During the briefing we see Pickett, played by actor Stephen Lang, holding a stalk with blue flowers on it, unmistakably a sprig of chicory (Cichorium intybus), the sky-blue florets contrasting nicely with the officers’ gray uniforms. Pickett/Lang does nothing with the flower but hold it in his left hand. In subsequent scenes, we see chicory, as well as Queen Anne’s lace and Scottish thistle, growing in the field where the Confederacy reached its high-water mark. The film was shot on the Gettysburg National Military Park and on a nearby farm. Who, I wonder, decided that Pickett should hold the blue flower? The gesture is consistent with the general’s foppish image. In General George E. Pickett in Life and Legend (University of North Carolina Press, 1998), Lesley J. Gordon reports the Virginian showed “excessive concern with his physical appearance” and goes on:
“George Pickett was thirty-eight years old in the summer of 1863, and by then, he had made quite an impression on his military contemporaries. Many of them commented on his hair, his dress, his arrogance, his temper, and his drinking. To white southern men, Pickett seemed a strange mix of femininity and masculinity, a dandy in uniform.”
In the film, Pickett comes off as a histrionic martinet besotted with the romance of the antebellum South. He even looks a little like John Wilkes Booth (and Edgar Allan Poe – Paul Metcalf conflates them in his 1982 book Both). Perhaps the chicory is a subliminal nod to “die Blaue Blume,” Novalis’ Blue Flower in Heinrich von Ofterdingen (beautifully fictionalized by Penelope Fitzgerald in The Blue Flower, 1995). I’m not sure we can expect such symbol-mongering in a Ted Turner production, but for many of the Romantics a blue flower represented Inspiration, a striving after the unreachable – in this case, Southern victory.
Some 12,500 Confederates advanced across an open field for almost a mile under concentrated Union artillery and rifle fire. The Confederate casualty rate exceeded fifty percent. At least 1,123 were killed and 4.019 wounded, and Union forces reported taking 3,750 prisoners. The Civil War continued for another twenty-one months, and thousands more were to die, but the failure of Pickett’s Charge and Lee’s resulting defeat at Gettysburg signaled the end. In Flora Britannica (1996), Richard Mabey reminds us that chicory was once commonly known as succory, and was cultivated in Britain for salads and greens by early in the sixteenth century. The etymology is murky but perhaps, on the eve of defeat, Pickett’s succory suggests succor.