July 3, 2014


July 3, 1863: Longstreet's Misgivings -- and Pickett's Charge (Carl M. Cannon, July 3, 2014, RCP)

"General, shall I advance?" one Southern division officer fatefully asked corps commander James Longstreet.

The man doing the asking was a well-connected 38-year-old Virginian, George Edward Pickett. Gen. Longstreet believed the impending charge to be folly, and had conveyed these misgivings to Robert E. Lee. Instead of a frontal assault, Longstreet urged Lee (whose army occupied an inferior geographic position on that battle) to leave the field and circle around the Yankees, positioning the Confederates between the road to Washington and the bluecoats, thereby forcing the Northern commanders' hand.

But Lee was tired of chasing Yankees, and he ordered the July 3 attack on fortified Union troops on Cemetery Ridge. He should have listened to Longstreet.

"Pickett's Charge" is the name given to Gettysburg's fateful engagement, but that's something of a misnomer. For one thing, Maj. Gen. George Pickett was one of three Confederate leaders ordered to take Cemetery Ridge. The others were Maj. Gen. Isaac R. Trimble and Brig. Gen. J. Johnston Pettigrew. Also, it wasn't really a charge. It was a slow advance, by infantry, across a mile-wide meadow that sloped upward -- into withering rifle fire and artillery bombardment. It was carnage.

In Longstreet's memoir, the tortured corps commander recalled his response when Pickett asked him, "General, shall I advance?" Longstreet's misgivings were so profound that he literally could not find his voice.

"The effort to speak the order failed, and I could only indicate it by an affirmative bow," Longstreet wrote. "He accepted the duty with seeming confidence of success, leaped on his horse, and rode gayly to his command."

The charge was the least of their mistakes.  The greatest was fighting battles.
Posted by at July 3, 2014 4:07 PM

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