The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 18

Author: Orville J. Victor  | Date: A.D. 1863

The Battle of Gettysburg

A.D. 1863


About midway on the ridge running south from the village of Gettysburg where the Army of the Potomac fought its greatest battle was a small, umbrella-shaped clump of trees, which is spoken of as the high-water mark of the Rebellion, since the centre of Pickett’s column in the famous charge was directed toward that point, the battle culminated in that charge, and the military efforts of the Confederate Government culminated in that battle. It was the second attempt of their strongest army to invade the Northern States, both had failed, and it was also the last.

The full force of the event is realized only when it is considered in connection with the fall of Vicksburg. This great battle in the East was fought in the first three days of July, and on the fourth the Confederate stronghold at the West surrendered to General Grant with nearly thirty thousand prisoners.

Much has been written of Gettysburg, the later narratives abounding in criticism, controversy, and conjecture as to what might have been done. We have chosen to present the earlier accounts of Victor and Pollard (Federal and Confederate), which give all the essential facts with admirable clearness, and to add Lincoln’s famous address at the dedication of the cemetery.


NEVER was a commander suddenly called to a graver responsibility than fell to the lot of General George G. Meade. A quiet, undemonstrative person, the contrast of Hooker in temper and personal bearing, his choice for the succession was surprising. Whatever the prompting motive, the selection was, to a certain degree, fortunate, since, with most of the corps commanders, his relations were those of professional confidence. Fewer personal animosities were excited by his promotion than had been caused by previous changes in the army’s control. His assumption of command was followed by no change in Hooker’s general disposition. On the contrary, having the power, he ordered the abandonment of Maryland Heights, and French’s brigades ere long contributed to his field strength. He was further sustained by having all forces operating against Lee made tributary to his orders. Even from the defences of Washington a few more men were spared to augment the efficiency of his columns.

His plan, as communicated to the General-in-Chief, was: "To move my army as promptly as possible on the main lines from Frederick to Harrisburg, extending my wings on both sides of that line as far as I could consistently with the safety and rapid concentration of that army, and to continue that movement until I either encountered the enemy or had reason to believe that the enemy was about to advance upon me; my object being at all hazards to compel him to loose his hold on the Susquehanna and meet me in battle at some point." Only a day was lost. On June 29th the columns were put in motion up the Monocacy Valley toward Gettysburg, preceded by Buford’s and Kilpatrick’s cavalry divisions, which Hooker, before retiring, had thrown forward, as a prelude to his advance on the same line.

On the same day the enemy released "his hold on the Susquehanna." Informed, on the 28th, of Hooker’s intended descent on the line of his retreat, Lee suddenly changed his order of march upon Harrisburg to a retrograde; by securing a footing east of the South Mountain range, he hoped to keep open his imperilled communications. Ewell was then in occupancy of Carlisle and York; Longstreet and Hill were at or near Chambersburg. The three corps were directed to concentrate at Gettysburg; and on the 29th were en route to that important point.

Buford, reaching Gettysburg on the evening of the 30th, pushed out reconnoissances on the roads leading north and west. He then ascertained that the Confederates were marching toward that point, their columns having already reached Cashtown, on the Chambersburg road, and Heildersburg, on the Carlisle road. Of this Meade was at once informed. His advance, at that moment, had reached Taneytown and vicinity, though General Reynolds, with the First and Eleventh corps, had approached within four miles of Gettysburg, with orders to occupy the town on the following morning. Meade’s want of correct knowledge, both of the topography of the country and of the enemy’s designs, led him to locate a temporary line, stretching from Middleburg to Manchester (Pipe Creek), considering it a good one for general battle, should it be Lee’s design to advance upon him. Behind this line he ordered the trains, and the several corps were directed to be put in the lightest possible condition. The Federal disposition on the night of the 30th was: headquarters at Taneytown; Third Corps at Summitsburg; Second, at Taneytown; Fifth, at Hanover; Sixth, at Manchester; Twelfth, at Two Taverns; First and Eleventh, advanced upon Gettysburg, at Marsh Run. Kilpatrick’s cavalry were observing on the east beyond Hanover Junction.

On the morning of July 1st the advance of Hill’s corps struck Buford’s lines at Willoughby Run, a mile or more northwest of Gettysburg. A sharp skirmishing fight at once followed, Buford resolving to hold’ the enemy there until the infantry should come up. Reynolds, hearing the sounds of battle, hurried forward the First division (Wadsworth’s) of the First Corps, with orders for the other divisions of First and Eleventh corps to follow. The advancing division reached the point of conflict at 10 A.M. It was found that the enemy were still beyond the second of the two ridges lying west of Gettysburg; the first, or Seminary Ridge, being one-half mile, and the second one mile and a half, distant from the town. At the base of the second flowed Willoughby Run, along whose banks, and on the western declivity, Heth’s division, of Hill’s corps, was formed. Reynolds appears to have resolved upon delaying the Confederate advance at that point. As the Federal army lay from seven to thirty-two miles away, it was absolutely imperative, if the heights of Gettysburg were retained, that the Confederates should be held where they were for a day.

Wadsworth’s two brigades were quickly disposed for action. Cutler’s five regiments were on the right and left of the Chambersburg turnpike, as well as using for cover the embankment and "cuts" of a then unfinished railway running parallel with and close to the highway. Hall’s Maine battery was placed between these roads, sustained by three regiments under Wadsworth’s direct command, which constituted the extreme Federal right; while Reynolds in person directed the disposition of the other two regiments to the left of the road. The second brigade—Meredith’s "Iron Brigade"—under General Doubleday’s direction, was assigned to the Federal left, covering the road from Millerstown, and occupying a strip of woods into which the enemy already had penetrated.

The enemy opened fire sharply on the forming lines, and while directing the disposition on the right General Reynolds was killed. Davis’s Mississippians, advancing over the run, turned Wadsworth’s three regiments, which, after a severe fight, were withdrawn by way of the turnpike, to reform under the lee of Seminary Ridge. This retirement left the battery unsupported, and it was retired after severe loss. The two regiments under Cutler were thus exposed to a flank assault. Seeing this, Doubleday ordered in his reserve regiment (Sixth Wisconsin), and the three regiments, facing about, charged upon the Mississippians, then forming along the railway for a charge. This movement, executed with celerity and intrepidity, was so much of a surprise to the enemy that, after a short conflict, nearly two entire regiments, with their colors, were captured.

Simultaneous with this charge Doubleday relieved the Iron Brigade from its too advanced position, turned it quickly upon its centre, and, sweeping down toward the right, caught a considerable number of the men of Archer’s brigade, including Archer himself, who had advanced over the run upon Cutler’s front.

These successes were now rapidly followed by an opening out of the respective battle lines. The arrival of Pender’s division of Hill’s corps as well as of the advance of Ewell, gave the enemy great additional strength, which was not fully counterbalanced by the coming up of the remaining divisions of the First Corps; and the Federals, therefore, fought at a disadvantage. Having reformed his right brigade, Wadsworth moved still farther toward the right, to confront the increased strength of the enemy on his front, in that direction. Meredith’s men still were firmly holding the left, under a scathing fire, in which the Confederate artillery made sad work with the lion-hearted men of that Iron Brigade, when the division of Rowley (Doubleday’s old division) was put into `the fight. With a wild cheer the columns moved forward, and soon the wood and hillsides became one blaze of musketry’, while the several division batteries, getting at work, answered the enemy’s guns, shot for shot. The Federal left, thus sustained, for the time being held its ground.

On the right, Wadsworth was so pressed that the remaining division of the First Corps (Robinson’s), then in reserve, on Seminary Ridge, was sent to his support—two brigades (Baxter’s and Paul’s) getting into position on Cutler’s right, covering the Mummasburg road, along which Rodes’s division of Ewell’s corps was advancing. The enemy, pressing his brigades too far forward, met a stunning fire, which, by throwing back his right, uncovered his left. Observing this, by a happy movement the bulk of Lawton’s brigade was captured by the two fresh Federal commands. This second success was followed by the appearance, still farther on the right, of Early’s division of Ewell’s corps, just arrived from York. With his fine artillery Early soon so worried the Federal right as to compel it to give ground.

