Birthday: January 16, 1825
Died At Age: 50
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Also Known As: George Edward Pickett
Born in: Richmond, Virginia, United States
Famous as: Army Officer
Spouse/Ex-: Sally Harrison Steward Minge Pickett (m. 1851 – 1851)
father: Robert Pickett
mother: Mary Pickett
siblings: Charles Pickett, Elizabeth Johnston Pickett, Mary Pickett, Mary Seldon Pickett, Olivia Pickett, Robert Johnston Pickett, Virginia Pickett
Died on: July 30, 1875
place of death: Norfolk, Virginia, United States
U.S. State: Virginia
education: United States Military Academy at West Point
Who was George Pickett?
George Pickett was a career United States Army officer who joined the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War to serve his home state Virginia. He is best known for 'Pickett's Charge', the disastrous attack on the Union Army on the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, even though the offensive was ordered by General Robert E. Lee and commanded by Major General James Longstreet. As he was the only prominent Virginian officer involved, his participation was glorified by the state media in a way similar to how his whole life will be mythicized by his widowed wife following his death. Pickett, who graduated last in his class, reached the rank of Captain serving in the United States Army and went on to become a Major General for the Confederacy. Known as a tragic figure due to several failures, he had served with distinction in the Battle of Chapultepec during the Mexican-American War and in the Peninsula Campaign.
Childhood & Early Life
George Edward Pickett was born on January 16, 1825, in his grandfather's shop in Richmond, Virginia, United States, as the first of eight children of Robert and Mary Pickett. Born into a prominent Old Virginian family of Huguenot origins, he grew up on his family's plantation at Turkey Island in Henrico County.
After working under his uncle as a law clerk for a while, he went to study law in Springfield, Illinois, but left his studies at 17 to enter the United States Military Academy at West Point. He was appointed by Congressman John T. Stuart, a friend of his uncle, and not Abraham Lincoln, as is claimed by stories spread by his wife later.
Well-known for his mischievous pranks, he had "no ambition for class standing" and only secured the last place among 59 graduating cadets in the Class of 1846. However, he was able to further his careers as the war between Mexico and the United States increased demand for junior army officers.
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George Pickett entered the US Army as a brevet second lieutenant in the 8th Infantry Regiment and soon participated in Major General Winfield Scott's campaign in the Mexican–American War. He first saw action at the Siege of Vera Cruz and subsequently took part in the battles at Cerro Gordo and Churubusco.
On September 13, 1847, at the Battle of Chapultepec, he took the American colors from his wounded friend, Lieutenant James Longstreet, and fought his way to the top of the walls to raise the flag. For his contributions in capturing the key fortification, he was rewarded with a brevet promotion to captain.
He next served on the Texas frontier with the 9th US Infantry Regiment and was promoted to first lieutenant in 1849, and then to captain in 1855. In 1853, after briefly meeting fellow junior officer Winfield Scott Hancock, he had challenged the latter to a duel, which Hancock declined.
Following a short stint at Fort Monroe, Virginia, he went to serve in Washington Territory and commanded the construction of a fort in Bellingham the next year. Amidst growing border dispute with the British, he was sent with command of Company D, 9th US Infantry, to garrison San Juan Island and held his position during the confrontation known as the 'Pig War'.
After Virginia seceded from the Union following the bombardment of Fort Sumter in South Carolina that started the Civil War, George Pickett resigned from the US Army on June 25, 1861 to serve his state. He was already commissioned as a major in the Confederate States Army Artillery since March, and was appointed colonel commanding the Rappahannock Line of the Department of Fredericksburg.
Promoted to brigadier general on January 14, 1862, thanks to his superior, Major General Theophilus H. Holmes, he led his brigade, the Gamecocks, to the battles of Williamsburg and Seven Pines during the Peninsula Campaign. He earned commendations from his superiors for his competent command, but sustained a serious injury to his shoulder during the Battle of Gaines's Mill in June.
Following the bloody Battle of Antietam, he returned to command a two-brigade division in Major General Longstreet's Corps in September and was promoted to major general on October 10, 1862. Leading an upgraded five-brigade division, he engaged in minor fighting at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December.
He again missed the huge Battle of Chancellorsville as his division was detached from General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia in April 1863 to participate in the minor Suffolk Campaign. During this period, his frequent trips to meet Sallie, his future wife, even without permission from Longstreet, tarnished his reputation in the army.
His division, initially tasked with guarding the Confederate lines of communication, arrived at the Battle of Gettysburg on the second day of the battle on July 2, 1863. At Lee's request, Longstreet assembled three divisions, including Pickett's fresh troops from his own corps, and led the attack on the Union Army on the third day.
The attack, which proved disastrous for the Confederacy and turned the tide of the war, became commonly known as 'Pickett's Charge' even though Pickett was not technically in command. Another blot in his career occurred in February 1864 when he ordered the execution of 22 US Army soldiers as 'deserters' following another Confederate defeat at the Battle of New Bern.
While his career declined gradually, he took part in Lee's Overland Campaign and the Siege of Petersburg, and lost most of his division in another blunder at the Battle of Five Forks. He commanded the rest of his troops at the Battle of Appomattox Courthouse in April 1865, before surrendering with Lee's army.
Personal Life & Legacy
In January 1851, George Pickett married the daughter of Dr. John Minge of Virginia, Sally Harrison Minge, who was also the great-great-grandniece of President William Henry Harrison and the great-great-granddaughter of Benjamin Harrison V. She died during childbirth in November that year while Pickett was posted at Fort Gates in Texas.
His second marriage was to a Native American woman named Morning Mist, from the Haida tribe, who gave birth to their son James 'Jimmy' Tilton Pickett in 1857 but died shortly after. His son, who became a renowned newspaper artist, also died young, at the age of 32, near Portland, Oregon after suffering from tuberculosis.
On November 13, 1863, following a brief courtship, he married LaSalle 'Sallie' Corbell, a Virginia teenager who later claimed to have met him when she was nine. They had two children, George Edward Pickett, Jr. and David Corbell Pickett, the latter of whom died of measles as a child.
In 1865, he fled to Canada with his family after investigation was initiated over his execution order at New Bern, and returning a year later, began working as an insurance agent and farmer. He died from a liver abscess in Norfolk, Virginia, on July 30, 1875, and was interred in Cedar Grove Cemetery, but his remains were moved to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond in October.
Years after George Pickett's death, his widow LaSalle Corbell became a writer and speaker who often spread false stories to perpetuate an idealized version of "her Soldier" as the perfect Southern gentleman and soldier.