Lucy Pickens, renowned Southern beauty, second of five children of Beverly LaFayette and Eugenia Dorothea (Hunt) Holcombe, was born on June 11, 1832, near La Grange, Fayette County, Tennessee, on the Holcombe plantation, named Westover of Woodstock. She attended La Grange Female Academy and in 1846, with her older sister, Anna Eliza, began study in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, at the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies, which she attended for two years. Between 1848 and 1850 the Holcombes moved to Marshall, Texas. While awaiting completion of the mansion on their nearby plantation, Wyalucing, the family resided in a Marshall hotel. The Presbyterian church of Marshall was organized in the Holcombes' rented quarters. Beverly Holcombe became its first elder.
Lucy became highly acclaimed throughout the South for her "classic features, titian hair, pansy eyes, and graceful figure." In 1850, after a visit with the family of Mississippi governor John Quitman, Lucy looked in on the legislature, which then adjourned in her honor. Like Quitman, she espoused the liberation of Cuba. Her first affianced, identified as a Lieutenant Crittenden by one writer, died in a filibustering expedition of Gen. Narciso López. Subsequently Lucy, using the pseudonym H. M. Hardeman, wrote The Free Flag of Cuba, or the Martyrdom of Lopez: A Tale of the Liberating Expedition of 1851, a novelette published in 1855 by the New York publishers DeWitt and Davenport.
At White Sulphur Springs, Virginia, in the summer of 1856, Lucy met Francis Wilkinson Pickens, twice a widower and twenty-seven years her senior. Her acceptance of his marriage proposal, it is said, hinged on his acceptance of a diplomatic post abroad. President James Buchanan appointed him ambassador to Russia, and on April 26, 1858, at Wyalucing, Pickens and Lucy were wed. Lucy was a favorite at the Russian court. She gave birth to her only child at the imperial palace on March 14, 1859, and named her Eugenia Frances Dorothea Olga Neva (the last two names being added by the czarina); the daughter came to be known as Douschka (Russian for "little darling"), a nickname that she kept all her life. Though raised a Presbyterian, Lucy was converted to her husband's Episcopalianism while in Russia.
Foreseeing troubled times for the South, Pickens resigned his diplomatic post in the fall of 1860 to return home. He was elected governor by the South Carolina legislature and was inaugurated on December 17, 1860. By selling the jewels that had been given her in Russia, Lucy helped outfit the Confederate Army unit that bore her name, the Lucy Holcombe Legion. Two portraits of her were used on Confederate money-one on the one-dollar notes of June 2, 1862, and another on the $100 notes of December 2, 1862, April 6, 1863, and February 17, 1864. Mrs. Pickens was vice regent for South Carolina in the Mount Vernon Ladies Association and was also the originator and president of an association that sought to erect a monument to the Confederate dead of Edgefield County, South Carolina. She died at her home, Edgewood, on August 8, 1899, of a cerebral embolism, and was buried near her husband and daughter in Edgefield Cemetery.