Today is the 158th Anniversary of the Third Day of the decisive Battle of Gettysburg.
Dr. Joseph Hold of the 11th Mississippi, Davis’s 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.”
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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.
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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.
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Garnett, with a big voice issuing from his frail body, rode 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.”