Today in History

Today in History: July 3

Pickett's Charge

Armistead leapt the wall and laid his hand on the gun,
The last of the three brigadiers who ordered Pickett's brigades,
He waved his hat on his sword and "Give 'em the steel!" he cried,
A few men followed him over. The rest were beaten or dead.

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown's Body (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1928), 312.

It is all over now. Many of us are prisoners, many are dead, many wounded, bleeding and dying. Your soldier lives and mourns and but for you, my darling, he would rather be back there with his dead, to sleep for all time in an unknown grave.

Maj. Gen. George Pickett, to his Fiancée, July 4, 1863

Dead Confederate Soldiers in the Devil's Den
Gettysburg, Pa. Dead Confederate soldiers in "the devil's den,"
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania,
Alexander Gardner,
July 1863.
Selected Civil War Photographs

On July 3, 1863, Union troops repelled a massive artillery assault on Cemetery Ridge during the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg in southern Pennsylvania. During the early morning hours Confederate General Robert E. Lee ordered General Longstreet to prepare General Pickett's troops for the assault. Longstreet advised Lee of his reservations about the success of such an advance, which he did not feel Confederate troops could sustain. Lee disregarded Longstreet and maintained his order for a heavy bombardment of Union defenses on the Ridge followed by an advance of Pickett's men.

After two hours of heavy shelling, Confederate Colonel Alexander sent word to General Pickett that the Union troops were withdrawing and encouraged him to come quickly in the interval. Pickett sent his note to General Longstreet who, based on Lee's orders and despite his own reservations, approved the charge.

The attack, commonly known as Pickett's Charge or Longstreet's Assault, was an attempt to penetrate the center of Union forces on Cemetery Ridge. During the attack, only one Confederate brigade temporarily reached the top of the ridge—afterwards called the high watermark of the Confederacy—led by Brigadier General Lewis Armistead who, just before being shot, yelled, "Give them cold steel, boys!" The charge ultimately proved disastrous for the Confederates, with casualties approaching 60 percent. As a consequence, Confederate General Robert E. Lee was forced to retreat and ultimately abandon his attempt to reach Washington, D.C. via Pennsylvania.

Army of Northern Virginia, haggard and tattered,
Tramping back on the pikes, through the dust-white summer,
With your wounds still fresh, your burden of prisoners.
Your burden of sick and wounded,
"One long groan of human anguish six miles long."

Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown's Body (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1928), 316.

Some seventy years later, Confederate veteran John H. Robertson, one of many Confederate soldiers captured during Pickett's charge, recalled his experience as a federal prisoner of war:

I was captured at the battle of Gettysburg in Longstreet's charge and was taken to Fort Delaware, an island of 90 acres of land where the Union prisoners were kept. We were detailed to work in the fields and our rations was corn bread and pickled beef. However I fared better than some of the prisoners for I was given the privilege of making jewelry for the use of the Union soldiers. I made rings from the buttons from their overcoats and when they were polished the brass made very nice looking rings. These I sold to the soldiers of the Union Army who were our guards and with the money thus obtained I could buy food and clothing. The Union guards kept a commissary and they had a big supply of chocolate. I ate chocolate candy and drank hot chocolate in place of coffee until I have never wanted any chocolate since.

"John H. Robertson,"
Marlin, Texas,
Miss Effie Cowan, interviewer,
ca. 1936-40.
American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940

Robertson was fortunate as 28,063 Confederates and 23,049 Union soldiers were killed or wounded at Gettysburg. President Lincoln paid tribute to the Union soldiers' sacrifice in the Gettysburg Address, delivered at the dedication of a National Cemetery at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863.

Three Confederate Prisoners
Three Confederate prisoners,
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania,
July 1863.
Selected Civil War Photographs

dead soldiers on the Gettysburg battlefield
Incidents of the war. A harvest of death,
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania,
Timothy H. O'Sullivan, photographer,
July 1863.
Selected Civil War Photographs

The Bryan House on 2d Corps Line Near Scene of Pickett's Charge
The Bryan house on 2d corps line,
near Scene of Pickett's Charge
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania,
July 1863.
Selected Civil War Photographs

Search the following American Memory Collections to find more information on the Battle of Gettysburg, Pickett's Charge, and the Civil War:

George M. Cohan

Give my regards to Broadway,
remember me to Herald Square,
Tell all the gang at Forty-Second street,
that I will soon be there,
Whisper of how I'm yearning
To mingle with the old time throng,
Give my regards to old Broadway
and say that I'll be there, e'er long.

George M. Cohan, "Give My Regards to Broadway," 1904.

Portrait of George M. Cohan
George M. Cohan,
Carl Van Vechten, photographer,
October 23, 1933.
Creative Americans: Portraits by Van Vechten, 1932-1964

Playwright, songwriter, dancer, actor, theater owner, and producer George M. Cohan was born on July 3, 1878, in Providence, Rhode Island. (Some sources report his date of birth as July 4.) As a young boy, he and his sister toured New England and the Midwest with their parents as the Four Cohans, a vaudeville act, for which he also wrote sketches and songs. In 1904, Cohan opened in the Broadway production Little Johnny Jones. That play, which Cohan also directed and for which he wrote the book, music, and lyrics (including the song "Yankee Doodle Dandy"), catapulted him to national attention.

Cohan is best known for the innovative Broadway musicals that he produced in the 1920s, such as The Tavern (1920-21), The Song and Dance Man (1923-24), and American Born (1925). He later made memorable appearances in Ah, Wilderness! (1933-34) and I'd Rather Be Right (1937-38).

A gifted composer of popular songs, Cohan wrote such favorites as "You're a Grand Old Flag," "Mary's a Grand Old Name," "Give My Regards to Broadway," and "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy." His career was the subject of the movie, Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) and the Broadway musical George M! (1968-69).

The popularity of Cohan's World War I song "Over There" is attested to by the variety of sheet music releases shown below. Search on Cohan in Historic American Sheet Music: 1850-1920 for more tunes by this masterful songsmith.

Over There
"Over There,"
Words & Music by George M. Cohan,
Historic American Sheet Music: 1850-1920

over there
"Over There,"
By Geo. M. Cohan,
French lyrics by Louis Delamarre,
Historic American Sheet Music: 1850-1920

over there
"Over There,"
Words & Music by Geo. M. Cohan,
French lyrics by Louis Delamarre,
Historic American Sheet Music: 1850-1920

Listen to a 1917 Edison recording of Billy Murray singing "Over There." Find more recordings in the Variety Stage Audio Sampler.

Real Audio Format

wav Format, 9,216 Kb

Explore the following American Memory collections to find more information on George M. Cohan and the vaudeville stage: