Although he graduated at the bottom of his West Point class of 1846, George E. Pickett distinguished himself fighting against the Indians and during the Mexican War. He was serving as an infantry captain when the Civil War began. He resigned his commission in June of 1861 and joined the Confederate army.
He initially served along the Rappahannock, but joined the main army on the Peninsula for battles at Williamsburg, Seven Pines, and Gaines’ Mill, where he was wounded.
He did not return to duty until after Antietam, at which time he was assigned to command a division. After Fredericksburg he accompanied Longstreet on his foraging campaign into southeastern Virginia. Pickett took the opportunity to begin his celebrated courtship of Miss Sallie Ann Corbell, a lovely southern belle little more than half his age, who lived in the region.
At Gettysburg he took part in the futile attack on the Federal center on the third day of the battle which became famous as “Pickett’s Charge.”
When Longstreet went west, Pickett was detached to direct operations against New Bern in North Carolina. Later he distinguished himself in the defense of Drewry’s Bluff and rejoined Lee’s army in time for Cold Harbor.
During the siege of Petersburg his force was often used as a mobile reserve, seeing action all along the Confederate line. When Phil Sheridan attacked his position at Five Forks on April 1, 1865, Pickett was taken completely by surprise, not even being present with his command. Deciding that it was too late in the day for any attack to take place he and Confederate cavalry general Fitz Lee had accepted an invitation to a picnic from another cavalryman, Tom Rosser. Neither told any subordinate where they were going. When Sheridan’s attack began no one knew where to find them. Pickett rejoined his command as it was being unceremoniously driven from the field. On the strength of this disaster Grant ordered assaults all along the long front, and the Confederate line collapsed utterly, forcing the evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond.
Accompanying the last retreat of the Army of Northern Virginia toward Appomattox, Pickett was relieved from duty by General Lee on the day before the surrender, and sent home to await orders. Pickett, however, surrendered with the army the following day.
Confederate raider John Singleton Mosby wrote of one last encounter with General Lee in Richmond after the war. Pickett asked to accompany Mosby to see Lee, who, according to Mosby, treated him with icy civility, inferring disapproval of his absence from his post at Five Forks. After leaving Lee’s presence, Pickett spoke bitterly of him to Mosby saying, “that old man had my division massacred at Gettysburg.” Mosby replied, “Well, it made you immortal.”
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