July 3, 1863: Lee’s Charge

 

It is the third day.
The morning wears with a stubborn fight at Culp’s Hill
That ends at last in Confederate repulse
And that barb-end of the fish-hook cleared of the grey.

Lee has tried his strokes on the right and left of the line.
The centre remains–that centre yesterday pierced
For a brief, wild moment in Wilcox’s attack,
But since then trenched, reinforced and alive with guns.
It is a chance.  All war is a chance like that.
Lee considers the chance and the force he has left to spend
And states his will.
                    Dutch Longstreet, the independent,
Demurs, as he has demurred since the fight began.
He had disapproved of this battle from the first
And that disapproval has added and is to add
Another weight in the balance against the grey.
It is not our task to try him for sense or folly,
Such men are the men they are–but an hour comes
Sometimes, to fix such men in most fateful parts,
As now with Longstreet who, if he had his orders
As they were given, neither obeyed them quite
Nor quite refused them, but acted as he thought best,
So did the half-thing, failed as he thought he would,
Felt justified and wrote all of his reasons down
Later in controversy.
                     We do not need
Such controversies to see that pugnacious man
Talking to Lee, a stubborn line in his brow
And that unseen fate between them.
                                  Lee hears him out
Unmoved, unchanging.
                    “The enemy is there
And I am going to strike him,” says Lee, inflexibly.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown’s Body

Lee’s mistake in ordering the assault on Cemetery Ridge of the third day of Gettysburg, erroneously called Pickett’s Charge since Pickett was merely attempting to carry out an impossible mission, was not an uncommon one in that War even by good generals.  Grant ordered two such hopeless attacks at Cold Harbor and Sherman did so at Kennesaw Mountain. The problem was that such charges occasionally succeeded.  The Army of the Cumberland chased the Army of Tennessee out of an immensely strong position on Missionary Ridge just a few months later.  The improvement in weaponry had made such assaults a bad gamble, but occasionally the gamble did pay off.  At Gettysburg it did not.  The attack produced nothing but 6500 Confederate casualties, 1500 Union casualties, an end to Lee’s Northern invasion and an undying legend.

 

 

Pickett's-Charge

 

As the survivors of the attack came back to the Confederate lines Lee rode out to meet them.  His first words were All my fault.  After Lee got his Army back to the Confederacy, a feat in itself which speaks well of his generalship and poorly of that of General Meade, he wrote a letter offering his resignation to Jefferson Davis: (more…)

Published in: on July 3, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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