By late afternoon, on the 2nd July, 1863, after fierce hand to hand fighting, Major General John B. Hood?s 3rd Division?s flanking attack on Big Round Top had been successful. Meade realising the lack of troops on the Round Tops had rushed the 1st Maine to try to thwart Jackson who having let Hood bypass Sickles force in the Peach Orchard caught way out in front of the main Union lines and seize the Top (s). Sickle was outflanked and held by Laws Brigade leaving only the 1st Maine to take the brunt of the killing power of the massed Confederate infantry. Colonel Chamberlain, commanding was killed in the first volley and whatever morale the Union troops retained was soon broken. It was over in less than ten minutes, the remnants of the Federal forces streamed back to the relative safety of their main line on Cemetery Ridge.
Hood sent reports of the securing of the Tops to Jackson.Thomas?Stonewall? Jackson had assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia after Robert E.Lee was wounded by a stray shell late on the afternoon of the 1st. Though not serious, General Lee had shrapnel wounds to both legs and concussion and command had passed to his deputy, Jackson. Jackson sent for Lieutenant-General Longstreet and ordered him to get his artillery onto the Tops and commence bombardment of Meade?s forces. Cabell?s Battalion of Artillery is despatched to Big Round Top and commences an immediate cannonade. Alexander has despatched half his cannon to assist and by 7.00pm 67 cannon are belching their deadly breath down on Cemetery Ridge.
In the pitch dark lit only by the shell bursts of the Confederate fire the Union troops mill about in panic. Orders are countermandered , duplicated and totally confused as officers try to keep their various charges in check. The casualty toll is becoming horrendous and more and more troops are trying to flee the field. Unfortunately, in the dark they have little sense of direction and hundreds are going from one field of slaughter to another as Ewell has his men on battle stations on the right flank. Those fleeing forward rush into Pickett?s command . At 10 pm the bombardment ceases as the Rebel artillerists realise they are running low on ready supplies of shells. Though they would not realise until morning that the battle was won, they had done the damage with their evening fusilade.
Stuart coming back with his cavalry from wherever early on the morning of the 3rd realised he was riding into a Union rabble instead of an army raised his hat high, cheered and ordered his men to charge . For the retreating , shattered Federal forces the sight of Rebel cavalry was too much. Throwing arms, equipment and anything else that hindered they broke and ran in every direction . The Yankee High Command watched in horror as from seemingly out of nowhere the wild, whooping Confederate cavalry bore down on them before they could react. Meade, Sickles, Sykes, Sedgewick, Slocum, Warren and a host of lesser generals were prisoners inside an hour along with several thousand of the Federal Army of the Potomac. The only leading Union players to escape capture were Hancock (wounded on the 1st and already back in Washington, Howard who had kept his nerve had organised his retreating x1 Corps in good order with Pleasanton?s remaining cavalry including Gregg and Kilpatrick and thereby saved half of his artillery as well. Buford whose troopers had borne the brunt on the 1st and had been on the road to Washington when the disaster began was already clear of the debacle.
Major-General Oliver Howard had surpassed himself in leadership and had gathered several lesser luminaries plus their commands and had reached the Pipe-Line Creek with 10,000 troops and was leading an unmolested, orderly retreat towards Washington. This was the only bright light for the Union, news had already reached Washington and the Government was in a frenzy as they tried to pack and flee the Capital all at the same time with the SPECTRE of Lee, Jackson and their bloodythirsty hordes on everyones lips and minds.
At that moment back in Gettysburg Jackson sitting beside Robert E. Lee?s sickbed was