Midpoint of the War: May to July 1863

Gettysburg: The Third Day

When did the artillery bombardment commence?

At 1:04 P.M., Colonel Edward Porter Alexander had seventy-five pieces of artillery trained on the Union guns on the heights of Seminary Ridge, and he walked among his gunners for the next hour, exhorting them to give their all. What he could not do—and what was frustrating in the extreme—was to ascertain how successful the bombardment was. Years later, as he penned his memoirs, Alexander claimed that General Longstreet attempted to place the responsibility with him, asking Alexander not to send General Pickett unless there was a sign of success. This kind of “battle of the memoirs” is especially difficult to resolve; about all we can say for certain is that a colonel would never have been made responsible for determining what a lieutenant-general should have ascertained.

At about 2:15, Alexander noticed a slackening in the Union counterfire, and he saw a battery of federal guns departing the area. This was hardly sufficient evidence on which to base a major decision, but the heat, the smoke, and the confusion may have played their part. Alexander scribbled a note to General Pickett: “For God’s sake come quick. The eighteen guns are gone. Come quick or my ammunition will not let me support you properly.”


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