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Address by James F. Crocker, Before Stonewall Camp

Confederate Veterans, Portsmouth, Va., November 7, 1894.

You command me to renew an inexpressible sorrow,

and to speak of those things of which we were a part.

Pickett's Charge Map
Pickett's Charge Map.jpg
Pickett's Charge at Battle of Gettysburg, July 3, 1863


It is now nearly thirty years since there died away on the plains of Appomattox the sound of musketry and the roar of artillery. Then and there closed a struggle as heroic as ever was made by a brave and patriotic people for home government and home nationality. The tragic story of that great struggle has ever since been to me as a sealed, sacred book. I have never had the heart to open it. I knew that within its lids there were annals that surpassed the annals of all past times, in the intelligent, profound, and all-absorbing patriotism of our people--in the unselfish and untiring devotion of an entire population to a sacred cause--and in the brilliancy and prowess of arms which have shed an imperishable glory and honor on the people of this Southland. Yet there was such an ending to such great deeds! The heart of this great people, broken with sorrow, has watered with its tears those brilliant annals until every page shows the signs of a nation's grief. And with it all there are buried memories as dear and as sacred as the ashes of loved ones. No, I have had no heart to open the pages of that sacred yet tragic history. Not until you assigned me the duty of saying something of Pickett's charge at the battle of Gettysburg have I ever read the official or other accounts of that great battle; and when I later read them my heart bled afresh, and my inward being was shaken to the deepest depths of sad, tearful emotions, and I wished that you had given to another the task you gave to me.

On the 13th day of December, 1862, Burnside lead his great and splendidly equipped army down from the heights of Fredericksburg, crossed the Rappahannock, and gave battle to Lee. His army was repulsed with great slaughter and was driven back bleeding and mangled to its place of safety. The star of Burnside went down and out. General Hooker was called to the command of the Army of the Potomac. After five months of recuperation and convalescence, with greatly augmented numbers and with every appliance that military art and national wealth could furnish in the perfect equipment of a great army, it was proclaimed with much flourish amidst elated hopes and expectancy that his army was ready to move. To meet this great host Lee could rely for success only on the great art of war and the unfailing courage of his soldiers. Hooker crossed the Rappahannock and commenced to entrench himself. Lee did not wait to be attacked, but at once delivered battle. The Battle of Chancellorsville was fought--the most interesting battle of the war--in which the blended genius of Lee and Jackson illustrated to the world the highest achievement of generalship in the management of the lesser against the greatly superior force. Again was the Army of the Potomac crushed and driven across the Rappahannock.

And now there arose a great question in the camp and in the council of State. It was a question of statesmanship as well as of arms. The question was answered by Lee withdrawing his army from before Hooker and proceeding through the lower Shenandoah Valley to Pennsylvania, leaving the road to Richmond open to be taken by the enemy if he should still prefer the policy of "on to Richmond." The motive of this movement was two-fold--to relieve Virginia of the enemy by forcing him to defend his own country, and by a possible great victory to affect public opinion of the North, and thus to conquer peace. The first object was accomplished; for as soon as Hooker discerned the movement of Lee, he hastened to follow and to put his army between Lee and Washington. Had Lee gained a crushing victory Baltimore and Washington would have been in his power, and then in all probability peace would have ensued. Public opinion in the North was greatly depressed, and sentiments of peace were ready to assert themselves. An incident illustrated this. As we were marching from Chambersburg to Gettysburg, I observed some ladies near the roadway wave their handkerchiefs to our passing troops. It excited my attention and curiosity. I rode up to them and said, "Ladies, I observed you waving your handkerchiefs as if in cheer to our army. Why so? We are your enemies and the enemies of your country." They replied: "We are tired of the war and want you to conquer peace." I was greatly impressed with their answer, and saw that there might be true patriotism in their act and hopes.

The invasion of Pennsylvania was wise and prudent from the standpoint of both arms and statesmanship. Everything promised success. Never was the Army of Northern Virginia in better condition. The troops had unbounded confidence in themselves and in their leaders. They were full of the fervor of patriotism--had abiding faith in their cause and in the favoring will of Heaven. There was an elation from the fact of invading the country of an enemy that had so cruelly invaded theirs. The spirit and elan of our soldiers was beyond description. They only could know it who felt it. They had the courage and dash to accomplish anything--everything but the impossible. On the contrary, the Federal army was never so dispirited, as I afterwards learned from some of its officers. And this was most natural. They marched from the bloody fields of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, the scenes of their humiliating and bloody defeat, to meet a foe from whom they had never won a victory.

But alas, how different the result! Gettysburg was such a sad ending to such high and well assured hopes! Things went untoward with our generals. And Providence itself, on which we had so much relied, seems to have led us by our mishaps to our own destruction.

