U.S. Grant saved George Pickett’s neck

U.S. Grant (photograph from the B. Nash collection)


James O. Hall wrote about it in an article entitled “Atonement” in the August 1980 Civil War Times. Major General George Pickett was responsible for a mass hanging in February 1864. The condemned were 22 North Carolina men who had deserted Confederate service and joined the Union army. They were captured at Kinston, North Carolina. It was there that they were tried for desertion and hanged. Fast forward to June 1865- Pickett applied to President Johnson for a pardon. Both Secretary of War Stanton and Judge Advocate Holt opposed the pardon. Instead, they wanted to try Pickett for a war crime (the mass hanging). Pickett didn’t leave himself solely at their mercy. He wrote a letter to Lieutenant General U.S. Grant in March 1866. He asked Grant for the pardon. Grant turned the letter over and wrote the following:

“During the rebellion belligerent rights were acknowledged to the enemies of our country, and it is clear to me that the parole given by the armies laying down their arms protects them against punishment for acts lawful for any other belligerents. In this case I know it is claimed that the men tried and convicted for the crime of desertion were Union men from North Carolina, who had found refuge within our lines and in our service. The punishment was a harsh one, but it was in time of war, and when the enemy no doubt felt it necessary to retain by some power the services of every man within their reach. General Pickett I know personally to be an honorable man, but in this case his judgment prompted him to do what cannot be sustained, though I do not see how good, either to friends of the deceased or by fixing an example for the future, can be secured by his trial now. It would truly open up the question whether or not the Government did not disregard its contract entered into secure the surrender of an armed enemy.”

The issue then made it to the desk of President Johnson. The movement to try Pickett as a war criminal died. Grant’s endorsement saved Pickett’s neck. Author Hall comments that it might have turned out otherwise as “Secretary Stanton and General Hall were not very forgiving men.”

Interesting story! I think Grant carried on the spirit of Lincoln who wanted to reunite the opposing sides with as little as that kind of punishment as possible. Grant was able to save Pickett on a technicality. Did Pickett actually commit a war crime? Do you agree with Grant’s decision?

 Mail this post

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Tags: , , ,

One Response to “U.S. Grant saved George Pickett’s neck”

  1. […] Grant had the case shelved, even against Congressional appeals, until everybody just gave up and dropped it. “I do not see how good, either to the friends of the deceased, or by fixing an example for the future, can be secured by his trial now,” Grant said once of his old associate. Plus ├ža change. […]

Leave a Reply