General George E. Pickett in Life and Legend

By Lesley J. Gordon

288 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 10 illus., 5 maps, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5427-3
    Published: August 2002
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-6673-3
    Published: November 2000

Civil War America

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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.

About the Author

Lesley J. Gordon is professor of history at the University of Alabama.
For more information about Lesley J. Gordon, visit the Author Page.


"This fine book demonstrates that military and social history can work together to provide a more complete and finely drawn portrait of the Civil War experience. Lesley Gordon’s study of George E. Pickett explores the reality of the general’s life as well as its romanticized version that survived through the generations. It is the fascinating story of a mediocre military leader who became, through his wife’s efforts, one of the heroes of the Lost Cause. . . . Excellent military history informed by recent scholarship in social history, General George E. Pickett in Life and Legend provides a sophisticated analysis of one of the Civil War’s most memorable figures."--Journal of Southern History

"Insightful and judicious, sometimes unconventional, and combining a clear narrative thread with a persuasive analysis of available evidence, her biography is a convincing assessment of George Pickett's place in Confederate history, an intriguing examination of his--and LaSalle's--character and personality, and a valuable look at the Pickett of legend."--Civil War History

"In this excellent study, Gordon ably demonstrates Pickett's accomplishments and failures, and she corrects the numerous misconceptions about his life, many of them created by LaSalle."--Choice

"A unique look at one of the most famous Confederate generals, and at how his wife built and controlled his memory after his death. . . . Gordon's analysis of Lasalle [Pickett] is cutting and offers a close-up of a major figure of the Civil War."--Kirkus Reviews

"Lesley Gordon draws a compellingly realistic portrait of George E. Pickett, one of Lee's most colorful and most romanticized lieutenants. Just as important, she demonstrates clearly how and why Americans have come to remember this unexceptional soldier as one of the nation's most heroic military figures."--Carol Reardon, author of Pickett's Charge in History and Memory

"Gordon carefully examines the lives of both the general and the woman who made his legend, providing a biography that is thoughtful, unblinking, and thoroughly modern in perspective. Students of the Civil War and of the Old South will find much to spark their thinking between these covers."--Steven E. Woodworth, author of Davis and Lee at War