General Howard (Eleventh Corps) reached the field at noon, and as ranking officer he assumed command. Leaving one division (Steinwehr’s) in town to occupy Cemetery Hill, which he perceived was the key to the Gettysburg ground, he threw the two divisions of Barlow and Schurz, of the Eleventh Corps, to the extreme right to confront Early’s evident flanking advance. Thus posted he covered both the Carlisle and Harrisburg roads. This left a thin line, or, rather, no line at all, for a short distance between the Mummasburg and Carlisle roads; and while Barlow and Schurz were holding Early in check, Rodes pressed his brigades into the exposed section of the field. Doubleday detected the dangerous gap and tried to close it, by ordering in his last reserve brigade. This stayed the threatened perforation of the Federal line, and all again promised well. The battle raged with savage fury from one end to the other. About 3 P.M. the Eleventh Corps divisions opposed to Early fell away before his tremendous artillery fire. This was followed by a charge, beginning from their left column, when the entire Federal right was driven in, bearing with it the right division of the First Corps, which up to that time had held Rodes firmly at bay.

The First Corps division of Wadsworth fell back to Seminary Ridge, in fighting order, but the division of Robinson, and the two Eleventh Corps divisions were driven into the town, too disordered to offer any resistance. Once in the town this disorder was rendered complete by the dispersion of commands through the several streets; and the enemy, enveloping the northwest section of the village, succeeded in capturing a large portion of the disorganized ranks—about five thousand prisoners1

and three guns falling into Ewell’s hands. Wadsworth, with Buford’s ever-ready cavalry, held Seminary Ridge till its abandonment became necessary, when he moved off, with all his guns and the reserve artillery, to Cemetery Hill, which Howard’s forethought had secured against all comers. The play of Steinwehr’s guns upon Ewell’s ranks warned him off, and the fight was ended—Buford’s command facing the foe to the last.

The news of this conflict borne to Meade had changed his whole prearranged order of battle. When informed of Reynolds’s death he had despatched General Hancock to the field, giving him discretionary power to order the battle at Gettysburg if that place appeared to him propitious for the general conflict. Followed by General Warren, chief of engineers, Hancock reached the town at the moment of the Federal retreat. His opinion of the feasibility of the ground for Meade’s operations already had been formed, and he so disposed the forces then available as to hold the commanding heights of Cemetery and Culp’s hills. But, before receiving the reports of Hancock and Warren regarding the situation, Meade had ordered forward all the troops within ready call—the Twelfth and Second corps. The Fifth and Sixth corps were instructed by messengers to hasten to the same point. The Third, moving from Emmetsburg, was on the ground by 6 P.M. The Sixth, being at Manchester, had thirty miles to march, hence Sedgwick was instructed (at 7.30 P.M., July 1st) to make a forced march by the shortest route.

Lee’s concentration was equally rapid. The fight of Wednesday had been, to him, a surprise. Moving his columns by easy marches, he expected to occupy Gettysburg unmolested, the absence of his cavalry, under Stuart, leaving him uninformed of Meade’s advance upon the same point. When the booming of guns along Willoughby Run announced the Federal presence, the Confederate commander found his second projection impeded, and it remained for him at once to decide there to fight the decisive battle or to retire by Chambersburg and Fairfield to the Potomac. The choice, indeed, was made for him. He therefore ordered forward his commands, and during the night the divisions were getting into position.

The ground over which the conflict of July 2d was to rage may be thus described: Two roads coming into Gettysburg—one from Emmetsburg on the west and the Baltimore turnpike on the east—form the two sides of a A, their point of junction being on the south side of the village. Cemetery Ridge runs from near the point of junction directly south, dividing the A in two nearly equal divisions. Along this ridge runs the Taneytown road. Thus three roads converge at the point called Cemetery Hill, overlooking the town. Within the angles of these roads the main Union formation was made, on the night of July 1st and during the morning of the 2d. Culp’s Hill, an important elevation, commanding Cemetery Hill, lay off to the right, between the Baltimore pike and Rock Creek. This was held as the Union extreme right. The general position was one of exceeding strength: the two roads from Taneytown and Emmetsburg, being almost wholly within the Federal lines, offered unusual facilities for rapid intercommunication, with commanding elevations for the artillery. Nor could the location be readily turned, for the two crests called Great and Little Round Top, lying south of Cemetery Ridge, about three miles away, acted as Malakoffs, whose proper armament would give the National army’s left perfect security.

The enemy had Seminary Ridge, which, in its southerly extension, enveloped the Emmetsburg road, thus making it feasible to project their right out to Meade’s left, and offering the natural line for a flank movement upon the Federal position. Or, if battle was declined by the Confederates, it gave them an open way to Emmetsburg and Frederick. Hence, while in a stronghold, if the enemy assailed, Meade was in no condition to "cover" Washington and Baltimore.

The morning of July 2d found the belligerents confronting each other nearly in full force. Lee’s divisions were well on the ground. Of Meade’s army, the Sixth Corps was not up until after noon; but, no assault being offered by Lee prior to that time, it was in season for duty. The Confederates passed the morning in determining their point of attack. Their line, forming a crescent five miles in length, swept around from Rock Creek, in front of Culp’s Hill, through the town and along the western slope of Seminary Ridge, down to the Emmetsburg road; or, in this order by divisions: Johnson, Early, Rodes of Ewell’s Corps constituting the left; Heth, Pender, and Anderson of A. P. Hill’s corps constituting the centre; McLaws and Hood of Longstreet’s corps constituting the right. Meade’s assignment, as determined upon at noon, was: Twelfth Corps (Slocum’s) on Culp’s Hill; then Wadsworth’s division of the First Corps; then what was left of Howard’s Eleventh Corps occupying the cemetery, Doubleday’s and Robinson’s division acting as a reserve at that point; next Hancock’s corps (Second) stretched along Cemetery Ridge; then Sykes’s corps (Fifth) advancing to the Round Top hills, to be conjoined there with Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps.

This gave the Union line a crescent shape, only broken by the elbow-like advance of Sickles’s corps (Third) down to the Emmetsburg road, along which it was drawn to a point west of Round Top, where it was refused toward that height. Thus advanced, of course he offered the true point of attack, which Lee was not long in discovering. The attack was made about 4 P.M. of the 2d, at a moment when Meade was viewing the faulty and somewhat dangerous position. He said: "When I arrived on the ground, which I did a few minutes before 4 P.M., I found that General Sickles had taken up a position very much in advance of what it had been my intention that he should take—that he had thrown forward his right flank instead of connecting with the left of General Hancock, something like a half or three-quarters of a mile in front of General Hancock, thus leaving a large gap between his right and Hancock’s left; and that his left, instead of being near the Round Top Mountain, was in advance of the Round Top; and that his line, instead of being a prolongation of Hancock’s line, as I expected it would be, made an angle of about 450 with it. I told him that I was very fearful he would be attacked and would lose the artillery, which he had put so far in front, before I could support it, or that, if I undertook to support it, I would have to abandon all the rest of the line which I had adopted—that is, that I would have to fight the battle out there where he was. General Sickles expressed regret, and promptly said that he would withdraw his forces to the line which I had intended him to take. But I told him I was fearful that the enemy would not permit him to withdraw, and that there was no time for any further change of movement. And before I had finished that remark, the enemy’s batteries opened upon him and the action began."

