Andrew Weigel Walking Pickett's Charge

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If you have a particular interest in the Battle of Gettysburg, and particularly if you have an interest in Pickett's Charge, it is well worth your time to walk the route of the Charge (straight line it's no more than a mile). It doesn't take long (an hour or so at a leisurely pace for the round trip), it's not difficult (I've seen people do it on crutches), and it's not a bad excursion even if you're not interested in the battle.

If you're not convinced to walk the route, it is still interesting to stand on either the Union or Confederate lines and watch the progress of walkers through a pair of binoculars. This will give you some sense of what the officers saw during the battle.

This is a page about geography – the geography of this battle – rather than the battle itself.

If there's a point to this page, it's that the ground is a lot more uneven than you probably think, particularly from the viewpoint of those involved in a battle. The first time you walk the route you notice this. And if you walk it with an eye to visibility and range of vision, to communication and coordination, it comes to seem even more uneven. And this has an impact on the conduct and outcome of the battle.

There are innumerable resources on Pickett's Charge, and many on-line. But since we're concerned primarily with geography, maps are of the most use. To the right are two maps drawn by Hal Jespersen (used in the Wikipedia article on Pickett's Charge), followed by one from the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT).

If you're going to walk the Charge, you will almost certainly have the Gettysburg Battlefield Map produced by the National Park Service and available at the Visitor Center. It's a large PDF file, so you'll probably want to open it in another tab or browser window.

If you need just one reference for the Charge itself, you can refer to Wikipedia: Pickett's Charge.

Map of Pickett's Charge – Jespersen

Hal Jespersen's map of Pickett's Charge
Click on the map to bring up the full-size image.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Attribution: Map by Hal Jespersen, www.cwmaps.com

Map of Pickett's Charge (Detail) – Jespersen

Hal Jespersen's map of Pickett's Charge
Click on the map to bring up the full-size image.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Attribution: Map by Hal Jespersen, www.cwmaps.com

Map of Pickett's Charge – CWPT

CWPT map of Pickett's Charge
Click on the map to bring up the full-size image.

Attribution: Map by Civil War Preservation Trust, www.civilwar.org

Geography

A natural question is whether the geography we see today resembles that at the time of the battle. The National Park Service addresses this through the project Battlefield Rehabilitation at Gettysburg. It states, "One of the most important purposes of Gettysburg National Military Park is to preserve the topographic, landscape and cultural features that were significant to the outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg." You can read more there about the efforts that have taken, and are taking, place.

In May of 2010 the Visitor Center had a book signing by Barbara Platt, the author of "This is Holy Ground: A History of the Gettysburg Battlefield". The book discusses what happened to the battlefield itself in the century and a half after the battle, and the efforts to restore the battlefield to the way it was at the time of the battle. As mentioned above, the NPS is working on the topography, forestation, and fencing in particular. They've apparently gotten the area of Pickett's Charge fairly close; in particular the fences are similar to those at the time of the battle.

You would expect the ground not to be completely flat, simply because the Charge starts on one ridge (Seminary) and ends on another (Cemetery). But that doesn't nearly capture what it's actually like.

Much of the nature of the area of this battle between the two ridges is determined by the drainage, which runs north to south. Thus the undulations as the Charge proceeded from west to east and back.

Routes & Pictures

Two different routes are illustrated here. The Central Route follows a fairly central path (Archer); the North Route is a more northerly route (Davis, then swinging to The Angle). They are quite different.

The central route is the most popular of the routes that people take. It starts from the Virigina Memorial; this is where General Lee watched the Charge from. It is shorter, easier to walk, and faster than the other routes, having well-defined paths and less vegetation.

After the pictures are some Thoughts based on walking the route of the Charge.

Date & Time

The conditions in these pictures differ from those conditions at the time of the battle for a number of reasons:

Getting Your Bearings

It helps to fix the general layout in your mind before you start to walk. As you look out from the Confederate lines:

How the Pictures are Organized

The pictures are keyed by time. Most stops along the way have two pictures, one zoom and one at the regular setting. The regular setting gives the best idea of what's going on over all, but the zoom gives you a much better sense of how far away from you things are. The regular shots make things seem more distant than they actually are. (The zoom shots are separate pictures taken with an optical, not digital, zoom, so they don't align 100% with the regular pictures.)

