On July 3, Lee decided to press the attack to the Union center on
Cemetery Ridge. At 1 in the afternoon, the southern artillery opened
a bombardment that for a time engaged the massed guns of both sides
in a thundering duel for supremacy, but did little to soften up
the Union battle lines.
Then came the climax of the Battle of Gettysburg...with a salute
from Longstreet, General George E. Pickett, in a desperate attempt
to recapture the partial success of the preceding day, spearheaded
one of the most incredible efforts in military history...a massed
infantry assault of 15,000 Confederate troops across the open field
toward the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. One mile they marched,
while being pounded by artillery and rifle fire. Through it all,
Pickett's men reached but failed to break the Union line, and the
magnificent effort ended in disaster. In 50 minutes, 10,000 in the
assault had become casualties, and the attack - forever to be known
as Pickett's Charge - was now history.
With the failure of Pickett's Charge, the battle was over - the
Union was saved. Lee's retreat began on the afternoon of July 4.
Lee would never again attempt an offensive operation of such proportions.
Meade, though he was criticized for not immediately pursuing Lee's
army, had carried the day in the battle that has become known as
the High Water Mark of the Confederacy