Referring to his order for attack, Lee said: "In front of General Longstreet the enemy held a position from which, if he could be driven, it was thought that our army could be used to advantage in assailing the more elevated ground beyond, and thus enable us to reach the crest of the ridge. That officer was directed to endeavor to carry the position, while General Ewell attacked directly the high ground on the enemy’s right, which had been already partially fortified. General Hill was instructed to threaten the centre of the Federal line, in order to prevent reenforcements being sent to either wing, and to avail himself of any opportunity that might present itself for attack. After a severe struggle, Longstreet succeeded in getting possession of and holding the desired ground. Ewell also carried some of the strong positions which he assailed, and the result was such as to lead to the belief that he would be able ultimately to dislodge the enemy. The battle ceased at dark."

After twenty minutes of rapid and effective artillery fire, Hood’s division of Longstreet’s command pressed upon Sickles’s extreme left. Two brigades of Birney’s division—De Trobriand’s and Ward’s—held the refused line, from the Emmetsburg pike to the base of the Round Top Mountain. The Third Brigade (Graham’s) faced the road and connected with the left of Sickles’s second division (Humphreys’s). The attack was, indeed, a flanking movement, for, while engaging Birney’s two brigades, Hood swung his right around upon the ridge on whose length Meade’s main line rested.

This effort to flank Sickles was successful, and only a happy circumstance averted the great calamity of the loss of Little Round Top. Chief of Engineers Warren, ascending to the crest of Little Round Top—then used as a signal station—arrived just in time to witness the flanking movement. His ready eye comprehended all in a moment, and he hastened down the rugged declivity for aid to hold the key to the ridge. Happily he encountered the Fifth Corps advance division (Barnes’s), then marching to Sickles’s aid. Assuming the responsibility of detaching Vincent’s brigade, with Hazlett’s battery, Warren led the men up the height, while the battery was literally lifted up by human hands. Not a moment too soon, for the enemy already were mounting the western slope, which commanded the crest, when Vincent’s men came up from the east and north.

The two bodies rushed together like two athletes, Hood’s Texans firing and then resorting to the bayonet, and Vincent’s undaunted fellows using the bayonet or clubbed musket. Officers and men all fought like furies, and in thirty minutes the fray was ended by the appearance, on Vincent’s right, of Weed’s brigade, of Ayres’s division (Fifth Corps). What was left of the Texan regiments retired sullenly to the valley below. There, reenforced, the regiments worked their way up the rocky defile between the two Round Top hills, and suddenly appeared on Vincent’s flank. Only the bayonet could dislodge Hood’s dogged men, and Colonel Chamberlain put his Maine men to the charge. The enemy again were driven back, and the hill was saved. Among the killed were both General Vincent and General Weed, Captain Hazlett, whose heroism was one of the marked features of that bloody contest, and Colonel O’Rourke, commanding the one Hundred Fortieth New York, which had carried Hazlett’s battery up the hill. The dead lay scattered all over the rough, desolate spot; in many instances Confederate and Unionist were locked in a death embrace.

During this combat on the hill, the battle below was raging with great severity. Resolved to break Sickles’s centre, and thus wrest the lower ridge (along the Emmetsburg road) from Meade, Longstreet threw McLaws upon the weak point where Birney’s alignment bent from the road back toward Round Top. That section of the field became a vortex of fire. Meade, as seemed necessary, in order to maintain his left, put in reenforcements, but all to no purpose. De Trobriand’s and Ward’s brigades, terribly cut up, were forced in and lost as brigade formations. The brigades of Tilton and Sweitzer, of Barnes’s division (Fifth Corps) passed to the front, on their line, and nobly stood their ground until McLaws, having penetrated the centre, took the brigades in flank, when Barnes withdrew his decimated column. To sustain the centre, Humphreys added one brigade from his division, but this reenforcement to Graham’s four regiments could not resist the enemy’s advance over the road and around his left. Humphreys, therefore, faced about his line, now taken in flank, retired his artillery, and fought, facing south, but still retaining his hold (on his right) on the Emmetsburg road. The contested field was then between himself and Round Top, where the antagonists still struggled.

Caldwell’s division, from Hancock’s corps, was put into action to stay the Confederate march, after Sickles’s centre and left had given way. The two brigades of Cross and Kelly, first skirting the base of Little Round Top, pushed on through the woods into an open field beyond, whence, after a few moments’ struggle, they were driven, broken and fearfully cut up. Colonel Cross—a man of astonishing bravery and a zealous soldier from love of his cause—was left dead on the field. Caldwell’s second line, composed of the brigades of Brooke and Zook, then advanced and fell upon the enemy with such impetuosity as forced Hood’s line back beyond the brook which flows a little to the west of the base of Round Top. It was but a momentary success, however, since, taken in flank by McLaws’s advance, Caldwell had to retire. His brigades suffered dreadfully. The gallant zook was killed and Brooke wounded. Nearly half of their brave fellows were left upon the blood-dyed field. Sweitzer’s brigade, having preserved its formation, was pressed in to Caldwell’s assistance, but it was hurled back with heavy loss. Ayres’s division of regulars—less the brigade of Weed—also moving forward to Caldwell’s aid, was met by a flank and front fire which fearfully riddled his ranks, and the regulars retired to their first battle line, well up the ridge, unable to hold the ground below them.

This strife, at the base of Round Top, momentarily ceased, for, having disposed of Sickles’s entire left, Lee put Hill into the fight in the endeavor to advance his own centre. Humphreys’s right and left, being uncovered, Hancock threw forward a brigade (Willard’s) from Hays’s division to Humphreys’s left, and two regiments to his right. These were not fully in position when Hill’s admirably timed attack was made. Taken on front and right flank by Hill, and on the left by McLaws, the division commander bad no choice but to retire toward Cemetery Ridge. Sickles, steadying his lines, was stricken down about 6 P.M.—having, up to that moment, passed the day’s dangers unscathed. The enemy pressed on, under a cutting fire from the ridge crest, but no storm of shot and shell could stay their advancing ranks. Humphreys fell away, contesting every rod of retreat, but leaving gun after gun on the ground with every horse and cannoneer shot away. Hancock, assuming command at Meade’s order, directed the more rapid retirement of what was left of the division, and when it reached the cover of the ridge it was but a wreck of regiments—mere gatherings of battalions.

The Confederate leader had played a desperate but skilfully contrived and resolutely executed game. At seven o’clock he found his left and centre thundering at the base of Meade’s main line. Could he push his advance further, and gain a lodgement on the ridge, he conceived the field his own and the Federal army defeated. But he was not to witness any further triumph. He had, after all that day’s strife, won only a foothold; and though the Fifth Corps (Sykes’s), on the extreme Federal left, and the Second Corps (Hancock’s), on the centre, had been somewhat involved in the losses, Meade’s advantages of concentration were so great that, when the final attempt was made by Lee to gain the crest, he found fresh troops there to meet him. Sedgwick’s Corps was sent to the summit of Little Round Top, and to the north of it, to sustain Sykes. Meade, in person, led forward a section of the Twelfth Corps, to fill the weak spot in the line between Sykes and Hancock. Longstreet’s column, attempting an advance, had made its way, under cover of woods, well up the ridge, when Hancock discovered the movement and the First Minnesotans were sent to the charge. The enemy broke and fell back in such haste as to lose their regimental colors.

Eight o’clock had now come. The enemy’s attack had grown desultory and weak, evidently from exhaustion. Hancock, with a portion of iiis forces, including the gathered remnants of the Third Corps and the reenforcements from the right, made a charge to clear out what of the enemy still remained on his front. The Confederates fell back with but slight resistance, and Humphreys’s men reclaimed all their abandoned guns. A similar charge was made on the left, by Crawford, who, with the Pennsylvania reserves, threw Longstreet’s lines well back from the vicinity of Round Top; and the struggle ceased at dusk with the original Federal line unimpaired.

