Taken from the transcript of The Diary of Lt. William H. Peel, 1863-1865, published by Pioneer, Carrollton, Mississippi, 2011)
Anna Pickens: A Civil War Urban Legend
For all his passion in setting up the account of Anna Pickens, Billy (Peel) does not complete the entry. Since no pages are missing from the diary, we can only guess why he did not say more. Perhaps he was interrupted. Perhaps he had second thoughts.
The popular story: Anna Pickens, daughter of South Carolina's ex-Governor Francis W. Pickens, had chosen to remain in Charleston despite the blockade and the occasional shells that exploded within the city. She worked in the hospital where she befriended Lt. Andrew de Rochelle, a Confederate officer who recovered and returned to duty at Ft. Sumter.
The couple became engaged, the wedding date set for April 23rd at 7 o'clock in the evening at the home of General Bonham. As the Episcopal priest began the ceremony, a Yankee bomb crashed through the roof. The explosion wounded nine, including the bride.
Eight of the wounded would recover. Anna, however, was not moving. Her weeping groom tried to stop the bleeding from the wound over her left breast, and a surgeon was summoned. His grim prognosis – the bride would live only another two hours at most. Anna regained consciousness, but no one would tell her the truth. Finally, she begged Andrew, "If I am to die, I wish to die worthy of you." Andrew's tears confirmed her worst fears.
Andrew said that he still wished Anna to be his wife, and with the bride lying on the divan in her blood-soaked wedding gown, the Reverend Mr. Dickinson began the interrupted nuptials again. When the question came to Anna to answer, she struggled to say "yes," and gasped out her consent with her last breath. The minister concluded the ceremony amidst sobs and the wedding transformed into a funeral.
Printed in the Richmond Gazette on April 24, 1864, the story was picked up and reprinted by newspapers all over the country. It retains a certain currency with many online genealogies listing South Carolina Governor Francis Pickens with a daughter named Anna, born in (unknown), and dying on her wedding day, April 23, 1864.
The most obvious flaw is this tragic tale is timing. If the wedding started at 7 P. M. on April 23, how was such a story transmitted and typeset in time to appear in the Richmond Gazette the following day? Not to mention that it would be extremely tacky for grieving family and friends to send for the press before the poor lady's blood had dried upon her bridal gown.
Strangely, The Charleston Mercury for April 24 makes no mention of Anna Pickens, married or buried. The first mention appears on May 28 and is written as though quoting an article from the same paper of April 24. The lurid account is signed Hermes, obviously a pseudonym.
A search of the census finds the Francis Pickens family living in Edgefield, South Carolina. There is no listing for Anna anywhere in the state.
Anna Pickens had one other appearance in the papers of her day:
I noticed in this morning's Daily News, some touching lines on what that mild-spoken journal calls the "murder" of Miss Anna Pickens, daughter of Ex-Governor Pickens, of South Carolina, in connection wherewith is republished the thrilling and affecting account of that young lady's death, as it originally appeared in a Charleston paper, and which has been generally copied and believed by the Northern press. It is a pity to spoil a pretty story, which must have cost its author considerable labor to work up to so high a degree of intensity, and which is admirably calculated to "fire the Southern heart," as well as to give Northern sympathizers with the rebellion an excellent opportunity for another howl at our execrable Government; but let me whisper never so gently that Miss Anna Pickens is a myth, and the tale is manufactured out of the whole cloth. Any recent resident of Charleston, and many of our own City, can certify that Mrs. Pickens, who is represented as "looking upon her child with the dry, haggard eye of one whose reason totters," is herself a young lady, much too young to be the mother of a marriageable daughter, having "finished her education" within a very few years, say five or six, at one of the excellent schools for young ladies with which our Metropolis abounds. Of course, her daughter, having never had an existence, can scarcely be said to have lost her life : no "murder" has been committed. Lieut. De Rochelle, if he also is not a "creature of the brain," still lives to undergo the blandishments of the palmetto belles. BUNKUM
(Letter to the Editor, New York Times, May 28, 1864)
Addendum: A search of the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System does not list Andrew de Rochelle from anywhere serving in any capacity in either army during the Civil War. Variant spelling searched included Andrew Rochelle, Andrew DeRochelle, A Rochelle, A. Rosselle, A. deRosselle and A DeRochelle. Stretching the spelling a bit I did find several men as A Russell listed, but none with the first name Andrew.
So there is no record of the bride or of the groom before or after the supposed tragic wedding. I realize that records are incomplete, both the U.S. Census and the military service records, but the over-whelming silence of unbiased proof just makes it all the more clear that this story is nothing more tha a piece of war-inspired propaganda that should long ago have been expunged from genealogical records.