Pickett George. E. Pickett. A re-evaluation.

Waterloo50

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Hello everyone.
I thought that now would be a good a time as any to introduce myself as the new Pickett forum host, so, a big hello and a warm welcome to the Pickett forum.
I’ve titled my first post on this forum as ‘a re-evaluation of Pickett’. My reason for doing so is because (and it’s just a hunch) that Picketts role throughout the war has attracted a great deal of negativity and ridicule. Does he really deserve the bad press or has he just been scapegoated for mistakes that weren’t necessarily his own doing?
So here’s the thing, I feel that it’s time to have an honest reappraisal, let’s see if we can elevate Pickett to the Lofty heights that the name Custer enjoys.

I’m looking forward to reading all of your posts.:thumbsup:
 
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Waterloo50

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I had to post this because so much is made of Picketts West Point demerits, as you can see, he was usually pulled up on minor infractions, there’s nothing that leaps out that says he had an inability to lead.

Among the many demerits earned by Cadet George Pickett at West Point were ordinary 1's and 2's for dust in his room or not keeping eyes front during meal roll call or late at Tattoo call. But he occasionally hit the big time with . . . "profane language - 8 demerits" (August 21, 1842), "highly unmilitary conduct, attempting to trip up a file marching to supper - 8 demerits" (January 31, 1843), and "highly unsoldierly conduct, walking out on parade grounds, smoking tobacco and improperly dressed - 6 demerits" (December 25, 1843). One of the more unusual demerits was for his failure to wear leather stocks (worn outside shirt collars to stiffen them) during military exercises. The United States Army had abandoned the requirement years before, but West Point still considered the leather stock to be part of their dress code.

Credit for info. [email protected]
 

IrishBrigade

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He acquitted himself well in the war with Mexico, he does seem to be an atypical character for a career soldier so would have attracted attention. I think he may have been called a Dandy by some. His involvement in the actual charge seems fairly minimal other then its post-war publicity. His inaction at Five Forks will always be a blight on his record but the war in the east was lost at that point. I also think his accusation of Lee having his boys slaughtered will also impinge on the esteem in which he's held given Lee's almost God-like status.

I read recently that he was a cousin of Harry Heth which is an interesting twist of fate, having one member of the family help start the Battle of Gettysburg and the other one playing a role in ending it. Rightly or wrongly Pickett's place in history is assured, some things just sound good and Pickett's charge is one of them, historians and academics can call it the Longstreet assault or PPT assault but none of that are as catchy.
 

Waterloo50

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He acquitted himself well in the war with Mexico, he does seem to be an atypical character for a career soldier so would have attracted attention. I think he may have been called a Dandy by some. His involvement in the actual charge seems fairly minimal other then its post-war publicity. His inaction at Five Forks will always be a blight on his record but the war in the east was lost at that point. I also think his accusation of Lee having his boys slaughtered will also impinge on the esteem in which he's held given Lee's almost God-like status.

I read recently that he was a cousin of Harry Heth which is an interesting twist of fate, having one member of the family help start the Battle of Gettysburg and the other one playing a role in ending it. Rightly or wrongly Pickett's place in history is assured, some things just sound good and Pickett's charge is one of them, historians and academics can call it the Longstreet assault or PPT assault but none of that are as catchy.
True enough, he’s very well remembered for his inaction at Five Forks but it must be rememberd that all was not well on the Union side either, Warren had stalled due to bad ground conditions and ‘faulty maps’ and wasn’t even close to where he needed to be and Crawford had gone awol, perhaps Pickett believed that everything was in place to defend against a frontal assault, there was certainly no clear evidence that the confederate line might be flanked. I guess Pickett couldn’t find any real reason to stick around, he obviously had a liking for fried fish, speaking of which, it’s been said on numerous occasions that he should have returned to the lines as soon as he heard all of the commotion but he allegedly couldn’t hear the battle because he was in a flat area which the experts state was located in an acoustical shadow.
It really does seem as if Pickett was jinxed with bad luck, everything seemed to conspire against him, if Warren hadn’t of got bogged down and kept Sheridan waiting then maybe, just maybe Pickett would have been where he was needed.
 
