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The Infamous Shad Bake

Major General George E. Pickett, C.S.A.

Major General George E. Pickett, C.S.A.

He is most famous for leading a spectacularly failed charge against an entrenched elevated position at the Battle of Gettysburg. But he was not to blame for that: The charge was ordered by Lee and executed as ably as possible considering that it was foredoomed to end in disaster.

But that was not the last act of Pickett’s career in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Pickett was commanding general of C.S.A. forces at Five Points, off the right flank of the Petersburg defenses. Lee had given his general direct orders regarding holding his position: “Hold Five Forks at all hazards. Protect road to Ford’s Depot and prevent Union forces from striking the Southside Railroad. Regret exceedingly your forced withdrawal, and your inability to hold the advantage you had gained.” [Italics mine]

The tone of this order did not sit well with General Pickett. Whereupon, feeling that he had covered his bases adequately in case Sheridan should attack, Pickett accepted an invitation from a fellow officer to join in a picnic of shad that had been caught in the Nottoway River. Both he and Fitzhugh Lee left their forces to subordinates and indulged in a nice shad bake.

Unfortunately, Sheridan picked that point to attack Five Forks and stage one of the most decisive victories of the long Siege of Petersburg, sending the defenders scampering for their lives.

Needless to say, that did not sit well with Robert E. Lee, who terminated Pickett’s command a few days later.