Most pictures were taken in the direction of the walk, e.g., east (or forward) on the way out. Sometimes, however, the pictures are taken back the way you came to give another perspective; in a few instances they're taken looking off to one side or the other.

Click on any picture to see a full-sized version.

Pictures – Central Route (Archer)

These pictures were taken on a walk of the Charge (and the retreat) on May 15th, 2009. It started around 11:40am and ended an hour later. It followed the Charge from the Confederate lines to the Union's and back, which is west to east and then east to west.

Landmarks (Archer)

It's useful to focus on a small set of landmarks during the walk. We found these the most useful. Going from west to east (from the Confederate to the Union lines) they are:

The Charge on the Way Out (Archer)

We basically followed the path of Archer's Brigade (under Col. Fry) to The Angle and back, though our starting point on the Confederate side was somewhat to the south of Col. Fry's.

If you're using the National Park Service map, the starting point was Stop 5. We started from the southern side of the "horseshoe" at the Virginia Memorial and came back to the north side of the horseshoe. Even as close as the two paths were, they were markedly different walking experiences.

We did not walk straight but followed the existing paths, which meander a bit. It also makes going over the rises easier than going straight up them.
TimeDirection Notes Zoom Regular
11:45Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Looking east towards the Union lines from the south side of the Virginia Memorial. The day starts overcast but clears up quickly.

The tree on the horizon in the middle of the picture is at The Angle (this seems to be the way it's usually capitalized). The group of trees to the right is the Copse of Trees. The front of the Union lines are on the front of the ridge near the trees and extend back up and over the ridge. The Taneytown Road is not visible, being behind the ridge. During the preparatory Confederate cannonade the Union troops were also behind the crest. The yellow bus on the crest is on Hancock Avenue, not Taneytown Road.

The walk is to The Angle, and then back on a track a little to the north of the route out, along the wooden fence seen extending toward the Union lines.

About two-thirds of the way across is the Emmitsburg Road. In the Zoom there's a white bus that's traveling along it.

For perspective, on the right side of the Regular (non-Zoom) picture are the buildings of the Codori farm. To the left is the Brian Barn (white building) and then the brick building of the old Visitor Center.

The ground is quite undulating. This is clearly visible in the rise and fall of the fence line along the left.

What you're not seeing are the intermediate depressions, one of which contains a crossed-post fence paralleling the Emmitsburg Road.

11:51Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Six minutes in and we're on the top of the first intermediate rise, just beyond the foreground group of trees seen in the first picture. The fence line whose tops were barely visible when we started is now completely visible just in front. The tops of the crossed-post fence are just visible beyond it on the right. Further out is a car on the Emmitsburg Road.

We're following the track you see.

11:54Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Three minutes later and we're at the bottom of a swale. All you can see is the top of the fence line and the upper parts of the trees on the Union line. You can no longer see the crossed-post fence, the Emmitsburg Road, The Angle, or even the crest of the Union ridge.

You also get the idea that the next rise might not seem "gentle" when attacking an entrenched opponent. On the other hand, you are not visible to them, either.

11:57Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Another three minutes and we're over the rise. The fence is visible again. It is actually in a depression, as seen from the first picture. Beyond it is another rise. The fence on the left running towards the Union line is hidden by the rise and then reappears closer to the Union line. The crossed-post fence to the front has disappeared.
12:00Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Noon. We're over the post-and-rail fence and heading into another depression. The crossed-post fence directly in front has been only sporadically visible. The Emmitsburg Road (actually, the gray fencing on both sides of it) is visible beyond it, as is the upper part of the slope to The Angle. We're following the track in the middle of picture.
12:03Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Through the gap in the crossed-post fence, and the ground is less undulating. The next fence is the Emmitsburg Road (though it disappears to the right), and then the slope to the tree at The Angle.
12:08Forward
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Another five minutes and we're at the fence along the Emmitsburg Road. It's now twenty-three minutes since we started. There is a depression just the other side of the road and then a short slope up to The Angle.
12:09Backward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
We stop to look back at the Virginia Memorial where we started from. The top of the crossed-post fence is just visible, but none of the intervening terrain.