On the right a battle was fought, late in the day. Taking advantage of the detachment of reenforcements to the left, Ewell assaulted Slocum’s lines on Cemetery and Culp’s hills, hoping to carry them by storm. Early moved upon the former and Johnson upon the latter, after a furious cannonade, at sunset. Marching out from the town, Early encountered a withering fire from the guns on the heights, but, pushing forward his columns by brigades, the Confederates were quickly advanced up the slope. The artillery then fired shrapnel with such effect that Early’s left and centre gave way and retired, but his right brigade, taking advantage of the ground and buildings, made its way up to the advanced batteries, over which a hand-to-hand struggle occurred, the artillerymen fighting for their guns with ramrods and handspikes. The infantry, Howard’s (Eleventh Corps) troops, holding the field at that point, soon were closely engaged and the fight became severe. Howard despatched to Hancock for aid, and received Carroll’s brigade, which, by its impetuous spirit, aided by the guns a little to the east, drove the enemy back. Their dead thickly strewed the ground. It was a perilous enterprise at best. Rodes’s division, ordered to sustain Early’s movement, as the exigencies should require, failed to reach the field on his right in season to stay the repulse.

The movement of Johnson’s division against Culp’s Hill was not without some success. Aided by the ravine of Rock Creek his column advanced steadily, and by enveloping the extreme Federal right gained a lodgement. The Twelfth Corps, first stationed at that point, had been drawn away to reenforce the left—only Green’s brigade holding the line. Wadsworth’s division (First Corps) stood upon Green’s left. The Confederate advance was opposed with unflinching front, but Johnson, finding the lines on the extreme right deserted, took possession of the breastworks and there remained during the night, in spite of all efforts to drive him out.

It had been a sanguinary day for both contestants. To Meade it had brought more loss of men than could have been supposed possible—the ranks being reduced fully fifteen thousand, of whom about one-fourth were prisoners. Lee’s casualties were reported at about ten thousand. His successes were such, he stated, as induced him to continue the assault the next day.

For that further trial of strength the Federal leader was prepared. A consultation of commanders, held on the evening of the 2d, decidedly expressed the feeling of the whole army to fight it out there. Orders were therefore issued by the generals of corps to strengthen their positions, as they were then held, by additional earthworks; the artillery was reorganized and redisposed in several particulars. Its losses in men had been considerable, and some guns were injured, but its largely effective force was unimpaired. The cavalry was thrown to the wings and also to the rear, to guard against any surprise from the Baltimore pike, and to cover the trains parked in its vicinity.

Lee’s attack, on the morning of the 3d, was anticipated by Meade, who assumed the offensive on his right, where Johnson’s division of Ewell’s corps had made its lodgement. At daylight the Federal artillery opened on the enemy in a lively manner. Ewell having thrown considerable reenforcements into the position during the night, and strengthened the earthworks for a defensive fight, answered spiritedly, and the cannonade put the two armies on the alert. The troops whose withdrawal the previous day, to reenforce the left, had caused the loss of their line, were returned to the right and put to the assault. Assisted by a brigade (Shaler’s) from the Sixth Corps, the Twelfth Corps divisions of Williams and Geary so pressed the enemy that a charge made by Geary, at eight o’clock, swept the enemy from Culp’s Hill and restored the right to its entirety.

Losing this ground on his left, Lee had to change his programme of attack. A lull in operations therefore occurred, during which he rearranged his battle lines and concentrated his artillery with reference to a heavy assault upon the Federal centre and left. The strength of the National line, stretching along Cemetery Ridge, and out up to the Round Top fastness, Lee so well appreciated that he brought into requisition his every available gun. Before noon he had in place, beyond the Emmetsburg road on the extension of Seminary Ridge and to the south of it, about one hundred twenty-five guns, with which to demoralize the Union line preparatory to his final and most desperate effort to obtain a foothold on Cemetery Ridge. Pickett’s division (Longstreet’s corps) having reached the field too late for the previous day’s battle, was assigned the post of honor, the van of the column of assault. It was strengthened by Wilcox’s brigade of Anderson’s division on its right, and Heth’s division, commanded by Pettigrew, on the left.

Early in the afternoon the artillery from Seminary Ridge and Longstreet’s centre opened with all the power of its metal. The outburst was so sudden and startling, and the shower of hurtled missiles so concentrated in range, that for a few minutes the Federal line was stunned, and the troops shrank away as from a sirocco, everywhere seeking the cover of rocks and the temporary fortifications. Eighty Federal guns answered, and the contest assumed sublime proportions. The hills seemed to tremble and rock. Shot and shell shrieked through the dun pall of sulphurous smoke which filled all the air; the ground was torn and seamed in the thousand places where the thunderbolts struck.2

The Federal gunners, reeking with sweat as they worked beneath the half-suppressed blaze of a midsummer sun, grew more frenzied with every loss; and when ordered to the rear to make way for a fresh gun and men, left the charmed circle of fire and death with the reluctance of unsated vengeance.

This combat continued two hours, when, finding his ammunition running low, and it being too dangerous to bring forward more, Hunt ordered a gradual cessation of the fire along the line. This was regarded by the enemy as indicative of silenced power, and their own guns ceased, as if satisfied that their preliminary work was done. The assaulting column advanced to the edge of the woods covering the side of Seminary Ridge. The formation was in two battle lines, Kemper’s and Garnett’s brigades in front, sustained by Armistead’s regiments. This column was flanked by wings, composed, as already stated, of Wilcox’s brigade on the right, and Heth’s division, commanded by Pettigrew, on the left. As soon as it passed the Emmetsburg road the Federal artillery opened, and continued to play on the ranks, from Round Top to the cemetery, wherever the intervening woods permitted an aim. This fire told severely on the advance. When at length the column began to ascend the ridge’s western slope, the musketry opened from sections of the Federal line, though the artillery never for a moment ceased to hurl destruction through and through the oncoming brigades. Only men used to death and to perfect submission to command could preserve ranks under such a fire. Great gaps, literal windrows, would follow a well-directed shot, only to be closed up again by the unflinching mass.

But, if the main column was schooled to fire, the supports were not; for, when about half way up the hill, the division of Pettigrew wavered, broke, and fell away before the fire on its front and flank, coming from Hays’s division (Second Corps). The demoralization of the Confederate wing was complete, and two thousand prisoners with their colors fell into the National hands. The main lines dared not halt to steady the distempered mass, and thus the brigades of Heth, which had fought gallantly at Willoughby Run, were scattered, marking their advance and retreat by lines of killed and wounded. Pickett’s brigades pushed on, until the first formation overleaped the barrier of stones and rails that constituted the outwork or advanced line of the Second Corps’s central division. The line when struck was held by Webb’s brigade of Pennsylvanians, two regiments at the barrier and one in reserve, lying behind a second barrier, sixty paces to the rear and fully on the crest. The two regiments gave way, but in no disorder, and, rallying at the second line, there held their own, while Hancock, with quick energy, threw into the fray regiment after regiment from his left and from Double day’s command. Of the latter, Stannard’s Vermont Brigade had been advanced to a grove on the slope. These, now covering the Confederate flank, poured in a scathing fire, before which the enemy shrank. Confronted thus by an impassable host on his front, with musketry and artillery cutting his ranks into shreds while Stannard scarred his flank, Pickett’s veterans were only human to falter and fall away. To have stood there, gazing upon the crest which no sacrifice of theirs could win, was mere madness; and, without a brigade commander to direct, the remnant of that proud forlorn hope sought safety in flight, preserving no order in its retreat. Twenty-five hundred of them, with twelve battle-flags, were swooped up by the flanking Federal advance.

Wilcox’s brigade, which was to have formed the right wing in the assault, did not move forward as appointed, but, witnessing the defeat, advanced to cover the broken lines, only to meet a sudden and disastrous repulse. Stannard’s Vermonters took his line in flank, and Gibbon in front; and the last of the Confederate brigades vanished, strewing the way with its dead and disabled, and leaving behind a full regiment of prisoners in Stannard’s hands.

