Battle of Gettysburg: General Pickett’s final letter before “the charge”

As referenced in an earlier post in this forum, General Pickett wrote his wife-to-be a letter prior to leading his division on the infamous and deadly charge. The text of Pickett’s letter to his sweetheart Sallie, excerpted from the 1913 publication The Heart of Soldier, appears below.

Pickett writes:

 

Can my prettice do patchwork? If she can, she must piece together these penciled
scraps of soiled paper and make out of
them, not a log-cabin quilt, but a wren’s nest,
cement it with love and fill it with blue and
golden and speckled eggs of faith and hope,
to hatch out greater love yet for us.

More…

Well, the long, wearying march from
Chambersburg, through dust and heat beyond
compare, brought us here yesterday (a few
miles from Gettysburg). Though my poor
men were almost exhausted by the march in
the intense heat, I felt that the exigencies demanded
my assuring Marse Robert that we
had arrived and that, with a few hours’ rest,
my men would be equal to anything he might
require of them. I sent Walter with my message
and rode on myself to Little Round Top
to see Old Peter, who, I tell you, dearest, was
mighty glad to see me. And now, just think
of it, though the old war-horse was watching A. P.
Hill’s attack upon the center and Hood
and McLaws of his own corps, who had
struck Sickles, he turned and before referring
to the fighting or asking about the march inquired
after you, my darling! While we
were watching the fight Walter came back
with Marse Robert’s reply to my message,
which was in part: “Tell Pickett I’m glad
that he has come, that I can always depend
upon him and his men, but that I shall not
want him this evening.”

We have been on the qui vive, sweetheart,
since midnight and as early as three o’clock
were on the march. About half past three,
Gary’s pistol signaled the Yankees’ attack
upon Culp’s Hill, and with its echo a wail of
regret went up from my very soul that the
other two brigades of my old division had
been left behind. Oh, God, if only I had
them — a surety for the honor of Virginia, for
I can depend upon them, little one. They
know your Soldier and would follow him into
the very jaws of death — and he will need
them, right here, too, before he’s through.

At early dawn, darkened by the threatening
rain, Armistead, Garnett, Kemper and
your Soldier held a heart-to-heart powwow.

All three sent regards to you, and Old
Lewis pulled a ring from his little finger and
making me take it, said, “Give this little token,
George, please, to her of the sunset eyes, with
my love, and tell her the ‘old man’ says since
he could not be the lucky dog he’s mighty
glad that you are.”

Dear old Lewis — dear old “Lo,” as Magruder always called him, being short for
Lothario. Well, my Sally, I’ll keep the ring
for you, and some day I’ll take it to John
Tyler and have it made into a breastpin and
set around with rubies and diamonds and
emeralds. You will be the pearl, the other
jewel. Dear old Lewis!

Just as we three separated to go our different ways after
silently clasping hands, our fears and prayers voiced in the
“Good luck, old man,” a summons came from Old Peter,
and I immediately rode to the top of the ridge
where he and Marse Robert were making a
reconnaissance of Meade’s position. “Great
God!” said Old Peter as I came up. “Look,
General Lee, at the insurmountable difficulties
between our line and that of the Yankees —
the steep hills, the tiers of artillery, the
fences, the heavy skirmish line — and then
we’ll have to fight our infantry against their
batteries. Look at the ground we’ll have to
charge over, nearly a mile of that open ground
there under the rain of their canister and
shrapnel.”

“The enemy is there, General Longstreet,
and I am going to strike him,” said Marse
Robert in his firm, quiet, determined voice.

About 8 o’clock I rode with them along
our line of prostrate infantry. They had
been told to lie down to prevent attracting
attention, and though they had been forbidden
to cheer they voluntarily arose and lifted
in reverential adoration their caps to our beloved
commander as we rode slowly along. Oh, the responsibility for the lives of such
men as these! Well, my darling, their fate
and that of our beloved Southland will be
settled ere your glorious brown eyes rest on
these scraps of penciled paper — your Soldier’s
last letter, perhaps.

Our line of battle faces Cemetery Ridge.
Our detachments have been thrown forward
to support our artillery which stretches over
a mile along the crests of Oak Ridge and
Seminary Ridge. The men are lying in the
rear, my darling, and the hot July sun pours
its scorching rays almost vertically down upon
them. The suffering and waiting are almost
unbearable.

Well, my sweetheart, at one o’clock the awful
silence was broken by a cannon-shot and
then another, and then more than a hundred
guns shook the hills from crest to base, answered
by more than another hundred — the
whole world a blazing volcano, the whole of
heaven a thunderbolt — then darkness and absolute
silence — then the grim and gruesome,
low-spoken commands — then the forming of
the attacking columns. My brave Virginians
are to attack in front. Oh, may God in mercy
help me as He never helped before!

I have ridden up to report to Old Peter.
I shall give him this letter to mail to you and
a package to give you if — Oh, my darling,
do you feel the love of my heart, the prayer,
as I write that fatal word?

Now, I go; but remember always that I
love you with all my heart and soul, with every
fiber of my being; that now and forever I am
yours — yours, my beloved. It is almost three
o’clock. My soul reaches out to yours — my
prayers. I’ll keep up a skookum tumtum for
Virginia and for you, my darling.

Your Soldier

Gettysburg, July 3, 1863.

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