If you click on the Zoom picture and expand it, you will two groups of people in orange shirts to the left of the Virginia Memorial. One is back by the road, and the other is disappearing into the first depression. These are members of a tour group coming towards us, walking the route we did on the way over. A number are carrying flags.

This group will disappear and reappear frequently during the remainder of the walk.

12:11Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Across the road and into the depression before the final rise to The Angle.
12:11Backward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
We've turned around to look back at the Virginia Memorial. The fence is the one (two actually, one on each side) of the Emmitsburg Road. All you can see are the tops of the trees on Seminary Ridge. You can no longer even see the Virginia Memorial.

The Charge on the Way Back (Archer)

It took almost a half hour to get to The Angle. We then spent some time in the area and then turned around to head back. The way back was a little more direct (no meandering) and took less time.
TimeDirectionNotes Zoom Regular
12:16Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Looking west now, towards the Virginia Memorial. You notice how good the view is from here. The double fence along both sides of the Emmitsburg Road, the crossed-post fence, and then the post-and-rail fence are all clearly visible. This is a better view than we had (and thus the Confederates had) when we started out. If you go back to the top of the crest behind The Angle, the view from the Union lines is better still.

The route we followed out was to the left in the pictures, starting from where the two people (appearing as white dots) to the left of the Virginia Memorial (and just to the right of the gap in the post-and-rail fence) appear. Going back we follow the crossed-post fence on the right towards the Confederate lines (it turns into a post-and-rail fence partway across). That fence gives a good idea of the undulations we'll encounter.

The groups in orange that were visible in the 12:09 picture have disappeared in the depression before the first (post-and-rail) fence.

12:18Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Down the slope to about where we were at 12:11 on the way out. We're closer to the Emmitsburg Road so we can see more of the terrain than we did then, though the view is still severely limited.

If you look closely at the Zoom picture, through the fence just to right of center are some members of the orange group, on a rise. They disappeared earlier on the left and are now coming up on the right.

12:20Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
At the Emmitsburg Road. You can see from the shadow of the road sign that the sun is to the left (south) and slightly behind us. Our path is along the fence on the right. Next stop is the crossed-post fence running across the field.

You can see a number of people of the orange group, though most are hidden in the swales. They're moving right to left at this point.

12:24Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
We're at the crossed-post fence running across the field. This fence is the one we saw just ahead at noon on the way out. The fence we're following on the right goes from crossed-post to post-and-rail at this point.

You can't see any of the intervening land, just the upper parts of the Virginia Memorial and the trees. Almost everyone in the orange group has disappeared (there may be one member, just to right of center).

You also see some of the marshiness you need to be prepared for.

12:25Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
We're past the fence and walking up the rise. We can see even less than we did a minute before. No sign of the post-and-rail fence or anyone from the tour group.
12:27Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
We're at the top of the rise we saw in the last picture. Much better visibility – there's the post-and-rail fence coming up, and the Virginia Memorial is completely in sight. There are still some intervening dips and rises, so we don't see everything. The orange group, with their flags, is back in view. They're following the route we took on the way out and are passing through the gap in the post-and-rail fence. They're becoming more dispersed.
12:28Backward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
We've turned around to look back towards the Union lines. There's the dip to the crossed-post fence, followed by the rise to the Emmitsburg Road and the The Angle, though the lower part of that slope isn't visible. As we know, there are a number of hidden depressions along the way.
12:29To the left
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Looking to the left (south), this is the orange group, with their flags, on the way out, between the post-and-rail and crossed-post fences.
12:31Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Coming up to the post-and-rail fence. From the fence line on the right you get an idea of the depression that follows. The foreground group of trees visible in the first picture on the way out is completely hidden.
12:31Backward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Looking back emphasizes the depression we're in. Everything behind us beyond the rise – the group in orange, the crossed-post fence, the Emmitsburg Road, the slope to The Angle – is hidden from view.
12:35Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
We're past the post-and-rail fence and going up the rise behind it. We can see the entire Virginia Memorial, but nothing much in the intervening ground besides the tops of some trees.
12:35Backward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Looking back, all you can see are the tops of the trees on the Union line, not The Angle or even the crest of Cemetery Ridge.
12:36Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
We're at the top of the rise we've been walking toward, the last one before the Memorial. The group of trees whose tops were barely visible just one minute ago is now half in view. We have to walk down to the depression they're in and then up the final slope to the Memorial. We'll be back an hour after we left.
12:37Backward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Looking back from the rise we can see much more than we could a few minutes earlier, but much is still hidden, including both fences. We get the upper parts of the group in orange and their flags (the red flag is on the left and the white flag is to the right). The middle portion of the group is hidden from view.

