National Geographic : 1931 Jul
THE MOST FAMOUS BATTLE FIELD IN AMERICA an answer. The battle is on. Artillery fire blasts their front and rakes their flanks. Musket fire throws a deadly leaden hail into them from almost every angle. Their position becomes an inferno. They charge into a blinding sheet of all-arms fire; they reel back, reform, charge, and are hurled back again. Again they reform and charge once more. At last, almost literally blasted from the field, the bugles sound the mourn ful notes of the retreat and General Meade holds the ground unchallenged. Pickett's charge will ever live in the minds of men as the climactic episode of Gettysburg; but military men agree that in the menace it held, in the fierceness of the assaults that were made, in the carnage that was wrought, the attack made by the men whom Stonewall Jackson had led at Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chan cellorsville deserves an equal place in the annals of war. That attack lasted for six hours. Pickett's charge moved out at 3 o'clock, reached High Water Mark (see Color Plate I) at 3:20, began its retreat at 3:40, and was off the field a little after 4 o'clock. PICKETT'S CHARGE UNEXCELLED AS MILITARY SPECTACLE As a military spectacle, that concluding act has never been excelled. Its prelude was played by 300 guns, as battery an swered battery across the gently rolling fields over which the historic charge was to sweep. "Every position seems to have broken out with guns everywhere, and from Round Top to Cemetery Hill is like a blazing volcano," reported one officer. "The grand roar of nearly the whole artillery of both armies burst in on the silence, almost as suddenly as the full notes of an organ would fill a "church," wrote another. In an hour and a half the Federals slack ened their fire, so that their guns might cool, wrecked batteries be replaced, and the atmosphere allowed to clear. Forty-two Confederate regiments move out. Pickett leads them, with his own division in the center. The charge begins with the precision of dress parade. A murmur of admiration sweeps the Union line. And then its artillery opens again with every ounce of its reinforced power. Presently, torn by shot and shell, the charg ing host comes within rifle range. They press on. They are within 150 yards of their goal, facing death in a thousand forms. Pickett's men melt like snow on a hot day, but a second and a third wave sweep on. They face double canister at Io paces, but they silence the guns that fire them. Into Webb's rifle pits they leap and over the barricades. Armistead and his men vault over the stone wall. He falls mor tally wounded. The momentum of the charge wanes and dies. Raked with fire and cross-fire, there is nothing to do but fall back. But they re turn across the sanguinary field in such fashion that the repulse does not become a rout. Out of the 4,800 men of Pickett's division, not more than I,ooo return. Of the fifteen field officers and four generals, only Pickett and one lieutenant colonel escape unscathed. GENEROUS GOVERNMENT TREATS NORTH AND SOUTH ALIKE The Battle of Gettysburg is ended. As we walk over the scene and try to measure the courage of the men who fought here, we come to understand why there is pride in every American heart that this battle field is now a military park, and that it was dedicated in immortal words by Abraham Lincoln. The fine generosity of the Federal Gov ernment, that knows no North and no South in the marking of those hallowed acres, cements in the firmest bonds of his tory the sons and daughters of those whose bravery and courage made the field the sacred spot it is. First established by the Gettysburg Battle Field Memorial Association in 1864, taken over by the Government in 1895, more adequately marked by the Gettysburg National Park Commission, the Park now consists of 2,530 acres of Government owned land. It has twenty-two and a half miles of avenues, in addition to the State and county highways that traverse it. In it there are 83 statues, in addition to nearly 8oo other monuments. There are also 1,410 bronze and iron tablets and 323 granite markers on pedestals, while 419 mounted cannon, caissons, and limbers show the artillery positions of the field. As a recent Army report declares: "It has been well said that Gettysburg was in a measure the American soldier's battle, a battle of the ranks, a struggle of Amer ican prowess and courage, of discipline and tenacity, of unswerving fidelity and unselfish devotion, a contest of American manhood."