by Andy Mateja

General George E. Pickett is well known to Civil War Historians and immortalized by the memory of the desperate charge named and led by him during the Third Day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Pickett was a 38 year old major general in Gen Robt E. Lee’s vaunted Army of Northern Virginia during the battle. He was appointed to West Point with the help of none other than Abraham Lincoln (due to the Virginia quota already filled) and graduated in 1846 LAST in his glass. He served in the Mexican War and had actually planted the U.S. flag on the battlements of Chapultepec. Afterwards Pickett served on the Texas border and Washington territory and was involved in an attempt to incite war with England (along with future Union Generals Stevens & Harney) in an attempt to unite the people of the U.S. to avoid Civil War.

Pickett resigned his commission in the US army at the beginning of the Civil War. He arrived in Richmond in September 1861 ….to late to participate in the First Battle of Bull Run which he was bitter about.  However his new commander, Gen James Longstreet liked him and watched over him while he gradually advanced Pickett in rank.

In June 1862, Pickett was wounded in the arm at Gaines Mill during the Seven Days Battles which resulted in him not being able to participate in the upcoming battles at Second Bull Run, South Mountain and Antietam. Nevertheless he was still promoted to Major General in October 1862 and given command of a division consisting of five brigades.

Longstreet held Pickett in reserve at the Battle of Fredericksburg and took him with on his efforts to secure supplies in Suffolk VA in April 1863. Once again he missed another great battle …..Lee’s victory at Chancellorsville May 1-4 1863.

Two months later the epic Battle of Gettysburg was fought and Pickett was finally able to participate in actual combat commanding the division assigned to him nine months earlier. Pickett’s men did not see action until the third day of the battle as they were the last of Lee’s fresh troops and destined to have a prominent role in the “charge” that was ordered. Lee actually preferred another division commander to lead the charge, as Pickett did not have battlefield command experience. Unfortunately Lee had no choice……..

Pickett happily led the charge on July 3rd against the Union forces on Cemetery Ridge. However he did so from a safe distance, as he was able to see most of his men cut down in less than 30 minutes. Pickett wept bitterly and on the return of the surviving members of his division said to Longstreet “ General I am ruined !……. my division is gone – it is destroyed”.

Afterwards, Pickett wrote a report critical of his lack of support during the attack. Lee asked him to destroy the report as it would be harmful to the morale of the troops. Shortly thereafter, Pickett was assigned other duty as commander of the Dept of VA & NC with a smaller portion of men than he previously commanded.

In early 1864, Pickett attacked NEW Bern NC in an attempt to recapture it from the Union troops. He failed in the attempt as he was unable to coordinate movements between several groups of Confederate troops in his department. Further controversy erupted when he planned to execute 22 members of the North Carolina militia as deserters… they were hung instead of being shot.

A few months later as Lt Gen Ulysses S. Grant was steadily advancing on Richmond & Petersburg, Pickett used his command to bottle up Union Maj Gen Ben Butler outside of Petersburg at Bermuda Hundred   in May 1864. Strangely,   Pickett claimed physical illness and turned Departmental command over to Confederate Gen P.G.T Beauregard while he returned to command his old division under Lee.

While events during the remainder of 1864 and early 1865 did not direct impact Pickett, the one that literally “broke the camel’s back” for his was at Five Forks.

While commanded to guard an important railroad junction, Pickett along with cavalry Gen Fitzhugh Lee decided to participate in a Shad Bake……which separated them from their various commands for hours.

Union Maj Gen Phillip Sheridan attacked at that very moment on April 1st 1865 and overran their position, forcing Lee to abandon the defenses of both Richmond and Petersburg the next day surrender his army a week later. Lee was so angry at Pickett because of his poor behavior that he relieved him of command and put him under arrest. Angrily Lee said “is that man still with this army? “

After war Pickett was charged with the murder by hanging of North Carolina militiamen but fled to Canada to avoid capture.  –  He appealed to Grant to intervene as per the terms of the surrender which Grant did and the charge was dropped. Pickett returned to Virginia and sold insurance during the remaining 10 years of his life.

Sadly, Pickett only talked to Robt E Lee one time after the war. John S Mosby accompanied Pickett and witnessed the conversation between the two. Lee was very cold toward Pickett and was not comfortable conversing with him. Afterwards, Pickett demonstrated signs of bitterness once again toward Lee and commented “that old man massacred my division at Gettysburg”. Mosby quickly retorted “and he made you immortal……..”

Pickett seemingly neglected that important point………