Pictures – North Route (Davis)

These pictures were taken on a walk of the Charge (and the retreat) on May 15th, 2010. It started around 11:40am and ended just over an hour later. It followed the Charge from the Confederate lines to the Union's and back, which is west to east and then east to west.

Click on any picture to see a full-sized version.

Landmarks (Davis)

It's useful to focus on a small set of landmarks during the walk. We found these the most useful. Going from west to east they are:

The Charge on the Way Out (Davis)

We started close to where General Davis' Brigade pushed off from. Where Davis continued just to the north of the Bliss farm we passed south of it and then to The Angle. If you're using the National Park Service map, the starting point was Stop 4.

We took a couple of detours, such as the one to visit the Bliss farm memorial. The walk took slightly over an hour.

In general there are fewer well-worn trails on this route than on the Central (Archer) approach, which is the most popular with visitors. Be aware that there is quite a bit of vegetation that you will have to get through, as well as fences to get over.
TimeDirectionNotes Zoom Regular
11:41Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Standing in front of the North Carolina Memorial, looking east.

The tree on the horizon in the middle is at The Angle; that's where this walk ends on the outbound trip. The group of trees to the right is the Copse of Trees.

The Union lines are on the front of the ridge near the trees and extend back up and over the ridge. The Taneytown Road is not visible, being behind the ridge. During the preparatory Confederate cannonade the Union troops were also behind the crest. The Lakefront Lines buses on the crest are on the modern Hancock Avenue, not Taneytown Road.

You see four fences appearing to run north-south (left to right); the farthest borders the Emmitsburg Road (we reach it in the 12:08 picture); you can see the tops of a couple of cars driving along it. The second fence out actually goes from the first fence to the third; you can see it clearly in the Regular view.

For perpsective, on the Regular (non-Zoom) view is a pair of trees to the left of The Angle (a Lakefront Lines bus is at the base of the leftmost tree). The tall monument between them is the 39th New York Infantry Monument; the statue of General Meade on his horse is behind the rightmost tree and will appear in later pictures. We start in the direction of these trees before heading for The Angle. Farther to the left is the Brian Barn (white building) and then the brick building of the old Visitor Center.

On the right side of the Regular (non-Zoom) picture are the large State of Pennsylvania Monument (white, with a dome) and the buildings of the Codori farm (very edge of the picture).

11:43Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out =Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
We are coming to the first of the four fences seen in the preceding picture. On the horizon to the left of center is the large pair of trees flanking the 39th New York Infantry Monument. The Angle is off to the right.
11:45Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Another two minutes and we're at the first fence. You can now get a better idea of the undulating character of the ground. The second fence is dipping away to the left. The third fence is almost hidden by the top of the second.

You can begin to see now that the second fence is really running from the near right to the far left, rather than paralleling the others. You can also pick up the top of another fence, before getting to the one at the Emmitsburg Road.

11:46Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Looking for a way over the first fence we have moved to our right (you see that the statue of General Meade now appears to the right of the pair of trees). Here we find a gap in the fence, which we'll go through. In the Regular view you see the gap and what is the second fence going toward the Union lines.
To the right
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
This picture is taken just before going through the gap seen above, but now looking to the right (south) along the fence seen at the right edge of the Regular view above. You can seen the land rise and then fall, with a crossed-post fence farther out.
11:48Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
We are through the gap in the first fence, passing along to the right (south) side of the second fence (visible in the Regular view). Our progess this far has taken us into a depression; the Union line on Cemetary Ridge now seems distinctly above us. It will be mostly uphill from here.
11:49To the right and a little back
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Looking toward the route taken by the units to the south, Marshall's and then Fry's (the other route described on this page).

