War and its Heroes/Major John Pelham
|War and its Heroes (1864) by
Major John Pelham
The "gallant Pelham," as he was styled by his commanding general, was a native of Alabama, and commanded the horse artillery attached to the cavalry division of General J. E. B. Stuart. He entered the army at the commencement of the war and was engaged in every battle fought in Virginia from the first Manassas, in 1861, to the battle of Keysville, March 17, 1863, where he fell mortally wounded, with the battle-cry on his lips and the light of victory beaming from his eye. The army correspondent of the [[Illustrated News] thus notices the sad event:
On the morning of the 17th of March, Averill's Federal cavalry, three thousand in the saddle, crossed the Rappahannock at Kelly's Ford and attacked about eight hundred of General Fitzhugh Lee's command, who faced, without shrinking, these great odds, and fought them stubbornly, at every point, throughout the entire day. THE WAR AND ITS HEROES. 61 "When the sun set on that tranquil evening — sinking slowly down behind th* quiet forest, unstirred by the least breath of wind — the long and desperate struggle was decided. The enemy was retiring "badly hurt;" and General. Stuart added in his dispatch, "We are after him. His dead men and horses strew the road." Nn border battle has been fought during the entire war; and never have the entmy reeled back in greater confusion before the Southern steel than here. Our heroes won the day by hard and di ,-hting, in charge aftr-r charge; but lost in the Struggle some of the most valiant hearts that ever beat. Pullor, Harris and Pelham were among the number — the "gallant l'elham" of the battle of Fredericksburg. He wie in the performance of his duty as chief ol artillery, and WM riding toward his general, when a regimeut of cavalry swept by him in a charge. He was waving his 1 1 cheering them on, when ■ ball from a carbine struck him en the head, mortally wounding him. lie lingered until after midnight, on the morning of the l*th, when General Stuart telegraphed to Mr. Curry, of Alabama: "The noble, the chivalric, the gallant l'elham is no more. He was killed in action yesterday. His remains will be Bent to you to-day. now much he was beloved, appreciated and admired, let the tears of agony we have shed, and the gloom of mourning throughout my command, bear witness. His loss is irreparable." The body of the young officer v to Piichmond — laid in state in the capital of Virginia — and we arc told that " some tender hand deposited an ever gr ee n wreath, intertwined with whil . upon the all that was mortal of the fallen U - family received the soldier V remains j they were taken to his Southern Virginia, ti had surrendered him to Alabama, the Ian I rth. Tn a general order i'-sui <1 on th< il Si ill said : • his comrades, it ii [well upon what you have so ofter> Von wvll know how, though young i genuini of deportmenl — h< ittle-field I «.f a vit. ran, and di irbeblc poolneei thil army, from the fir~t M ption, a brilliant .. i- .r in all. " Tlie memory of the and pur ty of chat irta ot all who knew hit .'"ccssful. He f'll — the I : vice be 1. war. "In token of rff . and iff will wear the military | days; aa C,2 THE WAR AND ITS BMtOHg, officer of >taff, Major Von Borcke, will place his remains in the posses- sion of hi*- bereaved family, to whom is tendered, in behalf of the division, the nan trance of heartfelt sympathy in this deep tribulation. " !n mourning bin departure from his accustomed post of honor on the field, let in strive to imitate hie ibUwi, and trait that what is loss to us, may be man than pain to him." When killed, Pedum wa> but twenty-four year> of age, but he had made for If a "greet immortal name." The correspondent of the " Illustrated News," above alluded to, famished that paper with the aunexed particulars in regard to his short but brilliant career : A - • • . greet Star, of Alabama, and descended from an old and honorable family then . he had more than the courage of his race and clime. Be chose arms a> his profession, and entered West Point, where he graduated just as the Wat commenced. He lost no time in offering his services to the South, and reoeived the appointment of first lieutenant in the Confederate States army. Proceeding to Harper's Kerry, when (General Johnston was in command there, he was assigned to duty a.