Fact or Fiction: Did Abraham Lincoln help George Pickett??

Seth VA/NC

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This is one thing about the civil war that I would like to know about, were Confederate General George E. Pickett and 16th President Abraham Lincoln friends, or did Lincoln help Pickett get into West Point? Can someone please tell me if this is true or not, and if you know the true story, please tell me it. Thanks, I cant seem to get a good source on this one, some say its true, some say its false.

Not sure what forum this belonged to, so I put it here, Im sorry if it is in the wrong place.
 

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JerseyBart

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This is one thing about the civil war that I would like to know about, were Confederate General George E. Pickett and 16th President Abraham Lincoln friends, or did Lincoln help Pickett get into West Point? Can someone please tell me if this is true or not, and if you know the true story, please tell me it. Thanks, I cant seem to get a good source on this one, some say its true, some say its false.

Not sure what forum this belonged to, so I put it here, Im sorry if it is in the wrong place.
I've read that this was a figment of Ms. LaSalle Corbell's imagination and revising her husband's history. Unfortunately, this is what Stephen Lang's Pickett character was taken from...her history of him and not reality.
 

bdietzler73

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I saw on a special about Lincoln on PBS that, when he was a Congressman, he nominated Pickett for appointment to West Point because Pickett lived in Illinois. Then, I saw on another Lincoln related show that it was Lincoln's law partner that got Pickett nominated to West Point. I guess it's really hard to know what the truth is. The first one came from a well researched PBS documentary. The second came from a not as reliable source.
 

theoldman

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This is one thing about the civil war that I would like to know about, were Confederate General George E. Pickett and 16th President Abraham Lincoln friends, or did Lincoln help Pickett get into West Point? Can someone please tell me if this is true or not, and if you know the true story, please tell me it. Thanks, I cant seem to get a good source on this one, some say its true, some say its false.

Not sure what forum this belonged to, so I put it here, Im sorry if it is in the wrong place.
The book April 1865 The Month that Saved the Union does mention that Pickett and Lincoln were friends. It has been quite a while since I read that book but I do clearly remember that they were friends from before the war, according to that book. I do not recall it had anything to do with West Point. I also seem to recall that the same book said that General Lee's last official act as the Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia was to relieve Pickett of his command.
 

Seth VA/NC

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The book April 1865 The Month that Saved the Union does mention that Pickett and Lincoln were friends. It has been quite a while since I read that book but I do clearly remember that they were friends from before the war, according to that book. I do not recall it had anything to do with West Point. I also seem to recall that the same book said that General Lee's last official act as the Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia was to relieve Pickett of his command.
While I like George Pickett, and he is one of my favorite civil war generals to read about, I don't know if he should of been promoted to Division commander, especially after being absent for a long time, I almost think Longstreet gave him that position because they were friends. He was actually a pretty good brigadier general and performed well at Williamsburg, Seven Pines, and Gaines Mill then he got hit in the shoulder, his brigade would continue to fight under Col. Hunton at Frayser's Farm, Second Manassas, South Mountain, and Sharpsburg. I also almost feel bad for him, as he just seemed to be placed in the wrong place at the wrong time. He Division was only lightly engaged at Fredricksburg (I only think Kemper's Brigade was in action on December 13 and they being behind Mayre's Heights had a few causalities. His Division was not at Chancellorsville, and came up late at Gettysburg just to get slaughtered. Then they would be sent off to small strategic missions missing Chickamauga, and the Overland Campaign. They would come back for the Battle of Cold Harbor, but only Huntons brigade was in action at that battle, do to Pickett's placement on the fortifications. Then he would still be at Petersburg, actually his men won one of the last victories of the Confederate Army at the battle of Dinwiddie Court House, but that was a minor action, then the whole Five Forks fiasco would occur...
 

theoldman

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Five Forks was a fiasco. Although I have read the reports about him not only leaving his command at Five Forks, but also failing to tell anyone he was leaving, to go to a shad bake, it all sounds so outrageous. But I have never read anyone to dispute that event or to explain it.

Maybe this should be a new thread in another forum???
 

Seth VA/NC

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Five Forks was a fiasco. Although I have read the reports about him not only leaving his command at Five Forks, but also failing to tell anyone he was leaving, to go to a shad bake, it all sounds so outrageous. But I have never read anyone to dispute that event or to explain it.

Maybe this should be a new thread in another forum???
Yeah probably cause I was going to next ask if Lee and Pickett hated each other because of G-burg? So I say "Yes" to making a new thread for George Pickett
 

Seth VA/NC

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All these answers are a huge paradox. Half of you say YES! its is true and the other half are saying... UH UH didn't happen, false! Hopefully the real answer will come out sooner or later. But right now I am still puzzled, and THEOLDMAN, the Pickett thread is up on WAR IN TH EAST if you want to check it out.
 

huskerblitz

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Did you need a recommendation from your state's representatives at the time or were there other ways to get into The Point?
 

ErnieMac

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Info from The History of West Point by Edward Boynton, 1864 edition:

The great majority of applicants received appointments from their Representative. Each Congressional district, territory and the District of Columbia was entitled to one appointment to each class. In addition the President was entitled to make 10 appointments to each class at his discretion.
 