That's the first fence dipping away to the left (south), as we saw in the rightward-facing picture from 11:46. Beyond that is a crossed-post fence, with cannons in front of it. They are on a rise, so you can't see any of the ground beyond it before the trees. Likewise, any Confederate officers who were watching from there would have no view of our current position. To them we would seem to disappear and re-appear a number of times during the Charge.

11:52Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Continuing to move forward (somewhat to the north of east), with the second fence on our left. We are farther into the depressoin, so it is difficult to get a sense of where we are, even from the Regular view. You should recognize the white buildings ahead; they are to the left of the large pair of trees we were originally walking towards.
11:54Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Thirteen minutes into the walk and we are going to be turning somewhat to the right and heading south of east towards The Angle, centered in the Zoom view. Our earlier goal, the large pair of trees, is to the left in the Regular view. The Emmitsburg Road is not visible.
11:57Forward
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We are making rapid progress towards The Angle. The climb is still gentle here, but will become steeper later. Note that you can no longer see the cannon at the base of The Angle that were visible in the pictures from thee minutes earlier. And we still have to get over the Emmitsburg Road.
11:58To the left
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Off to the left (north) of the march is a marker where the Bliss farm stood. We have now drifted south of Davis' line (he was north of the Bliss farm) and are with Pettigrew's Brigade (led by Col. Marshall).
12:00Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Proceeding towards The Angle we are also moving from the left to right of Marshall's front, toward Fry. Note the steepness of the slope (we have not yet come to the Emmitsburg Road, and it and its fences are completely invisible). We would no longer be able to see any of the Union troops at The Angle. They could not see us, either, of course. On the other hand, the 8th Ohio had come out and was to the left our position (beyond the Bliss farm), enfilading those on the north side of the Confederate advance.
12:03Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
There is a fence to climb over. The fence beyond is at the Emmitsburg Road, though it is not visible to us. We can see even less of the base of The Angle.
12:06Forward
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We are now over the steepest part of the climb, and the area at the base of The Angle is again visible. You can see how undulating the ground is and how difficult it would be to keep the goal or other units in sight. And of course there's another fence.
12:08Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
We have arrived at the Emmitsburg Road, with a fence on each side. This is where Marshall's group was stopped, though Armistead and Garnett pushed on to The Angle itself.
12:12Arrived
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Four more minutes and we're at The Angle, 31 minutes after we started. A pleasant enough walk on a day like today, but another matter entirely in July of 1863.

The Charge on the Way Back (Davis)

It took almost a half hour to get to The Angle. We spent some time in the area and then turned around to head back. The way back was a little more direct (no meandering) and took less time.
TimeDirectionNotes Zoom Regular
12:18Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Looking west, toward the North Carolina monument. The dark statue is difficult to pick out, being in the shadow of the trees. It is between a pair of individuals on the left and the white stone monument to the right.

Notice how good the view is from the base of the angle. We saw on the way over that a change of a few feet can make a marked difference in your view. If you move back up to the top Cemetary Ridge, you will see that the view that the Union officers had was better still. You can appreciate what an advantage it would be to an officer to be on horseback.

12:24Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
At the Emmitsburg Road, with fences on both sides. The North Caroline memorial is still visible, but we are about to go into a series of undulations, so it will disappear and re-appear.

If you haven't noticed it before, there is quite a lot of vegetation on this route, so be prepared.

12:28Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Another four minutes, and it's fences, fences, fences. This is particularly apparent in the Regular view. That view also gives a very good idea of the undulations to come, as the fences rise and fall.

The North Carolina monument is visible (still marked by the two individuals just to the left of it).

12:32Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
We have corssed a couple of fences and are on an intermediate rise. The memorial is plainly visible.
12:38Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Six minutes farther along and we are down in a trough. The ground rises quickly, and then falls away again, so the memorial is gone from sight. All we can see are the upper parts of the trees. Nor can we see any of the intevening fences.
12:41Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
We are on an intermediate rise, and the next fence is visible. We can see almost to the base of the trees, but not all the way. The memorial is again visible, in the Regular view, but is to the left of the Zoom frame.
12:43Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Over another fence and onto a rise, the memorial easily visible. It appears to be an easy walk.