The disastrous result of the campaign, in my opinion, was not due to the generalship of Lee, but wholly to the disregard of his directions by some of his generals. The chief among these, I regret to say, was the failure of General Stuart to follow the order* (*Lee's Report July 31, 1863, War Records, Series I, Vol. 27, Part 2, p. 300) of Lee, which directed him to move into Maryland, crossing the Potomac east or west of the Blue Ridge, as, in his judgment, should be best, and take position on the right of our column as it advanced. Instead of taking position on the right of our column as it advanced, Stuart followed the right of the Federal column, thus placing it between himself and Lee. The consequence was that Lee from the time he crossed the Potomac had no communication with Stuart until after the battle on the 1st of July, when he heard that Stuart was at Carlisle, and Stuart did not reach Gettysburg until the afternoon of July 2d. Lee, referring to Stuart, says: "By the route he pursued the Federal army war interposed between his command and our main body, preventing any communication with him until he arrived at Carlisle. The march toward Gettysburg was conducted more slowly than it would have been had the movements of the Federal army been known." * (*Id. p. 307.) These are solemn, mild words, but they cover the defeat at Gettysburg. Had Lee known the movements of the Federal army he could easily have had his whole army concentrated in Gettysburg on the 1st of July, and could easily have enveloped and crushed the enemy's advanced corps, and then defeated Meade in detail. But as it was, the encounter of the advance of the Federal army was a surprise to Lee.

Hill had on the 30th of June encamped with two of his divisions, Heth's and Pender's at Cashtown, about eight miles from Gettysburg. Next morning he moved with Heth's division, followed by Pender's toward Gettysburg. They encountered the enemy about three miles of the town. The enemy offered very determined resistance, but Heth's division, with great gallantry, drove him before it until it reached Seminary Heights, which overlooked Gettysburg. At this time, 2 P.M., Rodes' and Early's divisions of Ewell's corps--the first from Carlisle and the other from York, made their opportune appearance on the left of Heth and at right angles to it; then Pender's division was thrown forward, and all advancing together drove the enemy from position to position, and through the town, capturing 5,000 prisoners, and putting the enemy to flight in great disorder. Referring to this juncture of affairs, Col. Walter H. Taylor, in his "Four Years With Gen. Lee," says: "Genl. Lee witnessed the flight of the Federals through Gettysburg and up the hills beyond. He then directed me to go to Genl. Ewell and to say to him that from the position he occupied he could see the enemy retiring over the hills, without organization and in great confusion; that it was only necessary to press 'those people' in order to secure possession of the heights, and that, if possible, he wanted him to do this. In obedience to these instructions I proceeded immediately to Genl. Ewell and delivered the order of Genl. Lee." Genl. Ewell did not obey this order. Those heights were what is known as Cemetery Hill, which was the key to the Federal position. The enemy afterward, that night, with great diligence fortified those heights; and subsequently the lives of thousands of our soldiers were sacrificed in the vain effort to capture them. It was a fatal disobedience of orders. What if Jackson had been there? Col. Taylor would not have had any order to bear to him. Lee would have witnessed not only the fleeing enemy, but at the same time the hot pursuit of Stonewall Jackson. Ah! if Stuart had been there, to give one bugle blast and to set his squadrons on the charge! Alas! he was then twenty-five miles away at Carlisle, ignorant that a battle was on.

That afternoon after the fight was over, Anderson's division of Hill's corps arrived on the battle field and took position where Pender formerly was. At sunset Johnson's division of Ewell's corps came up and took line of battle on Early's left, and about midnight McLaws' division and Hood's division (except Laws' brigade) of Longstreet's corps encamped withing four miles of Gettysburg. The troops which had been engaged in the fight bivouacked on the positions won. I am thus particular to locate our troops in order to show who may be responsible for any errors of the next day.

Inasmuch as Meade's army was not fully up, it required no great generalship to determine that it would be to our advantage to make an attack as early in the next morning as possible. And it was no more than reasonable that every general having control of troops should feel and fully appreciate the imperious necessity of getting ready to do so and to be ready for prompt action.

General Lee determined to make the main attack on the enemy's left early in the morning. This attack was to be made by Longstreet, who was directed to take position on the right of Hill and on the Emmittsburg road. After a conference with the corps and division commanders the previous evening, it was understood that this attack was to be made as early as practicable by Longstreet, and he was to be supported by Anderson and to receive the co-operation of Ewell. General Fitzhugh Lee in his "Life of Lee," says: "When Lee went to sleep that night he was convinced that his dispositions for the battle next day were understood by the corps commanders, for he had imparted them to each in person. On the morning of July 2, Lee was up before light, breakfasted and was ready for the fray."

Can you believe it? Can you even at this distant day altogether suppress a rising indignation--that Longstreet did not get into line of battle until after 4 P. M., although he had the previous night encamped within four miles of Gettysburg? In the meanwhile Sickles had taken position in what is known as the Peach Orchard and on the Emmittsburg road, which were the positions assigned to Longstreet, and which he could have taken earlier in the day without firing a gun. The forces of the enemy had come up from long distances--Sedgwick had marched thirty-four miles since 9 P. M., of the day before and had gotten into line of battle before Longstreet did.

