Timing the Opening of the Grand Artillery Cannonade on July 3

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Tom Elmore

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The singular and momentous event on July 3 that broke the profound silence on the battlefield was heard by well over 100,000 soldiers and civilians, although only a handful of them recorded a precise time of that event for posterity. It should be enough, but unfortunately standard time zones were not adopted in the United States until 1883. In 1863, it was still the sun’s passage over the local meridian that established high noon in a specific location (longitude). Given the longitude separation (26 degrees or so) between Maine and Texas, citizens of those two states would show a difference of about one hour and forty-five minutes when they set their watches to their respective local time.

For that reason alone many historians appear to rely upon a very meticulous Gettysburg college professor’s (Michel Jacobs, Notes on the Rebel Invasion) observation that the duel commenced at precisely 1:07 p.m. on July 3.

However, for the sake of inclusion as well as history, let’s hear from others, in chronological order:

About 12 ½ (12:30 p.m.) by the watch I saw. (July 30, 1863 letter of Captain Joseph Graham, a Confederate battery commander)

12:48 p.m. (Arabella M. Willson, Disaster, Struggle, Triumph, 126th New York)

At 10 minutes to 1 p.m. precisely, by my watch (12:50 p.m.). (Francis Galway, 8th Ohio, The Valiant Hours)

12.50 p.m. (James Gardner, “From Wright’s Brigade,” Daily Constitutionalist, Augusta, Georgia, July 23, 1863)

When the gun fired I drew my watch and by it was 4 minutes to 1 (12:56 p.m.). (Joshua Davis, Capt. William H. Griffin’s Maryland Battery, Bachelder Papers, 2:1250)

1:05 p.m. (“Carleton,” war correspondent, Stories of our Soldiers, War Reminiscences by “Carleton” and by Soldiers of New England)

Cannonade started at 1:07 p.m. by my watch. (John J. Garnett, Confederate artillery battalion commander, Gettysburg: A Complete Historical Narrative)

According to my diary, written at the time, it began at 1:10 p.m. (E. Corbin, Pettit’s Battery at Gettysburg, The National Tribune, February 3, 1910)

About 1:32 p.m. a solemn boom was heard from the far right. (Maud Morrow Brown, The University Grays, Company A, 11th Mississippi Regiment)

For the statisticians in the crowd, I believe the median value for this data works out to 1:00 p.m (plus 30 seconds). The range is 62 minutes. In conclusion, if you have reservations about Jacobs’ accuracy, you could say “about 1 p.m.” and be about as right as one will ever be with respect to the time the artillery duel began.
 

infomanpa

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I go with the professor's time, because he was able to calibrate his clock as necessary being on permanent location in Gettysburg. For everyone else, less credibility must be assigned because they were temporary residents. Therefore, we have no idea when and where they reset their watches.
 

thomas aagaard

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What I find hard to understand is why the army did not.
1. synchronize watches. (just the corp commanders and similar)
2. Note down what actually happened when.
 
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Tom Elmore

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What is the consensus for the duration of the cannonade?
I have come to consider that the Federal artillery began to taper off (mostly but not entirely by design) after about 70 minutes, while the Confederates faded away at about 90 minutes (until 2:37 p.m. or so). The diminution of the Federal artillery fire seemed to confirm that the time was right to advance the infantry. It took a few minutes to communicate the orders, so I figure the infantry stepped off about 2:47 p.m., give or take.
 

Mark Roth

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Why are we trusting the opinions of men who had been fighting for two days and marching for even longer, where setting their watches may not be priority, over a local resident who probably kept his clock properly set until at least July 1, and that assumes it needs to be wound as often as a pocket watch.
 
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