* drill-officer of artillery, and in the battle of Manassas commanded a battery, which he fought with that obstinate and daring courage which afterwards rendered him so famous. He speedily attracted the attention of the other generals of the armj, and General J K. J>. Stuart entrusted him with the organization of the battalion of Horse Artillery which he Subsequently oommanded is nearly every battle of the war upon Virginia soil. Here I knew him first mettl when he took command of that now famous corps, a new ry fighting seemed to be inaugurated. The rapidity, the rash, the in the cavalry were grafted on its more deliberate brother. Not once, i itedly, has the Horse Artillery of Pelham given chase at full spee 1 i I Bying enemy ; and far in advance of all infantry support, unlimbered and hurled its thunders on the foe. It was ever at the point where the line was u ..,; however headlong the -barge of the cavalry, the whirling gtt»* ft de it, all ready for their part. Trot, march!" had yielded to g*Ui ; the battalion — it was rushed into position, and put in action with a rash 3 and 'wand out among the guns where the bolts fell thickest was the tillerist ; cool and self-possessed, but, as one of his officers bsM as gay a* a schoolboy at B frolic." He loved his profession for itsotn and often spoke to the officers above alluded to of the h< would have in the present campaign ; but 1 anticipate my subject ( '"' the command of General Stuart, he secured the warm SI d ' mited confidence of that general, who employed his services upon every occasion Thenceforth their fortunes seemed united, like their hearts; and the name of the young man became noised abroad as one of the most des- perate fighter? of the whole army He was rightly regarded by General Jacksou THE WAR AND ITS HEROES. 63 and others as possessed of a very extraordinary genius for artillery; and when any movement of unusual importance was designed, Pelham was assigned to the artillery to be employed. His career was a brief one, but how glorious! How crowded with great events that are history now. Let us glance at it : When our forces fell back from Manassas in 1801, his batteries had their part in covering the movement, and guarding the fords of the Rappahannock. During the campaign of the Peninsula, his Blakely was as a sentinel on post next tho enemy; and at the battle of Williamsburg his courage and skill transformed raw militia into veterans. Tn the seven days' battles around Richmond he won fade- less laurels. With one Napoleon, he engaged three heavy batteries, and fought them with a pertinacity and unfaltering nerve which made the calm face of (Jeneral .lack son L r low ; and the pressure of that heroic hand, warm and eloquent of unspoken admiration Soon afterwards, at the "White House," he engaged a gunboat, and driving it away, after a brief but hot encounter, proved how fanciful were the terrors of these "monsters," as they were then called. After that work in the Peninsula, the young man was famous. His L'reatest achievements were to come, however; and he hastened to record them on the enduring tablets of history. Prom the moment when his artillery advanced from the Rappahannock, to the time when it returned thither, to the day of Fredericksburg, the path of the young leader was deluded with the bltod of battle. At Mauassaa ho rushed his guns into the very columns of the enemy almost : fighting their sharpshooters with canister, amid a hurricane of balls. At Shaipsburg be had command sf nearly all the artillery on our left, and d ir e c ted it with the hand of the matter. When the arm y orossed hack into Virginia he * : pardstown, and guarded the f rd with an obstinate valor, which spoke in the regular and nn sensing ref er b eration of hie •mouthed N ■ they roared on, hour after hoar, driving bw k th*' uy. Of tho 'lay- whir' 1 that excitiog period, many persons will long hold tho memory U was io an h wu • a/hither tl war bore him I forth in all its In the old hall on I mnded !•■ s*ho reminded him - bin own in far Alabama; there, D the trampi , ,tnn, in that b< in- try I I to pa-s some of hit kin-: n — with meat, his courtesy, his hieh br< ill almost — blushing like a girl ftl times — and • with all aroun I I thai regal 1 nun an<l women which ■ the pre**: rossessor. In the beautiful Autumn forests; by the -t ream with :»ll oakt> of the lawn, he thus w . r a time — an • Alabama, but lo?ed, admired and cbemhed by warm hearts in alia. When 04 THE WAR AND ITS HEROES. he left the haunts of the old " bower " I think he regretted it. But work called him. The fiat had gone forth from the imperial closet at Washington, that another "On to Richmond should be attempted — and where the vultures of war hovered, there was the post Off duty for the Horse Artillery. The cavalry crossed the Rluc Hidge, and met the ad valuing column at Aldic — and l'elham was again in his clement, hurling destruction upon the ranks of General Bayard. Thenceforward, until the banks of the Kappahaunock were reached by the cavalry, falling back in order, ad was designed — from that instant the batteries of the BOOM Artillery disputed every step of ground. The direction of the artillery was hit with unhesitating confidence to the young officer ; and those who witnessed, during that arduous movement, the masterly handling of his gum. ean tell how this confidence was justified. It was the eye of the great soldier, the hand of the born artillerist which was evident in his work, during those days of struggle. He fell back neither too soon nor too late, and only limbered up his guns to unlimber again in the first position which he reached. Thus fighting every inch of the way from Aldie, round by Paris and Markham's, he reached tlm Rappahannock, and posted his artillery at the fords, where he stood and bade the enemy