With the outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg still in doubt, Confederate Commanding General Robert E Lee envisioned a bold frontal assault into the center of the Union lines which would break the defenders and send them into a full retreat. Lee reasoned that Union General George Meade would have drawn troops from his center to reinforce both his flanks after punishing Rebel assaults on the second day of fighting.
Given the 'honor' of this daring charge across a mile of open ground were General George Pickett's division, a division under the command of General JJ Pettigrew and elements of a third division under the command of General Isaac Trimble. About 12,000 Confederate soldiers were to march against the center of the Union line which was marked by a small Copse of Trees.
After an artilery barage which lasted for nearly two hours, Pickett received an emotion-choked nod to begin the assualt from General James Longstreet, his corps commander1. Pickett himself was thrilled with his orders and dashed off to inform his men. 'Up men and to your posts.... Don't forget today that you are from Old Virginia!'
The Southern troops formed into ranks and began marching with parade ground precision toward the Union lines. As soon as the Confederate troops marched out into the open, Union artillery began to rain down upon them. As they continued to advance, cannons positioned on Little Roundtop (to the right of the advancing Confederates) opened fire, bouncing shots down the length of the Southerners' lines.
The intensity of the Union cannon fire was murderous, but the Confederaes marched onward, closing gaps in their ranks and scarcely breaking stride.
On the third day of the battle, a whole bunch of Confederates died trying to walk a mile uphill into the face of cannons and massed infantry.
As 'glorious' as the Charge of the Light Brigade, but without the poem to immortalize it...
(Actually the Confederates suffer 60 percent casualties compared to 40 percent during the Light Brigade's charge)