Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. I found that out many times in doing research for Shades of Gray. Here is an unusual story about a well known Confederate general – George Edward Pickett – who of course gained infamy for Pickett’s Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg.
Most people probably don’t know about Pickett’s tragic life off the battlefield or the fact that he was married three times (four times if you count being married in two different ceremonies to the same woman). His life also involved a poignant love story that continued after his death.
Pickett met his first wife, Sally Harrison Ming, while at West Point, and intended to marry her after graduation. Unfortunately, the war with Mexico intervened, and George went off to war. When he returned from Mexico, he resigned from the army, bought a farm in Virginia, and married Sally in January of 1851.
Said to be madly in love, Pickett was excited to find in February that Sally was pregnant. But he was devastated when both Sally and the child died during the birth. Pickett stayed in Virginia for six months before returning to the Army where he requested a post on the frontier.
It was during this short time in Virginia that he met La Salle Corbell, daughter of Dr John Corbell. Pickett was 23 years her senior (I seem to recall that she was only eight, and he in his 30s). But as La Salle would later write in her memoirs, she fell instantly in love and swore she would never love another man.
Pickett was then posted on the Northwest Territories on peacekeeping duties between the Americans and the Indians. There he met and fell in love with an Indian Princess named beSakkis Tiigang, meaning “Morning Mist.” Here is where he was married twice to the same woman – first in the traditional Indian ceremony, and later in a ceremony in the home of a local businessman.
Pickett built a house for his bride in Bellingham, Washington, and on Dec. 31, 1857, a son, James Tilton Pickett, was born, named in honor of his good friend Major James Tilton. The young mother never fully recovered from a difficult delivery and died shortly after.
Needless to say, Pickett was inconsolable with grief. He cared for his son for four years until assigned elsewhere, then gave up the care of the child to his Indian grandmother.
When the fall of Fort Sumter occurred in April of 1861, Pickett felt compelled to return to defend his native state. Knowing that the conservative Virginians would not accept a child of mixed race, Pickett sent the boy to Catherine and William Collins who agreed to take care of him under the supervision of Pickett’s friend, James Tilton.
From what I can find, Pickett never saw his son again, but I’m not sure why, since he survived the Civil War.
Anyway, George had been corresponding with La Salle Corbell, and shortly after his crushing defeat at Gettysburg, he sought leave from Longstreet to marry the sixteen-year-old. (Yes, only 16).
George and La Salle had two sons, George Junior and Corbell, however, Corbell died at age 7 during the measles epidemic. George Pickett died 10 years after the war at the age of 50, and is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Va.
La Salle lived until 1931. It was her dying wish to be buried with her husband, but the authorities refused because Hollywood was a military cemetery. Consequently, her body was cremated and her ashes kept at the Arlington Mausoleum. It took another 123 years, but on March 21, 1998, La Salle’s ashes were laid to rest in Hollywood, beside her husband’s grave.
She finally joined the only man she ever loved.
What a tragic but beautiful story!