A ghastly report the repulsed column had to make. Garnett was killed; Kemper badly wounded; Armistead mortally shot; fourteen of its field officers dead or left wounded on the hillside; while, of rank and file, only about one-fourth reported at roll-call that evening. As a division it had passed away, and a thousand Virginia homes were filled with mourning for brothers, sons, and fathers who would return no more.

The cavalry operations during these most momentous days were arduous and deserving of special notice. Buford’s division, after its sanguinary resistance on the 1st, was ordered to Westminster, "to refit and guard the trains." Kilpatrick, in command of the Third Division Cavalry Corps, on the 30th, had a severe skirmish with Stuart’s main body, which was then making its way from the Potomac, at Seneca to Carlisle, there to join Ewell. On the 30th, having reached Hanover, Kilpatrick sent Custer’s brigade toward Abbottsville, while Farnsworth’s brigade remained at Hanover. The enemy rode into Hanover on the charge—quite to the Federal General’s surprise; he had no suspicion of Stuart’s presence in that vicinity. The Fifth New York Cavalry, led by Farnsworth, received the brunt of the shock, and, in a fierce fight of two hours, sustained his hold upon the town, when, Custer’s brigade returning, the enemy retired rapidly toward York, with a loss of ten killed, forty wounded, and forty prisoners. A dash made by the Confederate cavalry at Littletown, on the 30th, was repulsed by the Fifth and Sixth Michigan Cavalry. July 1st Kilpatrick made a dash for Heildersburg, hoping to prevent Stuart’s junction with Lee’s army, but was a few hours too late. July 2d he moved his command to Hunterstown, where, on the previous day, General Gregg’s cavalry division had a heavy skirmish and artillery fight with Ewell’s left. Kilpatrick rode into the place named at 4 P.M., when the enemy retired toward Gettysburg. A "brush" followed, and the enemy were quickly sent back upon their main column.

During the 3d Gregg covered the Federal right. July 3d the Third Cavalry division, being ordered to the Federal extreme left, proceeded thither to threaten Longstreet’s flank and, if possible, to reach his ammunition-trains. With the brigades of Farnsworth and Merritt, Kilpatrick struck the Confederate right at 2 P.M., SO spiritedly as to render it necessary for the divisions of Hood to change front and face south, to meet the attack. Their line was flanked by two stone fences, some distance beyond which the ammunition-trains were supposed to be parked. To reach these Farnsworth’s brigade (First Vermont, First Virginia, and Eighteenth Pennsylvania) was put to the charge, led by Farnsworth in person. The fences were scaled amid a deadly fire, and the daring Vermonters pressed on against odds which proved to be Hood’s division, in line of battle. Farnsworth fell in passing the second stone wall, and his men, scattering, retired as best they could from a field where they were powerless. The brigade of Merritt, falling upon Longstreet’s rear, kept the enemy well employed in that direction—a diversion which saved Farnsworth’s men from greater loss.

Thus closed the mighty struggle at Gettysburg. On the 4th the combatants respectively awaited attack—Lee regarding it, apparently, as a military matter-of-course. Having decided to retreat, he dared not initiate it until another day should determine the fate in store for him. To meet Meade’s expected assault the divisions were concentrated upon and fortified Seminary Ridge, so as to hold open the avenue of escape toward Hagerstown. All day long (of the 4th) the trains were being despatched, but there was no movement of the columns until the anxious day was past, and then, Meade having offered neither battle nor obstruction to the retirement, the Confederate divisions began to disappear, under the friendly cover of storm and darkness, along the road leading direct to Hagerstown, but it was not until daylight of the 5th that the rear-guard turned its face toward the Potomac.

Meade’s operations on the 4th and 5th were confined chiefly to reconnoissances to determine Lee’s purposes. Gregg, from the right, moved off toward Chambersburg, during the night of the 4th, and reported, on the morning of the 5th, that the enemy were in full retreat. He kept well up to their rear, making large captures of stragglers and abandoned materiel. The houses along the route were found to be hospitals—large numbers of the Confederate slightly as well as their badly wounded having been left to lighten their trains. Kilpatrick, on the 4th, was put out on the left, to move to the South Mountain, at Monterey Gap, through which to debouch on the Gettysburg and Hagerstown pike. Reaching the gap at dark (the 4th), the pass was found in possession of a small squad of the enemy, but a spirited charge, in the rain and gloom, cleared the way, and Kilpatrick precipitated his squadrons on the rear of Ewell’s train. Extensive captures were made of men and property. The Eighteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, barricading the road, held it against all comers, and numerous seizures of rear-guards and lagging officers were made—most of whom rode right into the Federal hands. Corralling his captures at the Monterey House, Kilpatrick, before daylight, had them en route down the mountain for Waterloo, but, in the excessive darkness and rain, many of the prisoners escaped. A conflagration of immovable wagons and stores was made on the pike. This reconnoissance having definitely determined the fact of Lee’s flight, and located the route of his retreat, the victory was declared complete, and the Army of the Potomac began the pursuit early on the 5th.

Meade’s summary of his losses and captures during this great three-days’ conflict was as follows: "Our own losses were very severe, amounting to 2834 killed, 13,709 wounded, and 6643 missing—in all 23,186. The result of the campaign may be briefly stated in the defeat of the enemy at Gettysburg, their compulsory evacuation of Pennsylvania and Maryland, and withdrawal from the upper valley of the Shenandoah; and the capture of 3 guns, 41 standards, 13,621 prisoners, while 24,978 small-arms were collected on the field."

Lee’s casualties, as in other great battles, never were reported. He said in his preliminary report of July 31st: "It is not in my power to give a correct statement of our casualties, which were very severe, including many brave men and an unusual proportion of distinguished and valuable officers. Among them I regret to mention the following general officers: Major-Generals Hood, Pender, and Trimble, severely; and Major-General Heth, slightly. General Pender has since died. Brigadier-Generals Barksdale and Garnett were killed, and Semmes mortally wounded. Brigadier-Generals Kemper, Armistead, Scales, G. T. Anderson, Hampton, J. M. Jones, and Jennings were also wounded. Brigadier-General Archer was taken prisoner. General Pettigrew, though wounded at Gettysburg, continued in command until he was mortally wounded near Falling Waters." Their entire losses Swinton estimates at 30,000—these figures being obtained by Lee’s own returns, which were, on May 31st, 68,352, and on July 31st, 41,135.


The march toward Gettysburg was conducted slowly. At 10 A.M. on July I, 1863, Heth’s division, of Hill’s corps, being ahead, encountered the enemy’s advance line, the Eleventh Corps, about three miles west of Gettysburg. Here a sharp engagement ensued, our men steadily advancing and driving the enemy before them to the town, and to a range of hills or low mountains running out a little east of south from the town. General Reynolds, who commanded the enemy’s advance, rode forward to inspect the ground and select a position for his line of battle. The Confederates, distinguishing him from his uniform to be an officer of high rank, opened upon him with heavy volleys of infantry fire. He was struck by several balls, and died instantly without uttering a word.

About an hour after the opening of the engagement, which was principally of artillery, General Ewell, who was moving from the direction of Carlisle, came up and took a position on our extreme left. Rodes came into the engagement on the flank of the enemy, who were confronting A. P. Hill, and occupied the most commanding point of the very ridge with artillery which the enemy were upon. This ridge runs in the shape of a crescent around Gettysburg, following the windings of a creek which is between it and the town.

After our artillery had been engaged for some half an hour, with admirable effect, the enemy were observed to be moving rapidly from Hill’s front to that of Rodes, and to be advancing their new columns against Rodes from the town. Rodes, his dispositions having been made, advanced his whole line. It had first to cross a field, six hundred yards wide, and enter woods—immediately upon entering which it became hotly engaged.

