Teaching through our historic sites

Pickett

George Edward Pickett (1825-1875)

There is some confusion about George E. Pickett's date of birth. Various sources give the date as January 16, 25, or 28, 1825. He was born in Richmond, Virginia to a prominent family. Though he attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he graduated last in his class in 1846. Though well-liked by his fellow cadets, he showed little interest in academics and was known as a class clown.

Luckily for Pickett, his class graduated just as the Mexican War was beginning, and he received a brevet appointment as a 2nd lieutenant in the 8th US Infantry. He distinguished himself in battle and gained national recognition when he unfurled the American flag over the Mexican fortress during the Battle of Chapultepec. For his gallantry, he received a brevet promotion to captain. After the war, he was appointed 1st lieutenant in the 9th US Infantry and, in March 1855, was promoted to captain.

Pickett married Sally Harrison Steward Minge in January 1851, but she died during childbirth in November of the same year, while the couple was posted in Texas. In 1856, Pickett was sent west to supervise the construction of Fort Bellingham in the Washington Territory. While there, he married an American Indian woman named Morning Mist. The couple had had a son, James Tilton Pickett. Morning Mist died a few years later, and James Pickett died of tuberculosis at age 32. In 1859, Pickett occupied San Juan Island, off the coast of Washington, setting off a territorial dispute with the British known as the Pig War. Cooler heads prevailed, and the disagreement never came to hostilities.

With the secession of Virginia from the Union, Pickett returned to his home state and resigned his commission on June 25, 1861. He was appointed a colonel in the Confederate States Army and, by January 14, 1862, was promoted to brigadier general. He commanded a brigade in the Peninsula Campaign and was wounded at the Battle of Gaines' Mill on June 27, 1862. Following his recuperation, he was promoted to major general on October 10, 1862 and given command of a division in Gen. James Longstreet's corps. After a year-long courtship, Pickett married his third wife, Sallie Corbell, on November 13, 1863.

Pickett is certainly best known for his role in the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863. On the final day of the battle, Pickett led the final Confederate assault on the Union forces, a moment that has come to be known as "Pickett's Charge." A more historically accurate term would be the "Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Assault." The three divisions engaged in this attack marched nearly a mile over open ground to assault the entrenched Union forces on the other side. The Confederates sustained over fifty percent casualties, including three brigade commanders and thirteen regimental commanders. Pickett was stunned and emotionally shaken by this murderous defeat. He never recovered psychologically from the event.

Pickett was reassigned to command the Department of Southern Virginia and North Carolina in the winter of 1863-64. During this time he oversaw two failed attempts to recapture New Bern, North Carolina from occupying Union forces and gained notoriety in eastern North Carolina for hanging suspected Confederate deserters at Kinston. He later returned to Richmond to command a division in the city's defenses. Pickett's forces suffered a crucial defeat at the Battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865, and he surrendered his men along with General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia on April 4, 1865.

Even though Pickett was paroled by the Union authorities, he fled to Canada for a brief time following the war. He returned to Norfolk, Virginia in 1866 and worked as an insurance agent for the rest of his life. He died in Norfolk on July 30, 1875 and was buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.

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