Given the setbacks on July 2, the Confederate forces had to make a concerted effort in order to wrest control away from the North and turn the tide of battle. On this day, Lee decided to make a bold gamble through two different methods.
First, he decided to assault the federal line along Cemetery Ridge, where most of the fighting had centered on the second day of hostilities. This was accomplished through an artillery barrage designed to soften the North's resistance. Next, General Lee ordered Lt. Gen. James Longstreet to lead a massive infantry assault from Seminary Ridge. Over 12,000 Soldiers from 10 brigades, including Virginia regiments all under the command of Maj. Gen. George Pickett, advanced on the Union forces. However, the Union Soldiers were protected in great part by breastworks (stone barriers that were the height of a man's breast, around 4 feet high).
Pickett, who led five brigades in the fight, however, became the figure for whom the failed offensive was named. In the ensuing action, about 5,000 Confederates were killed or wounded. It failed, and it was during this sequence at which the "High Water Mark of the Confederacy" was reached, both on the battlefield and with regard to the Southern offensive into Northern territory.
It was in this series of actions that the South hoped to seize control of momentum in one master stroke. "Pickett's Charge" would characterize the near misses that Confederate forces experienced earlier; even with the enormous momentum that Lee's army moved forward, the tactical advantage of weapons, provisions, and manpower that the Union held stayed intact. General Meade placed Maj. Gen. Winfield Hancock in charge of three corps units on this day: the First, Second, and Third Corps. This consisted of over half the Union troops and made the difference in resisting the Confederate advance.
Afterward, General Lee ordered his Army of Northern Virginia to disengage, and turn south. With this Southern retreat and later reorganization, thus ended the Battle of Gettysburg. Meade would be sharply criticized for his failure to harass the withdrawing Confederates and to attempt to draw the American Civil War to an end at this critical juncture. The remainder of his military career became highly controversial because of what took place after the Battle of Gettysburg, and overshadowed the accomplishments that pivoted the Union forces into a state of rejuvenation.