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A Modern-Day Pickett's Charge

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

General Robert E. Lee was up before dawn on the fateful morning of July 3, 1863. Over a “meager” breakfast, he discussed his plan for a frontal assault on Union forces entrenched on the higher ground on Cemetery Ridge. His inner circle of Field Generals was openly skeptical. He is said to have told them, “The enemy is here and I intend to strike him.”


The previous two days of intense fighting just south of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania had proven inconclusive. Perhaps Lee was brimming with overconfidence. Or maybe he knew that in a long war of attrition, the Union had the advantage. Either way, he believed that his forces could break the center of the Union line.  

Robert E. Lee owned a plantation just across the Potomac from the District of Columbia. He was attuned to Washington politics and its press. A decisive victory on Northern soil would be a serious blow for Union resolve and their political will to fight on.

General George Pickett and his forces had arrived only the day before and had been ordered to stay in the rear. Since his men were fresh, they were chosen to lead the assault. George Pickett was a native Virginian. He shared an interesting factoid with another famous General named George…Custer. They both graduated dead last in their class. 

Pickett assembled his forces in a magnificent line stretching over a mile long. Before the attack began, Lee ordered all of his cannons to fire, focusing their guns on a clump of trees at the center of the Union line. Union guns began to return fire. Union Generals, sensing the attack was coming, ordered their artillery to hold their fire. Lee could not have known, but much of the massive Confederate cannonade had overshot its targets and done little damage to Union guns or fortifications. 

Pickett never questioned the order. His Corp Commander, Lt. General James Longstreet believed the assault would be suicidal. When Pickett asked Longstreet for the order to begin the advance, Longstreet only nodded and looked away. 


Longstreet’s worst fears were realized. As the Confederate forces marched out into the open, the Union guns opened up. As surviving soldiers advanced closer to the Union line, the Union cannons were ordered to “lower the guns to deck level and load with grape shot!” The small steel shot ripped through the rebel ranks coming up the hill. It was a bloodbath. Confederates who did breach the rock wall were either killed or captured. It was the high-water mark of the Confederacy. They had lost thousands of their best soldiers. For the balance of the war, it was a slow retreat for Lee.  Grant would chase him all the way to Appomattox. 

Today, a similar story is playing out. 

A group of overconfident Democrats, cheered on by their deranged base (and some tortured English from Mr. Mueller) are demanding that their colleagues advance the cause of impeachment. Their fawning followers in the Washington press are egging them on with their daily sniping of the duly elected President. Perhaps they believe that they can break the will of this President and his party to fight on. 

They willfully ignore the facts. They seriously underestimate this President. They now confront a steely Attorney General in William Barr who has truth, the law and the Mueller Report on his side. Democrats are foolishly demanding a modern day Pickett’s charge into the teeth of an entrenched adversary who occupies the high ground. Unlike Lee, they must know that their loud, nonstop cannonade has missed the mark. 


They must somehow argue that President Trump’s frustration over an investigation built on a false narrative amounted to obstruction of justice. The public rightly asks how he could obstruct an investigation into a fictional crime? To make matters worse, the coming IG Report and the investigations into the origins of the investigation are just over the hill. Some of their star witnesses are even now being measured for orange jump suits. 

For now, save your ammunition. When (if) they move on this suicidal assault, wait until they are out in the open. Then lower the (rhetorical) guns to deck level and show no mercy. It will be a bloodbath for their freshmen. Chase them all the way to November. 

Gil Gutknecht served six terms each in the Minnesota and the U.S. House of Representatives. He writes about healthcare and political issues of the day.

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