This is the fourth installment of my Civil War love letter series for Valentine’s Day, and it’s a great love story.
|La Salle Pickett|
Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. I found that out many times in doing research for my historical fiction novels. Here is an unusual story about a well known Confederate general—George Edward Pickett—who of course gained fame 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 eventually married her after coming back from serving in the war with Mexico. Said to be madly in love, Pickett was excited to find 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 (She was only eight when first they met). But as La Salle would later write in her memoirs, she fell instantly in love and swore she would never love another man.
When Pickett was posted on peacekeeping duties between the Americans and the Indians, he met and fell in love with an Indian Princess. 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.
His Indian wife bore him a son, James Tilton Pickett, but the young mother never fully recovered from a difficult delivery and died shortly after. Needless to say, Pickett was inconsolable with grief. Reassigned to the West, he gave up the care of the child to his Indian grandmother.
George had been corresponding with La Salle Corbell, and finally married the 16-year-old during the Civil War. George and La Salle had two sons, George Junior and Corbell, however, Corbell died at age 7 during the measles epidemic.
In a letter in April 1863, Pickett pleads with Sally to come marry him in camp, despite the social improprieties of a woman doing so.
“You know that I love you with a devotion that absorbs all else—a devotion so divine that when in dreams I see you it is as something too pure and sacred for mortal touch.”
“If I am spared, my dear, all my life shall be devoted to making you happy, to keeping all that would hurt you far from you, to making all that is good come near you.”
Unfortunately, poor Pickett was destined for disappointment. Sally writes in a postscript to this letter in the book “The Heart of a Soldier” that she turned “her soldier” down.
“So, though my heart responded to the call, what could I do but adhere to the social laws, more formidable than were ever the majestic canons of the Ecclesiastes? My Soldier admitted that I was right, and we agreed to await a more favorable time.”
She did eventually relent and marry “her soldier” later on during the war. In July 1863, she received this note from the general.
“…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 [Chinook for strong heart] for Virginia and for you, my darling.”
– Your Soldier
July 3, 1863 Gettysburg
Note: You may recognize the date—the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, and the time—shortly before his ill-fated Pickett’s Charge. The artillery bombardment, the largest in North American history, began at 1 p.m. and was still taking place as he wrote. (And we say we are “too busy” to write love letters to our spouses today).
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.
This story and many other love stories can be found in my book From the Heart: Love Stories and Letters from the Civil War.