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

WJC

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I'm not sure where the perfumed curls made him effeminate,
I don't believe Pickett was that different from his contemporaries in that regard. One need only look at surviving photographs and read biographies.
My point is that, for whatever reason, Pickett is often portrayed- as he was in Gettysburg- as a foolish, vain dandy. It does him a great injustice.
At the same time, it is certainly valid to consider whether he was an effective leader, whether his complaints about Gettysburg were valid, whether he committed costly errors in other battles.
 

WJC

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the ideal of a dashing, hard charging cavalryman generally does not include long, curled hair and perfume.
Thanks for your response.
Yet many men during that period had equally long, often curly hair and used perfume under its more masculine name: cologne.
 

Waterloo50

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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.
Excellent post, I like the point you raise about Five Forks being difficult for any confederate commander to overcome and on that point I’d have to agree, however, we have to concede that the whole situation could have been avoided had Pickett paid more attention in preparing his defences. He apparently made no attempt to request reinforcements despite the fact that he had enough intelligence reports telling him how precarious his situation was, he also appears to have ignored or at least miscalculated any problems that the three mile distance between himself and the main confederate line could potentially cause him. I understand that he ordered a small cavalry force to cover that gap and in some respects that makes sense in that the cavalry could react speedily but it clearly wouldn’t have been enough to hold a determined attacking force for any reasonable length of time, perhaps Pickett was using the small cavalry force as an early warning system.
I personally think that Pickett believed that he had everything in place, like I said in an earlier post, he probably felt that nothing was going to happen anytime soon (and it didn’t) and he obviously believed that his men were well dug in and that everything was under control. He would have known that his flanks were secure or he would have at least made that assumption.
Another point, we really can’t be sure what verbal orders Pickett gave prior to his absence, again I find it difficult to believe that he wouldn’t have issued orders with some kind of contingency plan. It’s alleged that he didn’t tell his subordinates that he would be absent but then if he’d given orders which covered any potential problems then he probably believed that he wouldn’t be missed, I’d like to know how the couriers knew where to find him given that he hadn’t told anyone that he’d be disappearing for a few hours.
I don’t think he can be blamed for not hearing the ensuing battle given that he was in an area which deadened the sound of battle, I’ll leave it to others to argue that he either should or shouldn’t have been at a Shad bake. I’m struggling with the idea that he ignored several couriers which came with warnings of the enemy advance, it makes absolutely no sense to me that Pickett would continue to remain at the Shadbake with the knowledge that his position was being attacked, again, do we know what the content of those messages from the couriers were.
I can think of many famous battles where commanding officers have taken themselves away from their line for various reasons and every single one of them made sure that everything was in place and I see no reason given his experience why Pickett would have been any different.
And finally...I’m going to give Pickett the benefit of doubt, I reckon he did what he could with what he had at his disposal, he obviously had confidence in his men and officers and I’d argue that if he’d remained with his men rather than leaving the outcome wouldn’t have been any different. It’s just a shame that he didn’t stay with his men and eat hardtack, if he had then Five Forks would have been seen as a good effort.
 

diane

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I'm of the opinion Pickett simply didn't grasp the full situation. Why do as he did otherwise? And he wasn't alone - Fitzhugh Lee was there and he shouldn't have been. That's where Sherman's operations in SC came home to bite Lee - Wade Hampton, Stuart's replacement, was home literally fighting on his front porch. A good many things, including the little fish and whiskey party, would have been different with Hampton present.

The shad bake itself seems illogical, but not in the context of the times and the culture. Around here somewhere is a thread by a Virginian explaining the shad bake - being as tribes around here see the first salmon of the run, they drop everything, do a dance and start fishing like crazy. I can actually see the reasons for these guys being at the bake!
 

Waterloo50

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I'm of the opinion Pickett simply didn't grasp the full situation. Why do as he did otherwise? And he wasn't alone - Fitzhugh Lee was there and he shouldn't have been. That's where Sherman's operations in SC came home to bite Lee - Wade Hampton, Stuart's replacement, was home literally fighting on his front porch. A good many things, including the little fish and whiskey party, would have been different with Hampton present.

