From July 1–3, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg raged between the Union and the Confederacy in the state of Pennsylvania. After two difficult days of battle, the conclusive third day arrived. On July 3, General Robert E. Lee's Confederate troops made a final attempt to break the Union lines. Confederate general George Pickett was tasked with commanding the 15,000-man attack that would become known as "Pickett's Charge."
The assault was prefaced by a heavy artillery bombardment of the Union position by the Confederates. Following the artillery bombardment, which is considered to have been mostly ineffective, Pickett's men embarked on an assault of the Union position at Cemetery Ridge. The Confederate forces, however, had a difficult situation ahead of them. They needed to cross approximately one mile of open land before reaching the Union lines. To complicate things further, the hot summer weather forced the Confederate forces to march rather than run towards the Union position. They planned to "charge" or run only when within close range of Union lines.
While the Confederate artillery barrage was largely ineffective, the counter-artillery of the Union was very effective. As the Confederates crossed the open land in front of the Union forces, they were cut down by heavy Union cannon fire. Even when Union cannons missed the advancing Confederate troops, they often hit reserve troops in the rear. The result was devastating casualties for the Confederates.
As the Confederates came into range of the Union infantrymen defending their position on Cemetery Ridge, they suffered further casualties. Only a few hundred Confederate troops even reached the Union lines, and they were quickly cut down and turned away. In the short time between the commencement of Pickett's Charge and the retreat of Pickett's men, over 7,000 Confederate troops had been killed or wounded. On the night of July 4, Lee and his Confederate troops withdrew from the battlefield and retreated south. The Union forces, who had fought hard for three days, were unable to pursue Lee's forces.
The Battle of Gettysburg would see the most casualties of any battle during the Civil War. It would also serve as a major turning point, along with the Battle of Vicksburg, which concluded on July 4, 1863. General Lee's forces would never enter the North again, and in April of 1865 they would be forced to surrender and end the war.