The barrage had done as much as it could do. Longstreet didn’t like the idea of this attack at all – he spent much of the afternoon trying to avoid giving the order to proceed, even going so far as to try to trick Col. Alexander into doing it. The subordinate division commanders kept coming to ask when the attack would start – finally Maj. General George Pickett brought a note from Col. Alexander stating that the Confederate ordnance was nearly out. When Pickett asked if the attack could go forward, all Longstreet could manage was a nod.
Longstreet was in over-all command. The attack included the division of Maj. General Heth (temporarily commanded by Brig. General Pettigrew), and a mixed division under the command of Maj. General Isaac Trimble. While his name gets top billing on the charge, Pickett’s division made up only about 1/3 of the attacking force. Perhaps this was because his were the freshest troops on the field, or because they ended up making the farthest advance of the day. Either way, the attack is more properly called “Longstreet’s Assault” by most serious historians.
150 years ago right now, the 13,000 men who would take part in the charge came out of the tree line on Seminary Ridge and began the advance.
They would cross nearly a mile of open fields, under fire from Union artillery the whole way. There were two fences that would have to be crossed along the way and for the last leg, the fire of tens of thousands of Yankee rifles to contend with.
Like I said, some of Pickett’s men did make it over the wall. Nearly 1,000 men broke the Union lines, but that wasn’t enough to last. The Confederacy had reached its high tide.