The attack was made. Sickles was driven from the Peach Orchard and the Emmittsburg road. Little Round Top and the Federal lines were penetrated, but they were so largely reinforced that the attack failed after the most courageous effort and great expenditure of lives. It has been stated that if this attack had been made in the morning as directed, Lee would have won a great victory, and the fighting of the 3d would have been saved. The attack on the left also failed. There, too, the lines and entrenchments of the enemy were penetrated, but they could not be held for want of simultaneous and conjoint action on the part of the commanders. Col. Taylor, speaking of this, says; "The whole affair was disjointed."

Thus ended the second day. General Lee determined to renew the attack on the morrow. He ordered Longstreet to make the attack next morning with his whole corps, and sent to aid him in the attack of Heth's division under Pettigrew, Lane's and Scales' brigades of Pender's division under General Trimble, and also Wilcox's brigade, and directed General Ewell to assail the enemy's right at the same time. "A careful examination," says Lee, "was made of the ground secured by Longstreet, and his batteries placed in position, which it was believed would enable them to silence those of the enemy. Hill's artillery and part of Ewell's was ordered to open simultaneously, and the assaulting column to advance under cover of the combined fire of the three. The batteries were directed to be pushed forward as the infantry progressed, protect their flanks and support their attacks closely." Every word of this order was potentially significant. You will thus observe Lee's plan of attack. It was to be made in the morning--presumably in the early morning--with the whole of Longstreet's corps, composed of the divisions of Pickett, McLaws and Hood, together with Heth's division, two brigades of Pender and Wilcox's brigade, and that the assaulting column was to advance under the cover of the combined fire of the artillery of the three corps, and that the assault was to be the combined assault of infantry and artillery-- the batteries to be pushed forward as the infantry progressed, to protect their flanks and support their attack closely. The attack was not made as here ordered. The attacking column did not move until 3 P. M., and when it did move it was without McLaws' and Hood's divisions and practically without Wilcox's brigade, and without accompanying artillery. The whole attacking force did not exceed 14,000, of which Pickett's division did not exceed 4,700. General Lee afterwards claimed that if the attack had been made as he ordered, it would have been successful.

Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg
Pickett's Charge, July 3, 1863.jpg
Pickett's Charge, July 3, 1863

In order to appreciate the charge made by the attacking force, it is necessary to have some idea of the relative strength and positions of the two armies, and of the topography of the country. Before the battle of Gettysburg opened on the 1st of July, Meade's army consisted of seven army corps which, with artillery and cavalry, numbered 105,000. Lee's army consisted of three army corps which, with artillery and cavalry, numbered 62,000. On the 3rd of July the enemy had six army corps in line of battle, with the Sixth corps held in reserve. Their right rested on Culp Hill and curved around westerly to Cemetery Hill, and thence extended southerly in a straight line along what is known as Cemetery Ridge to Round Top. This line was well protected along its whole length with either fortifications, stone walls or entrenchments. It was crowned with batteries, while the infantry was, in places, several ranks deep, with a line in the rear with skirmish lines in front. The form of the line was like a shepherd's crook. Our line extended from the enemy's right around to Seminary Ridge, which runs parallel to Cemetery Ridge, to a point opposite to Round Top. Between these two ridges lay an open, cultivated valley of about one mile wide, and through this valley ran the Emmittsburg road in a somewhat diagonal line, with a heavy fence on either side. The charge was to be made across this valley so as to strike the left centre of the enemy's line. The hope was that if we broke their right line, we would swing around to the left, rout and cut off their wing, where Stuart waited with his cavalry to charge upon them; and thus destroy or capture them, and put ourselves in possession of the Baltimore road and of a commanding position.

Such were the plans of the assault and such was the position of the hostile forces. Lee's plan to make an assault was dangerous and hazardous, but he was pressed by the force of circumstances which we cannot now consider. The success of his plan depended largely on the promptness and co-operation of his generals. Without this there could be little hope of success. He gave his orders and retired for to-morrow.

All wait on the to-morrow. And now the 3d of July has come. The summer sun early heralded by roseate dawn, rises serenely and brightly from beyond the wooded hills. No darkening clouds obscure his bright and onward way. His aspect is as joyous as when Eden first bloomed under his rays. Earth and heaven are in happy accord. The song of birds, the chirp and motion of winged insects greet the early morn. The wild flowers and the cultivated grain of the fields are glad in their beauty and fruitage. The streams joyously ripple on their accustomed way, and the trees lift and wave their leafy branches in the warm, life-giving air. Never was sky or earth more serene--more harmonious--more aglow with light and life.