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Thank you @Waterloo50 for encouraging us to look at Pickett from a different perspective.

Maybe, to balance all the negative press he has had, we should begin to reassess him by reading what his "child bride", LaSalle Corbell Pickett saw in him - and as you mentioned Custer in your OP, there's another parallel: both Libby Custer and Sally Pickett devoted their later lives to the glorious memory of their gallant husbands ...
But read for yourself about the prince-like young officer who instantly conquered the heart of his southern Belle:

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From LaSalle "Sally" Pickett's autobiographical (… ahem ...) book "What happened to me", page 34
https://archive.org/details/whathappened00pickrich/page/n9
 

5fish

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My impression of Pickette is that he was not very good general and his buddy Longstreet protected him during the war. If you look a few battles Pickette men were always held in reserves...

Update: summary... one needs to look at each battle he was in...

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Pickett resigned from the United States military and was appointed as a colonel in the Confederate army. After briefly commanding the defense of the Lower Rappahannock River, he was appointed a brigadier general on January 14, 1862. Pickett first saw combat during the Peninsula Campaign, where he led his brigade at the battles of Williamsburg, Seven Pines, and Gaines’ Mill. At Gaines’ Mill, Pickett was wounded in the shoulder and forced out of command until September of 1862. In October of 1862, Pickett was promoted to major general and placed in command of a small division in General James Longstreet’s corps. He and his command were present at the battle of Fredericksburg, but saw only little combat, and then took part in the Suffolk Campaign. Pickett’s most important role in the war however would come at the Battle of Gettysburg.

After the failure at Gettysburg, Pickett continued to command his division during the Overland Campaign as well as the Siege of Petersburg. During the battle of Five Forks, however, Pickett and his men were defeated, which led to the eventual collapse and surrender of the Confederate army.
 

Waterloo50

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Thank you @Waterloo50 for encouraging us to look at Pickett from a different perspective.

Maybe, to balance all the negative press he has had, we should begin to reassess him by reading what his "child bride", LaSalle Corbell Pickett saw in him - and as you mentioned Custer in your OP, there's another parallel: both Libby Custer and Sally Pickett devoted their later lives to the glorious memory of their gallant husbands ...
But read for yourself about the prince-like young officer who instantly conquered the heart of his southern Belle:

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View attachment 265615

From LaSalle "Sally" Pickett's autobiographical (… ahem ...) book "What happened to me", page 34
https://archive.org/details/whathappened00pickrich/page/n9
Absolutely, there are so many parallels between Pickett and Custer and the work that their wives did in trying to promote their men in a positive light.
 

Waterloo50

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Update: summary... one needs to look at each battle he was in...

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Pickett resigned from the United States military and was appointed as a colonel in the Confederate army. After briefly commanding the defense of the Lower Rappahannock River, he was appointed a brigadier general on January 14, 1862. Pickett first saw combat during the Peninsula Campaign, where he led his brigade at the battles of Williamsburg, Seven Pines, and Gaines’ Mill. At Gaines’ Mill, Pickett was wounded in the shoulder and forced out of command until September of 1862. In October of 1862, Pickett was promoted to major general and placed in command of a small division in General James Longstreet’s corps. He and his command were present at the battle of Fredericksburg, but saw only little combat, and then took part in the Suffolk Campaign. Pickett’s most important role in the war however would come at the Battle of Gettysburg.

After the failure at Gettysburg, Pickett continued to command his division during the Overland Campaign as well as the Siege of Petersburg. During the battle of Five Forks, however, Pickett and his men were defeated, which led to the eventual collapse and surrender of the Confederate army.
Or as some claim following Pickett’s charge, the more I read about Pickett the more I begin to understand that he was often blamed for mistakes that weren’t necessarily his own doing, sometimes bad luck is just caused by circumstances, Pickett was often in the wrong place at the wrong time and more often than not he failed to seize opportunities that could have turned situations around but it wasn’t always like that especially when you consider the skill and courage that he displayed at Chapultepec.
 

