Cover image for General George E. Pickett in life & legend
General George E. Pickett in life & legend
Gordon, Lesley J. (Lesley Jill)
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, [1998]

Physical Description:
x, 269 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm.
Format :


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E467.1.P57 G67 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The man who gave his name to the greatest failed frontal attack in American military history, George E. Pickett is among the most famous Confederate generals of the Civil War. But even today he remains imperfectly understood, a figure shrouded in Lost Cause mythology. In this carefully researched biography, Lesley Gordon moves beyond earlier studies of Pickett. By investigating the central role played by his wife LaSalle in controlling his historical image, Gordon illuminates Pickett's legend as well as his life.

After exploring Pickett's prewar life as a professional army officer trained at West Point, battle-tested in Mexico, and seasoned on the western frontier, Gordon traces his return to the South in 1861 to fight for the Confederacy. She examines his experiences during the Civil War, including the famed, but failed, charge at the battle of Gettysburg, and charts the decline in his career that followed.

Gordon also looks at Pickett's marriage in 1863 to LaSalle Corbell, like him a child of the Virginia planter elite. Though their life together lasted only twelve years, LaSalle spent her five decades of widowhood writing and speaking about her husband and his military career. Appointing herself Pickett's official biographer, she became a self-proclaimed authority on the war and the Old South. In fact, says Gordon, LaSalle carefully and deliberately created a favorable image of her husband that was at odds with the man she had married.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In Gordon's scholarly monograph--not as much of an improvement on Edward Longacre's Pickett (1995) as Gordon may think--the leader of the famous charge at Gettysburg still emerges as intelligent, sometimes brave, complex, and unconventional--he married and acknowledged a son by a Haida princess during service in the Northwest before the Civil War. He also was lazy, probably an alcoholic, certainly in poor health, and so unsystematic in learning his profession that the Confederacy suffered when he was promoted above the rank of colonel. Gordon's real strengths lie in attempting to disentangle legend from fact about Pickett and in memorably depicting LaSalle Corbett Pickett, the general's third wife, who survived him 50 years and became his chronicler. Until Pickett family papers are made accessible, Gordon's will probably be the best portrait of that remarkable woman, born three generations too early to be a successful historical novelist, five generations too early to go to West Point herself. This Civil War general's biography really belongs in the women's studies collection. --Roland Green

Library Journal Review

George Pickett will forever be associated with the charge at Gettysburg that bears his name. Yet "Pickett's Charge" is a misleading label, and so is much of what we know about Pickett himself. Gordon (history, Univ. of Akron) explores both the man and the stories about him, many of which were woven by his wife, LaSalle Corbett Pickett. George proved to be a mediocre Civil War commander; his personal life was marked by tragedy only partially obscured by LaSalle's efforts. Her emphasis on her husband's heroism, romanticism, and gallantry, so typical of Lost Cause mythmaking, required her to pass over less glorious episodes, including his execution of turncoat Confederate prisoners and his inept generalship at Five Forks, which won him Robert E. Lee's scorn. Although little in Gordon's rather thin account is new aside from the detailed reconstruction of the Picketts' relationship, readers looking for a concise biography will find this book rewarding.‘Brooks D. Simpson, Arizona State Univ., Tempe (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Despite being widely recognized for his heroic but doomed charge at Gettysburg, George Pickett remains a relatively unknown person in all other aspects of his life. As the son of Virginia aristocracy, Pickett spent his entire life trying to emulate the manly virtues associated with the planter elite. Yet he was a poor student at West Point and seemed unmotivated by his initial military training. The Mexican War changed him forever as he found a purpose that sustained him even during routine frontier service in Texas and Washington Territory during the 1850s. The Civil War provided an opportunity for his meteoric rise, but following the 1863 debacle at Gettysburg, he blamed other officers for his failures and lost many friends. In 1863 he married LaSalle Corbell; together they resurrected his image as a dutiful soldier and noble defender of the Old South. His death in 1875 did not end the mythologizing because his wife, who outlived him by five decades, wrote books and maintained a popular lecture tour that magnified the legend. In this excellent study, Gordon ably demonstrates Pickett's accomplishments and failures, and he corrects the numerous misconceptions about his life, many of them created by LaSalle. All levels. M. L. Tate; University of Nebraska at Omaha

Table of Contents

Introduction. A Widow, Her Soldier, and Their Story
1 Virginia, Illinois, and West Point, 1825-1846: Perilous Years
2 Mexico, 1846-1848: Streams of Heroes
3 Texas, 1848-1855: The Buoyancy of Youth Is Past
4 Washington Territory, 1855-1858: Farther Than the End of the World
5 San Juan and Southern Secession, 1859-1861: The Most Trying Circumstances
6 Virginia, 1861-1862: War Meant Something More
7 Virginia, 1862: Shaking with the Thunders of the Battle
8 Virginia, 1863: Carpet-Knight Doings on the Field
9 Pennsylvania, 1863: With All This Much to Lose
10 North Carolina, 1863-1864: You Will Hardly Ever Go Back There Again
11 Virginia, 1864-1865: Is That Man Still with This Army?
12 Canada, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., 1865-1889: We Have Suffered Enough
13 Washington, D.C., 1887-1931: I Have Had All and Lost All