In blurring discord with it all was man alone. Thousands and tens of thousands of men-- once happy fellow countrymen, now in arms, had gathered in hostile hosts and in hostile confronting lines. It was not the roseate dawn nor rising sun that awoke them from the sleep of wearied limbs. Before the watching stars had withdrawn from their sentinel posts, the long roll, the prelude of battle, had sounded their reveille, and rudely awoke them from fond dreams of home and loved ones far away. For two days had battle raged. On the first, when the field was open and equal, the soldiers of the South, after most determined resistance, had driven their foe before them from position to position--from valley to hill top, through field and through the town, to the heights beyond. On the second day, on our right and on our left, with heroic valor and costly blood, they had penetrated the lines and fortifications of the enemy, but were too weak to hold the prize of positions gained against overpowering numbers of concentrated reinforcements. The dead and wounded marked the lines of the fierce combat. The exploded caissons, the dismounted cannon, the dead artillery horses, the scattered rifles, the earth soaked with human gore--the contorted forms of wounded men, and the white, cold faces of the dead, made a mockery and sad contrast to the serene and smiling face of the skies.

From the teamsters to the general in chief it was known that the battle was yet undecided --that the fierce combat was to be renewed. All knew that victory won or defeat suffered, was to be at a fearful cost--that the best blood of the land was to flow copiously as a priceless oblation to the god of battle. The intelligent soldiers of the South knew and profoundly felt that the hours were potential--that on them possibly hung the success of their cause--the peace and independence of the Confederacy. They knew that victory meant so much more to them than to the enemy. It meant to us uninvaded and peaceful homes under our own rule and under our own nationality. With us it was only to be let alone. With this end in view, all felt that victory was to be won at any cost. All were willing to die, if only their country could thereby triumph. And fatal defeat meant much to the enemy. It meant divided empire--lost territory and severed population. Both sides felt that the hours were big with the fate of empire. The sense of the importance of the issue, and the responsibility of fully doing duty equal to the grand occasion, impressed on us all a deep solemnity and a seriousness of thought that left no play for gay moods or for sympathy with nature's smiling aspect, however gracious. Nor did we lightly consider the perils of our duty. From our position in line of battle, which we had taken early in the morning, we could see the frowning and cannon-crowned heights far off held by the enemy. In a group of officers, a number of whom did not survive that fatal day, I could not help expressing that it was to be another Malvern Hill, another costly day to Virginia and to Virginians. While all fully saw and appreciated the cost and the fearful magnitude of the assault, yet all were firmly resolved, if possible, to pluck victory from the very jaws of death itself. Never were men more conscious of the difficulty imposed on them by duty, or more determinedly resolved to perform it with alacrity and cheerfulness, even to annihilation, than were the men of Pickett's division on that day. With undisturbed fortitude and even with ardent impatience did they await the command for the assault. The quiet of the day had been unbroken save on our extreme left, where in the early morning there had been some severe fighting; but this was soon over, and now all on both sides were at rest, waiting in full expectancy of the great assault, which the enemy, as well as we, knew was to be delivered. The hours commenced to go wearily by. The tension on our troops had become great. The midday sun had reached the zenith, and poured its equal and impartial rays between the opposite ridges that bounded the intervening valley running North and South. Yet no sound or stir broke the ominous silence. Both armies were waiting spectators for the great event. Upwards of one hundred thousand unengaged soldiers were waiting as from a grand amphitheatre to witness the most magnificent heroic endeavor in arms that ever immortalized man. Still the hours lingered on. Why the delay? There is a serious difference of opinion between the general in chief and his most trusted lieutenant general as to the wisdom of making the assault. Lee felt, from various considerations, the forced necessity of fighting out the battle here, and having the utmost confidence in his troops he fully expected victory if the attack be made as he had ordered. Longstreet, foreseeing the great loss of assaulting the entrenched position of the enemy and making such assault over such a distance under the concentrated fire, urges that the army should be moved beyond the enemy's left flank, with the hope of forcing him thus to abandon his stronghold or to fight us to our advantage. Longstreet pressed this view and delayed giving the necessary orders until Lee more pre-emptorily repeated his own order to make the assault. Even then Longstreet was so reluctant to carry out the orders of Lee that he placed upon Lt-Col. Alexander, who was in charge of the artillery on this day, the responsibility of virtually giving the order for its execution.

At last, in our immediate front, at 1 P. M., there suddenly leaped from one of our cannons a single sharp, far-reaching sound, breaking the long-continued silence and echoing along the extended lines of battle and far beyond the far-off heights. All were now at a strained attention. Then quickly followed another gun. Friend and foe at once recognized that these were signal guns. Then hundreds of cannon opened upon each other from the confronting heights. What a roar--how incessant! The earth trembled under the mighty resound of cannon. The air is darkened with sulphurous clouds. The whole valley is enveloped. The sun, lately so glaring, is itself obscured. Nothing can be seen but the flashing light leaping from the cannon's mouth amidst the surrounding smoke. The air which was so silent and serene is now full of exploding and screaming shells and shot, as if the earth had opened and let out the very furies of Avernus. The hurtling and death-dealing missiles are plowing amidst batteries, artillery and lines of infantry, crushing, mangling and killing until the groans of the men mingle with the tempest's sound. The storm of battle rages. It is appalling, terrific, yet grandly exciting. It recalls the imagery of Byron's night-storm amidst the Alps:

"The sky is changed, and such a change!* * *

* * * * * * * * * * * Far along

From peak to peak, the rattling crags among

Leaps the live thunder! Not from one lone cloud,

But every mountain now hath found a tongue,

And Jura answers from her misty shroud

Back to the joyous Alps who call to her aloud."

