"We gained nothing but glory;
and lost our best men."- Capt. J.T. James, 11th Virginia
Sunrise, Gettysburg, 1997
Click here for Northern viewpoint.
Taken from Seminary Ridge, this dawn view shows the ground traversed by The Army of Northern Virginia to the Union position on Cemetery Ridge in the distance during "Pickett's Charge" on July 3, 1863. Pickett's division came from the right while the right flank of Pettigrew's marched straight along the position now occupied by the fence line. The two divisions converged at "The Angle" in the distance close to where the sun is rising. It was arguably the greatest charge of the war and marked the beginning of an irreversible decline in the fortunes of the Confederacy. This great Southern army was never to recoup the losses suffered here on that day. Under Robert E. Lee's command, The Army of Northern Virginia still had many great battles to fight and a long march into legend after this day but never again would it pose a credible invasion threat to the North.
To the right, just barely out of the field of view of this photograph, occurred one of the most dramatic "little" events of this war. Robert E. Lee, astride his gray war horse "Traveler," met the remnants of the broken divisions streaming back from Cemetery Ridge after being repulsed by the Army of The Potomac, a foe they had beaten so often and so thoroughly in the past. He had come to think of his army as being virtually invincible and had hurled two divisions against the strong Union center . . . into the very maw of massed Yankee artillery. Unlike so many of the great battles of the past in this war, the Northern army stood to their guns. They had found the stolid leadership best suited to their superiority in numbers and materiel. There would be no shirking in the blue ranks this day. Their guns would sweep the field with merciless accuracy, and the infantry would bide their time while the artillery did its work.
Lee had ordered the charge, despite the protestation of his second-in-command, General James Longstreet, who, prior to the final advance, remonstrated with the Commanding General,
"General, I have been a soldier all my life. I have been with soldiers engaged in fights by couples, by squads, companies, regiments, divisions and armies and should know, as well as anyone, what soldiers can do. It is my opinion that no fifteen thousand men ever arrayed for battle can take that position."
While the precise number will ever be a matter of debate amongst scholars, some say Lee sent a mere 10,500. They were catastrophically repulsed. Lee met them on Traveler as they returned from the first real defeat they had known in this war. There was no denial of responsibility, no blaming of subordinates for the failure, no excuses. He had sent his men to do what could not be done and he knew it. His words, uttered with anguish from astride Traveler's back to the broken and bleeding men . . .
"All this has been my fault!"
Is it any wonder they loved the man?
While there would be victories in the future for this army, all would be followed by movement further south into Confederate territory even after fending off their northern foes. It would be nearly another two full years before Traveler would carry The General through the Union lines on yet more sorrowful business . . . the surrender of The Southern Army to General U.S. "Unconditional Surrender" Grant at Appomattox.
It is for these reasons that the field depicted in this photograph is said to be the place of "The Confederate High Water Mark." It was here that the Southern cause was irretrievably lost to history as Pickett's and Pettigrew's divisions were shattered under the ferocity of Union artillery massed along the skyline.
General Robert E. Lee mounted on "Traveler."
Photographed early in 1865, some 18 months after Gettysburg and only weeks before Traveler carried Lee to the fateful surrender at Appomattox on April 9th.
Click here for Northern viewpoint.
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