The Pickett Society in Gettysburg
September 23-September 25, 2005
L-R seated: Shirley Ferguson, Kathy Georg Harrison, Mais Liis, Anne Edwards, Dan Paterson, Pete Pickett, Shaa Pickett, Vivien Rendleman. L-R standing: Billie Earnest, Pat Wood, Suzi Zbar, Julie Maennik, Tom Conzo, Gordon Gourlay, John Margherita, Trevor Benson, Roy Pope, Lynn Pope, Regan Pickett and Marilyn Bohm.
Beginning our Gettysburg odyssey on Friday evening at the old Washington Street train station where war veterans arrived for reunions until the early 1900's seemed appropriate. The railroad cars themselves are vintage and transported tourists and other interested parties over the battlefields and across Little Round Top until 1937 when the government decided that trains should not routinely traverse hallowed ground.
The Gettysburg 1797 Hotel was a good place to put information packets in everyone's hands. Dinner was served in the Gettysburg Express dining car within minutes after we left the historic station.
The view from the open-air double-decked car was magnificent. Between viewing the grim reminders of the fighting that occurred in Gettysburg--the railroad cut and the site of the first day's battlefield and the icehouse near town where many of the fatalities were stacked after the campaign ended--we also viewed orchards and facilities where numerous American fruit products originate, as well as farms, their buildings still intact, that withstood the brutality of the Gettysburg campaign. Many of the farmhouses and barns that stand today were used as hospitals or headquarters during July 1863. We viewed part of Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett's division's route of march as well as where the division camped prior to the battle.Brunch at the Gettysburg 1797 Hotel on Saturday was plentiful, delicious, and offered us a multitude of breakfast delights in a lovely setting. The Society's new tee shirt commemorating Gen. Pickett's Gettysburg charge was well received and nearly sold out. Kathy Georg Harrison, senior historian at Gettysburg National Military Park, joined us and set the mood for our special day during which we would walk the actual route of Pickett's Charge when Generals James Lawson Kemper, Richard Garnett and Lewis Addison Armistead, leading their brigades, marched into lasting military history in 1863.
Brunch at Gettysburg 1797 Hotel was abundant and delicious fare. Roy and Lynn Pope aniticpated the upcoming battlefield visit as Dale and Clay Pickett (background) enjoyed some vitamin C. Pete Pickett was surrounded by ladies except for Dan Gilham who was seated to Pete's left.
The artwork we used for our newest Pickett tee shirt came from "Into the Jaws of Hell," a new painting by Ron Lesser. As you can see, we're sticking with tan pocket tees. Dale Pickett wore General Pickett "In the Line of Fire and Duty." Tom Conzo made a statement with a shirt from his own collection.
Stepping Back in Time
We began retracing the route of Pickett's Charge west of Seminary Ridge and south of the Virginia monument in Spangler Woods. During the Gettysburg Campaign, fewer trees grew in the area because the farmers harvested them as well as the undergrowth. The trees were kept in groves and not allowed to spread. Farmers used the wood for building material and the undergrowth for fodder or kindling. Keeping the undergrowth in check was a good fire preventative. Since the trees weren't dense and the canopies weren't allowed to grow very high, the east coast native white oak trees thrived there. Kathy pointed out trees marked for destruction by the conservationists who are working for the park in an effort to return the battlefield to its 1863 appearance and to create healthier trees.
(LEFT) During 1863, the growth of trees was not as dense as it is today. The undergrowth seen here would have been harvested by the farmers. The trees were kept in groves and not allowed to spread.
Gen. Pickett rode nearly the entire length of his line, regiment by regiment, giving the command, "Forward," beginning with Armistead's brigade, which was closest in proximity to the commander.
The order of battle and placement of soldiers had been established during the very early hours of July 3rd at the division's camp at Marsh Creek. When Pickett's men arrived at the point where we stood, it became clear that they could not advance as a common unit because of the terrain. Armistead's brigade was ordered to remain behind Kemper and Garnett during the advance. The position of the brigades placed Kemper and his men about 300 yards further from the objective than were the other units; Kemper and his men stepped off first.
Looking back at the Pitzer farmhouse, used by Gen. Longstreet and Gen. Hill as headquarters at different times during the Gettysburg Campaign, and glancing ahead towards the Codori farm, it was evident that Kemper's brigade could not see the Union forces nor could they be seen by the enemy at that point. As they advanced in a northeasterly direction, Kemper's men were the first to reach the Emmittsburg Road and soon were under heavy artillery fire from Little Round Top, musket fire from skirmishers and Stannard's Vermonters. They benefited from strong discipline by not stopping to return the fire. Many of the soldiers later wrote in diaries or letters that the enfilading fire was particularly devastating because the artillery fire hit, bounced and rolled along their lines, creating maximum damage.
