"For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two o'clock on that July afternoon in 1863."
So starts a powerful passage by William Faulkner in "Intruder in the Dust." The Mississippi novelist and poet poignantly painted the scene of dry-mouthed young men anticipating battle.
But the Confederate attack, known in the annals of history as Pickett's Charge, ended about a mile away in failure, gray-clad troops blunted by determined Union troops at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Those young boys recalled by Faulkner were stopped at the Angle, a stone wall considered the high-water mark of the Confederacy -- perhaps the last chance for victory in the U.S. Civil War. Instead, the Union prevailed at Gettysburg, a turning point in the four-year war that claimed at least 620,000 lives.
This weekend and through July 7, between 200,000 and 300,000 visitors -- more than the number of combatants -- will flock to the town and fields of Gettysburg National Military Park to mark the 150th anniversary of the three-day clash, which cost an incredible 51,000 casualties.
Pickett's Charge will be the climactic event of a large re-enactment this weekend outside of park boundaries. On July 3, the actual anniversary of the attack, National Park Service rangers will guide thousands of visitors in loose formation across a gently rolling field. Others will stand where Federal regiments poured rifle and artillery fire into the arc of Confederates.
The event ends with the playing of Taps by multiple musicians, a solemn remembrance of selfless sacrifice by the warriors at Gettysburg.
Times have changed since previous anniversary observances, including the 1938 reunion, at which grizzled veterans of the battle met at Gettysburg one last time in an event known for reconciliation. They shook hands across that famous wall at the Angle. Some let out the haunting Rebel Yell.
The 150th commemoration of the battle will tell a wider story than previous observances, officials told CNN.
"For decades, people came here for military and black powder," said Carl Whitehill, media relations manager for the Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Now they want to know about the civilians and what they endured during and after the battle."
Mike Litterst of the National Park Service said interpretations at federal Civil War battlefields have evolved in the past 25 years. Besides telling the story of the battles and the homefront, exhibits increasingly stress the importance of the conflict to civil rights and the role of African-Americans, thousands of whom served in the Union Army.
About 400 events are planned over 10 days, including a second battle re-enactment next weekend.
Gettysburg National Military Park on Sunday will hold one of its 150th anniversary signature events, an evening program entitled "Gettysburg: A New Birth of Freedom." The keynote speaker is historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Country music singer Trace Adkins and a military band will perform the national anthem.
The ceremony concludes with a procession to the Soldiers' National Cemetery, where luminaries will mark each of 3,500 graves of soldiers who died at Gettysburg.
"I think it is an opportunity for people to have a deeper understanding of what happened here and how it is still relevant in 21st century America," said Litterst.
Small town made way into history books
Gettysburg, then a bucolic town of 2,400 souls, found itself directly drawn into the Civil War during the first days of July 1863. Southern troops took the war to the North after a resounding victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville two months before.
Gen. Robert E. Lee's soldiers on the first day of battle pushed Union troops through the town and onto hills and ridges that eventually played a large part in the battle's outcome.
"There was street fighting in the inside (of Gettysburg)," said Whitehill. "Throughout the town, a lot of people were shooting muskets out of windows."
Jennie Wade, while kneading dough, was fatally shot in the back on July 3, the only civilian casualty at Gettysburg,