The Alabama Brigade (Rodes’s old command) advanced somewhat confusedly, owing, it is said, to a misconception as to the direction it should take, and, while confused, it became engaged, and was forced back with its lines broken, though reenforced by the Fifth Alabama, which uncovered Lawson’s brigade. Two regiments of this brigade were almost entirely surrounded, in consequence of the giving way of the Alabama Brigade and the concentration of the enemy at that point, and were either killed or captured almost to a man. The gallant resistance, however, which they made is shown by a statement coming from General Rodes himself, that, riding along behind where their line had been, he thought he observed a regiment lying down as if to escape the Federal fire. On going up to force them into the fight, he found they were all corpses.

As the battle wavered, General Early came up, and got his artillery into position so as to enfilade and silence batteries which were then occupied in an attempt to enfilade Rodes’s battery. As the enemy attempted a flank movement, Gordon’s brigade of gallant Georgians was ordered to make a charge. They crossed a small stream and valley, and entered a long narrow strip of an opposite slope, at the top of which the enemy had a strong force posted. For five minutes nothing could be heard or seen save the smoke and roar proceeding from the heavy musketry and indicating a desperate contest; but the contest was not long or uncertain. The Federals were put to flight, and our men pressed them, pouring a deadly fire at the flying fugitives. Seeing a second and larger line near the town, General Early halted General Gordon until two other brigades (Hays’s and Hoke’s) could come up, when a second charge was made, and three pieces of artillery, besides several entire regiments of the enemy, were captured.

There should not be lost from the records of the individual heroism of the Confederacy an incident of this battle. During a lull in the engagement, when the enemy were reforming and awaiting reenforcements, Lieutenant Roberts, of the Second Mississippi, observing, some distance off, but nearer the enemy’s than our own fires, two groups, each consisting of seven to ten men, and each guarding a stand of colors, called for volunteers to take them. Four gallant spirits from his own, and an equal number from the Forty-second Mississippi Regiment, readily responded, and soon a dash was made for the colors. A hand-to-hand fight ensued, in which all on both sides were either killed or wounded, except Private McPherson, who killed the last Federal color-bearer and brought off the colors, Lieutenant Roberts being killed just as he was seizing one of the colors.

The result of the day’s fight may be summed up thus: We had attacked a considerable force; had driven it over three miles; captured five thousand prisoners, and killed and wounded many thousands. Our own loss was not heavy, though a few brigades suffered severely.

Unfortunately, however, the enemy, driven through Gettysburg, got possession of the high range of hills south and east of the town. Here was the fatal mistake of the Confederates. In the engagement of July ist, the enemy had but a small portion of his force up, and if the attack had been pressed in the afternoon of that day there is little doubt that our forces could have got the heights and captured this entire detachment of Meade’s army. But General Lee was not aware of the enemy’s weakness on this day. In fact, he had found himself unexpectedly confronted by the Federal army. He never had intended to fight a general battle so far from his base. He was forced to deliver battle where prudence would have avoided it; he could obtain no certain information of the disposition of Meade’s forces; and the inaction of an evening—the failure to follow up for a few hours a success—enabled the Federal commander to bring up his whole army, and post it on an almost impregnable line which we had permitted a routed detachment of a few thousand men to occupy.

During the night General Meade and staff came up to the front. Before morning all his troops but the Sixth Corps, commanded by General Sedgwick, arrived on the field. The forces of the enemy were disposed on the several hills or ridges, so as to construct a battle line in the form of a crescent.

The town of Gettysburg is on the northern slope of this ridge of hills or mountain range, and one and a half or two miles from its summit. The western slope of this range was in cultivation, except small patches, where the mountainside is so precipitous as to defy the efforts of the farmer to bring it into subjection to the ploughshare. At the foot of the mountain is a narrow valley, from a mile to two miles in width, broken in small ridges running parallel with the mountain. On the western side of the valley rises a long, high hill, mostly covered with heavy timber, but greatly inferior in altitude to the mountain range upon which the enemy had taken position, but running nearly parallel with it. The valley between this ridge and the mountain was in cultivation, and the fields were yellow with the golden harvest. About four or five miles south from Gettysburg the mountain rises abruptly to an altitude of several hundred feet. Upon this the enemy rested his left flank, his right being upon the crest of the range a mile or a mile and a half from Gettysburg.

Our line of battle was formed along the western slope of the second and inferior range described above, and in the following order: Ewell’s corps on the left, beginning at the town with Early’s division, then Rodes’s division; on the right of Rodes’s division was the left of Hill’s corps, beginning with Heth’s, then Pender’s and Anderson’s divisions. On the right of Anderson’s division was Longstreet’s left, McLaws’s division being next to Anderson’s, and Hood on the extreme right of our line, which was opposite the eminence upon which the enemy’s left rested.

The preparations for attack were not completed until the afternoon of the 2d. Late in the afternoon an artillery attack was made by our forces on the left and centre of the enemy, which was rapidly followed by the advance of our infantry, Longstreet’s corps on our side being principally engaged. A fearful but indecisive contest ensued, and for four hours the sound of musketry was incessant. The main object of the attack of the Confederates was the famous Cemetery Hill, the key of the enemy’s position. The enemy’s artillery replied vigorously. The roar and thunder and flame and smoke of artillery and the screech of shells so completely filled the heavens that all else seemed forgotten.

General Ewell had been ordered to attack directly the high ground on the enemy’s right, which had already been partially fortified. It was half an hour of sunset when Johnson’s infantry were ordered forward to the attack. In passing down the hill on which they had been posted, and while crossing the creek, they were much annoyed by the fire to which they were subjected from the enemy’s artillery, which from Cemetery Hill poured nearly an enfilade fire upon them. The creek was wide and its banks were steep, so that our men had to break ranks to cross it. Having passed the creek, General Jones’s brigade was thrown into disorder and retired a short distance.

On the extreme left General G. H. Steuart’s brigade was more successful. Pushing around to the enemy’s left, he enfiladed and drove the enemy from a breastwork which they had built in order to defend their right flank, and which ran at right angles to the rest of their lines up the mountainside. The enemy, however, quickly moved forward a force to retake it, but were repulsed, our troops occupying their own breastworks in order to receive their attack. General Steuart made no further effort to advance. Night had nearly fallen, and the ground was new to him.

General Early, upon hearing General Johnson’s infantry engaged, sent forward Hays’s Louisiana and Hoke’s North Carolina brigades. The troops, advancing as a storming-party, quickly passed over a ridge and down a hill. In a valley below they met two lines of the Federals posted behind stone walls. These they charged. At the charge the Federals broke and fled up the hill closely pursued by our men. It was now dark; but Hays and Avery, still pursuing, pushed the enemy up the hill and stormed the Cemetery heights.

The contest here was intensely exciting and terrible. The gloom of the falling night was lighted up by the flashes of the enemy’s guns. Thirty or forty pieces, perhaps more, were firing canister with inconceivable rapidity at Early’s column. It must have been that they imagined this to be a general and simultaneous advance, for they opened on our men in three or four directions besides that which they were attacking.

Hays’s and Hoke’s brigades pressed on and captured two or three lines of breastworks and three or four of their batteries of artillery. For a few moments every gun of the enemy on the heights was silenced; but, by the time General Hays could get his command together, a dark line appeared in front of them and on either flank a few yards off. The true situation soon became clear. The Federals were bringing up at least a division to retake the works. General Hays, being unsupported by the troops on his right (which were from Hill’s corps), was compelled to fall back.

Major-General Rodes began to advance simultaneously with General Early. He had, however, more than double the distance of Early to go, and being unsupported by the troops on his right, who made no advance, he consequently moved slower than he would have moved had he been supported. Before reaching the enemy’s works Early had been repulsed, and so General Rodes halted, thinking it useless to attack, since he was unsupported.

When the second day closed this was the position of Ewell’s corps: Johnson’s left had gained important ground, part of it being a very short distance from the top of the mountain, which, if once gained, would command the whole of the enemy’s position; but his right had made no progress. Early’s attack, almost a brilliant success, had produced no results, and he occupied nearly his former position. Rodes, having advanced nearly half way to the enemy’s works, and finding there good cover for his troops, remained in his advanced position.