After two hours of incessant firing the storm at last subsides. It has been a grand and fit prelude to what is now to follow. All is again silent. Well knowing what is shortly to follow, all watch in strained expectancy. The waiting is short. Only time for Pickett to report to his lieutenant-general his readiness and to receive the word of command. Pickett said: "General, shall I advance?" Longstreet turned away his face and did not speak. Pickett repeated the question. Longstreet, without opening his lips, bowed in answer. Pickett, in a determined voice, said: "Sir, I shall lead my division forward," and galloped back and gave the order, "Forward march!" The order ran down through brigade, regimental and company officers to the men. The men with alacrity and cheerfulness fell into line. Kemper's brigade on the right, Garnett's on his left, with Heth's division on the left of Garnett, formed the first line. Armistead's brigade moved in rear of Garnett's, and Lane's and Scales' brigades of Pender's division moved in rear of Heth, but not in touch nor in line with Armistead. As the lines cleared the woods that skirted the brow of the ridge and passed through our batteries, with their flags proudly held aloft, waving in the air, with polished muskets and swords gleaming and flashing in the sunlight, they presented an inexpressibly grand and inspiring sight. It is said that when our troops were first seen there ran along the line of the Federals, as from men who had waited long in expectancy, the cry: There they come! There they come! The first impression made by the magnificent array of our lines as they moved forward, was to inspire the involuntary admiration of the enemy. Then they realized that they came, terrible as an army with banners. Our men moved with quick step as calmly and orderly as if they were on parade. No sooner than our lines came in full view, the enemy's batteries in front, on the right and on the left, from Cemetery Hill to Round Top, opened on them with a concentrated, accurate and fearful fire of shell and solid shot. These plowed through or exploded in our ranks, making great havoc. Yet they made no disturbance. As to the orderly conduct and steady march of our men, they were as if they had not been. As the killed and wounded dropped out, our lines closed and dressed up, as if nothing had happened, and went on with steady march. I remember I saw a shell explode amidst the ranks of the left company of the regiment on our right. Men fell like ten-pins in a ten-strike. Without a pause and without losing step, the survivors dressed themselves to their line and our regiment to the diminished regiment, and all went on as serenely and as unfalteringly as before. My God! it was magnificent--this march of our men. What was the inspiration that gave them this stout courage--this gallant bearing--this fearlessness--this steadiness--this collective and individual heroism? It was home and country. It was the fervor of patriotism--the high sense of individual duty. It was blood and pride of state--the inherited quality of a brave and honorable ancestry.

On they go--down the sloping sides of the ridge--across the valley--over the double fences--up the slope that rises to the heights crowned with stone walls and entrenchments, studded with batteries, and defended by multiple lines of protected infantry. The skirmish line is driven in. And now there bursts upon our ranks in front and on flank, like sheeted hail, a new storm of missiles--cannister, shrapnel and rifle shot. Still the column advances steadily and onward, without pause or confusion. Well might Count de Paris describe it as an irresistible machine moving forward which nothing could stop. The dead and wounded officers and men-- mark each step of advance. Yet under the pitiless rain of missiles the brave men move on, and then with a rush and cheering yell they reach the stone wall. Our flags are planted on the defenses. Victory seems within grasp, but more is to be done. Brave Armistead, coming up, overleaps the wall and calls on all to follow. Brave men follow his lead. Armistead is now among the abandoned cannon, making ready to turn them against their former friends. Our men are widening the breach of the penetrated and broken lines of the Federals. But, now the enemy has made a stand, and are rallying. It is a critical moment. That side must win which can command instant reinforcements. They come not to Armistead, but they come to Webb, and they come to him from every side in overwhelming numbers in our front and with enclosing lines on either flank. They are pushed forward. Armistead is shot down with mortal wounds and heavy slaughter is made of those around him. The final moment has come when there must be instant flight, instant surrender, or instant death. Each alternative is shared. Less than 1,000 escape of all that noble division which in the morning numbered 4,700; all the rest either killed, wounded or captured. All is over. As far as possible for mortals they approached the accomplishment of the impossible. Their great feat of arms has closed. The charge of Pickett's division has been proudly, gallantly and right royally delivered.

