GAGE, Co. A, 11 Miss. By that time, the letter was covered with blood.

“Then he raised his cup to a group of soldiers. ‘I do not invite you to drink with me,’ he remarked wryly, then with fervor, ‘but I drink a toast to you, the Southern Confederacy, and to victory’

* * *

“Then Pickett stood in front of his division and gave the final word ‘Charge the enemy and remember old Virginia.’ His voice was clear and strong as he spoke the order: ‘Forward! Guide center! March’ . . .

“‘I don’t want to make this charge,’ Longstreet declared emphatically. ‘I don’t believe it can succeed. I would stop Pickett now, but that General Lee has ordered it and expects it.’

“Further remarks showed he wanted some excuse for calling off the whole attack.

“But Longstreet and Alexander had lost control. As they talked, the turf trembled about them and the long line of grey infantry broke from the woods. First came Garnett’s Virginians, the general in front, his old blue overcoat buttoned tightly around his neck. Abreast was Kemper’s trim line marching majestically into the open fields, the fifes piping ‘Dixie,’ the ranks in nearly perfect alignment. Far to the left could be heard the drum rolls of the Carolina regiments – Pettigrew and Trimble were in motion. The hour of the generals had passed. The infantrymen from the Richmond offices and Pearisburg farmlands, the ‘greys’ from the halls of ‘Old Miss’ and the ‘flower of the Cape Fear section,’ had taken the Confederate cause into their hands.

* * *

“The assaulting column consisted of 41 regiments and one battalion. . .Nineteen of the regiments were from Virginia, 15 from North Carolina, 3 each from Tennessee and Mississippi, and one regiment and one battalion from Alabama.

* * *

“Garnett, with a big voice issuing from his frail body, road ahead of his line regulating the pace, admonishing his men not to move too rapidly. From the skirmish line, Captain Shotwell obtained one of the rare views of the Confederate advance: the ‘glittering forest of bright bayonets,’ the column coming down the slope ‘in superb alignment,’ the ‘murmur and jingle’ and ‘rustle of thousands of feet amid the stubble’ which stirred up a cloud of dust ‘like the dash of spray at the prow of a vessel.’

“In front of Pickett flew the blue banner of the Old Dominion with the motto, ‘Sic semper Tyrannis,” and the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy (the red battle flag with its blue cross not yet being in general use). The regimental flags flapped. A soft warm wind was blowing from the land they loved.”

–Glenn Tucker, “High Tide at Gettysburg.”

6 Feedbacks on "Pickett’s Charge"


The last “big” mistake of the war. After that it was a series of many small mistakes that only assured many thousands would die or suffer.


War is hell. And it is a terrible waste of a generation of people. The right way to have prosecuted the “war” would have been for the Southern leaders to not declare war, not voice their anger and intent in public but instead send assassins to kill a couple hundred of the most troublesome anti-South antagonists. There was plenty of warning and buildup to the eventual violence but both sides seemed committed to sending off a million or so 18 YO boys to die horrible deaths.

I am not saying this in any way to justify slavery, it was doomed anyway. I am not saying this to justify secession, the South could have resolved their differences without secession. I am simply pointing that the terrible death toll and even worse toll of terrible battle injuries could have been prevented, the Southern infrastructure could have been saved, the tens of thousands of small farms and homes could have survived, if only the effort to kill was directed towards the intractable antagonists on either/both sides. I am offering this as the correct approach to the coming civil war.


A campaign of assassination would not have preempted war, but exacerbated it, far worse than the Southern attack on Fort Sumter. It would have set the table for a much crueler war, one which would not have taken so many prisoners.


Not true. You are simply making a contrary argument. Imagine if Hitler was assassinated in 1937.

But even if you think killing the leaders does not change the agenda do understand one thing about what I said; it is immoral for leaders and ideologues to drum up a war and send off 3 million or so 18 YO boys to die. And unnecessary. Clearly without the radical Southerners and Northerners a peaceful solution could have been found. Without that effort and cooler minds the South (and to a lesser extent the North) suffered terrible losses and social upheaval that took a century to get past. For what? For the ego of perhaps a couple hundred angry and unreasonable leaders ego.


She (my late wife from The Old Dominion) bristled at any critical comments about “Mars Rob’t”. She did tolerate my opinion that Lee would have served Virginia, The South, and the United States better if he would have applied his intelligence and skill to preventing the war instead of to fighting the war.

She let me live……


I don’t think preventing the war was in anybody’s power, except perhaps Lincoln’s, who could have refrained from running for president and who could have refrained from invading fraternal states.


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