What we don't see is another fence, in the trough beyond the next intermediate rise.

12:47Forward
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Close now, the memorial clearly visible, just one more fence to get over. You should be able now to note that the way ahead is not smooth, there is at least one more intermediate rise (though no more fences).
12:51Arrived
Walking Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg - the way out
Back at the North Carolina memorial, 33 minutes after we started from The Angle. On the way out we had meandered, particularly looking for gaps in the fences. On the way back we were more direct, but also had to get over more fences.

Thoughts

Walking the route of the Charge, as recorded in the pictures, is the reason for this page. These are some of things that occurred to us during and after the walk.

Ridges

If you spend most of your time driving rather than walking (and almost everyone does these days), your first reaction to seeing the area around The Angle on Cemetery Ridge may well be "that's a ridge?" It's barely a bump. Isn't a ridge something imposing, like Missionary Ridge in the Chattanooga Campaign?

Things look different on the ground. Even the slight elevations on Seminary and, especially, Cemetery Ridges make a big difference. Those holding the ridges have a much better view of the attackers, as well as much better protection.

Walking the route of the Charge can make you more sensitive to terrain differences in general.

Undulations

The ground over which the Charge took place is often referred to as "slightly undulating". While none of the undulations are particularly steep, they are both frequent and deep. Commentary on this does not often go beyond the observation that the Confederates sometimes disappeared from the view of the Union lines.

But the Confederates were also out of view of others in their own unit, of others in other units, and of the officers on Seminary Ridge. This would have made coordination within and between units much more difficult, particularly when you consider the noise and gunsmoke on the field. At times you're not even sure of exactly where you are or where you should be going.

Besides the undulations, there is also a natural tendency to cut across the face of a rise, particularly when the goal cannot be kept in view.

This kind of terrain helps you understand the importance of signaling technology. We are accustomed now to radio communication and to airplane observation. The best the units on the ground had then were flags, drums, and bugles. There was also the human voice, but that is limited in range.

There were officers on horseback, which mitigated the problem somewhat, but they were not numerous and quickly became less so.

The terrain also helps you understand the accounts by the Confederate officers and non-coms of dressing and re-dressing the lines (i.e., getting the proper spacing between soldiers, so that they're neither too bunched up nor too dispersed) during the Charge.

This is not to say that the terrain made the Charge hopeless from the start nor that level terrain makes everything easy. Neither is true. But given the nature of the Union position and the forces there, it certainly contributed to the Confederates' difficulties.

Odds and Ends

As is often pointed out, the attack was hardly a "charge". Perhaps that term can be applied to the final advance up the slope of Cemetery Ridge, but the ground – and distance – don't support it earlier.

You wonder why the Confederates didn't send people out the night before to take down the fences, or at least open gaps.

The scale seems to change in jumps. When you start out, the opposite ridge seems quite a ways off. The distance seems to slowly decrease, and then, suddenly, you're almost there.

As we've seen, the routes followed by the various Confederate units were different in terms of length, fencing, and nature of the terrain. These differences added one more complication to the Confederate attack.

If You Go

If you decide to walk the Charge, here are a few points that might help.

There is a very good chance you will encounter marshy areas, so wear sensible shoes. As mentioned above, this is groundwater seepage, not rain puddles, so you may run into them even if there has been no rain for days. And it shows up in surprising places, like on the slope leading to The Angle.

Watch how terrain features disappear and reappear during your walk. This is easy to overlook on a casual walk (having failed to notice this on earlier hikes ourselves). One of the best indicators of the shape of the land is the fences, how they rise and fall.

If you have a group, you might want to split it into two (or more) groups, with a time lag between the groups' departure. The other group will disappear and reappear during the walk. Sometimes you'll go over a rise, and the group in front won't be where you expected them.

One final reminder: dress appropriately. There are often marshy patches. There are fences to climb. There can be considerable patches of vegetation that is tough, tall, and spiky.

If you have any comments, questions, or related experiences, do e-mail me.


Last updated: April 17, 2016.   Copyright 2005-2017, Andrew H. Weigel (AHW).  E-mail: Web2013@andrewweigel.name.