And then, at once, before our dead are counted, there arose from that bloody immortalized field, Fame, the Mystic Goddess, and from her trumpet in clarion notes there rang out upon the ear of the world the story of Pickett's charge at Gettysburg. All over this country, equally North and South, millions listened and returned applause. Over ocean Fame wings her way. Along the crowded population and cities of Europe she rings out the story. The people of every brave race intently listen and are thrilled. Over the famous battlefields of modern and ancient times she sweeps. Over the ruins and dust of Rome the story is heralded. Thermopylae bears and applauds. The ancient pyramids catch the sound, and summing up the records of their hoary centuries, searching, find therein no story of equal courage. Away over the mounds of buried cities Fame challenges, in vain, a response from their past. Over the continents and the isles of the sea the story runs. The whole world is tumultuous with applause. A new generation has heard the story with undiminished admiration and praise. It is making its way up through the opening years to the opening centuries. The posterities of all the living will gladly hear and treasure it, and will hand it down to the end of time as an inspiration and example of courage to all who shall hereafter take up arms.

The intrinsic merit of the charge of Pickett's men at Gettysburg, is too great, too broad, too immortal for the limitations of sections, of states, or of local pride.

The people of this great and growing republic, now so happily reunited, have and feel a common kinship and a common heritage in this peerless example of American courage and American heroism.

But let us return to the battlefield to view our dead, our dying and our wounded. Here they lie scattered over the line of their march; here at the stone wall they lie in solid heaps along its foot; and here within the Federal lines they are as autumnal leaves--each and all precious heroes--each the loved one of some home in dear, dear Virginia. Now we seem to catch the sound of another strain. It is more human; it touches pathetically more closely human hearts. It is the wailing voice of afflicted love. It is the sobbing outburst of the sorrow of bereavement coming up from so many homes and families, from so many kinsmen and friends; and with it comes the mournful lamentations of Virginia herself, the mother of us all, over the loss of so many of her bravest and best sons.

Of her generals Garnett is dead, Armistead is dying; and Kemper desperately wounded. Of her colonels of regiments six are killed on the field, Hodges, Edmonds, Magruder, Williams, Patton, Allen, and Owen is dying and Stuart mortally wounded. Three lieutenant-colonels are killed, Calcutt, Wade and Ellis. Five colonels, Hunton, Terry, Garnett, Mayo and Aylett, are wounded. Four lieutenant-colonels commanding regiments, Martin, Carrington, Otey and Richardson are wounded. Of the whole compliment of field officers in fifteen regiments only one escaped unhurt, Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph C. Cabell. The loss of company officers are in equal proportion. It is a sad, mournful summing up. Let the curtain fall on the tragic scene.

But there are some of those who fell on that field whom I cannot pass by with a mere enumeration.

Gen. Lewis A. Armistead, the commander of our brigade, is one of these. Fortune made him the most advanced and conspicuous hero of that great charge. He was to us the very embodiment of a heroic commander. On this memorable day be placed himself on foot in front of his brigade. He drew his sword, placed his hat on its point, proudly held it up as a standard, and strode in front of his men, calm, self-collected, resolute and fearless. All he asked was that his men should follow him. Thus in front he marched until within about one hundred paces of the stone wall some officer on horseback, whose name I have never been able to learn, stopped him for some purpose. The few moments of detention thus caused were sufficient to put him for the first time in the rear of his advancing brigade. Then quickly on he came, and when he reached the stone wall where others stopped, he did not pause an instant--over it he went and called on all to follow. He fell, as above stated, amidst the enemy's guns, mortally wounded. He was taken to the Eleventh Corps' Hospital, and in a few days he died and was buried there.

Another: Col. James Gregory Hodges, of the 14th Virginia, of Armistead's brigade, fell instantly killed at the foot of the stone wall of the Bloody Angle, and around and over his dead body there was literally a pile of his dead officers around him, including gallant Major Poor. On the occasion of the reunion of Pickett's Division at Gettysburg, 1887, General Hunt, chief of the Federal artillery at this battle, who had known Col. Hodges before the war, pointed out to me where he saw him lying dead among his comrades. He led his regiment in this memorable charge with conspicuous courage and gallantry. He was an able and experienced officer. At the breaking out of the war he was Colonel of the Third Virginia Volunteers, and from 20th April, 1861, until he fell at Gettysburg he served with distinguished ability, zeal and gallantry his State and the Confederacy. He was with his regiment in every battle in which it was engaged in the war. He commanded the love and confidence of his men, and they cheerfully and fearlessly ever followed his lead. His memory deserves to be cherished and held in the highest esteem by his city, to which by his virtues, character and patriotic service he brought honor and consideration.