As we followed Gen. Kemper's route of advance, Kathy Georg Harrison explained that the brigade was unseen by Union forces until they stepped out of Spangler Woods and crossed the ridge. At this point, we were in the blended route of advance of Gen. Kemper's and Gen. Garnett's brigades. Kathy's description of the enfilading fire that those brigades withstood during 1863 seemed surrealistic to us on that silent field in 2005.
Garnett's brigade stepped off as Gen. Pickett ordered, "Forward. Guide on the right. March!" Gen. Pickett then ordered his brother, Maj. Charles Pickett, to command the skirmishers to ensure that their distance ahead of the division remained effective.
Gen. Armistead's brigade marched behind Garnett's with Gen. Armistead himself in the lead, which was contrary to military protocol. As brutal as the musket and artillery fire was, the farmers' fences created more problems for the soldiers. Some of the fences were 6' tall; each time the soldiers climbed over a fence, they had to stop and reform.
Within 15 minutes of the beginning of the advance, a hailstorm of Union bullets as well as enfilading cannon fire decimated Pickett's division. Gen. Pickett sent each of his aides at one-minute intervals - Maj. Charles Pickett, Lt. William Stuart Symington, Capt. Edward Baird and Capt. Robert Bright--to Gen. Cadmus Wilcox and Col. David Lang with the same message requesting immediate support. Wilcox and Lang, along with their 1,200 men, moved at once, but not in the right direction.
After reaching their first objective, the Codori barn, Meade's position was clearer to the Confederates. Pickett's division, with Kemper and Garnett in front, moved to the left pursuing the weakest part of the Union line. When Wilcox and Lang, unaware of Kemper's move to the left brought their men forward to support Kemper's flank, no Confederates could be seen. Concluding that Pickett had breached the Union line, Wilcox ordered his men straight forward, which was in the direction of the Union's strongest position. Meanwhile, Pickett's division was fighting at "the slashing" and "the angle" near Cemetery Ridge at the enemy's front line.
This barn was the first objective in the July 3, 1863 advance and the army's logical movement around it caused confusion for supporting troops. After climbing the fence seen in the foreground, we had a clear view of the July 3, 1863 high water mark which was heavily defended by Union artillery and infantry. To our right was the opening used during that day by the Union army to move caissons, wagons, horses and units back and forth as needed. Directly in our front, we could see the slashing, the site of brutal combat during Pickett's Charge.
Pickett's division lost more than one-half of its commissioned officers, more than one-half of its non-commissioned officers and nearly one-half of its soldiers. Gen. Robert E. Lee was in Spangler Wood as the remnants of Pickett's division returned from fighting. Gen Pickett also was there, riding among his men, speaking to them in small groups. Gen. Lee had words of praise for Pickett's Virginians and accepted the failure of the charge as his own. Neither the soldiers nor Pickett behaved as if they were looking for a source of blame. Instead, Gen. Pickett told the picket guard to allow his men to pass through and return to their camp on Willoughby Run.
As we returned to our vehicles, we realized that they were parked within a few yards of that final scene west of Seminary Ridge where Gen. Pickett had ordered the guards to allow whomever was left in his division to return to camp.
Smiles began near the Emmittsburg Road when Dwight Wood (thumbs up) created a bit of wry Southern humor.
What Went Wrong
In Kathy Georg Harrison's words, "It (the charge) was broken before it began." Imagine fighting hard for ground and prevailing, but at the cost of many lives. Then imagine returning to the same battlefield the next day and being ordered to take the same ground again, but over the dead bodies of your mess mates. The mettle of officers and soldiers who entered combat after July 2nd is hard to imagine, but not all participants on July 2nd joined in the fray on July 3rd.
Lack of communications regarding movement of artillery and its ammunition coupled with the failure of parts of Anderson's division to engage on July 3rd and the selection of the objective, the distance and the characteristics of the terrain to achieve the objective proved more than 15,000 seasoned soldiers could conquer.
The Cashtown Inn
We continued our weekend tradition of sampling the very best cuisine in and around Gettysburg by gathering at the Cashtown Inn Saturday evening. Since Kathy had led us the length of Pickett's Charge, plus a few feet, earlier in the day, we were very happy to be seated in the Inn's dining room that evening. Kathy joined us, but instead of rehashing what we had learned from Kathy that day, we took a break to enjoy the ambience, wonderful cookery and each other.
Unfortunately, 12 people in our group were not in the Cashtown Inn's dining room when we posed for this shot. But none of us missed the fabulous cuisine that evening. L-R standing: Gordon Gourlay, Pat Wood, Tom Conzo, Roy Pope, Lynn Pope, Pete Pickett, John Margherita, Bob Bohm, Clay Pickett, Paul Karabin, Trevor Benson, Dan Paterson, Suzi Zbar, Dale Pickett and Julie Maennik. L-R seated: Kathy Georg Harrison, Marilyn Bohm, Billie Earnest, Shaa Pickett, and Anne Edwards.
General Robert E. Lee along with Gen. Longstreet's 1st Army Corps and Gen. Hill's 3rd Army Corps passed the Cashtown Inn in 1863 on their way into military legend.
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