Document Type

Blog Post

Publication Date


Department 1

Civil War Institute


In a July 4 letter to his father-in-law, General Alexander Hays expressed reserve. “Yesterday was a warm one for us,” he wrote. “The fight of my division was a perfect success […] We are all sanguine of ridding our soil of the invaders.”

The “perfect success” for Hays was his command’s role in the repulse of Pettigrew’s division in what has become known as Pickett’s Charge. It was an unquestionable victory for his division and the Army of the Potomac. Yet Alex Hays’s matter-of-fact letter was not buoyant with the egoism so easily ascribed to generals after their victories. Hays does not mention, in any detail, his actions of July 3, where he remained in the saddle under artillery fire, inspiring his troops with his personal bravery so that his example would assuage their own fears of the looming Confederate assault. Nor does he detail the fight itself – the laying down of a wall of brutal fire by his men against their attackers – the melting away of enemy brigades to his front, the rebels falling dead and wounded as his men cheered for their destruction. Perhaps the greatest moment of Alex Hays’s life, certainly the pinnacle of his career as a soldier, his famed dragging of a Confederate battle standard in the dirt in front of his cheering men (and also in front of dying enemy soldiers) is also unmentioned, though, to do so in a after-action letter to his father-in-law would have been viewed, perhaps, as gauche. [excerpt]


This blog post originally appeared in The Gettysburg Compiler.