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[261]

Gettysburg.

The Now-or-never Charge of Pickett's Men. When the Confederate artillery opened at one o'clock on the afternoon of July 3d, Meade and his staff were driven from their headquarters on Cemetery Ridge. Nothing could live exposed on that hillside, swept by cannon that were being worked as fast as human hands could work them. It was the beginning of Lee's last effort to wrest victory from the odds that were against him. Longstreet, on the morning of the 3d, had earnestly advised against renewing the battle against the Gettysburg heights. But Lee saw that in this moment the fate of the South hung in the balance; that if the Army of Northern Virginia did not win, it would never again become the aggressor. Pickett's division, as yet not engaged, was the force Lee designated for the assault; every man was a Virginian, forming a veritable Tenth Legion in valor. Auxiliary divisions swelled the charging column to 15,000. In the middle of the afternoon the Federal guns ceased firing. The time for the charge had come. Twice Pickett asked of Longstreet if he should go forward. Longstreet merely bowed in answer. “Sir, I shall lead my division forward,” said Pickett at last, and the heavy-hearted Longstreet bowed his head. As the splendid column swept out of the woods and across the plain the Federal guns reopened with redoubled fury. For a mile Pickett and his men kept on, facing a deadly greeting of round shot, canister, and the bullets of Hancock's resolute infantry. It was magnificent — but every one of Pickett's brigade commanders went down and their men fell by scores and hundreds around them. A hundred led by Armistead, waving his cap on his swordpoint, actually broke through and captured a battery, Armistead falling beside a gun. It was but for a moment. Longstreet had been right when he said: “There never was a body of fifteen thousand men who could make that attack successfully.” Before the converging Federals the thinned ranks of Confederates drifted wearily back toward Seminary Ridge. Victory for the South was not to be.

Pickett — the Marshall Ney of Gettysburg

Meade's headquarters on Cemetery Ridge


 

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