Sunday, February 1, 2009
Remembering George Pickett of Pickett's Charge Fame.
With January coming to a close I noticed that there are a lot of famous Confederate generals' birthdays in January. James Longstreet is on the 8th, Robert E. Lee on the 19th and "Stonewall" Jackson is on the 21st. One famous, or infamous, Confederate general's birthday comes near the end of the month, appropriately, and that's good ole George Pickett of Pickett's charge fame.Born in Richmond, VA, January 28, 1825, Pickett was the first of eight kids. It seems as if he were fated to be either first or last his whole life.At the age of 17 he was appointed to the United States Military Academy by Illinois Congressman John T. Stuart, a friend of Pickett's uncle and a law partner of Abraham Lincoln. Pickett ended up as the class goat, graduating last out of 59 students in 1846. His classmates included Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, A. P. Hill and George B. McClellan.Fame smiled on Pickett during the Mexican-American war. The then second lieutenant became a national celebrity during the Battle of Chapultepec when he took the American flag from a wounded James Longstreet, the man who would be his Corp commander at Gettysburg, and was the first to reach the parapet where he waved the flag over the fort. An image something like the soldiers raising the flag on Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima during WW II.Little things always seemed to get George in trouble in a big way. You wouldn't thing a farmer shooting a pig would be too big of a deal but with Pickett involved it almost started a war with England.The territorial dispute, nicknamed the "Pig War" started in 1859, when Pickett and a garrison of 68 men on San Juan Island stood up to a British force of three warships and 1000 men after an American farmer had killed a pig belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company in area the farmer claimed was in the United States.Pickett was quoted as saying, "We'll make a Bunker Hill of it" which may show why he finished last at West Point, the British won at Bunker Hill in spite of the Colonial's impressive defensive efforts. Fortunatly President James Buchanan dispatched Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott to negotiate a settlement between the parties and no shots were ever fired.When the Civil War started Pickett left the army to join with his state, Virginia, along with fellow Virginians R.E. Lee and "Stonewall" Jackson.During the "Seven Days" campaign Pickett was knocked from his horse by a bullett at Gaines Mill and was out of action until September of 1862, missing the battle at Antietam.Pickett was given command of a two-brigade division in the corps commanded by Maj. Gen. James Longstreet, and was promoted to major general on October 10. His division, however, saw little or no action.During the battle of Fredericksburg Pickett's division was in the middle of Lee's two corps, the only place not attacked by the Union Army. Longstreet's entire corps was absent from the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, as it was detached on the Suffolk Campaign so again Pickett missed all the action.Gettysburg changed everything, all because Pickett was last to arrived.After two days of hard fighting Gen. Lee planned his attack on the center of the Union line. During the planning of the battle it was noted that Pickett's division had missed the fighting having been at the rear of the Column of the Army of Northern Virginia and was last to arrive and therefore should have the freshest troops. Logic dictates fresh troops should lead the attack and Pickett's fate was decided.Following an artillery barrage to soften up the Union defenses, three divisions stepped off across open fields almost a mile from Cemetery Ridge. Pickett inspired his men by shouting, "Up, Men, and to your posts! Don't forget today that you are from Old Virginia."Pickett's division, with the brigades of Brig. Gens. Lewis A. Armistead, Richard B. Garnett, and James L. Kemper, was on the right flank of the assault. It received punishing artillery fire, and then volleys of massed musket fire as it approached its objective. Armistead's brigade made the farthest progress through the Union lines. Armistead was mortally wounded as he cross wall and attempted to turn a Union cannon at what is now considered the "High Water Mark of the Confederacy" But neither of the other two divisions made comparable progress across the fields and Armistead's success was not reinforced, and most of his men were killed, wounded or captured.Pickett's Charge was a bloodbath, over fifty percent of the men sent across the fields were killed or wounded. Pickett's three brigade commanders and all 13 of his regimental commanders were casualties. Kemper was wounded, and Garnett and Armistead did not survive. Trimble and Pettigrew were the most senior casualties, the former losing a leg and the latter wounded in the hand and dying during the retreat to Virginia. Pickett survivied the battle unscathed thanks to his position well to the rear of his troops, as was command doctrine at the time for division commanders.As soldiers straggled back to the Confederate lines along Seminary Ridge, Lee feared a Union counteroffensive and tried to rally his center, telling returning soldiers that the failure was "all my fault." Pickett was inconsolable. When Lee told Pickett to rally his division for the defense, Pickett allegedly replied, "General Lee, I have no division."While many said that Pickett blamed Lee for what happened at Gettysburg, when asked years later why Pickett's Charge failed, he replied that "I've always thought the Yankees had something to do with it."After the battle at Gettysburg Pickett commanded the Department of Southern Virginia and North Carolina and then served as a division commander in the Defenses of Richmond. Pickett's division was detached in support of Robert E. Lee's operation in the Overland Campaign, just before the Battle of Cold Harbor, in which Pickett's division again occupied the center of the defensive line, a place in which again the main Union attack did not occur.On April 1st, 1865, April Fool's Day, Pickett's division held the key position known as "Five Forks" on the far right of the Confederate line. Robert E. Lee had orded this position held at all hazard as it kept open the last supply lines to Richmond as well as the Army of Northern Virginia's last hope of escape if Richmond falls.The day lived up to its name. Pickett had accuired some fish, Shad, and invited his officers to a Shad bake some two miles away from Five Forks. While the officers dined, Union General Phil Sheridan attacked and over-ran the position, capturing more than 1,000 leaderless Confederate soldiers and threated to cut the last supply lines. Lee pulled out of the Richmond/Petersburg defenses the next day.One of the last things Robert E. Lee did before going to see General Grant was to relive Pickett of his command along with other officers involved in the Five Forks fiasco. There is some question if Pickett ever received that order but Lt. Col. Walter H. Taylor, Lee's chief of staff, wrote that he issued orders for Lee relieving Pickett, along with Maj. Gens. Richard H. Anderson and Bushrod R. Johnson.Reguardless of the order the war was over. You could almost say that in his lifetime Pickett nearly started a war with Britian over a pig and ended the Civil War over fish.Pickett had difficulty seeking amnesty after the Civil War. Former Union officers, including Ulysses S. Grant, supported pardoning Pickett, but it was not until June 23, 1874 that George Pickett received a full pardon by Act of Congress.Pickett died July 30, 1875 in Norfolk, Virginia. Pickett's grave is marked by an elaborate memorial in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Commissioned in 1875 by the Pickett Division Association, a group of veterans from his division, it was originally intended to be placed at Gettysburg National Military Park at the "High Water Mark" of Pickett's Charge, but was built in Richmond when the U.S. War Department refused permission for the battlefield placement.Even in death success at Gettysburg eluded George Pickett.