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Rail fence during Pickett's charge - Battle of Gettysburg - Civil War Talk - Civil War Interactive Discussion Board
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 Posted: Mon Dec 26th, 2011 10:26 pm
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csamillerp
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I'm sure this subject has been touched on several times but i havent found it. The rail fence lining the Emmittsburg road played a substantial part during the 3rd day at Gettysburg, breaking up the confederate formations during pickett's charge and offering the best cover on the field other then the stonewall. But why did the confederates not push it down... maybe send a contigent force to do it prior to the attack?  Also do you think that had the fence been taken down prior to the attack, would it have made a difference in the outcome of the assault or do you think the fence was unimportant all together? I'd really like everyones input since this particular question has baffled me for awhile.



 Posted: Mon Dec 26th, 2011 11:40 pm
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Hellcat
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Sending a contengient to take it down prior to the attack would have been foolish as that would have been announcing the charge and where exactly it would have been. Yes the artillery barrage pretty much did that anyway. But there was still the question of exactly where the charge was going to come from so all Meade could do was brace for it and hope he could move his troops into the proper position in time to deal with it. By taking it down prior to the attack then Meade would have had a very good idea where the charge was going to be aimed and could have reinforced there in advance.

During the attack itself the problem with taking the fence down was the fact that they were underfire. Yet the interesting thing is that it's removal would have possibly saved lives at that point as it seems there may have been quite a few killed trying to go over the fence.

I know Unsolved History did an episode on Pickett's Charge and talked about the fence there.



 Posted: Tue Dec 27th, 2011 12:15 am
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csamillerp
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if you think about how the springfield musket tended to shoot high because of its high trajectory, it seems to me that a very high number of casualties would have been inflicted on the confederates when they climbed 4 feet into the air. Maybe at that point in the charge the confederates were just happy to have that fence there to stop some of the fire coming at them. I do believe unsolved history had it right that a large portion of the confederates took refuge there, if they had taken down the fence a larger portion would have made the breach in the federal lines



 Posted: Tue Dec 27th, 2011 01:22 am
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pender
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This letter by Henry Moore of the 38th North Carolina may shed a little light on the subject of the fence. He writes, " As we emerged from the woods we were nearly three fourths of a mile from the Federal lines. We could see about a mile of the enemy's works. We suffered very little from the enemy fire until about half way across the field. We climbed a diagonal fence running across the field and (when we had) climbed it. We were now greeted by heavy doses of canister. Our men were falling in every direction but we managed to struggle on. About 200 yards from the enemy we reached another fence which confused us considerably. The fire from enemy artillery and infantry were terrible and we were reduced to a mere skirmish line." I believe the fence hurt them by stoping thier momentum. I do not see the fence as being much of a shield. The last thing they wanted to do is stop and be a sitting duck.

Source: Letter of Henry Moore, Warsaw N.C., UNC archives collection.

Pender



 Posted: Tue Dec 27th, 2011 01:28 am
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csamillerp
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I can agree with that...

Do ya'll know whether the emmitsburg road was sunken at the time of the battle? Even if it was a foot below ground that would have been enough for most men when you have 9,000+ muskets and 80 of so cannons firing at you.



 Posted: Tue Dec 27th, 2011 01:53 am
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pender
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I do not think the sunken ground would have helped much on account of the artillery firing obliquely. Especially from Little Round Top. Also there is a letter from J. McLeod Turner of the 7th N.C. that may shed some light on, " why did they not just tear down the fence." He writes, " As we reached the road I saw the enemy leave their works and retreat over a hill. I called out to my men and the whole line rushed forward. But before we could reach the works their reinforcements arrived back at the works. When we reached the road we had to tear down fences. We tore down the first but the second would not fall. I climbed over the fence and advanced about ten yards with some of my men and was shot down. The men who climbed over  returned to the road and lay down."

Source: Raleigh Observer

Pender



 Posted: Tue Dec 27th, 2011 07:18 pm
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csamillerp
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thanks pender that did shed some light on the subject. it amazes me how anyone survived that attack, arguably one of the most dramatic moments of the war, maybe even U.S history



 Posted: Tue Dec 27th, 2011 07:48 pm
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BHR62
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I've always wondered why the Confederates didn't blast the fence during their bombardment of the Union positions. Just have a few of their guns specifically targeting the fence seems like it would have done the job.



 Posted: Tue Dec 27th, 2011 10:07 pm
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csamillerp
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Nobody has really made any comment on whether or not they think the fence was a critical element in the attack.



 Posted: Wed Dec 28th, 2011 02:05 am
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pender
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csamillerp, To the soldiers that made that charge I would say yes the fences were a critical element to the attack. What makes it a critical element to me is the fact in a lot of the letters and post war records the fences are mentioned over and over by different men in different Regiments.

Pender



 Posted: Thu Dec 29th, 2011 12:28 am
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barrydancer
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Fence or no, I tend to agree with my favorite general: "No fifteen thousand men ever arrayed for battle can take that position."



 Posted: Thu Dec 29th, 2011 04:35 am
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csamillerp
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Barry i believe that if Lee's orders would have been followed then the rebels could have taken the position but with ewell starting the attack early, the artillery ordinance being flawed, and stuart being repelled before getting into the federal rear the attack was doomed to fail. I'll probably catch hell for saying this but IMO, the biggest factor for the union victory at Gettysburg was shear luck.



 Posted: Thu Dec 29th, 2011 01:14 pm
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BHR62
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I don't believe it was shear luck. A close call I will agree with but the Yanks were in too strong a position. Their defensive line was like a fish hook which allowed them to shift troops to any trouble spots. Even with Sickles doing his thing they were still able to hold the main defensive line. Meade also had a Corps that was still fresh that would have been able to blunt any breakthroughs. Lee just asked too much of his army. He should have listened to Longstreet. Even Hood wondered why in the hell they were attacking the Yanks in that defensive position.



 Posted: Fri Dec 30th, 2011 11:44 am
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Mark
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I think it made more of a psychological difference than a physical difference. The rail fence itself is not going to soak up many bullets or artillery rounds, but the Rebs going over that fence had a pretty good idea that it was the line of no return. Either they break the center, or they weren't coming back at all. Many didn't go at all because they realized that the position was virtually impregnable. The idea of courage had really changed by 1863. Instead of making a forlorn attack against an impregnable position being seen as heroic, veteran troops refused to be sacrificed to no good end. That was the new idea of courage-the courage to not be killed needlessly (Gerald Lindermann wrote a brilliant book on this topic called Embattled Courage). I think that might account for Pender's sources saying that the second fence really broke up the formations.

Mark



 Posted: Fri Dec 30th, 2011 11:14 pm
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j harold 587
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The fence that bordered the road was post and rail, able to hold livestock that could push over common rail fence just buy scratching their side on it. The CSA was not accustomed to this fencing (or stone either). They were used to pushing over rail fence in line of battle. It would not have been good use of ammunition to try to destroy the fence by artillery. It was too close to Union lines to send a detail out to tear it down. It is recorded that the line bogged down as the fence was crossed and men sought cover in the roadbed, but it was not sunken, as in bloody lane at Antietum.



 Posted: Mon May 7th, 2012 02:50 am
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grizzly
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I've often wondered why they didn't blow it up during the bombardment before the charge.  As for sending a contingent to take it down, I've stood at the stone wall and the fence seems to be so very close as to be suicide for those selected.  However, the whole charge seems like suicide to me.

Another take is that the fence may have been a positive force in that it broke up the ranks and made the targets more difficult.  BUT, in accordance with the tactics of the day, they formed up again shoulder to shoulder and marched to their deaths.



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