Ole Miss

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Thank you for becoming the Pickett Forum Host! 'ppreciate your stepping forward and looking forward to really informative posts and threads! Hundreds of men from Lafayette County, Ole Miss and other North Mississippi counties and communities were participants in Pickett's Charge.

"Sally" and "Libbie" married boy-men who had difficulty from separating the romance of war from reality. It seems they were "playing dress up" with perfumed ringlets and the courtly atmosphere around their headquarters. I do believe that Custer was made of sterner stuff and suffered casualties easier than Pickett. Both were men of their times and fascinating studies.
Regards
David
 

nc native

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I think George Pickett was an aggressive and good brigade commander. In 1862 the brigade he took over on the death of Phillip St. Cocke performed well at Williamsburg and Seven Pines under his leadership. Pickett was wounded at Gaines Mill and when he returned to action he found himself in command of an entire division. He did not perform as well as a division commander and his record with an independent command had mixed results. In North Carolina in 1864 he did not achieve the results the Confederacy had wanted as far as
driving Union forces out of Eastern North Carolina and generated quite a bit of controversy when he ordered the execution of former Confederates who were captured as prisoners of war serving in the Union army.

He performed well with his division later when he was a key part of the operation to repel Butler's advance on Richmond. Of course, his negligence to duty and the careless disposition of his forces defending Five Forks in April 1865 tarnished his reputation as a division
commander. In my opinion, division command was not Pickett's forte and he would be have been better served in charge of a brigade.
 

RochesterBill

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Pickett gets a bum rap for Gettysburg, largely because, I think, he seemed to be the only trained soldier on the field who was enthusiastic about making the charge.

Officer after officer, and plenty of enlisted as well, thought it was madness to even try. Who was it who said "No body of men of that size in history could have taken that hill". The narratives focuson Longstreet thinking it was going to be a pointless slaughter, but you'd be hard pressed to find a single solitary person who didn't agree.

Only Pickett was happy about it, apparently seeing it as a chance for glory and only afterwards bitterly blaming Lee for having launched the attack. At the time he was all for it.

THAT BEING SAID, however, it was Lee who sent them out there. It wasn't Picketts idea, or Picketts plan. It was Lee's. Pickett was just following orders. So whether he was enthusiastic or not, he had no choice but to go.

Therefore, to me, blaming Pickett for failing in a charge nobody thought was going to succeed in the first place is just not fair.

Five Forks is a different deal. I don't care where he was, what he was doing or if he was in an acoustic shadow (nobody much cuts Grant a break for similar circumstances at Donelson). The hard and fast rule is that if you are the commander and your command gets attacked, it's on you. Period.

It's like the Navy captain who is asleep at 3 am when his XO runs the ship aground. The captain gets the sack. Period. Same deal here: those men were Picketts responsibility. If he was eating fish, well, guess he shouldn't have done that. If he assumed there'd be noattack or that being flanked wasn't possible, well, he was wrong.

Five Forks is on him, although in the end there wasn't a soldier alive who could have held forlong against the numerical advantage Sheridan brought, but it didn't have to be a debacle.

Gettysburg - very hard to see how he's at fault for following RE Lee's orders.
 

nc native

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My impression of Pickette is that he was not very good general and his buddy Longstreet protected him during the war. If you look a few battles Pickette men were always held in reserves...

Pickett's men did miss the fighting at Chancellorsville and saw little action at Fredericksburg but they did their share of the fighting in many of the other battles of the Army of Northern Virginia. I have a direct ancestor who served in Pickett's brigade and division who received three wounds in three separate battles under his leadership. His division was so wrecked after Gettysburg that it was of little use to the Army of Northern Virginia for months after that battle. I agree that he was not a very good choice for division command or an independent command but as a brigade commander he showed potential in the three battles where he fought in that role.
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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Having spent quite some time examining the Pickett/ Pettigrew/ Trimble Charge at Gettysburg the person who I blame least for it is Pickett.