Col. John C. Owens, of the Ninth Virginia, Armistead's Brigade, also of this city, fell mortally wounded on the charge, and died in the field hospital that night. He had been recently promoted to the colonelcy of the regiment from the captaincy of the Portsmouth Rifles, Company G. As adjutant of the regiment I had every opportunity of knowing and appreciating Col. Owens as a man and officer. I learned to esteem and love him. He was intelligent, quiet, gentle, kind and considerate. Yet he was firm of purpose and of strong will. He knew how to command and how to require obedience. He was faithful, and nothing could swerve him from duty. Under his quiet, gentle manner there was a force of character surprising to those who did not know him well. And he was as brave and heroic as he was gentle and kind. Under fire he was cool, self-possessed, and without fear. He was greatly beloved and respected by his regiment, although he had commanded it for a very short time. He fell while gallantly leading his regiment before it reached the enemy's lines. He, too, is to be numbered among those heroes of our city, who left home, never to return; who after faithful and distinguished service, fell on the field of honor, worthy of the high rank he had attained, reflecting by his life, patriotism and courage, honor on his native city, which will never let his name and patriotic devotion be forgotten.

John C. Niemeyer, First Lieutenant I, Ninth Virginia, was killed in that charge just before reaching the famous stone wall. He was a born soldier, apt, brave, dashing. He was so young, so exuberant in feeling, so joyous in disposition, that in my recollection of him he seems to have been just a lad. Yet he knew and felt the responsibility of office, and faithfully and gallantly discharged its duties. He was a worthy brother of the distinguished Col. W. F. Neimeyer, a brilliant officer who also gave his young life to the cause,

And there, too, fell my intimate friend, John S. Jenkins, Adjutant of the Fourteenth Virginia. He, doubtless, was one of those gallant officers whom General Hunt saw when he recognized Colonel Hodges immediately after the battle, lying dead where he fell, who had gathered around him, and whose limbs were interlocked in death as their lives had been united in friendship and comradeship in the camp. He fell among the bravest, sealed his devotion to his country by his warm young blood, in the flush of early vigorous manhood when his life was full of hope and promise. He gave up home which was secularly dear and sweet to him, when he knew that hereafter his only home would be under the flag of his regiment, wherever it might lead, whether on the march, in the camp or on the battle field. His life was beautiful and manly--his death was heroic and glorious, and his name is of the imperishable ones of Pickett's charge.

Time fails me to do more than mention among those from our city who were killed at Gettysburg: Lieut. Robert Guy, Lieut. George W. Mitchell, John A. F. Dunderdale, Lemuel H. Williams, W. B. Bennett, John W. Lattimore, W. G. Monte, Richard J. Nash, Thomas C. Owens, Daniel Byrd, John Cross and Joshua Murden--heroes all--who contributed to the renown of Pickett's charge, gave new lustre to the prowess of arms, and laid a new chaplet of glory on the brow of Virginia, brighter and more immortal than all others worn by her.

Pickett's Charge Map
Pickett's Charge Map.jpg
Official Gettysburg Battlefield Map

"Let marble shafts and sculptured urns

Their names record, their actions tell,

Let future ages read and learn

How well they fought, how nobly fell."

(Source: Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 33, pp. 118-134)

Recommended Reading: Pickett's Charge, by George Stewart. Description: The author has written an eminently readable, thoroughly enjoyable, and well-researched book on the third day of the Gettysburg battle, July 3, 1863. An especially rewarding read if one has toured, or plans to visit, the battlefield site. The author's unpretentious, conversational style of writing succeeds in putting the reader on the ground occupied by both the Confederate and Union forces before, during and after Pickett's and Pettigrew's famous assault on Meade's Second Corps. Continued below...

Interspersed with humor and down-to-earth observations concerning battlefield conditions, the author conscientiously describes all aspects of the battle, from massing of the assault columns and pre-assault artillery barrage to the last shots and the flight of the surviving rebels back to the safety of their lines… Having visited Gettysburg several years ago, this superb volume makes me want to go again.

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Recommended Reading: Pickett's Charge--The Last Attack at Gettysburg (Hardcover). Description: Pickett's Charge is probably the best-known military engagement of the Civil War, widely regarded as the defining moment of the battle of Gettysburg and celebrated as the high-water mark of the Confederacy. But as Earl Hess notes, the epic stature of Pickett's Charge has grown at the expense of reality, and the facts of the attack have been obscured or distorted by the legend that surrounds them. With this book, Hess sweeps away the accumulated myths about Pickett's Charge to provide the definitive history of the engagement.

Drawing on exhaustive research, especially in unpublished personal accounts, he creates a moving narrative of the attack from both Union and Confederate perspectives, analyzing its planning, execution, aftermath, and legacy. He also examines the history of the units involved, their state of readiness, how they maneuvered under fire, and what the men who marched in the ranks thought about their participation in the assault. Ultimately, Hess explains, such an approach reveals Pickett's Charge both as a case study in how soldiers deal with combat and as a dramatic example of heroism, failure, and fate on the battlefield.


Recommended Reading: Pickett's Charge in History and Memory. Description: Pickett's Charge--the Confederates' desperate (and failed) attempt to break the Union lines on the third and final day of the Battle of Gettysburg--is best remembered as the turning point of the U.S. Civil War. But Penn State historian Carol Reardon reveals how hard it is to remember the past accurately, especially when an event such as this one so quickly slipped into myth. Continued below...

