Battle of Gettysburg: Remembering Pickett’s Charge

E.P. Alexander and Pickett’s Charge

Few judgments have generated as much controversy as the Confederate decision to make a last desperate attack on the center of the Union lines on the afternoon of July 3, 1863, at Gettysburg. "Pickett’s Charge" has few equals in the history of warfare. To clarify the decision to go ahead with the attack, we are presenting here the correspondence that was exchanged between General James Longstreet and Colonel E.P. Alexander. The text of the letters (with a few changes) was first published in Alexander’s account of the artillery at Gettysburg in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. The original letters, really poignantly scribbled notes, are located in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress.

(Note received from Gen. Longstreet on battlefield of Gettysburg about 11:45 am 3d day)

HdQrs July 3d 63

Colonel

If the artillery fire does not have the effect to drive off the enemy or greatly demoralize him so as to make our effort pretty certain I would prefer that you would not advise Gen Pickett to make the charge[.] I shall rely a great deal upon your good judgment to determine the matter, and shall expect you to let Gen Pickett know when the moment offers.

J Longstreet
LtGen Com

 

(Reply to it)

Near Gettysburg July 3 63
Lt. Gen Longstreet Comdg

General

I will only be able to judge the effect of our fire on the enemy by his return fire as his infantry is but little exposed to view & the smoke will obscure the whole field. If as I infer from your note there is any alternative to this attack it should be carefully considered before opening our fire, for it will take all the arty ammunition we have left to test this one thoroughly & if the result is unfavorable we will have none left for another effort & even if this is entirely successful it can only be so at a very bloody cost.

Very respy yours
E P Alexander
Col Arty

 

(received about 12:15 P.M. in reply to mine)

HdQrs July 3 1863

Colonel

The intention is to advance the Inf. If the Arty has the desired effect of driving the enemy off or having other effect such as to warrant us in making the attack. When that moment arrives advise Gen P. and of course advance such artillery as you can use in aiding the attack.

J Longstreet
Col Alexander

(reply about 12:30)

Lt. Gen Longstreet Comdg

General

When our arty fire is at its best I will advise Gen Pickett to advance.

Very respy yours
E P Alexander
Col arty

 

(To Gen Pickett at 1:25 pm)

July 3 1863

General

If you are to advance at all you must come at once or we will not be able to support you as we ought, but the enemy’s fire has not slackened materially and there are still 18 guns firing from the cemetery

Respy yours
E P Alexander
Col arty

 

(to Gen Pickett at 1:40 pm)

July 3, 1863

The 18 guns have been driven off For Gods sake come on quick or we cannot support you ammunition nearly out

Respy yours
E P Alexander
Col arty

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