George E. Pickett was from an old Virginia family that arrived in the Colony in 1635. He attended West Point Military Academy, graduating with the class of 1846. Pickett’s academic standing at graduation placed him in the infantry and he was assigned to the 8th Infantry and sent to Texas. As an untested army officer, Lt. Pickett received two brevets for his gallantry during the Mexican War.
When the 9th U. S. Infantry was formed, George Pickett was assigned to that unit as Captain and stationed in the Washington Territory. During his service there, he and 68 of his men prevailed against hundreds of British troops in what has been called “the Pig War.”
George Pickett did not resign his U. S. commission to join the Provisional Army of the Confederacy until 25 June 1861, two months after his own home state of Virginia seceded from the Union April 1865. Pickett had served in the United States army for 15 years.
George Pickett was appointed a brigadier general of the CSA 14 February 1862. He served with his command during the Seven Days Campaign, during which he suffered a shoulder wound during the Battle of Gaines Mill. Upon his rejoining the army September 1862, George E. Pickett was promoted to the rank of Major General. Pickett’s 9100 strong division was not engaged at Fredericksburg. As part of Longstreet’s Corps, Pickett and John Bell Hood took their divisions to southeast Virginia during March-April 1863, where their primary mission was to forage for supplies. Pickett’s next significant action was at Gettysburg 3 July 1863 when his Virginians charged the “high water mark” and were repulsed after having endured severe and copious losses.
General Pickett was placed in charge of the Department of North Carolina, which includes southeast Virginia in addition to North Carolina. While his division worked to increase their number so that they could rejoin the main army, Union Gen. Benjamin Butler invaded an area southeast of Richmond known as Bermuda Hundred. Pickett, headquartered in Petersburg, had just ordered the majority of his newly rebuilt division north to join General Lee when he received word of Butler’s presence. The Confederates, few in number and under the command of General Pickett, held off the Union army long enough for Confederate reinforcements to arrive. General Pickett received a commendation from the Petersburg citizenry for his quick and gallant action during Butler’s attempt to advance.
At Five Forks 1 April 1865, Sheridan’s army out numbered the Confederates commanded by General Pickett and literally overran the men wearing gray. Pickett had left the front line with cavalry commander Fitzhugh Lee to partake in a shad bake. It has been said that Pickett’s absence caused the Union victory. Pickett, upon hearing the gunfire, returned within minutes to his unit, trying to rally them. It also has been said that Pickett’s presence when Sheridan’s cavalry arrived would not have made any difference due to the Union army’s overwhelming numbers.
Without a sufficient number of men left to command, General Pickett was one of three Generals (also Bushrod Johnson and Richard Anderson) who were ordered home. Of the three, Pickett must not have received the order because he remained with the army during the last major struggle at Sailors Creek and surrendered as Major General with 800 of his men at Appomattox.
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The Pickett Society, www.pickettsociety.com