The day of July 3, 1863 brought the battle of Gettysburg to a climax. Just before dawn, fighting broke out on the Federal right at Culp’s Hill. Later, Gen. Robert E. Lee ordered a major assault against the Federal center along Cemetery Ridge. The Confederate assault, popularly known as Pickett’s Charge, was turned back with heavy loss by Gen. George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac.
At the time of the battle, Liberty Augusta Hollinger was a young girl of 16. She recalled: “Our house, a roomy brick one, stood in the center of a large plot of ground between the York pike, and what was known as the Bonneauville or Hanover Road, now Hanover Street, so that we had plenty of room all around it. We stayed quietly in our cellar during the three days of the battle, and oh how glad we were for such a safe retreat from all harm and danger. A few bullets struck the cellar doors, and occasionally we could hear them strike the brick walls of the house, but we seemed to be perfectly safe. There was a large wheat field south of our house on the Culp farm, ripe and ready for harvest, and it seemed to be full of Union sharpshooters. We could see them pop up and fire when any of the Rebels rode by, especially officers. When father left the cellar to feed the chickens or to milk the cow, the bullets seemed to fix all about him. Finally he spoke to the rebels about feeling the bullets almost graze his hair. An officer said to him, ‘Why man, take off that gray suit; they think you are a Johnny Reb.’ He did so and put on a black suit, and had no further trouble.”
Sarah M. Broadhead remembered July 3: “Today the battle opened with fierce cannonading before 4 o’clock A.M. Shortly after the battle began we were told to leave this end of the town, for likely it would be shelled. My husband declared he would not go while one brick remained upon another, and, as usual, we betook ourselves to the cellar, where we remained until 10 o’clock [in the morning], when the firing ceased. During the cessation we managed to get a cold bite [to eat]. Again, the battle began with unearthly fury. Nearly all the afternoon it seemed as if the heavens and earth were crashing together. The time that we sat in the cellar seemed long, listening to the terrific sound of the strife; more terrible never greeted human ears. We knew that with every explosion, and the scream of each shell, human beings were hurried, through excruciating pain, into another world, and that many more were torn and mangled, and lying in torment worse than death, and no one able to extend relief. The thought made me very sad, and feel that, if it was God’s will, I would rather be taken than remain to see the misery that would follow. Some thought this afternoon would never come to a close. We knew the Rebels were putting forth all their might, and it was a dreadful thought that they might succeed. Who is victorious, or with who the advantage rests, no one here can tell. It would ease the horror if we knew our arms were successful. Some think the Rebels were defeated, as there has been no boasting as on yesterday and they look uneasy and by no means exultant. I hope they are correct, but I fear we are too hopeful. We shall see tomorrow.”
Robert L. McClean, a boy in Gettysburg, recalled: “On the morning of the 3d a round shell entered the gable of our house on the garret. I was lying on the floor of the room directly below. The racket caused may be imagined, the impact on the wall, the crashing of brick on the garret floor, and of the sundered timber, the rolling along of the shell till it reached the open door, and then thumping down the first flight of stairs, step by step, till it reached the landing where our oldest little niece had been but a few minutes previous to that time.”
Lee’s try for a decisive victory in Pennsylvania had failed. On the evening of July 4, the Army of Northern Virginia began a retreat toward the Potomac, south of Hagerstown. It had lost 28,000 men. Meade’s Army of the Potomac, despite having lost 23,000 men, had
won a decisive victory at Gettysburg. The armies left behind 7,000 dead and 21,000 wounded.