2nd Manassas - Aug. 1862
The Battle of Gettysburg - Friday July 3, 1863
Pickett's Charge: A Union Perspective

Repulse of Longstreet's Assault - John C. Bachelder c1876

Often portrayed as a valiant yet forlorn hope, many of those under the hail of lead and iron did not view Pickett's grand charge in this manner. Lieutenant Frank Haskell, Adjutant to Brigadier General Gibbon, Commander of the forces at the vortex of the maelstrom, found himself one of the few officers remaining on the field who could work towards the coordination of all forces. Despite his obviously dramatic writing, he clearly felt that the Confederate assault, even as it crested, had a chance to succeed. He wrote as much to his brother shortly after the battle.

One other common misconception remains that the soldiers of both sides felt an enduring kinship with their adversaries and fought only due to duty or uncontrollable happenstance. The portion of Frank Haskell's letter included below underscores the fallacious nature of this assumption.

The 69th Pennsylvania MonumentThe newly promoted Colonel Frank A. Haskell would die less than a year later leading his men in a charge at Cold Harbor, June 3, 1864.

"Our skirmishers open a spattering fire along the front, and, fighting, retire upon the main line-the first drops, the heralds of the storm, sounding on our windows. Then the thunders of our guns, first Arnold’s, then Cushing’s and Woodruff’s and the rest, shake and reverberate again through the air, and their sounding shells smite the enemy. The General said I had better go and tell General Meade of this advance. To gallop to General Meade’s headquarters, to learn there that he had changed them to another part of the field, to dispatch to him by the Signal Corps in General Gibbon’s name the message, "The enemy is advancing his infantry in force upon my front," and to be again upon the crest, were but the work of a minute. All our available guns are now active, and from the fire of shells, as the range grows shorter and shorter, they change to shrapnel, and from shrapnel to canister; but in spite of shells, and shrapnel and canister, without wavering or halt, the hardy lines of the enemy continue to move on. The Rebel guns make no reply to ours, and no charging shout rings out to-day, as is the Rebel wont; but the courage of these silent men amid our shots seems not to need the stimulus of other noise. The enemy’s right flank sweeps near Stannard’s bushy crest, and his concealed Vermonters rake it with a well-delivered fire of musketry. The gray lines do not halt or reply, but withdrawing a little from that extreme, they still move on. And so across all that broad open ground they have come, nearer and nearer, nearly half the way, with our guns bellowing in their faces, until now a hundred yards, no more, divide our ready left from their advancing right. The eager men there are impatient to begin. Let them. First, Harrow’s breastworks flame; then Hall’s; then Webb’s. As if our bullets were the fire coals that touched off their muskets, the enemy in front halts, and his countless level barrels blaze back upon us. The Second Division is struggling in battle. The rattling storm soon spreads to the right, and the blue trefoils are viewing with the white. All along each hostile front, a thousand yards, with narrowest space between, the volleys blaze and roll; as thick the sound as when a summer hailstorm pelts the city roofs; as thick the fire as when the incessant lightning fringes a summer cloud. When the Rebel infantry had opened fire our batteries soon became silent, and this without their fault, for they were foul by long previous use.

Colonel Norman Hall's Brigade

They were the targets of the concentrated Rebel bullets, and some of them had expended all their canister. But they were not silent before Rhorty was killed, Woodruff had fallen mortally wounded, and Cushing, firing almost his last canister, had dropped dead among his guns shot through the head by a bullet. The conflict is left to the infantry alone. Unable to find my general, when I had returned to the crest after transmitting his message to General Meade, and while riding in the search having witnessed the development of the fight, from the first fire upon the left by the main lines until all of the two divisions were furiously engaged, I gave up hunting as useless-I was convinced General Gibbon could not be on the field; I left him mounted; I could easily have found him now had he so remained-but now, save myself, there was not a mounted officer near the engaged lines-and was riding towards the right of the Second Division, with purpose to stop there, as the most eligible position to watch the further progress of the battle, there to be ready to take part according to my own notions whenever and wherever occasion was presented. The conflict was tremendous, but I had seen no wavering in all our line. Wondering how long the Rebel ranks, deep though they were, could stand our sheltered volleys, I had come near my destination, when-great heaven! were my senses mad? The larger portion of Webb’s brigade-my God, it was true-there by the group of trees and the angles of the wall, was breaking from the cover of their works, and, without orders or reason, with no hand lifted to check them, was falling back, a fear-stricken flock of confusion! The fate of Gettysburg hung upon a spider’s single thread! A great magnificent passion came on me at the instant, not one that overpowers and confounds, but one that blanches the face and sublimes every sense and faculty. My sword, that had always hung idle by my side, the sign of rank only in every battle, I drew, bright and gleaming, the symbol of command. Was not that a fit occasion, and these fugitives the men on whom to try the temper of the Solinzen steel? All rules and proprieties were forgotten; all considerations of person, and danger and safety despised; for, as I met the tide of these rabbits, the damned red flags of the rebellion began to thicken and flaunt along the wall they had just deserted, and one was already waving over one of the guns of the dead Cushing. I ordered these men to "halt," and "face about" and "fire," and they heard my voice and gathered my meaning, and obeyed my commands. On some unpatriotic backs of those not quick of comprehension, the flat of my sabre fell not lightly, and, at its touch their love of country returned, and, with a look at me as if I were the destroying angel, as I might have become theirs, they again faced the enemy. General Webb soon came to my assistance. He was on foot, but he was active, and did all that one could do to repair the breach, or to avert its calamity. The men that had fallen back, facing the enemy, soon regained confidence in themselves, and became steady. This portion of the wall was lost to us, and the enemy had gained the cover of the reverse side, where he now stormed with fire. But Webb’s men, with their bodies in part protected by the abruptness of the crest, now sent back in the enemies’ faces as fierce a storm. Some scores of venturesome Rebels, that in their first push at the wall had dared to cross at the further angle, and those that had desecrated Cushing’s guns, were promptly shot down, and speedy death met him who should raise his body to cross it again.