She writes, "From the time the battle smoke cleared, Pickett's Charge took on this chameleon-like aspect and, through a variety of carefully constructed nuances, adjusted superbly to satisfy the changing needs of Northerners, Southerners, and, finally, the entire nation." With care and detail, Reardon's fascinating book teaches a lesson in the uses and misuses of history.


Recommended Reading: Pickett's Charge: Eyewitness Accounts At The Battle Of Gettysburg (Stackpole Military History Series). Description: On the final day of the battle of Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee ordered one of the most famous infantry assaults of all time: Pickett's Charge. Following a thundering artillery barrage, thousands of Confederates launched a daring frontal attack on the Union line. From their entrenched positions, Federal soldiers decimated the charging Rebels, leaving the field littered with the fallen and several Southern divisions in tatters. Written by generals, officers, and enlisted men on both sides, these firsthand accounts offer an up-close look at Civil War combat and a panoramic view of the carnage of July 3, 1863.


Recommended Reading: Last Chance For Victory: Robert E. Lee And The Gettysburg Campaign. Description: Long after nearly fifty thousand soldiers shed their blood there, serious misunderstandings persist about Robert E. Lee's generalship at Gettysburg. What were Lee's choices before, during, and after the battle? What did he know that caused him to act as he did? Last Chance for Victory addresses these issues by studying Lee's decisions and the military intelligence he possessed when each was made. Packed with new information and original research, Last Chance for Victory draws alarming conclusions to complex issues with precision and clarity. Readers will never look at Robert E. Lee and Gettysburg the same way again.


Recommended Reading: ONE CONTINUOUS FIGHT: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863 (Hardcover). Description: The titanic three-day battle of Gettysburg left 50,000 casualties in its wake, a battered Southern army far from its base of supplies, and a rich historiographic legacy. Thousands of books and articles cover nearly every aspect of the battle, but not a single volume focuses on the military aspects of the monumentally important movements of the armies to and across the Potomac River. One Continuous Fight: The Retreat from Gettysburg and the Pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, July 4-14, 1863 is the first detailed military history of Lee's retreat and the Union effort to catch and destroy the wounded Army of Northern Virginia. Against steep odds and encumbered with thousands of casualties, Confederate commander Robert E. Lee's post-battle task was to successfully withdraw his army across the Potomac River. Union commander George G. Meade's equally difficult assignment was to intercept the effort and destroy his enemy. The responsibility for defending the exposed Southern columns belonged to cavalry chieftain James Ewell Brown (JEB) Stuart. If Stuart fumbled his famous ride north to Gettysburg, his generalship during the retreat more than redeemed his flagging reputation. The ten days of retreat triggered nearly two dozen skirmishes and major engagements, including fighting at Granite Hill, Monterey Pass, Hagerstown, Williamsport, Funkstown, Boonsboro, and Falling Waters. Continued below...

President Abraham Lincoln was thankful for the early July battlefield victory, but disappointed that General Meade was unable to surround and crush the Confederates before they found safety on the far side of the Potomac. Exactly what Meade did to try to intercept the fleeing Confederates, and how the Southerners managed to defend their army and ponderous 17-mile long wagon train of wounded until crossing into western Virginia on the early morning of July 14, is the subject of this study. One Continuous Fight draws upon a massive array of documents, letters, diaries, newspaper accounts, and published primary and secondary sources. These long-ignored foundational sources allow the authors, each widely known for their expertise in Civil War cavalry operations, to describe carefully each engagement. The result is a rich and comprehensive study loaded with incisive tactical commentary, new perspectives on the strategic role of the Southern and Northern cavalry, and fresh insights on every engagement, large and small, fought during the retreat. The retreat from Gettysburg was so punctuated with fighting that a soldier felt compelled to describe it as "One Continuous Fight." Until now, few students fully realized the accuracy of that description. Complimented with 18 original maps, dozens of photos, and a complete driving tour with GPS coordinates of the entire retreat, One Continuous Fight is an essential book for every student of the American Civil War in general, and for the student of Gettysburg in particular. About the Authors: Eric J. Wittenberg has written widely on Civil War cavalry operations. His books include Glory Enough for All (2002), The Union Cavalry Comes of Age (2003), and The Battle of Monroe's Crossroads and the Civil War's Final Campaign (2005). He lives in Columbus, Ohio. J. David Petruzzi is the author of several magazine articles on Eastern Theater cavalry operations, conducts tours of cavalry sites of the Gettysburg Campaign, and is the author of the popular "Buford's Boys." A long time student of the Gettysburg Campaign, Michael Nugent is a retired US Army Armored Cavalry Officer and the descendant of a Civil War Cavalry soldier. He has previously written for several military publications. Nugent lives in Wells, Maine.

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