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George E. Pickett (George Edward), 1825-1875
The Heart of a Soldier: As Revealed in the Intimate Letters of Genl. George E. Pickett C.S.A.
New York: Seth Moyle, c1913.

Summary

George Edward Pickett was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1825. He attended West Point and graduated at the bottom of his class in 1846. Upon graduation he was assigned to the Eighth Infantry and joined Winfield Scott's regiment in Mexico. His heroics and leadership there earned him high marks among his superiors and resulted in his rise through military ranks. After returning to the United States, he served in Texas, Virginia, and Washington. Pickett married twice before the Civil War: first in 1851, then in 1856. Both of his wives died following complications from childbirth. Pickett returned to Virginia at the onset of the Civil War and was commissioned captain of infantry in the Confederate army. Once again, his military heroics resulted in promotion, and by 1862 he was a brigadier general. Unfortunately, Pickett earned permanent infamy for his disastrous campaign against the Union center at the Battle of Gettysburg, an event that effectively ruined his military career and reputation. He died in 1875.

The Heart of a Soldier, as Revealed in the Intimate Letters of General George Pickett, C.S.A. (1913) is a collection of letters edited by Seth Moyle, with the help of Pickett's third wife, La Salle "Sally" Corbell, whom he married in 1863. The compilation begins with an introductory chapter by Corbell, in which she recounts favorite memories of her husband, including their first meeting and subsequent courtship. She then offers an overview of his military experiences, beginning with his success at suppressing Native American rebellions in the San Juan Islands and ending with his career in the Confederate army. She incorporates anecdotes attesting to Pickett's amiable relationships with Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, as well as testimonies from Generals Longstreet and McClellan about his superior abilities as a soldier.

Pickett's letters to Corbell, arranged chronologically into five sections, suggest that he considered her a confidante and a source of comfort throughout the long years that they were separated by war. The first four sections spanning his Confederate career include candid descriptions of camp life, his analysis of several major battles, and his alternating feelings of joy and trepidation as the war progressed. Taken together, the letters portray Pickett as a devoted general who reveled in battle, yet suffered tremendously over the deaths of his soldiers. His letters also reveal his distress at fighting old friends from his West Point years, and his sorrow over the country's violent division.

Although the compilation offers a glimpse into Pickett's private thoughts, a thorough analysis of his most important Civil War engagement—his charge at the Battle of Gettysburg—is omitted. Directly after the Confederate army's stunning defeat, General Robert E. Lee requested that Pickett destroy his initial report. According to the editor, he did write a full account of the battle to his wife; however, she excised this portion of the letter to comply with Lee's wishes. Pickett's final letters describe his travels following the surrender at Appomattox. Heart of a Soldier closes with Pickett's reflections on a memorial service he attended at Gettysburg to honor those who died in the battle.

Work Consulted: Garraty, John and Mark Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Armistead Lemon
Harris Henderson

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