LEADER OF THE CHARGE by Edward G. Longacre


A Biography of General George E. Pickett, C.S.A.
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 Definitive by default, the first full-length Pickett biography in nearly a century attempts to set the historical record straight on the complicated, maligned Confederate general whose name will be forever associated with the suicidal charge at Gettysburg. Contemporaries envious of Pickett's quick rise to power, high living, and erratic battlefield performance demonized him after the war as an inept, irresponsible dandy. His adoring widow made a vocation of burnishing his image. Between these extremes Civil War historian Longacre strikes a happy medium, splitting the difference more from compromise than hard evidence. Longacre's Pickett is a classically tragic figure: Well born of Virginia gentry, an ambitious leader and courageous fighter, the career military man staked all on the Confederacy and lost. Beset by tragedy even before the war (two wives died in childbirth), he finished it weakened by illness and the hardships of battle. Home, career, and reputation destroyed, the once proud general--a rough-and-tumble paragon of chivalrous Southern manhood--fled the country to avoid prosecution for war crimes and was later forced to move in with in- laws and sell insurance to eke out a living. Though Longacre refutes the most obvious myths (that Abraham Lincoln sponsored Pickett's appointment to West Point, for example), he provides little insight into the thornier elements of the general's character. Known for rash behavior on and off the battlefield, Pickett sent his men to certain slaughter at Gettysburg while watching from the rear. Though said to have been devastated by the carnage, later errors of judgment and his execution of prisoners suggest deeper flaws not satisfactorily examined. Analyzing military tactics more than moral and ethical issues, the author fashions a biography long on ``when'' and ``where'' but short on ``why.'' (27 maps and illustrations) (Military Book Club main selection)

Pub Date: Feb. 9th, 1996
ISBN: 1-57249-006-3
Page count: 304pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1995