In my opinion Lee comes up with a perfectly reasonable plan. One that is pretty much 'by the book'. In otherwords create a grand battery. Use it to bombard the enemy and then send in a multi divisional attack supported by a diversionary offensive (Ewell at Culps Hill) and supported by close artillery as well as troops from other divisions (Wilcox etc).

Of course as we know pretty much none of this happens.

By the time Pickett attacks Ewell has been defeated. So no diversionary offensive. The artillery barrage is not as effective as it could have been (for numerous reasons). Pendleton meddles and removes most of the batteries that had been tasked with advancing with the infantry to provide closer range support.

Worse still only Pickett's Division is in suitable shape to make the assault. Yes Pettigrew and Trimble are new to their commands but they should have noticed how badly shot up their divisions were/ or in Trimbles case that they had chosen the wrong brigades to make the assault. Similarly Lee/ Longstreet and the utterly anonymous AP Hill should have done so. Both Lee and Longstreet are frequently seen in the area of Pettigrew and Trimble's Division and should have done something about it - they also should have noticed that the circumstances surrounding the Charge are no longer those that applied when it was first created and altered course.

They don't.

Pickett meanwhile has no authority over anything other than his Division. A Division that performs admirably in the charge and Pickett's 'misfortune' is (Other than having the what should be called Lee's Charge named after him) is that he is the only survivor at Divisional level in the charge. Therefore it is frequently assumed that he was a coward/ didnt go as far forward as the other Divisional Commanders. In fact he advances to where a Divisional Commander should be. He and his Divisional staff come under fire. I can find no blame to attach to him for he does what he is ordered to do.

...And then gets blamed for it.

That always strikes me as most unfair. [Then again my boss at a place I briefly worked once gave me a formal written warning for something she freely admitted to having done - so perhaps I have empathy with the man]
 
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diane

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To me, George Pickett mainly gets kicked around for the charge at Gettysburg - it's a case of one oh s! erasing a whole lot of atta boys. He wasn't a great soldier, and maybe wasn't cut out to be one at all, but he did his job well enough Lee thought he could handle the charge. I'm pretty sure anybody else would have had the same results and the same damage to their reputation. Pickett was one of Lee's many cousins and, since he had pal-ed around with Harry Heth as a kid, he'd also pal-ed around with Pickett, who lived in the Heth neighborhood. Lee knew him. Pickett has the same problem as Custer - their wives idolized them and positively tried to deify them after death. Think their ladies did more to tarnish their reputations by over-polishing than anything they did themselves!
 

Waterloo50

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1. Custer's position isn't "lofty".
2. Picket could only aspire to mediocrity.
1. Custer’s position isn’t ‘Lofty’...I think people everywhere know the name Custer, they know who he is, what he did and why he died. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone that doesn’t know the name Custer. That’s pretty lofty.

2. Picket could only aspire to mediocrity...I’m sure his aspirations went far beyond mediocrity, he wouldn’t be human if they didn’t.
 

jackt62

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Let's acknowledge that Pickett's historical reputation is based on the famous charge. But in reality, Pickett only had direct command over his own three Virginia brigades, which actually achieved the greatest success of the nine brigades that were directly involved in the assault. Pickett had little control over the artillery barrage, or the actions of the supporting forces on the flanks. Otherwise, Pickett was a respectable, if not spectacular, division commander throughout the war, and at Dinwiddie Courthouse, helped delay the Union flank attack on the Petersburg lines. The subsequent Union onslaught at Five Forks would have been difficult for any confederate commander to overcome. But Pickett gets a bum rap for his absence at the shad bake, which probably did not make any difference to the battle, but certainly caused a perception problem for Pickett. Ironically, historians have been skeptical of Pickett's accomplishments because of the inflated image of Pickett created by his wife, LaSalle Corbell.
 
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