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Pickett Parade

In late October of 1875, Texas Jack, Buffalo Bill, and the Peerless Morlacchi made a weekend stop in Norfolk, Virginia. Their latest tour had begun on September 2nd in Albany, New York and moved through Pennyslvania, New Jersey, and Delaware before visiting Richmond, Virginia, where Texas Jack's father, step-mother, and youngest brother came to take in the show. The two nights spent in Norfolk would be unremarkable but for a coinciding event that shows that self-promotional savvy of the Scouts and the marketing acumen of their press agent John M. Burke.

An ad from the October 22, 1875 Norfolk Virginian newspaper.

On July 30th, just over three months prior to the Scouts shows at the Norfolk Opera House, Confederate Major General George Edward Pickett died of liver failure and was buried at Norfolk's Cedar Grove Cemetery. The family decided that it would be more appropriate for Pickett to be buried at Richmond's Hollywood Cemetery, near Confederate President Jefferson Davis and 27 of Pickett's fellow Confederate Generals. Pickett's casket was disinterred on October 23rd 1875, and a solemn parade was planned to commemorate one of Virginia's most noted soldiers and commanders.

Major General George Edward Pickett.

General Pickett is remembered for the disastrous infantry charge against General George Meade's troops at the Battle of Gettysburg. Pickett had arrived late at Gettysburg, frustrated that he had largely missed the battle and his chance at glory. Pickett's commanding officer, General James Longstreet, pleaded with Robert E. Lee to swing his army to the south, around the Union's west flank, and to position himself between the Federal forces and Washington D.C. "The enemy is there," Lee said, pointing towards Cemetery Hill, "and I am going to attack him there."

"I've been a soldier all my life," Longstreet responded. "I've been with soldiers engaged in fights by couples, by squads, companies, regiments, divisions, and armies, and should know as well as anyone what soldiers can do. It is my opinion that no 15,000 men ever arrayed for battle can take that position." Ignoring the pleas of the soldier he called his "Old War Horse," Lee informed Longstreet that I Corps would assault the Union left as soon as Pickett’s division was in position below Seminary Ridge. Later in the afternoon, Longstreet and Pickett watched the cannonade from the south end of Seminary Ridge. A messenger galloped up with a message from the supporting artillery. "If you are coming at all you must come immediately or I cannot give you proper support," the message read. "General, shall I advance?’ asked Pickett. Caught between sending a division of men to their death and disobeying a direct order from his commanding officer and friend General Lee, Longstreet gave no reply; he simply nodded his head and looked away.

Peter F. Rothermel's painting of Pickett's Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Half of the Confederate troops in Pickett's Charge were killed in the effort. For those that briefly took control of the stone wall at the top of the hill, the casualty rate was 70 percent. Pickett's division alone, suffered 2,655 casualties. In all, 4,900 Southerners had been killed, wounded or captured. A Virginia captain would write, a few days later, "We gained nothing but glory, and lost our bravest men." As Union forces advances, General Lee told Pickett to rally his division to repeal the Yankees. "General Lee," Pickett responded, "I have no division now." Lee later confessed to General Longstreet that "It’s all my fault. I thought my men were invincible.’ The doomed charge and the loss of so many Confederate soldiers was likely on the minds of the assembled citizens of Norfolk, Virginia, as they watched the procession that accompanied the body of George Edward Pickett on its journey through Norfolk to the train depot en route to Richmond. More than 40,000 people lined the funeral route, with another 5,000 marching in the funeral procession. "The occasion was a strikingly solemn and impressive one," reported the local Norfolk Virginian newspaper, "and the length of the procession and the number of citizens who participated in it was a striking proof of the high esteem in which the gallant deceased was held by all classes of our people."

Memorial to General Pickett at Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, VA.

The report on the day's events ends with this note: "Another feature of the procession was the appearance in the ranks of Messrs. Cody (Buffalo Bill) and Omohundro (Texas Jack) of the company now performing at the Opera House. The former served in the Federal army during the war, and the latter in the army of Northern Virginia in the cavalry arm. Both were anxious to pay their respects to the memory of a mighty warrior."

At once symbols of the North and South, Cody and Omohundro served as a representation of reconstruction in the American West. Buffalo Bill had been a Yankee and Texas Jack a Johnny Reb, but they were now Scouts of the Plains, each man making the other more palatable for their respective audiences, a Blue-Gray alliance in fringed buckskin. These two men had lead Union Generals Sheridan and Custer on hunting parties, and now they were marching in a procession honoring General Pickett. And most importantly for the show and for John Burke, the newspapers were carefully reporting all of it.

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