Alfred Waud, Army of Northern Virginia, Battlelines: Gettysburg, Civil War, Culp's Hill, Edwin Forbes, George Armstrong Custer, George Meade, Gettysburg, J.E.B. Stuart, James Longstreet, Pickett's charge, Richard Ewell, Robert E. Lee
Note: The annual anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg is this weekend. To commemorate that, we are posting, with permission, excerpts from Battlelines: Gettysburg, that describe aspects of the battle. Battlelines: Gettysburg contains the battlefield drawings of Alfred Waud and Edwin Forbes, the only two artists who witnessed the battle.
Lee’s original plan for the third day of battle was similar to that of the second day: attack both sides of the Union line. But early in the morning, instead of just holding his position, Meade ordered troops at Culp’s Hill to clear out the Confederate forces that had captured Union positions the day before. So, rather than storming Culp’s Hill – as Lee had planned – General Richard Ewell’s troops had to fight to hold their own position.
When Lee realized that Ewell’s troops were occupied, he changed his plans and told Longstreet to prepare of an attack on the center of the Union line. The attack would require soldiers to cross nearly a mile of open fields that gradually sloped up toward a copse of trees that stood just behind the center of the Federal forces. Longstreet argued against the assault, but Lee was a gambler and felt this was a chance worth taking.
By 11 a.m., Ewell’s troops had been flushed out of their positions at Culp’s Hill and could offer no support for the advance that would later occur. At 1 p.m. Confederate artillery opened up on the Union line, but many of their shots were aimed too high and fell harmlessly behind the lines. Union artillery answered for a while until the order came to cease firing in order to conserve ammunition. By not answering the Confederate fire, Union artillery units were able to conceal their positions in some instances.
After two hours of bombardment, the cannons ceased, and more than 12,000 Confederates advanced on Union lines in what has become known as Pickett’s charge. In addition to the field being open and often exposing the troops to direct and flanking fire, the troops had to cross fences that further exposed them to Union musketry. The center of the Union line held fire for a time, leading Confederate leaders to believe that the artillery bombardment had been successful.
They were wrong.
With many Confederates within range, the center of the Union lined opened up devastating volleys onto the soldiers and decimated their ranks. The Confederates could not reach the Union lines with enough force to break through, and the attack that Lee had ordered failed. Those who could withdrew, but about half of the southerners who started toward the copse of trees did not return.
Meanwhile, Stuart took his cavalry to the east of the Union line in an effort to get behind Union forces and exploit any opening that Longstreet’s troops might make. Stuart was checked by Union cavalry, including a brigade led by Gen. George Armstrong Custer, in a lengthy mounted battle that included hand-to-hand sabre fighting. The engagement effectively blocked Stuart from carrying out his mission to disrupt the rear of the Union lines.
Later that afternoon, a unit of Union cavalry tried to mount a counter-attack on Confederate forces, but it proved ineffective because of lack of infantry support.
The day was finished. Once again, the Union lines held, and the Army of Northern Virginia was spent.
Battlelines: Gettysburg displays many never-before-published drawings of the professional artists who saw the war as eye-witnesses — the sketch artists known as Specials by publications of the time, such as Harper’s Weekly. Almost nowhere among the vast array of photographs related to the Civil War is a picture of a battle. That’s because, of course, photography at the time was limited to that which was stationary. Civil War sketch artists had no such limitation. They could move quickly, go to the scene of the action, draw and interpret of what they, and communicate that to their viewers. They provided an important and vital record of what happened on and off the battlefields of the conflict. Yet the work of these men — about 30 in all — has been largely ignored for the past century and a half. We are familiar with few of their names, and we rarely see their original work. This series, Battlelines, hopes to correct that. More importantly, we have produced this series with the hope of bringing the interested reader fresh insights into America’s defining conflict.
Previously from Battlelines:
Battlelines: Gettysburg: Day 1, July 1, 1863
Battlelines: Gettysburg: Day 2, July 2, 1863