Pickett's Charge (July 3, 1863)

Updated: May 30, 2011

During the first two days of battle at Gettysburg (July 1 and 2, 1863), Robert E. Lee's Confederate forces tried unsuccessfully to flank each end of the Union line. Believing that Union commander General George Meade had weakened the middle of his line in support of the attacks on his flanks, Lee decided, at a council of war on the night of July 2, to launch a frontal assault on the center of the Federal line the next day.

During the first two days of battle at Gettysburg (July 1 and 2, 1863), Robert E. Lee's Confederate forces tried unsuccessfully to flank each end of the Union line. Believing that Union commander General George Meade had weakened the middle of his line in support of the attacks on his flanks, Lee decided, at a council of war on the night of July 2, to launch a frontal assault on the center of the Federal line the next day. The corps commander assigned to lead the assault, Lieutenant General James Longstreet, argued against the attack, but Lee was determined to proceed.

Three Confederate division commanders were chosen to execute the attack: Major General George Pickett, Brigadier General J. Johnston Pettigrew, and Major General Isaac R. Trimble. Pickett commanded a division, a part of Lieutenant General James Longstreet's I Corps, one of three Confederate corps that participated in the Battle of Gettysburg. Pettigrew had assumed command of Major General Henry Heth's division after Heth was wounded on July1. Trimble had assumed command of Major General W. Dorsey Pender's division after Pender was mortally wounded on July 2. Heth's and Pender's divisions were a part of Lieutenant General A. P. Hill's III Corps.

At his own council of war on the night of July 2, General Meade correctly predicted that Lee would launch an attack the next day against the center of the Union lines positioned on Cemetery Ridge. Thus, the commander of the center of the Union lines, Major General Winfield S. Hancock, was able to fortify his position and to prepare for the Rebel offensive.

The assault began at approximately 1 p.m. on July 3, when approximately 135 Confederate cannons began bombarding Union positions on Cemetery Ridge. Between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., the bombardment ended and about 12,500 Rebel infantrymen emerged from their positions in the woods below Seminary Ridge, deliberately marching toward their objective, nearly a mile away. Unfortunately for the foot soldiers, the Rebel bombardment had done little damage to the Union artillery, and they suffered from murderous fire as they crossed a valley of wide-open terrain for most of their advance. The result was a Confederate bloodbath. Of the Rebel troops who advanced close enough to the Northern position actually to mount a charge, only General Lewis Armistead's brigade breached the Union line, but a Federal counterattack quickly drove tehse Confederates back. Some historians have referred to Armistead's advance as the high water mark of the Confederacy. In less than an hour, the assault was over; the Rebels were in retreat; and the defenders of Cemetery Ridge had cemented the Union victory at Gettysburg. More than one half of the Confederate troops who began the assault were casualties (killed, wounded, or captured). The Union suffered about 1,500 casualties, compared to approximately 6,500 Confederate casualties, including at least 1,123 killed. Reportedly, General Pickett was inconsolable after the assault and never forgave General Lee for ordering it.

Pickett's Charge was a pivotal event in the American Civil War. By assuring the Union of a much-needed victory at Gettysburg, the defenders of Cemetery Ridge ended Robert E. Lee's second attempt to bring the war to the North, and they disproved the invincibility of the Army of Northern Virginia.

During the late twentieth century, Pickett's Charge was romanticized in the popular media through works such as Ken Burns' public television documentary, The Civil War,  Michael Shaara's novel, The Killer Angels, and its movie adaptation, Gettysburg.

Ohio units involved in the repulse of Pickett's Charge included:

Infantry units:

4th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

8th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Cite this Entry

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"Pickett's Charge," Ohio Civil War Central, 2017, Ohio Civil War Central. 22 Nov 2017 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=565>

APA Style

"Pickett's Charge." (2017) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved November 22, 2017, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=565

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