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Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 01/May/Correction of Incident in Reference to General Pickett

A Correction of the Incident in Reference to General Pickett.

[The following letter explains itself. We can only say, by way of apology for our error, that the incident in reference to General Pickett was related by one of the speakers at the meeting held in Richmond, soon after his death, to honor his memory; that it had gone the rounds of the papers without contradiction, so far as we had seen, and that this fact, added to our personal acquaintance with the gentleman who related it, satisfied us of its entire accuracy. Let us add that while this correction in no way affects our argument on the prison question, we would make it none the less cheerfully if it did, and that we are at all times ready to correct the slightest inaccuracy of statement into which we may be betrayed.]

To the Rev. J. William Jones,
Secretary of the Southern Historical Society, Richmond, Va.:

Dear Sir—In the Southern Historical Society Papers for March, 1876, at page 160, appears an account of some occurrences, in which General George E. Pickett was an actor. Being myself an uncle of General Pickett, I had some acquaintance with the affair, and I saw that there were certainly several material errors in the statement. But I thought it best to communicate with the members of his staff, and to ascertain the facts with precision, before I wrote to you. This has caused the delay of the present communication; but it enables me to write now, supported by their recollections, especially by those of Mr. Harrie Hough, who was General Pickett's confidential clerk, and Major Charles Pickett, who was his brother and adjutant. Captains W. Stuart Symington and Edward R. Baird concur with the other officers, so far as they were acquainted with the facts, but their absence on service at that juncture caused them to be less familiar with all the circumstances.

I will give you a narrative of what actually occurred, condensed from these sources.

When the demonstration was made on Newbern, North Carolina, by the Confederates, and during the engagement, a number of prisoners were captured. Among them was a young lieutenant of artillery, whose name is not remembered, but he was probably from Elmira, New York. A day or two after the engagement, General Pickett received (from General Ord, as it is believed,) a letter by flag of truce, requesting his good offices for this young prisoner, accompanied by a bundle of clothing and a remittance of $500 in Confederate money. General Pickett sent one of his couriers (not an orderly), who had been with him for a long time and possessed his entire confidence, with dispatches for Captain Baird, who was at General Pickett's headquarters in Petersburg, and with instructions to go on to Richmond with the money and clothing for the young prisoner, to be delivered to the proper officer for his use. The courier, instead of reporting at headquarters in Petersburg, or going to Richmond, made his way to Ivor Station, on the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad. There, having a courier's pass and being well known, he exhibited a letter addressed to a gentleman living beyond the lines, which he said he was instructed by General Pickett to deliver; and by this means he got through the Confederate lines and took refuge with the Federal army.

As soon as General Pickett learned these facts, he sent to the young officer in prison a supply of clothes and $500 in money. He also wrote to General Ord by flag of truce, acquainting him with all that had happened, and regretting that the receipt of the money and clothes had been delayed. At the same time a demand was made for the surrender of the courier, in view of the facts of the case. To this demand an answer was received from General Butler, declining to surrender the courier, but, at the same time, refunding to General Pickett the $500 of Confederate money which he had advanced to the young officer.

This is all of the story that rests upon any real foundation. General Pickett never received any letter from any gentleman in Boston, and never saw the young officer who was taken prisoner, so far as is known to any member of his staff. He did not give any mortgage on his Turkey Island property for the purpose of raising this money; and his interest in that property still belongs to his widow and his son.

I am sure that you will gladly correct the mistakes into which you have been led in regard to this, seemingly, "well authenticated incident," and which owe their origin, no doubt, to the affection and esteem with which the memory of General Pickett is cherished, and to the belief that he would so have acted under the circumstances supposed.

I am, very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
Andrew Johnston.

Richmond, Va., 23d May, 1876.