The shad bake itself seems illogical, but not in the context of the times and the culture. Around here somewhere is a thread by a Virginian explaining the shad bake - being as tribes around here see the first salmon of the run, they drop everything, do a dance and start fishing like crazy. I can actually see the reasons for these guys being at the bake!

Strange isn’t it, Lee’s instructions to Pickett were very clear, ‘to hold Five Forks at all hazards’, Im sure he’d interpret that as ‘at all costs’ and Pickett must have understood what was required to successfully defend the junction, he’d of certainly been aware of the importance of Five Forks as a supply route, if he was convinced that everything was in place, he probably thought it would be okay to slip away for a bite to eat, happily eating fish with a wee dram of whiskey, safe in the knowledge that everything was under control.
 

diane

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Strange isn’t it, Lee’s instructions to Pickett were very clear, ‘to hold Five Forks at all hazards’, Im sure he’d interpret that as ‘at all costs’ and Pickett must have understood what was required to successfully defend the junction, he’d of certainly been aware of the importance of Five Forks as a supply route, if he was convinced that everything was in place, he probably thought it would be okay to slip away for a bite to eat, happily eating fish with a wee dram of whiskey, safe in the knowledge that everything was under control.

Pickett definitely did not understand cavalry - he had them tucked into the woods, which is not the best place for a critter company to operate. Sheridan and Wesley Merritt were able to put a thumbtack on them and hold them while Warren came in for the kill. That acoustic sound phenomenon was at work again, too - the Confederates couldn't hear the ruckus. But it finished off any chance Lee had to hold Richmond and Davis had to throw his desk on board the nearest caboose out. I'm iffy about whether or not Pickett got a message like that from Lee - it seems to me his actions would have been much different. Couriers were getting intercepted or shot left, right and center - and I believe it's Pickett's beloved LaSalle who is the only source for the Lee story?
 

dlavin

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Thanks for moderating the forum!

Most (outside of this forum) will know Pickett only for Pickett's charge. I am of the opinion that no leader in that position would have succeeded in that charge. Put Bill Belicheck in there and he still would have failed.

Outside of that famous charge, I am prone to give him an average to slightly below average grade for performance. I am not judging him on his personality or flair. History has plenty of people like that, Pickett one of them, but that just makes for a good story, and doesnt impact performance.
 

Waterloo50

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Thanks for moderating the forum!

Most (outside of this forum) will know Pickett only for Pickett's charge. I am of the opinion that no leader in that position would have succeeded in that charge. Put Bill Belicheck in there and he still would have failed.

Outside of that famous charge, I am prone to give him an average to slightly below average grade for performance. I am not judging him on his personality or flair. History has plenty of people like that, Pickett one of them, but that just makes for a good story, and doesnt impact performance.
Thanks for the acknowledgment,
I’m in agreement with you, based on his performance he’d score an average grade, I think that’s why I’m interested in looking at why that would be. I’ve tried to look at mitigating circumstances for his often lacklustre performance, if I had to defend his reputation in a court of law, I’d seriously struggle.
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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Thanks for the acknowledgment,
I’m in agreement with you, based on his performance he’d score an average grade, I think that’s why I’m interested in looking at why that would be. I’ve tried to look at mitigating circumstances for his often lacklustre performance, if I had to defend his reputation in a court of law, I’d seriously struggle.

Nice way to look at it. A court of law. In that same court of law I could easily defend George Pickett in the case of the Charge that should not have been named for him and from which came many of his image problems.

Elsewhere he appears a (mostly) solid if unprepossessing commander (completely unlike his image), albeit one often placed in horribly compromising positions (some admittedly of his own making) and even a half decent prosecutor would be able to tear him to shreds... and yet so much of the attention goes on his allegedly poor performance at Gettysburg.

C'est la vie I guess.
 

jackt62

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Pickett definitely did not understand cavalry - he had them tucked into the woods, which is not the best place for a critter company to operate. Sheridan and Wesley Merritt were able to put a thumbtack on them and hold them while Warren came in for the kill. That acoustic sound phenomenon was at work again, too - the Confederates couldn't hear the ruckus. But it finished off any chance Lee had to hold Richmond and Davis had to throw his desk on board the nearest caboose out. I'm iffy about whether or not Pickett got a message like that from Lee - it seems to me his actions would have been much different. Couriers were getting intercepted or shot left, right and center - and I believe it's Pickett's beloved LaSalle who is the only source for the Lee story?