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This is one thing about the civil war that I would like to know about, were Confederate General George E. Pickett and 16th President Abraham Lincoln friends, or did Lincoln help Pickett get into West Point? Can someone please tell me if this is true or not, and if you know the true story, please tell me it. Thanks, I cant seem to get a good source on this one, some say its true, some say its false.

Not sure what forum this belonged to, so I put it here, Im sorry if it is in the wrong place.


I checked Pickett biographer, Edward G. Longacre's book and it stated the following about the oft told Lincoln - Pickett story:
"In the late summer of 1841 Stuart apparently confided to Captain Symingtqn that were he reelected to Congress the following February he would make the nomination in George's favor. Late in August Andrew Johnston wrote Stuart asking whether George's family might 'look for his appointment in February next.' Presumably he was assured that such was the case. In the end Stuart decided not to stand for reelection but came through anyway. On April 19, 1842, Secretary of War John Canfield Spencer sent George his conditional appointment to the Military Academy. The young man promptly returned his acceptance along with his father's consent to George's serving in the U.S. Army 'eight years unless sooner discharged.' Because Stuart had once been a law partner of Abraham Lincoln, tales later surfaced that the latter had helped obtain George Pickett's appointment. An equally enduring myth is that Lincoln himself secured Pickett's place in the West Point Class of 1846-a neat trick since Lincoln was not a national Congressman at the time George applied and thus lacked the power to nominate applicants.

"In the writings she published after her husband's death, La Salle Corbell Pickett created the enduring fiction that Lincoln not only secured her late husband's appointment but that the future President took an avid interest in his Academy career as well as in his service as a Confederate officer. To support her claims, Mrs. Pickett fabricated at least two letters from the Illinois legislator to his young protege, one supposedly written before and one shortly after George's matriculation at the Academy. The general's widow was also responsible for the fiction that her husband was so grateful to Lincoln for his interest and assistance that he never permitted anyone, in his presence, to criticize his benefactor.

"Mrs. Pickett went to elaborate lengths to persuade her readers that her husband and the President remained close even in the throes of civil war. She concocted and several times repeated the tale that Lincoln, visiting dying Richmond at the close of the conflict, stopped by the house at Sixth and Leigh, introduced himself to the general's widow, assured her that he bore no ill will toward her husband, and exchanged kisses with one-year-old George Pickett, Jr. By evoking the image of the.martyred President, a supposed friend of the South whose lenient plan of Reconstruction had been thwarted by radicals in his own party, Mrs. Pickett invested her story with mythic properties while exploiting a reunion theme popular with her postwar audience. By the time Mrs. Pickett wrote, on the threshold of the twentieth century and after, close acquaintances of 'her soldier' and of Lincoln, who might have exposed her accounts as fabrications, were few. One who doubted the credibility of her stories was Union Major George A. Bruce, who had been in Richmond during Lincoln's April 1865 visit and who in after years contributed to the history of the war. Like other critics North and South, Bruce chose not to go public with his contention that Mrs. Pickett was perpetrating a literary fraud. He never doubted, however, that the Lincoln-Pickett relationship was a carefully crafted piece of fiction."
Leader of the Charge - A Biography of General George E. Pickett, pp. 6-7

I also did a cursory check of all my Lincoln books and could find no mention of a Lincoln-Pickett connection. My skimming over of David Donald's section on the Stuart-Lincoln partnership leaves me with the impression that the two partners seldom worked together or were in Springfield at the same time. It was a fast read on my part so I could have missed something in regards to their proximity to each other. I checked the index of Donald's book and another 8 or 9 Lincoln biographies for "Pickett" and other than a mention of Pickett at Gettysburg, there were no other writings. I also checked the 1842 letters in The Life and Writings of Abraham Lincoln and could not find a letter to George Pickett. You would think if Lincoln, being one of the most documented men in history, had befriended Pickett, there would be a record of it.

Here is Pickett's widow's letter which was published in the Southern Historical Society Papers:

"GENERAL GEORGE E. PICKETT.
His Appointment to West Point-A Letter from his Widow.

"A Richmond friend of Mrs. General Pickett recently wrote to her, making an inquiry as to how her husband received his cadetship appointment. She answered that General Pickett was appointed by Congressman John G. Stuart, of the Third Illinois District, and she explained that Mr. Lincoln induced Stuart to make the appointment. Mr. Lincoln was then associated in the practice of the law with young Pickett's uncle, Mr. Andrew Johnston, who was later of the firm of Johnston, Boulware and Williams, of Richmond. Mr. Johnston, who has been dead for a number of years, was a great and good man, and was highly esteemed by the President, who, it is said, desired him to become Governor of this State, to guide it in its return to the Union. After giving her friend the information sought, Mrs. Pickett goes on to say:

"I have before me a letter from Mr. Lincoln, dated 'February 22d, Springfield, Ill.,' which, though a private letter, bespeaks his superlative greatness, his accurate perception, and the bent, even at that early period, of his wonderfully penetrating mind. 'I have just told the folks here in Springfield,' he said, 'on this, the 110th anniversary of the birth of him whose name, mightiest in the cause of civil liberty-still mightiest in the cause of moral reformation-we mention in solemn awe, in naked, deathless splendor, that the only victory we can ever call complete will be that one which proclaims that there is not one slave or one drunkard on the face of God's green earth. Recruit for this victory.' At the close of the letter he said: 'Now, boy, on your march, don't you go and forget the old maxim, that one drop of honey catches more flies than a thousand gallons of gall. Load your musket with the maxim and smoke it in your pipe.' Pickett remembered, for there was not a drop of gall in his whole life. He was the sweetest and the tenderest of natures, and no man was more beloved of men, women and children of every degree and station than the high-toned, chivalrous man, the peerless soldier, General George E. Pickett. The soldiers of both armies alike hold his name in reverence; and so modest was he withal, that in his as yet unpublished report of the battle of Gettysburg, the grandest charge ever made in the annals of any history, he, in his unselfishness and devotion to his soldiers, and freedom from personal ambition, gives all the credit, all the glory, all the honor of the charge to 'my men, my brave Virginians,' as he called the soldiers of his dear old division. In the grand unity of truth he gave to them all their dues, and in silence tempered with mercy the errors of others.

"Pickett had the keenest sense of justice, the most sensitive consciousness of right, and the moral courage to do it. When General Grant, whose capacity for friendship has rarely been equalled, offered Pickett the marshalship of the State of Virginia, Pickett took counsel of his conscience and judgment, and, in thanking General Grant, said: 'As high even as you are held in the hearts of your people, you cannot afford to do this thing for me, and as poor and as much in need as I am of it, I cannot afford to take it from you.' And grandly and unmurmuringly and alone Pickett fought his way through poverty, though there were no honors, no emoluments within the gift of a loving people that could not have been his.

"I said Pickett was beloved by all, and so he was; but there are a wee, sma' few of those of his own comrades of the Lost Cause more fortunate of life than my large-hearted soldier, who are envious and jealous of the glory of his short, unfinished life, and one of these of the wee-sma' few, in his lecture on 'The Closing Days of the Confederacy,' when he spoke of the deciding battle of the war (Gettysburg), scarcely mentioned the name of the dead soldier, who so zealously obeyed 'Old Peter's nod,' and led the immortal charge over those sacred heights, on through the passage of the Valley of Death; passed the lines of battle, up the ridge to the crest, from the crest down the descent over half a mile of open, exposed ground, within canister and schrapnel range; through rushing shot and shrieking shell; on, on through flame and smoke, till the heights were taken; the battle won, and then, alas! Pickett's men, hemmed in on all sides and for want of support, had to fight their way back through equal danger over the blood-conquered ground, over the mangled, mutilated bodies of their dead and wounded comrades, while the army, as all the world knows, though ordered to come to Pickett's support, calmly looked on at the terrible massacre. If Pickett had had the other two brigades of his division (Corse and Jenkins), but of this more anon. Lincoln afterwards, in his dedication address on this sacred field, said: 'Here this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.' The glory of Pickett's charge at Gettysburg (where, out of 4,500 brave Virginians, 3.393 were killed and wounded), will shine, in spite of Gordon's jealousy, with ever-increasing lustre as time rolls on, and the purity of patriotism is more and more refined and the truth more and more clearly revealed. Pickett's men loved and honored him, their great, tender-hearted commander, who did not offend them by superiority, but inspired them with confidence; and to-day a whole nation of true soldiers everywhere give veneration to his memory, admiration for his dauntless courage, his grand and enduring qualities of head and heart, and love for love.

"In Richmond, Va., on Gettysburg Hill, beneath the glistening ivy leaves, and midst the bloom of flowers, in reach of the scent of the distant clover as it sways and swings with the golden buttercups, anon touching and making a tangle of purple and green and gold, George Pickett, who never planted a thorn in anyone's life, or took from, it one blossom, sleeps alongside of his soldiers.

"I have written in haste, and so have said more than I had thought to, the recording of one memory reviving another. And now with cordial greeting and my best love to you and to my people, and to Pickett's men everywhere, I am yours faithfully, always,
LA SALLE CORBELL PICKETT.
(Mrs. General Pickett.)"
Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 24, pp.151-154
 

theoldman

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I think this is a good example of how difficult it is to write history and how difficult it is to study history. The TRUTH is quite often a very elusive animal. To do a good job at either writing or studying, imo, one needs to be at least 50% a CSI.
Then with the other 50%, try to do the very best you can do to be accurate. That is about all anyone can expect, imo.
 

huskerblitz

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Info from The History of West Point by Edward Boynton, 1864 edition:

The great majority of applicants received appointments from their Representative. Each Congressional district, territory and the District of Columbia was entitled to one appointment to each class. In addition the President was entitled to make 10 appointments to each class at his discretion.
Thank you. That is what I thought.

Copperhead pretty much concreted it because I couldn't think of a way that Lincoln could have possibly helped Pickett with his appointment.
 


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