George Edward Pickett
1825 - 1875
George Edward Pickett, the Confederate Civil War general who led the famous charge at Gettysburg, died July 30, 1875. He was 50.
Pickett was born in Richmond, Virginia on January 25, 1825. The son of a planter, he graduated from West Point in 1846 in a class which included future generals George McClellan, Stonewall Jackson and George Stoneman.
Pickett served in the Mexican War, earned brevet promotions to first lieutenant and captain, and participated in the battle which brought about the capture of Mexico City.
He spent the remainder of his federal duty in Washington territory. In the spring of 1861, he resigned his commission to join the Confederate army.
Initially commissioned as a major of artillery, Pickett rose through the ranks at a fast pace. By February 1862 he was a brigadier general under the command of General James Longstreet. His tenaciousness at the battle of the Seven Pines proved his worth, as he would not retreat, but forced an attack which brought about a southern victory.
Eight months later Pickett was a major general and placed in command of a corps. His troops held their ground at Fredericksburg, and in late June 1863 he was ordered to Pennsylvania to support Lee’s second invasion of the North.
The ensuing battle of Gettysburg would be the South’s last opportunity to strike a killing blow that would not only give foreign recognition to the southern cause but would also demoralize the North so much President Lincoln would sue for peace.
But Lee’s battle plans were found out by the federals, and he was just barely about to consolidate his forces near the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg.
The first two days of the battle did not give a clear winner as both armies pounded each other repeatedly. On the third day, as Confederate artillery was concentrating an attack in the center of an area called Cemetery Ridge, Pickett’s 15,000 man infantry unit was poised for an assault on the ridge.
With a reluctant order by General James Longstreet, Pickett led a charge which decimated his brigade. Suffering huge losses, Pickett’s men for a moment held the ridge, but Union reinforcements soon repelled rebel forces and the battle was over. Lee was able to withdraw his troops before a Union counterattack forced a surrender.
Much has been written about the ill-fated charge, but most historians agree it was the high water mark of the Confederacy. After Gettysburg, the South began fighting a defensive war. No further northern invasions were ever made.
Pickett continued to be an effective commander in North Carolina and Virginia. In the end, he surrendered his forces to the enemy on April 9, 1865, just a few days before Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse.
After the war, Pickett dabbled in business ventures in Richmond. He died a little more than ten years after the end of the Civil War in Norfolk, Virginia on July 30, 1875.