But we must take the reader’s attention to another part of the field, where a more dramatic circumstance than Early’s momentary grasp of victory had occurred. General Hill had been instructed to threaten the centre of the Federal line, in order to prevent reenforcements being sent to either wing, and to avail himself of any opportunity that might present itself to attack.

On the right of Hill’s corps and the left of Longstreet, being joined on to Barksdale’s brigade of McLaws’s division, was Wilcox’s brigade, then Perry’s, Wright’s, Posey’s, Mahone’s. At half-past five o’clock Longstreet began the attack, and Wilcox followed it up by promptly moving forward; Perry’s brigade quickly followed, and Wright moved simultaneously with him. The two divisions of Longstreet’s corps soon encountered the enemy, posted a little in rear of the Emmetsburg turnpike, which winds along the slope of the range upon which the enemy’s main force was concentrated. After a short but spirited engagement the enemy was driven back upon the main line upon the crest of the hill. McLaws’s and Hood’s divisions made a desperate assault upon the main line, but, owing to the precipitate and rugged character of the slope, were unable to reach the summit.

After Barksdale’s brigade, of McLaws’s division, had been engaged for some time, Wilcox, Wright, and Perry were ordered forward, encountering a line of the enemy and soon putting them to rout. Still pressing forward, these three brigades met with another and stronger line of the enemy, backed by twelve pieces of artillery. No pause was made. The line moved rapidly forward and captured the artillery.

Another fresh line of battle was thrown forward by the enemy. Wright had swept over the valley under a terrific fire from the batteries posted upon the heights, had encountered the enemy’s advance line, and had driven it across the Emmetsburg pike, to a position behind a stone wall or fence which runs parallel with the pike and sixty or eighty yards in front of the batteries on the heights and immediately under them. Here the enemy made a desperate attempt to retrieve his fortunes. The engagement lasted fifteen or twenty minutes. Charging up the steep sides of the mountains, the Confederates succeeded in driving the enemy from behind the wall at the point of the bayonet. Rushing forward with a shout, they gained the summit of the heights, driving the enemy’s infantry in disorder and confusion into the woods beyond.

The key of the enemy’s position was for a moment in our hands. But the condition of the brave troops who had wrested it by desperate valor had become critical in the extreme. Wilcox, Perry, and Wright had charged most gallantly over a distance of more than three-quarters of a mile, breaking two or three of the enemy’s lines of battle and capturing two or three batteries of artillery. Of course our lines were greatly thinned, and our troops much exhausted. No reenforcements were sent to this column by the lieutenant-general commanding. The extent of the success was not instantly appreciated. A decisive moment was lost.

Wright’s little brigade of Georgians had actually got into the enemy’s intrenchments upon the heights. Perceiving, after getting possession of the enemy’s works, that they were isolated—more than a mile from support—that no advance had been made on their left, and just then seeing the enemy’s flanking column on their right and left flanks rapidly converging in their rear, these noble Georgians faced about, abandoning all the guns they had captured, and cut their way back to our main lines, through the enemy, who had now almost entirely surrounded them.

The results of the day were unfortunate enough. Our troops had been repulsed at all points save where Brigadier-General Steuart held his ground. A second day of desperate fighting and correspondingly frightful carnage was ended. But General Lee still believed himself and his brave army capable of taking these commanding heights, and thus able to dictate a peace on the soil of the free States.

The third day’s battle was again to be begun by the Confederates. At midnight a council of war had been held by the enemy, at which it was determined that the Confederates would probably renew the attack at daylight on the following morning, and that for that day the Federals had better act purely on the defensive.

The enemy’s position on the mountain was well-nigh impregnable, for there was no conceivable advance or approach that could not be raked and crossed with the artillery. All the heights and every advantageous position along the entire line where artillery could be massed or a battery planted frowned down on the Confederates through brows of brass and iron. On the slopes of the mountain was to occur one of the most terrific combats of modern times, in which more than two hundred cannon were belching forth their thunders at one time, and nearly two hundred thousand muskets were being discharged as rapidly as men hurried with excitement and passion could load them.

Early in the morning preparations were made for a general attack along the enemy’s whole line, while a large force was to be concentrated against his centre, with the view of retaking the heights captured and abandoned the day before. Longstreet massed a large number of long-range guns (fifty-five) upon the crest of a slight eminence just in front of Perry’s and Wilcox’s brigades and a little to the left of the heights upon which they were to open. Hill massed some sixty guns along the hill in front of Posey’s and Mahone’s brigades and almost immediately in front of the heights. At twelve o’clock, while the signal-flags were waving swift intelligence along our lines, the shrill sound of a Whitworth gun broke the silence, and the cannonading began.

The enemy replied with terrific spirit, from their batteries posted along the heights. Never had been heard such tremendous artillery firing in the war. The warm and sultry air was hideous with discord. Dense columns of smoke hung over the beautiful valley. The lurid flame leaps madly from the cannon’s mouth, each moment the roar grows more intense; now chime in volleys of small-arms. For one hour and a half this most terrific fire was continued, during which time the shrieking of shells, the crashing of falling timber, the fragments of rock flying through the air, shattered from the cliffs by solid shot, the heavy mutterings from the valley between the opposing armies, the splash of bursting shrapnel, and the fierce neighing of wounded horses made a picture terribly grand and sublime.

But there was now to occur a scene of moral sublimity and heroism unequalled in the war. The storming-party was moved up—Pickett’s division in advance, supported on the right by Wilcox’s brigade, and on the left by Heth’s division, commanded by Pettigrew. With steady measured tread the division of Pickett advanced upon the foe. Never did troops enter a fight in such splendid order. Their banners floated defiantly in the breeze as they pressed across the plain. The flags which had waved amid the wild tempest of battle at Gaines’s Mill, Frayser’s Farm, and Manassas never rose more proudly. Kemper, with his gallant men, leads the right; Garnett brings up the left; and the veteran Armistead, with his brave troops, moves forward in support. The distance is more than half a mile. As they advance, the enemy fire with great rapidity—shell and solid shot give place to canister—the very earth quivers beneath the heavy roar—wide gaps are made in this regiment and that brigade. The line moves onward, cannons roaring, shells and canister plunging and ploughing through the ranks, bullets whizzing as thick as hailstones in winter, and men falling as leaves fall in the blasts of autumn.

As Pickett got well under the enemy’s fire, our batteries ceased firing, for want, it is said, of ammunition. It was a fearful moment, one in which was to be tested the pride and mettle of glorious Virginia. Into the sheets of artillery fire advanced the unbroken lines of Pickett’s brave Virginians. They have reached the Emmetsburg road, and here they meet a severe fire from heavy masses of the enemy’s infantry, posted behind the stone fence, while their artillery, now free from the annoyance of our artillery, turn their whole fire upon this devoted band. Still they remain firm. Now again they advance. They reach the works—the contest rages with intense fury—men fight almost hand to hand—the Red Cross and the Stars and Stripes wave defiantly in close proximity. A Federal officer dashes forward in front of his shrinking columns, and with flashing sword urges them to stand. The noble Garnett is dead, Armistead wounded, and the brave Kemper, with hat in hand, still cheering on his men, falls from his horse. But Kemper and Armistead have already planted their banners in the enemy’s works. The glad shout of victory is already heard.3

But where is Pettigrew’s division? where are the supports? The raw troops had faltered and the gallant Pettigrew himself had been wounded in vain attempts to rally them. Alas, the victory was to be relinquished again. Pickett is left alone to contend with the masses of the enemy now pouring in upon him on every side. Now the enemy move around strong flanking bodies of infantry, and are rapidly gaining Pickett’s rear. The order is given to fall back, and our men begin the movement, doggedly contesting for every inch of ground. The enemy press heavily our retreating line, and many noble spirits who had passed safely through the fiery ordeal of the advance and charge now fall on the right and on the left.

