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Colonel Edward Porter understood the awesome task that lay before him. A tall, lanky 28 year old officer, Alexander was in charge of the Confederate I Corp artillery. Officially, Alexander was just a battalion commander, but General James Longstreet had moved him to field command of his artillery. This was the third day of battle at Gettysburg. Following a season of victories, General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia had taken the war to the North, marching in to Pennsylvania and dealing the Federal Army of the Potomac a staggering defeat on Gettysburg's first day. On day two, however, the men in blue - who defended strong positions on Cemetery Ridge - had turned back Confederate assaults on both flanks of the Federal line. Now Lee planned to pour everything into a mighty strike against the enemy's center. To precede the Southern infantry assault, he had directed Longstreet to unleash a massive artillery barrage against the Federal Line.
To execute the unprecedented bombardment, Longstreet turned to Alexander. Artillery crews from more than 150 guns would follow Alexander's lead - opening fire at the sound of two signal guns. After a sustained pounding of the Federal position on Cemetery Ridge, the guns would cease fire and the heart of Lee's army would go forth to break the Federal line and defeat the enemy. At approximately one o'clock, Alexander would launch the barrage. It would be the greatest field artillery bombardment of the war. "The ground fairly shook beneath the feet of the assembled armies from the terrible conclusion," a Confederate would report. "The skies were clouded with smoke, the air was filled with shrieking shot and shell until it seemed as though hell itself had broken loose."
It would not be enough. Despite Alexander's best efforts and the massive amount of Southern shot and steel hurled at the Cemetery Ridge, the Federal line would hold and Pickett's Charge would fail. Lee's greatest assault would become his greatest failure, and the course of the war would be thereafter set against the South. However, as Alexander and Longstreet watched the Confederate guns wheel into position, the fate of the South still remained cloaked by the future. The mighty bombardment and the great assault still lay ahead - and the quest for Southern independence still seemed within the grasp of Lee's legions.
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