It’s July 3 and on this day in 1863, in the middle of the Gettysburg battlefield, 16,000 Confederates attacked the Union lines at a copse of trees that have been know as the high water mark of the Confederacy. After the charge, the bodies of members of the 26th North Carolina marked the precise location of that high water mark. This allows North Carolinians to claim they went “Furthest” in the Civil War.
I have been visiting Gettysburg since I was a teenager. Then, with a friend with Southern roots like me, I made Pickett’s and Pettigrew’s charge. The ground is rolling, so for part of the walk, you are shielded from Federal fire. It is only after crossing the Emmitsburg Road that you are fully exposed to artillery and musketry.
There are thousands of Gettysburg books around. In “Intruder in the Dust,” William Faulkner wrote about it this way:
“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…”
My Uncle Vernon Niven felt this way, and my great Uncle Malcom Niven was trying to get up Culps Hill at the same time. Remember the day.