Today is the 153rd anniversary of “Pickett’s Charge” – the final drama of a campaign that began with Confederates hunting down free blacks and fugitive slaves once they crossed into Pennsylvania. It’s a moment in the Civil War that has inspired some of the most outlandish counterfactuals and even great works of literature such as this famous passage from William Faulkner’s, Intruder in the Dust.
For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it’s going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn’t need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago….
Well, it did happen and we should all be thankful that the assault failed.
There is nothing worse than having to listen to people wax poetic about glorious assaults without any context. On days like today we should remember that the future of this nation and the lives of millions of people hung in the balance.