Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 30.djvu/351
The Gallant Pelham.
But it was at Fredericksburg that the zenith of John Pelham's renown was reached. The martial king of the proudest nation in all the tides of time might well envy—if the shades in Valhalla are given that privilege—the story that crowned the "boy artillerist" in that stupendous fight and dreadful revelry of death. All was quiet in the Confederate army at Fredericksburg on the morning of the thirteenth of December, 1862. The flower of the South's young manhood was there on the heights in double lines behind bristling bayonets and grimmer guns. Every soldier knew there was to be a fearful fight before the sun sank behind the western wood. The Federal army had crossed the Rappahannock and was forming line of battle under cover of the river bank. Jackson, Stuart and Lee rode down the Confederate lines to the extreme right, followed by waves of cheers, where the Stuart horse artillery was parked. Stuart called to Pelham and said something. Then Pelham turned and galloped to his guns. Immediately he dashed down the heights followed by one gun. It was the "Napoleon detachment," of Mobile Frenchmen. Onward they rushed far down the foot of the heights where the road forks. There they halted, unlimbered and prepared for action. The mist that overspread the field cleared away and the men from the South saw moving toward them steadily, swiftly, with measured tread, a long, compact blue line. On swept the fierce men in blue, their bayonets glistening in the streams of sunshine that stole through the fog. There was a flash, a boom, the earth shook—Pelham's Napoleon had bellowed. Then there was a shrill, hideous, indescribable shriek of a shell as it swirled in the air and went crashing through the charging lines of blue. The surging mass recoiled, halted, hesitated, then with a demoniacal yell, pressed forward toward the single gun. The yell ceased and for a moment there was a ghastly hush, and then, there came thundering through the chilly, December air from across the Rappahannock boom on boom. From southeast to east, from east to northeast. Then from
a great billow, and then mounting one of the lead horses, began to gallop away with the cannon, but had not proceeded far when the horse was shot from under him. Quickly cutting the traces to free the dead animal he mounted another, and it, too, was shot down immediately. He escaped with the gun only after a third horse had been shot down and cut from the traces. At Sharpsburg he commanded nearly all the artillery on the Confederate left, and rent the blue lines with shot and shell.