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- New photo gallery | July 4, 1863: Union takes back Gettysburg in the east; Vicksburg falls in the west
- New photo gallery | July 2, 1863: Federal troops make desperate defense at Gettysburg
- New photo gallery | July 1, 1863: Battle erupts at Gettysburg
- New photo gallery | June 30, 1863: Union cavalry poised to scrap with rebels in Gettysburg
GETTYSBURG, PA. — Yesterday’s Confederate punch to the Federal left and then to the Federal right culminated today with an earth-shaking yet ill-fated charge into the Union middle.
Like the two attacks before it, somehow the men in blue withstood the pummeling from the men in grey. Indeed, this time Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia may not be able to recover from the beating it took in return.
The rebel attack began in the early afternoon with a two-hour artillery barrage unleashed by more than 150 Confederate cannons. With his division of troops fresh into the battle, Maj. Gen. George Custer led the initial ground assault, followed by another two divisions, some 12,500 men all, across nearly a mile of open fields to the Federal lines along Cemetery Ridge.
Lee’s second in command had his doubts about the attack from the beginning.
“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 any one, what soldiers can do,” Lt. Gen. James Longstreet was overheard telling Lee as plans were getting hashed out. “It is my opinion that no 15,000 men ever arrayed for battle can take that position.”
Lee no doubt regrets not heeding the advice of his “Old Warhorse.”
The Confederate artillery barrage had been largely ineffective at taking out the Federal cannons, which were soon blowing smoky, blood-soaked swaths thorough the advancing rebel columns.
Soon, a contingent of Union troops flanked around the Confederate charge, adding further to the carnage.
In the end, nearly half of the rebel attackers lay dead or wounded.
It remains unclear what will happen next. Lee has ordered his remaining forces to consolidate into a tight defensive huddle around Gettysburg.
Union Army of the Potomac commander Maj. Gen. George Meade could seize the moment to go on the offensive and finish off Lee’s invasion force completely. But suffering heavy losses himself, Meade may decide it is better for his troops to catch their breath after three days of intense and nearly nonstop fighting.