This day in 1863, witnessed the final carnage of the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the defining events of the Civil War. General G. George Mead defeated the supposedly invincible Robert E. Lee, decisively. Unfortunately for General Mead, history has never forgiven him for it.
Although the Confederate strategy for the day involved a two-pronged attack upon the right and center of the Union forces, history remembers July 3 for the massive cannonade on the federal center, followed by an assault over nearly a mile of open fields by three infantry divisions (some 12,000 men) against an entrenched and fortified enemy. It was an insanity that a carefully orchestrated program of historical propaganda has transmogrified into romance.
As a result of this martial adventure, as many as 51,000 soldiers from both armies were killed, wounded, captured or missing at the end of July 3.
The Confederate forces in the final assault on Cemetery Ridge comprised three divisions. One, commanded by George Pickett, had not seen action in the battle. The others were bloodied and bruised.
Among the units on the Confederate left was the 42nd Mississippi Regiment of Davis’ Brigade. It was part of Heth’s Division that had blundered into outliers of the federal army on the battle’s first day. The regiment was part of the heaviest fighting that day and had rested the second.
Making the assault with the 42nd were Captain Tomas G. Clark and his son Albert. Another son, Jonathan perished at the "Battle of the Railroad Cut" on day one.
Neither Thomas nor Albert survived the assault on July 3. History now recalls the assault by the three divisions, as “Pickett’s Charge,” a cruel duet of lies since it was neither a charge nor Pickett’s.
As for the family of Thomas, Albert and Jonathan, a granddaughter wrote of wife and mother Margery: “When the news of this awful disaster reached home, Grandmother Clark prayed and shouted all night, and she often told us in speaking of those days that we didn’t know what sorrow was.”
“For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and this hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin….”
- William Faulkner “Intruder in the Dust”
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