On this day 150 years ago, the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee attacked the center of the Union line in what became known as Pickett’s Charge. No chicken salad this time, unless you count the fact that somehow this huge defeat has turned into “the high water mark of the Confederacy.” From our entry:
Lee’s description of “that grand charge” foreshadowed the way in which Pickett’s Charge would be transformed from a disaster to a moment of high glory. “In less than one half century,” the historian Carol Reardon has written, “Pickett’s Charge became both historical event and emotional touchstone—history and memory—with the demarcation between the two often imperceptible.” The symbolic meeting point of history and memory became the Bloody Angle and the trees behind it, a place that in 1870 John B. Bachelder—a painter who turned himself into the unofficial historian of the Gettysburg battle—famously described as “the ‘High Water Mark’ of the rebellion.”
The scene posted above, from the film Gettysburg (1993), is ample illustration. One of the “top” commenters writes, “This particular scene is my favourite, especially because of the powerful music. This combination gives me goosebumps!” Which is the whole point, of course, because in Gettysburg, as in the larger culture, Pickett’s Charge has become, oddly, something to be proud of. And this development would have shocked no one more than Pickett himself.
A version of this post was originally published on July 3, 2011.