Fundraiser for the Pickett House

What’s in Mrs. Hale Receipts for the Million 1857?

693. Blue Ink– Dissolve s small quantity of indigo in a little oil of vitriol, and add a sufficient quantity of water, in which gum-arabic has been dissolved.

An Important Fundraiser for the Pickett House2 Pickett House Side

Mrs.Hale wasn’t sure what to write, but ink seemed good enough for my guest poster today, my good friend Mike Vouri, chief of interpretation and history at the San Juan Island National Historical Park.

As some of you dear readers may know, Bellingham is home to one of two surviving structures that George E. Pickett of Gettysburg fame is known to occupy. His wonderful play about Pickett is coming to Bellingham on Sept 7 to raise funds for the Pickett House. Mrs. Hale wanted you to know about it as historical preservation is very important to our local and national history.

So here’s Mike on the upcoming play/event and his very moving take on Pickett and his famous charge (a 150th event I witnessed at Gettysburg this past July3rd). This time thousands walked it. Take it away.

Guest Post by Mike Vouri

For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances…

William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust

By Mike Vouri,
Historian, San Juan island National Historical Park

Ask any San Juan Islander or park visitor if he/she has ever heard the names Harvey A. Allen, Thomas Grey or Lewis Cass Hunt. All three of these officers were U.S. Army commanders at American Camp during the Pig War crisis and joint military occupation.

Chances are the answer will be no.

The same cannot be said for George E. Pickett. For even if they do not know his full name, or his role in the Pig War, they will have heard of the charge at Gettysburg that bears his name; the charge that culminated in disaster for the Army of Northern Virginia; the charge led to a speech by Abraham Lincoln months later, the first six words of which are known to nearly every man, woman and child in America.

That’s why we have a Pickett’s Lane; why his grandson and great grandson were included in commemorative activities in the 20th century; why there is a painting of him and his troops on the second floor of the county courthouse; why the county’s first auditor, Ed Warbass, claimed (falsely) that he lived in Pickett’s house and had a portrait of him in Confederate gray hanging over his fireplace; and, finally, why Michael Cohen and I have been telling his story over the last 17 years.

pickett 2000 2 smallerWe will once again re-live Pickett’s Charge 150 years later during The Life and Times of General George Pickett at 7 p.m., Saturday, September 7 at the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship, 1207 Ellsworth St. The event is sponsored by the Daughters of the Pioneers of Washington to raise money to pay for renovations to the Pickett’s Bellingham home, which has been under their care for the last several decades.

Never has the Pickett’s Charge segment of the play, which dominates the second act, seemed more immediate and important to understand. For the last 20 years we have lived through a period of seemingly endless war, sending young (and some not so young) men and women in harm’s way halfway across the world. Some come home physically and emotionally scarred. Some never make it back. Taken at face value, war is about killing. As one of Pickett’s contemporaries, William T. Sherman put it:

I confess, without shame, that I am sick and tired of fighting — its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands, and fathers … it is only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated … that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.

Pickett at Gettysburg

Pickett’s division comprised only three of the nine total Confederate brigades involved in the charge, which is pickett(1)known officially as Longstreet’s Second Assault, for Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, who reluctantly led the operation, which was planned and ordered by Gen. Robert E. Lee. But because Pickett’s division was in the main composed of Virginians and, arguably, penetrated further into the Union center than any other, the charge is closely identified with him.

After two bloody days of fighting in and around the crossroads village, Lee pinned all hope of destroying Northern morale and influencing and turning fall elections against Abraham Lincoln’s Republicans with an all-out frontal assault on the Union center across nearly a mile of open ground. Preceded by a largely ineffectual artillery bombardment (the shots were long), the Confederates approached in two battle lines nearly a mile long, which were shredded by cannon and rifle fire before a fraction of the force hit the Union line. They soon fell back, leaderless and without order, stumbling over their fallen comrades. By the end of the day Pickett’s division suffered 2,655 casualties out just over 6,000 soldiers.

Years later when Pickett encountered the old Confederate partisan leader, John Mosby, while on a business trip to Richmond, Mosby suggested they visit Lee, who was staying in a nearby hotel. The two men spent about an hour with their old commander. The meeting was “cold and formal,” and after they left Lee’s room Mosby recalled Pickett bitterly exclaiming, “That old man had my division massacred at Gettysburg.”

Mosby replied: “But it made you immortal.” By then, it was an immortality that Pickett would have gladly shed.

San Juan Island National Historical Park was created by Act of Congress in 1966 based upon the idea that individuals and nations can sometimes resolve their conflicts peacefully without resorting to violence. What happened at Gettysburg did not happen here and that’s what makes San Juan Island so special.

We think George Pickett would have agreed.

Thanks Mike. Well said.

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