03 July 2012

Gettysburg ... the Last Day

3 July 1863

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Specifically Cemetery Hill

Refer here for the number of men on both sides.

Notably Present:

General Robert E. Lee

General James Longstreet

General George Pickett

General Lewis Armistead

General Winfield Scott Hancock

Originally in command of the II Corp, Hancock was appointed by Meade to oversee the I, II, III and XI Corps during Gettysburg, giving temporary authority over the II to John Gibbon, commander of the II Corp's 2nd Division.

The Lay of the Land on the Morning of 3 July:

Lee's Strategy:

Focus full strength on the center of the Union line, where they have been only lightly hit, while their reinforcements pour into the left and right sides of their position.


A 3/4-mile march across an open meadow and on up the hill, with Union artillery converging on the Confederate army from all sides. 


The battle will begin with a furious cannonade on the Union line at Cemetery Hill in an attempt to damage enough artillery and put enough men out of action that the charge, led by George Pickett's division, will be less hard hit. In hopes of reaching their destination with the least amount of damage, the Rebs are ordered not to fire until they are up on the hill but to move as one body and hopefully catch the Union army off guard with the sheer force of their charge.

Longstreet's Opinion: 

Hopeless. In vain he tries to convince Lee that the course is an unnecessary disaster. The Union strength and their position on elevated ground will result in devastating losses for the Confederate Army. Lee will not be swayed. At last, Longstreet gives in to his commander's orders, though he can barely force himself to carry them out.


It is launched at 1:00 pm, while the Union army is enjoying lunch and a siesta. Though the Yankees are surprised, they man their own guns and keep up a hot fire against the Confederate artillery as well as the woods on the far edge of the meadow, where Pickett's men are waiting for Longstreet's word.

General Hancock, a superb soldier, rides along the Union lines, under fire, in order to calm the fears of his men. He keeps the firing hot down into the meadow. Wounded by a sniper's bullet, he refuses to be carried from the field until the engagement is decided. 

The Confederate artillery grows desperately short of ammunition and is unable to offer more than a perfunctory assault on the Union heights. When the Union guns silence after an hour, Confederate officers believe they've dismantled the enemy and urge action. Longstreet, unable to give the order, finally buckles and nods his assent. Pickett jumps at the chance for glory. 

Pickett's Charge: 

Three divisions, 13,000 men, emerge from the trees in tight, silent formation. They start off across the meadow under withering cannon and small-arms fire. Cannon from all angles of the Union heights cut down as many as ten men at a time. Still they move, filling in holes and marching grimly into Union jaws.

One Union soldier, watching from the hill, called it "the most beautiful sight" he had ever seen. Coordinated and unrelenting, a vast, half-mile-wide body of men, 13,000 gun barrels glinting in the sun among the smoke.

At a fence about 200 yards from the stone wall the Yankees are positioned behind, thousands have fallen, and more are ready to turn back. Armistead, the battle in his blood, impales his hat with his sword, holds it high and begins a double-quick up the hill, urging his men to follow him. He succeeds in breaching The Angle, where a wounded Hancock is still in command, and takes a Union battery before he is gunned down. If Armistead's men succeed, the Union position will fall, and the Confederacy will win the Civil War.

(To watch Armistead's end, click here.)

After some desperate hand-to-hand and close-range fighting, the Yankees succeed in capturing or killing Armistead's entire following, and the Union lines hold. 6,500 Confederates are dead. So are all of Pickett's division commanders and at least 20 other senior officers. Those remaining or not captured backtrack down the hill so as not to be shot in the back.

Lee, Longstreet and Pickett observe the retreat. Lee, deeply shaken, nevertheless urges Pickett to reform his division in case the Yankees attempt to in turn charge the Confederate army. Pickett answers, in tears, "General Lee, I have no division now."


Lee conferences with Longstreet; they will yield Gettysburg. They must try to make it back to Virginia and safety while they can. If the Union army attempt to stop them, it will be a bloody affair indeed, and the Confederacy will never recover. Longstreet swallows his losses and agrees to help Lee with the retreat. He remains a support to Lee for the remainder of the war.

The Confederates reform in defensive lines in case Meade attempts to attack; he does not, however, for which he is criticized later, as Lee's defenses were so shaken that Meade may well have ended the war then and there. With the defenses up, Lee leads a retreat back to Virginia to recoup.

Lee, his faith in himself rubbled by the events of the day, writes to Jefferson Davis requesting discharge; he can no longer bring himself to lead this army. Davis refuses to grant Lee's request. Lee finds himself still popular with his soldiers and leads the Confederate cause for a further two years.

Monument for General Armistead

Hancock eventually recovers from his wound, but Armistead dies two days later in a Union hospital in Gettysburg. He prayed once that he would die if he ever raised a hand against Hancock in war. Hancock cannot leave his bed of pain in time to see his old friend one last time, but Armistead sends a last message to Hancock through one of the Union general's aides.

Result of Gettysburg: 

The Confederate army on the eastern front will never quite recover from the losses sustained. Word comes later that on 4 July 1863, Vicksburg, the key to the South's supply chain, fell to Ulysses S. Grant. Though the Confederacy carries on stubbornly for two more years, 1–4 July ultimately spells the beginning of the end for it.

Casualties for Total Battle:

23,040 and 25,000 (some estimate as many as 28,000 for Lee's army, a full 1/3 of his strength)

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