Before the “Charge” – Pickett and Military Road

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One of the most heavily-used routes through South King County today is also one of the very oldest roads in Washington State, and it was built by men who achieved the pinnacle of national prominence in their day. Four historical societies in South King County to draw attention to the historical significance of Military Road.

In April 2013, the Highline Historical Society hosted a presentation of “General George Pickett, His Life & Times” featuring National Park Service interpretive ranger Michael Vouri, who gave a lively, one-man performance of Pickett’s life.

Pickett was one of the junior officers sent out to the Pacific Northwest to help build Military Road in the 1850s. Civil War buffs may recognize him as the fellow who, ten years later, led the doomed Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Other officers who became important figures in the Civil War were surveying and building military routes in Washington Territory at the same time as Pickett – Ulysses Grant, Philip Sheridan and George McClellan, to name a few. And our own Military Road, which stretched from Fort Vancouver to Fort Bellingham, might never have been built had its funding not been championed by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, who served in President Franklin Pierce’s Cabinet in the 1850s, and wanted to ensure that settlers in the Northwest were protected from “Indian troubles.”

Soldiers who surveyed the Military Road route followed ridgelines to afford the strategic advantage of good visibility. They built “cord roads” of felled timber, and camped and fished at local lakes, including Five Mile Lake in Federal Way and Angle Lake in SeaTac.

The section of Military Road from Fort Steilacoom to Seattle, including the route through Highline, was finished in 1860, the same year Lincoln was elected President. A year later, Jefferson Davis disavowed his U.S. affiliation to become president of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.

In conjunction with the 150-year anniversary of the Civil War, the Highline Historical Society, Tukwila Historical Society, Greater Kent Historical Society and Historical Society of Federal Way all have sponsored programs that bring these stories to light.

For more information about the Highline Historical Society, visit