Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 26/A Recollection of Pelham

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A RECOLLECTION OF PELHAM.
How Two of His Guns held out Against Six of the Enemy.




One day in the latter part of August, 1863 (I write from memory only), General Pleasanton, with a large force of cavalry, had been feeling for General Lee's army, which lay near Orange Court House, and "Our Fitz," even then a boy general, had been gallantly fighting every inch of the ground to prevent Pleasanton from crossing the Rapidan, and successfully; for, so far as I know, none of his troops had crossed the river. I, with a party of nine, had flanked the right of Pleasanton's line, and was pushing through the woods to gain the rear, when I ran into and was captured by the 6th New York Cavalry. I had on a pair of new boots and two beautiful blisters on each heel. As long as I could move, under excitement, I did not feel the pain; but when captured and made to stand still a while, I found I could not walk. Fortunately I had been turned over to a good fellow, a sergeant in the 6th New York, who, seeing my inability to walk, gave me the privilege of riding behind him, though but a few minutes before he had his six-shooter at my head and was about to see how much of a hole a 40-calibre bullet would make in a man's skull at a close distance.

As we rode to the rear we emerged from the woods and to our left was a large open field, in which was a six gun battery having a picnic. I said: " Sergeant, that is my branch of the service. As we are not under any special orders, please ride over and let us watch the guns." When we arrived we found a six gun battery of 3-inch steel rifles—then the best gun known for field use. The guns were new, the harness, men and horses were spick and span, but they were doing some very poor shooting.

On the opposite side of the river, probably three quarters of a mile or so, there was a formation of the hills, by which the road was concealed, except for what I guess was about 200 yards. A train of wagons was attempting to pass this open space. They would come in view one at a time, evidently each driver would take a good start and by the time he opened up on the road his mules were going at a gallop. I would see him standing up in his stirrups, cracking his whip and could imagine the oaths and curses he uttered. I even thought I could hear some of them as some loud-mouthed fellow would come in sight and make the 200—such a dash as he had never done before. As soon as the lead mules would get in sight the Yankee guns would begin, but they shot slowly and with poor effect. The Sergeant and I sat for some time watching the fun. when he said: "Look at the guns coming out of the woods." I raised up eyes from the road and the demoralized drivers to a point a mile or so from where we were, back from the road probably a quarter of a mile was a body of woods with a bare hill sloping to a hollow, a point probably a little over half way between the timber and the road. Out from this timber was coming a section of Pelham's Battery at a full gallop, down the hill, over the branch, where we lost sight of them, and then coming in sight again just to the right of the point where the road was hidden by the hill.

An infantry charge reminds you of a moving wall that cannot be resisted; a charge of cavalry stirs the blood; but I have never known excitement to equal that of a battery of artillery going into action on a full run under fire. Over the top of the hill came these two guns, a cloud of dust almost hiding them, the horses straining every muscle, the men hanging to the horses or any part of the gun on which they could hold, those of the men that were mounted riding at full speed. When the top of the hill was reached there seemed to be no stop. The men threw themselves from their horses or fell from the guns and gathered in little squads; the guns were brought into action, and in half the time I am telling you this there was a little puff of smoke, a hoarse, shrieking sound, the sound of the explosion of the gun, and the fall of No. 1 at the sixth gun, whose leg was severed from his body. The sergeant and I both broke into a simultaneous cheer, for, though an enemy, he was a first-class soldier and recognized the gallant fight the two little guns were going to put up. They looked little from our distance, but, like little men, they spoke loud, and with that sort of a sound that made one think you hear me. The second shot was almost as quick as that from the first gun and fell just in front of the battery, then a shell from the first burst over the third section, a fourth, fifth and sixth following in close succession, that, had we known then of quick-tiring guns, we would have thought these rebels across the river had two six-pound quick-firing guns, and that the "men behind the guns" knew how to use them. The Yankee battery was taken so much by surprise at the audacity of two little guns daring to break up their fire on the wagons that they did not recover their balance until Pelham's guns had fired five or six rounds; then they began to reply. About this time it occurred to me that I had no business there, that those rebels were no respectors of persons, and that I might get hurt, as for a long time I knew that they had no more sense than to shoot to kill. I suggested this to the sergeant, and for once during those days the Yankee and rebel thought alike, and we not only thought quick, but we moved quickly, and soon were out of direct range. But we could not get out of the sound of those two little spit-fires on the other hill; it was slap-bang, slap-bang, until the sound was almost continuous.

They got in about as many shots with two guns as their adversary did with six; the latter were evidently green hands. We rode back some distance, the road not being in the direct line of fire, and halted with the Sixth New York Regiment. In a short time I cannot say how long, for I do not believe any man can estimate whether a battle lasts ten minutes or two hours the six-gun battery came to the rear. The little devils on the other hill had made it too hot for them.

I give this reminiscence of one little episode brought out by the unveiling of Pelham's portrait at the George E. Pickett Camp, and if you think it worth while you can publish it.

J. B. MOORE.