On this day in 1863, troops under Confederate General George Pickett begin a massive attack against the center of the Union lines on the climactic third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the largest engagement of the war. For the first two days of the battle, General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia had battered George Meade’s Army of the Potomac. The day before Pickett’s Charge, the Confederates had hammered each flank of the Union line but could not break through.
Now, on July 3, Lee decided to attack the Union center, stationed on Cemetery Ridge, after making another unsuccessful attempt on the Union right flank at Culp’s Hill in the morning. The majority of the force consisted of Pickett’s division, but there were other units represented among the 15,000 attackers.
After a long Confederate artillery bombardment, the Rebel force moved through the open field and up the slight rise of Cemetery Ridge. But by the time they reached the Union line, the attack had been broken into many small units, and they were unable to penetrate the Yankee center.
The failed attack effectively ended the battle of Gettysburg. On July 4, Lee began to withdraw his forces to Virginia. The casualties for both armies were staggering. Lee lost 28,000 of his 75,000 soldiers, and Union losses stood at over 22,000. It was the last time Lee threatened Northern territory.