Since we have Civil War cooking on the brain this week, I have to pose a question that’ll probably seem a little frivolous but it’s nagged at me for years: What is it with George Pickett and food?
I realize it’s not so much a historical question as it is a question about memory. (Or perhaps not much of a question at all!) Please bear with me.
Most notoriously, Pickett is known for missing the opening shots of the battle of Five Forks on April 1, 1865. Despite giving up ground the day before, he was feeling celebratory on that first day of April and so retired to the rear of the army to enjoy a shad bake with Fitzhugh Lee and Thomas Rosser—and he didn’t tell any of his staff officers where he’d be. Disaster unfolded for the Confederates, and Pickett’s defeat by nightfall led to the Federals’ final breakthrough the following day, collapsing Lee’s entire line.
And then of course, what visitor to the Gettysburg battlefield does not know the immortal General Pickett’s Buffet? I can almost imagine Pickett, as he sent his men across that nearby field, thinking to himself, “Some day, they will immortalize the sacrifice of my men by naming an all-you-can-eat buffet of delicious home-cooking after me!” Naming the restaurant after him is a highly irregular and informal way of memorializing the Confederate general, to be sure, but the General Pickett’s Buffet has been enduring battlefield fixture since 1992, and few die-hard Gettysburg visitors can ignore the association.
There is also a third food association, less well known. On the Fredericksburg battlefield, the picnic area along Lee Drive, Pickett Circle, is located along the stretch once occupied by Pickett’s division during the battle. They saw no action, but long-range Confederate artillery from nearby Howison Hill soared over their heads southward toward the Slaughter Pen Farm. Pickett’s Circle is not marked by any signage naming it as such, and it’s not even labeled as such on the park map; rather, only the park’s hiking trail map still publicly list’s its name.
There’s nothing wrong with these last two examples in and of themselves, of course. But considering Pickett’s unfortunate undoing at Five Forks, the buffet and the picnic area seem like insults added to injury. Pickett’s legacy will be forever tarnished by fish.