The third and last day of the battle of Gettysburg was Friday, July 3rd, 1863. It was also perhaps
the most controversial day for the commander of the Confederate army Robert E. Lee. After being unsuccessful the previous
day in crushing the Union army's flanks, Lee decided to launch a massive frontal assault on the center of the Union line at
Cemetery Ridge. Lee had believed that the center of the Union line would be weakened by the previous day's fighting due to
reinforcements having been sent from the center of the line to the flanks the day before. However to reach the center
of the union line Lee's army would have to cross a mile of open fields and cross the Emmitsburg Pike which was lined with
fences. This did not deter Lee from ordering the attack despite the protests of Lee's most trusted general at that time,
General James Longstreet. The assault would involve nearly 14,000 men and would be preceded by a two hour massive artillery
bombardment to soften up the Union defenses on Cemetery Ridge. The attack was late to begin and some Confederates after
the war accused General Longstreet of deliberately delaying the attack since he was against it. The huge Confederate artillery
bombardment was not as effective as hoped as much of the artillery fire fell just behind the Union lines in the rear areas.
However it did have a psychological effect on the Union troops at Cemetery Ridge who hugged the earth at the dreadful sound
and effects of the largest artillery bombardment of the Civil War. The Union artillery responded but showed restraint, wanting
to preserve ammunition for the expected infantry assault. This slacking of Union artillery fire also served to give the
false impression to the Confederates that the Union guns had been silenced. When the massive Confederate artillery bombardment
stopped the 14,000 men clad in gray emerged from Seminary Ridge (which was parallel to Cemetery Ridge) and began their advance
across a mile of open fields directly in front of the main Union line. Soon the Union artillery at Cemetery Ridge, adjacent
Cemetery Hill (the western slope overlooked the fields in front of Cemetery Ridge), and even the Union artillery on Little
Round Top opened up on the advancing Confederates. The effect was devastating yet the Confederate advance continued.
As the Confederate advance began to stall some elements under the command of Confederate General Louis Armistead reached the
Union line and claimed the stone wall where the Union line began. However just prior to that, Union regiments had stepped
out off of the ridge and advanced just off to the sides of the advancing confederates. They then turned and formed battle
lines perpendicular to the advancing Confederates and poured volleys into the flanks of the Confederate troops.
The Confederate troops that were still advancing at this point were now under fire from three sides. At this point of
the battle, known as the "high tide of the Confederacy" when the Confederates reached the stone wall at the spot
known as The Angle, the tide suddenly began to ebb as no Confederate reinforcements were sent to support the Confederate
troops that had claimed the wall. The troops clad in gray were overwhelmed and the charge known as "Pickett's Charge"
ended in failure, thus securing victory for the Union troops at Gettysburg. The Confederate losses were staggering in
the assault and about 33 Confederate colors or flags were captured.
Enlarged Map of Pickett's Charge
The famed Pickett's Charge was not the only fighting that occurred on
July 3rd, 1863. In the early morning hours of July 3rd the fight for Culp's Hill was renewed as the Union 12 Corps tried and
succeeded in reclaiming their previously lost position on the lower crest of Culp's Hill. At the same time that the Union
troops on Culp's Hill launched their attack, Confederate General Edward Johnson's division, this time reinforced with brigades
from Ewell's division, renewed his attack to take the upper summit of Culp's Hill. Culp's Hill shook as the pitched battle
for Culp's Hill raged until late in the morning. The Union fought to defend their hold on the upper summit and also to reclaim
the lower summit while the Confederate troops fought to defend their foothold on the lower summit and capture the upper summit.
In the end the steep slopes of Culp's Hill and the well entrenched Union troops were too much for the exhausted Confederate
troops. At the end of the fighting for Culp's Hill, both the upper and lower summit were in Union hands. To make matters
worse for the Confederates, the renewed attack on the upper summit of Culp's Hill was to act as diversion and distraction
for General Longstreet's attack on Cemetery Ridge. This benefit however never materialized as General Longstreet delayed his
attack and it did not begin until the fighting at Culp's Hill was over.
The Confederate defeat at Gettysburg marked a turning point in the war. From
this point on the Confederate army would be on the defensive and fighting a losing war that would eventually
end nearly two later. Many speculate as to why Robert E. Lee would order such a controversial order such as Pickett's
Charge. Many believe that Robert E. Lee may have been ill or perhaps even suffered a heart attack that may have affected
his judgement. Some believe that Robert E. Lee was influenced by his many victories against the north up until
that point and so perhaps had become overly confident. The Confederate strategy at Gettysburg had been a change
for the Confederacy. Unlike in past battles up until that point in the war, the north was this time defending their homeland
and fighting on home soil. The significance of this cannot be underestimated. Also, for a change, it was the North that held
the high ground and the Confederate army that had to make the uphill charges and frontal assaults. This was a fact that
was not lost on General James Longstreet who pleaded with General Lee to not order the assault known as Pickett's
Charge. Some Confederate generals blamed Longstreet's worries and hesitations for the failing of the attack. However,
no matter the attitudes that prevailed that day, it was most likely that the attack was doomed to failure due the presence
of many Union reserves lined up behind Cemetery Ridge. One must not take away of course from the excellent Union
leadership at Gettysburg under General George Meade and the valiant men who sacrificed their lives so the union would
remain intact and that we who live today would have the country whose benefits we now reap.