The story about Lee's order to hold Five Forks "at all hazards" seems to be well known, but I wasn't aware that LaSalle was the main source. If so, it should be looked at with skepticism. As far as cavalry is concerned, Pickett did not, like most infantry commanders, truly understand cavalry operations, but in fairness, although he may have had titular command over all the forces arrayed at Five Forks, in all likelihood he allowed Fitzhugh Lee and his cavalry discretion about its field dispositions.
 

Jamieva

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So I will say my peace about Pickett here. I have expressed some of these opinions in other threads over the years.

What we most know him for are Gettysburg and Five Forks. Gettysburg you can't evaluate him at all. No division commander could've done significantly better. It was not the best idea to start with.

My first issue is why was he still in command of a division of the ANV at that point. He came back from a wound and was given a division command and promotion to Major General. While detached with Longstreet at Suffolk, George was courting Sallie Corbell. And he would leave to see her, with or without permission. Longstreet knew of it but didn't say a word to Lee, didn't relieve him of command.

Five Forks. We use a term now in politics or public life called "optics". To me, George going off to the shad bake while the attack gets started is bad optics. I don't believe him being on the field the entire time would've made any significant difference in the outcome. but the optics of it are really, really poor.

Bottom line he was best suited as a brigade commander at the most. In my opinion
 

Ole Miss

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I don't believe Pickett was that different from his contemporaries in that regard. One need only look at surviving photographs and read biographies.
My point is that, for whatever reason, Pickett is often portrayed- as he was in Gettysburg- as a foolish, vain dandy. It does him a great injustice.
At the same time, it is certainly valid to consider whether he was an effective leader, whether his complaints about Gettysburg were valid, whether he committed costly errors in other battles.

George Custer was a dandy with perfumed locks flowing ala George Pickett but Custer was a stone cold killer who could then in twinkling greet a former West Point roommate who was taken prisoner. Pickett was more of a dreamer than a killer who worried about his troops whereas Custer just moved on.
Regards
David
 

jackt62

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George Custer was a dandy with perfumed locks flowing ala George Pickett but Custer was a stone cold killer who could then in twinkling greet a former West Point roommate who was taken prisoner. Pickett was more of a dreamer than a killer who worried about his troops whereas Custer just moved on.
Regards
David

Actually, both Custer and Pickett executed prisoners. Pickett hanged 13 Union captives in North Carolina, who he claimed were originally deserters from the confederacy. As for Custer, he authorized the hanging of 6 captives from Mosby's Rangers in retaliation for the execution of federal prisoners.
 

RochesterBill

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Actually, both Custer and Pickett executed prisoners. Pickett hanged 13 Union captives in North Carolina, who he claimed were originally deserters from the confederacy. As for Custer, he authorized the hanging of 6 captives from Mosby's Rangers in retaliation for the execution of federal prisoners.

The Kinston Hangings - and I recall more like 22 men- were a disgraceful stain on Picketts name. He had just been whipped at New Bern and seemingly engaged in an orgy of murders to assuage his anger. Union General Peck tried to point out that Lincolns instructions were to match hanging with hanging but Pickett apparently didn't care.

As much as anything, the Kinston Hangings - Google it -, say a lot about the cruelty of George Pickett and his willingness to murder soldiers because of his ego.
 

WJC

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Actually, both Custer and Pickett executed prisoners. Pickett hanged 13 Union captives in North Carolina, who he claimed were originally deserters from the confederacy. As for Custer, he authorized the hanging of 6 captives from Mosby's Rangers in retaliation for the execution of federal prisoners.
I don't condone either. One can, perhaps, find justification for Custer. But I do not know how one can justify Pickett's murder of those thirteen men- in their home town, in front of their neighbors!
 

diane

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Those hangings were pretty bad indeed. There was an investigation held about the matter and Pickett was to be charged with war crimes and held for trial but he took off for Canada. Later Grant intervened for him, arguing that his parole terms protected him against prosecution for anything done during the war, and then when Johnson gave a general amnesty for all in 1868, Pickett was off the hook.
 
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