According to Henry Pfanz's book, The Second Day, there is a historical dispute as to how far General Ambrose Wright took his brigade of Georgians up Cemetery Ridge during the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. According to Wright's after-action report, Pfanz writes, his units reached the crest of Cemetery Ridge and he was able to accurately describe union troops on the Baltimore Pike -- something that he would not have been able to see from below the crest. This would put the high-water mark of Wright's brigade as far up as the widow Leister's house before Stannard's Vermont troops counter-attacked and caused heavy losses on Wright's left flank unit, the Georgia 48th, and well-beyond the high-water mark of Pickett's charge on Day 3. Pfanz further elaborates that Wright's account is bolstered by his personal report to Lee where he said it had been relatively easy to charge up that hill, perhaps causing Lee to commit Picket's units to reattempt the assault the next day.

I find these facts persuasive, but I note that other historians dispute Wright's claim nevertheless and believe Pickett went further. What facts do critics muster to counter Wright's claim? How did Pickett's high-water mark come to be the definitive furtherest line of advance on so many maps and descriptions?

1 Answer 1


The actual answer is that Pettigrew's troops on the third day achieved the high water mark. The stone wall that formed the federal line had a zig zag and was closer to the front where Pickett struck the wall. His men crossed the wall, but not far, only a few feet to capture the battery there.

To Pickett's left, further north, the wall moved directly east 80 yards (known as the Angle) then turned north again. Pettigrew's troops reached that wall, but did not cross it, but undoubtedly got farther than any of Pickett's men did except as prisoners.

Wright's claim to have reached the crest is a lot less convincing, and is usually considered post-war "coulda shoulda woulda" thinking. The counterattacking forces of Stannard were coming from the North, more or less down the ridgeline and moved forward to attack. There were also 6th corps units from the front that would have been between him and any rosy vision of the Baltimore Pike, which was about a mile off and invisible in the darkness that was descending on the field at the time - it was well past sunset.

It is far more likely Wright mistook one of the many interim positions taken by delaying forces after the 3rd corps was shattered for the military crest of Cemetery Hill.

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