Gen. George PIckett, made famous by Pickett’s Charge, would celebrate his 150th wedding anniversary this week.
In the weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg and the failed charge that bore his name, Confederate Gen. George E. Pickett was all too aware of his own mortality and the possibility that his return home to Richmond might be to Hollywood Cemetery. Having lost so many soldiers in the battle, he often expressed guilt that he survived when so many did not. Another complication that surely didn’t help things was Pickett’s love for a teenage girl who lived near Suffolk named LaSalle “Sallie” Corbell. When possible, Pickett would take leave to visit Corbell in Richmond in the months before the Gettysburg campaign. While on the campaign, Pickett wrote long love letters home to her:
…and we are still to march forward. Every tramp tramp tramp is a thought thought thought of my darling, every halt a blessing invoked, every command a loving caress; and the thought of you and prayer for you make me strong, make me better, give me courage, give me faith. Now, my dearest, let my soul speak to yours. Listen listen listen! You hear I am answered. 6/29/1863
In the aftermath of Gettysburg, the romantic tone of his letters turned dark and forlorn, sobered by the incredible loss of life:
Well, it is all over now. The battle is lost, and many of us are prisoners, many are dead, many wounded, bleeding and dying. Your Soldier lives and mourns and but for you, my darling, he would rather, a million times rather, be back there with his dead, to sleep for all time in an unknown grave. 7/4/1863
In the weeks following Gettysburg, plans were being made for a new offensive and Pickett had heard from Confederate Gen. James Longstreet (whom he referred to as Old Peter) that he may be asked to head west to Tennessee, far away from his beloved Sallie. He quickly penned a letter asking Corbell to meet him in Petersburg to be married:
OLD Peter is to go to Tennessee to reenforce Bragg. He has placed his plans before the Secretary of War.
Now, my darling, I have just had a long powwow with him who, “old war-horse” as he is, has been in love himself, is still in love, will always be in love, and knows of our love of our plighted troth and knowing it, tells me it is his purpose to take me with him on this proposed expedition.
Now, my Sally, your Soldier is a soldier, and never, even to himself, questions an order. “His not to reason why.” Darling, do you know what this means? Why, my little one, it means that you haven’t one moment’s respite. It means that you are to be Mrs. General George Pickett, my precious wife, right away. It means that you are to fulfill your promise to “come to me at a moment’s notice.” Yours, too, now, “not to reason why,” but to obey and come at once. We cannot brook any delay, my darling; so pack up your knapsack never mind the rations and the ammunition, but come. My Aunt Olivia, with Uncle Andrew, one of my staff and one of my couriers will meet you and your dear parents on this side of the Black Water and will escort you to Petersburg, where I shall be waiting at the train to meet you. I shall see you all to the hotel, where you will wait while your father, Bright and I get the license and make other necessary arrangements for our immediate marriage, which I have planned to take place sine die at St. Paul’s Church. Our old friend, Doctor Platt, will pronounce the words that make us one in the sight of the world. From the church, we will go to the depot, where a special train, having been arranged for us by our friend, Mr. Reuben Raglan, God bless him, will take us over to Richmond, where my little sister is waiting longingly to love and welcome my wife her new sister.
My darling will realize how impossible it is for her Soldier to consult with her and will forgive his bungling and awkwardness. Never mind, after this she shall do all the planning. Oh, what a heaven on earth is before us if only this cruel war were over! A Dios. Forgive this business letter. Courier awaits. You will come; I have no fear.
Rather than feeling patronized and a little ticked off that she didn’t have any input on her own wedding, Corbell complied with Pickett’s wishes (it was a different era, guys). So, off to Petersburg she went. In the years following the war, Corbell wrote several books about her husband, and in her account of the wedding, she said that the Union had caught wind of her wedding plans (Suffolk was in Union hands in 1863), and she actually had to be “smuggled” across enemy lines to her own wedding!
After traveling by mule, ferry, and train, Corbell arrived in Petersburg and wed Pickett in St. Paul’s church on September 15th. Accounts from the wedding describe a crowd of thousands outside the church, ringing bells, and a salute of guns. After the wedding, Corbell and Pickett headed up to Richmond for more celebrating where they were toasted by President Jefferson Davis and his wife Varina. Mary Lee, wife of Robert E. Lee, even gave them a fruitcake.
Shortly after the wedding, Pickett would return to fighting and they would be separated again, but she would never be far from his thoughts, and he would continue to write her letters. Despite the fears which led him to rush to marry Corbell, he would survive the war unharmed. His reputation however, was another matter. Pickett’s Charge would not be his last controversy during the war. We’ll learn more about the fate of Gen. George Pickett in the years ahead.