At this point little could be seen of the enemy, by reason of his cover and the smoke, except the flash of his muskets and his waving flags. These red flags were accumulating at the wall every moment, and they maddened us as the same color does the bull. Webb’s men are falling fast, and he is among them to direct and encourage; but, however well they may now do, with that walled enemy in front, with more than a dozen flags to Webb’s three, it soon becomes apparent that in not many minutes they will be overpowered, or that there will be none alive for the enemy to overpower. Webb has but three regiments, all small, the 69th, 71st and 72nd Pennsylvania-the 106th Pennsylvania, except two companies, is not here to-day-and he must have speedy assistance, or this crest will be lost. Oh, where is Gibbon? where is Hancock?-some general-anybody with the power and the will to support that wasting, melting line? No general came, and no succor! I thought of Hayes upon the right, but from the smoke and war along his front, it was evident that he had enough upon his hands, if he stayed the inrolling tide of the Rebels there. Doubleday upon the left was too far off and too slow, and on another occasion I had begged him to send his idle regiments to support another line battling with thrice its numbers, and this "Old Sumpter Hero" had declined. As a last resort, I resolved to see if Hall and Harrow could not send some of their commands to reinforce Webb. I galloped to the left in the execution of my purpose, and as I attained the rear of Hall’s line from the nature of the ground and the position of the enemy it was easy to discover the reason and the manner of this gathering of Rebel flags in front of Webb. The enemy, emboldened by his success in gaining our line by the group of trees and the angle of the wall, was concentrating all his right against and was further pressing that point. There was the stress of his assault; there would he drive his fiery wedge to split our line. In front of Harrow’s and Hall’s Brigades he had been able to advance no nearer than when he first halted to deliver fire, and these commands had not yielded an inch. To effect the concentration before Webb, the enemy would march the regiment on his extreme right of each of his lines by the left flank to the rear of the troops, still halted and facing to the front, and so continuing to draw in his right, when they were all massed in the position desired, he would again face them to the front, and advance to the storming. This was the way he made the wall before Webb’s line blaze red with his battle flags, and such was the purpose there of his thick-crowding battalions. Not a moment must be lost.

Colonel Hall I found just in rear of his line, sword in hand, cool, vigilant, noting all that passed and directing the battle of his brigade. The fire was constantly diminishing now in his front, in the manner and by the movement of the enemy that I have mentioned, drifting to the right. "How is it going?" Colonel Hall asked me, as I rode up. "Well, but Webb is hotly pressed and must have support, or he will be overpowered. Can you assist him?" "Yes." "You cannot be too quick." "I will move my brigade at once." "Good." He gave the order, and in briefest time I saw five friendly colors hurrying to the aid of the imperilled three; and each color represented true, battle-tried men, that had not turned back from Rebel fire that day nor yesterday, though their ranks were sadly thinned, to Webb’s brigade, pressed back as it had been from the wall, the distance was not great from Hall’s right. The regiments marched by the right flank. Col. Hall superintended the movement in person. Col. Devereux coolly commanded the 19th Massachusetts. His major, Rice, had already been wounded and carried off. Lieut. Col. Macy, of the 20th Mass., had just had his left hand shot off, and so Capt. Abbott gallantly led over this fine regiment. The 42d New York followed their excellent Colonel Mallon. Lieut. Col. Steel, 7th Mich., had just been killed, and his regiment, and the handful of the 59th N.Y., followed their colors. The movement, as it did, attracting the enemy’s fire, and executed in haste, as it must be, was difficult; but in reasonable time, and in order that is serviceable, if not regular, Hall’s men are fighting gallantly side by side with Webb’s before the all important point. I did not stop to see all this movement of Hall’s, but from him I went at once further to the left, to the 1st brigade. Gen’l Harrow I did not see, but his fighting men would answer my purpose as well. The 19th Me., the 15th Mass., the 82d N.Y. and the shattered old thunderbolt, the 1st Minn.-poor Farrell was dying then upon the ground where he had fallen,-all men that I could find I took over to the right at the double quick.

As we were moving to, and near the other brigade of the division, from my position on horseback, I could see that the enemy’s right, under Hall’s fire, was beginning to stagger and to break. "See," I said to the men, "See the chivalry! See the gray-backs run!" The men saw, and as they swept to their places by the side of Hall and opened fire, they roared, and this in a manner that said more plainly than words-for the deaf could have seen it in their faces, and the blind could have heard it in their voices-the crest is safe!" [1]