Who is General George Edward Pickett?

Photo of General Pickett

Early Years

George Edward Pickett was born in Henrico County, Virginia on January 16, 1825. After attending law school, he pursued a military career and received an appointment to West Point atthe age of 17. Though popular, he was as a poor student and graduated last in his class of 59 in 1846. He entered the U.S. Army as a Second Lieutenant and immediately served in the Mexican War during 1846 to 1848. During the Battle of Chapultepec, he earned recognition as the first American soldier to reach the top of the castle's walls and also for retrieving the unit's colors when his future commander James Longstreet was wounded. He received a promotion to First Lieutenant for his service in Mexico and then served in Texas and the Washington territory until the Civil War. In 1851, he got married; but it was short-lived as his wife died in childbirth. While serving on frontier duty, Pickett was promoted to Captain and, in 1859, he received orders to occupy San Juan Island where the U.S. was involved in a land dispute with Great Britain; known as the Pig War.

Civil War

Pickett resigned his commissioned in the U.S. Army on June 25, 1861, after Virginia seceded from the Union in April of that year. Pickett entered the Confederate Army as a Coloneland earned commendations for the battles of Williamsburg and Seven Pines. He was promoted to Brigadier General in January 1862 and was wounded during the Battle of Gaines's Mill in June of that year. His wound kept him out of service until September. In October, he was promoted to Major General and commanded a division under MG James Longstreet. His division would not see serious combat until Gettysburg, in the summer of 1863.

Pickett is most famous for the attack known as “Pickett’s Charge”; a frontal assault during the Battle of Gettysburg, though Pickett technically was not leading the attack. On July 3, 1863, General Lee decided to use about 12,500 men from Pickett’s and two other divisions in an assault against the Union positions on the high ground of Cemetery Ridge. The assault was repelled with the Confederates taking over 50% casualties. After the failure of Gettysburg, Pickett was reassigned to the Department of Southern Virginia and North Carolina. Later, he rejoined his old division and at the Battle of Five Forks in April 1, 1865, suffered another defeat that ultimately led to the collapse of Confederate Army and the surrender of General Lee at Appomattox.

Later Years

General Pickett left the Confederate Army after the Civil War and returned home to Richmond with his wife Sally, whom he had married in November of 1863. He later found out that he was being investigated for his war crimes related to the Kinston hangings in North Carolina. He and his family escaped to Montreal, Canada, but returned to Virginia a few months later. General Ulysses S. Grant, one of Pickett's former classmates at West Point, stopped the investigation and later dismissed the charges. Pickett lived peacefully as a farmer and an insurance agent in Norfolk, Virginia and rarely spoke of his past military experiences. Later, he battled with declining health and died on July 30,1875 at the age of fifty. He is buried at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.