Pickett gains place in history

Charge: 50-minute attack at Cemetery Ridge broke his division.

June 26, 2005|By Tiffany Vallo | Tiffany Vallo,SUN STAFF

In the early morning of July 3, 1863, Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett, who had been assigned to defenses at Richmond, Va., and his troops received orders to engage the Union army and break their front at Gettysburg. By afternoon they returned to the Confederate lines on Seminary Ridge a broken division.

The charge, which barely lasted 50 minutes, has been studied and mythicized in the years since the Battle of Gettysburg and has become popularly known as "Pickett's Charge," according to John Heiser, a historian and ranger at the Gettysburg National Park in Pennsylvania.

"Pickett was anxious that he would not get to see any of the fighting during the campaign and was filled with excitement when he was ordered to move his three brigades to the front lines on July 3," Heiser said.

At the opening of the charge, Pickett's division was one of the largest in the Army of Northern Virginia. Many of his men were veterans of several campaigns and joined the army as it made its way toward Maryland and Pennsylvania.

By the end of the day that July 3 Pickett had lost over half of his troops to death, wounds or capture, including all three of his brigade commanders: James L. Kemper, Richard B. Garnett and Lewis A. Armistead.

According to the Historical Times Encyclopedia, "At midafternoon the forward movement began with the troops dressed as if on parade as they marched into the federal guns. Pickett, as division commander, attempted to coordinate the ill-fated movement and, contrary to the view of some critics, acquitted himself bravely and well."

Some critics of the charge believed that with so much destruction in the ranks and among the high-ranking officers it seemed difficult for Pickett to escape unharmed while still being committed to the battle. Regardless of his actions in battle, Pickett and his men reached a notably high point of honor in the Confederate history of the Civil War, said Heiser.

George Edward Pickett was born in Richmond, on Jan. 28, 1825, and grew up at this family's plantation on the James River. Va. After attending school in Richmond, Pickett went on to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and graduated in the Class of 1846. Pickett was ranked last in his class of 59 students.

Pickett participated in the Mexican War, during which he received a brevet rank of lieutenant and then progressed to captain for his service in the siege of Vera Cruz.

After joining the Confederates at the outbreak of the Civil War, Pickett received a series of promotions over about two years, achieving the rank of major general in October 1862, according to the Historical Times Encyclopedia.

Pickett's Civil War career was made famous by Pickett's Charge. An impossible feat, he instructed his troops to retreat when it was clear that they could not break the Union's center.

After he endured the losses at Gettysburg, he marched his troops back to Virginia. That fall Pickett took a short leave of absence to marry his third wife, LaSalle Corbel. The couple had two children.

According to the Historical Times Encyclopedia, "General Pickett's duties placed him in command of numerous defensive lines around Richmond, Petersburg, and southeast Virginia, a post he held until 1864 when he returned to the field in command of his old division."

After the Civil War, Pickett attempted becoming a farmer before settling for a position as an insurance salesman in Richmond. He died on July 30, 1872, in Norfolk, Va. He is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.

Tiffany Vallo is a senior majoring in journalism at Loyola College in Baltimore. This article was written as part of an academic internship at The Sun.

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