On this day 150 years ago, July 2, 1863, the battle that everyone expected to happen was slow to get going. Neither side had been prepared for the battle to happen at Gettysburg, so much of July 2nd was spent getting soldiers into position - especially for the Confederates, who intended to attack the Union line to their east.
Finally, at around 4:30 in the afternoon, a massive assault began, as the Confederates essentially attacked the entire Union line all at once, with the heaviest fighting taking place on the Union left, which was the southern end of the battlefield. This day would immortalize such places as Little Round Top, Devil's Den, The Wheat Field, The Peach Orchard, and the Valley of Death, along with such names as Joshua Chamberlain, Daniel Sickles, and James Longstreet.
At Little Round Top, the 20th Maine Regiment under the command of Colonel Joshua Chamberlain would hold off charge after charge of Confederates as these Maine fishermen and lumberjacks would fight until they ran out of ammunition, necessitating a bayonet charge that sent the attacking Confederates running and saving the extreme left flank of the Union line. Closer to the center of the Union line, a Confederate brigade (about 3,000 men) broke through, and the only Union men available to stop them from bisecting the Union army were the 262 men of the 1st Minnesota Regiment. When the 1st Minnesota's delaying action was complete, only 47 of them walked away from the engagement.
With the darkness came the end of fighting on that second day of the Battle of Gettysburg. The Confederate assault had come thisclose to breaking the Union line, but at the end of the day, the battlefield arrangement was essentially the same as it had been at the beginning of the day. With General Robert E. Lee noting that the attacks on the Union flanks were unsuccessful, he was convinced that attacking the center of the Union line the next day could decide the battle in favor of his Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. Lee's July 3rd attempt to take the Union center would set up what many believe to be the defining moment of the War for Southern Independence, better known as the U.S. Civil War.