This division of Virginia troops, small at first, with ranks now torn and shattered, most of the officers killed or wounded, no valor able to rescue victory from such a grasp, annihilation or capture inevitable, slowly, reluctantly fell back. It was not given to these few remaining brave men to accomplish human impossibilities. The enemy dared not follow them beyond their works. But the day was already lost. The field was covered with Confederates slowly and sulkily retiring in small parties under a heavy fire of artillery. There was no panic.

Never did a commanding general behave better in such trying circumstances than did Lee. He was truly great in disaster. An English colonel who witnessed the fight says: "I joined General Lee, who had in the mean while come to the front on becoming aware of the disaster. General Lee was perfectly sublime. He was engaged in rallying and encouraging the broken troops, and was riding about a little in front of the wood quite alone—the whole of his staff being engaged in a similar manner farther to the rear. His face, which is always placid and cheerful, did not show signs of the slightest disappointment, care, or annoyance, and he was addressing to every soldier he met a few words of encouragement, such as, `All this will come right in the end; we’ll talk it over afterward; but in the mean time all good men must rally. We want all good and true men just now.’ He spoke to all the wounded men that passed him, and the slightly wounded he exhorted `to bind up their hurts and take up a musket’ in this emergency. Very few failed to answer his appeal, and I saw many badly wounded men take off their hats and cheer him."

At night the Confederate army held the same position from which it had driven the enemy two days previous. The starry sky hung over a field of hideous carnage. In the series of engagements a few pieces of artillery were captured by the Confederates and nearly seven thousand prisoners taken, two thousand of whom were paroled on the field. Pickett’s division had been engaged in the hottest work of the day, and the havoc in its ranks was appalling. Its losses on this day are famous, and should be commemorated in detail. Every brigadier in the division was killed or wounded. Out of twenty-four regimental officers, only two escaped unhurt. The Ninth Virginia went in two hundred fifty strong, and came out with only thirty-eight men. Conspicuous in our list of casualties was the death of Major-General Pender. He had borne a distinguished part in every engagement of this army, and was wounded on several occasions while leading his command with admirable gallantry and ability. Brigadier-Generals Barksdale and Garnett were killed, and Brigadier-General Semmes mortally wounded, while leading their troops with the courage that had always distinguished them. The brave and generous spirit of Barksdale had expired, where he preferred to die, on the ensanguined field of battle.

The fearful trial of a retreat from a position far in the enemy’s country was now reserved for General Lee. Happily he had an army with zeal unabated, courage intrepid, devotion unchilled, with unbounded confidence in the wisdom of that great chieftain who had so often led them to victory. The strength of the enemy’s position, the reduction of our ammunition, the difficulty of procuring supplies—these left no choice but retreat.

On the night of the 4th, General Lee’s army began to retire by the road to Fairfield, without any serious interruption on the part of the enemy. In passing through the mountains, in advance of the column, the great length of the trains exposed them to attack by the enemy’s cavalry, which captured a number of wagons and ambulances; but they succeeded in reaching Williamsport without serious loss.

They were attacked at that place on the 6th, by the enemy’s cavalry, which was gallantly repulsed by General Imboden. The attacking force was subsequently encountered and driven off by General Stuart, and pursued for several miles in the direction of Boonsboro. The army, after an arduous march, rendered more difficult by the rains, reached Hagerstown on the afternoon of July 6th and morning of the 7th.

Any comment on Gettysburg must necessarily be a tantalizing one for the South. The Pennsylvania campaign had been a series of mishaps. General Lee was disappointed of half of his plan, in the first instance, on account of the inability or unwillingness of the Richmond authorities to assemble an army at Culpeper Court House under General Beauregard, so as to distract the enemy and divide his force by a demonstration upon Washington. Johnston was calling for reenforcements in Mississippi; Bragg was threatened with attack; Beauregard’s whole force was reported to be necessary to cover his line on the sea-coast; and the force in Richmond and in North Carolina was very small. Yet with what force Lee had, his campaign proposed great things—the destruction of his adversary, which would have uncovered the Middle and Eastern States of the North; for, behind Meade’s array, there was nothing but militia mobs and home-guards incapable of making any resistance to an army of veterans. It was in anticipation of this great stake that Richmond was on the tiptoe of expectation. For once in the Confederate capital gold found no purchasers, prices declined, speculation was at its wits’ end, and men consulted their interests as if on the eve of peace. The recoil at Gettysburg was fatal, perhaps not necessarily, but by the course of events, to General Lee’s campaign, and the return of his army to its defensive lines in Virginia was justly regarded in the South as a reverse in the general fortunes of the contest.

But news of an overshadowing calamity, undoubtedly the greatest that had yet befallen the South, accompanied that of Lee’s retreat, and dated a second period of disaster more frightful than that of Donelson and New Orleans. The same day that Lee’s repulse was known in Richmond, came the astounding intelligence of the fall of Vicksburg. In twenty-four hours two calamities changed all the aspects of the war, and brought the South from an unequalled exaltation of hope to the very brink of despair.


[Soon after the Battle of Gettysburg a piece of ground about seventeen acres in extent, a part of the battle-field, was purchased for a national cemetery. This was dedicated on November 19th with imposing ceremonies, and President Lincoln’s brief address on the occasion has become one of the classics of our literature.—EDITOR.]

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final restingplace for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people* and for the people shall not perish from the earth.

1This numbers included all the wounded of the day, who had been borne to the town for care, as well as those left in the Seminary, too severely injured to be moved.

2Said Doubleday: "They had our exact range, and the destruction was fearful. Horses were killed in every direction. I lost two horses myself, while almost every officer lost one or more, and quite a large number of caissons were blown up." The ruin wrought in the cemetery was complete. That sacred resting-place became truly a city of the dead before nightfall of that momentous day. Said Hancock: "It was a most terrific and appalling cannonade, one possibly hardly ever paralleled. I doubt whether there have ever been more guns concentrated upon an equal space and opening at one time."

3A correspondent of a Northern paper thus alludes to the traces of the struggle at the cemetery: "Monuments and headstones lie here and there overturned. Graves, once carefully tended by some loving hand, have been trampled by horses’ feet until the vestiges of verdure have disappeared. The neat and well-trained shrubbery has vanished, or is but a broken and withered mass of tangled brushwood. On one grave lies a dead artillery horse fast decomposing under a July sun. On another lie the torn garments of some wounded soldier, stained and saturated with his blood. Across a small headstone bearing the words `To the memory of our beloved child Mary’ lie the fragments of a musket, shattered by a cannon-shot. In the centre of the space enclosed by an iron fence and containing a half-dozen graves, a few rails are still standing where they were erected by our soldiers and served to support the shelter tents of a bivouacking squad. A family shaft has been broken to fragments by a shell, and only the base remains, with a portion of the inscription thereon. Stone after stone felt the effect of the feu d’enfer that was poured upon the crest of the hill. Cannon thundered, and foot and horse soldiers trampled over the sleeping-places of the dead. Other dead were added to those who are resting there, and many a wounded soldier still lives to remember the contest above those silent graves."


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Chicago: Edward A. Pollard et al., "The Battle of Gettysburg," The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 18 in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. Rossiter Johnson (Harrogate, TN: The National Alunmi, 1926), Original Sources, accessed May 24, 2019,

MLA: Victor, Orville J., et al. "The Battle of Gettysburg." The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 18, in The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, edited by Rossiter Johnson, Harrogate, TN, The National Alunmi, 1926, Original Sources. 24 May. 2019.

Harvard: Victor, OJ et al., 'The Battle of Gettysburg' in The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol 18. cited in 1926, The Great Events by Famous Historians. Lincoln Memorial University Edition, ed. , The National Alunmi, Harrogate, TN. Original Sources, retrieved 24 May 2019, from