defiance. That page in the history of the war is scarcely known ; but those who were present know the obstinacy of the cont< and the nerve and skill which were displayed by the young officer. That may be uuknown, but the work done by l'elham on the great day of l"r« derieksburg is a part of history now. All kuow how stubbornly he stood on that day — what laurels encircled his young brow when night at last came. This was the climax of his fame — the event with which his name will be inseparably connected. With one Napoleon gun, he opened the battle on the right, and instantly drew upon himself the fire, at close range, of four batteries in front, and a heavy enfilading fire from 30-pOUnjd 1'arrois across the river. Rut this did not daunt him. Tliat NapoleOD gun wa- the same which he had used at the battle of Cold Harbour — it was taken from the enemy at Seven Pines — and, in the hands of the young officer it had won a fame which must not be tarnished by defeat ! It- grim voice must roar, however great the odds; its reverberating defiance must roll over the plain, until the bronze war dog was silenced. Bo it roared on steadily, with l'elham beside it, blowing up caissons and continuing to tear the enemy's ranks. General Lee was watching it from the hill above, and exclaimed, with eyes filled with admiration, " It is glorious to see such courage in one so young!" It was glorious, indeed, to sec that one gun, placed in an important position, J'old its ground with a firmness so unflinching and heroic — to sec a beardless boy sternly standiug in that horrible hurricane of shell, with iron resolution and a soul as immovable as rock. Not uutil his last round of ammunition was shot away did Pelhain retire, and then only after a peremptory order 6ent to him. He afterwards took command of the entire artillery on the right, and fought it until night with a skill and courage which were admirable. He advanced his guns steadily, and at nightfall wae thundering en the flank of THE WAT? AND : 05 the retreating foe, who no longer r< ; lied No tins ir came back from those batteries he had fought with 1p> Napol g — he had triumphed* That triumph was complete an 1 placed forevei uj a record, when the commander-in-chief, whom he loved and admired i him the name, in his report, of the "gallant Pelham." Supreme tribute to his courage — immortalizing him in history ! To he the none mentioned in all that host of heroes, and mentioned as the "gallant Pelham !" Thenceforward there was little f<>r him to desire. He had never cared fur rank, only ]<.> ; anil now his nam,' was deathless. It i« true that he had sometimes said, with modest and noble pride, that lie thought it some- what hard to be considered I 2 for promotion, when they gave him great commands — as at Sha lied on him when the hardest work w 1 in< . But he never d sired a mere title he had not won, and did hi* soldier's duty thoroughly, trusting to time. So noble and important, however, had been his recent services that promotion was a n of course. The President had appointed him a Lieutenant-Colonel, and it only awaited the formal confirmation of the Senate when he fell on tl 'ian- n"<-k. Ui- f.ill was a | unity to the nation, but none to him. It wa3 tit that such a spirit should lay down his irreat work the hard life of the world had dimmed the polish of the good kni| lie wai no promoti in at the 1 men. He had won, if not worn boo inished his ta^k, the ■ world. I adid, how rich in ' the an? ; n a ■■ with the leader tn combats, and fought hi of his h I ■ II — intuit - ; and th
that the - from the hands of the well known young leader. What terrified the foe was the guage of success to our own men. The roar of Pelham's Napoleons was a welcome sound. When the deep-mouthed thunder of those guns was heard, the faintest took heart, and the contest assumed a new phase to all - for that sound had proved on many a field the harbinger of Victory. At Manassas, Williamsburg, Cold Harbour, Groveton, Oxhill, Sharpsburg, Sheppardstown, Kearneysville, Aldie, Union, Upperville, Markham, Barbee's, Bazel River and Fredericksburg — at these and many other places, he fought his Horse Artillery. and handled it with heroic contempt of danger! One day, when I led him to speak of his career, he counted up something like sixty battles, great and small, which he had been in, and in every one he had borne a prominent part. Talk with the associates of the young leader in those hard-fought battles, and they will tell you a hundred instances of his dauntless courage. At Manassas, he took position in a place so dangerous, that an officer, who had followed him up to that moment, rode away with the declaration, that "if Pelham was fool enough to stay there, he was not." But General Jackson thanked him, as he thanked him at Cold Harbour, when the brave young soldier came back covered with dust from fighting his Napoleon — the light of victory in hi eye. At Markham, while he was fighting the enemy in front, they made a circuit and charged him in the rear; but he turned his gun about, and fought them, as before, with his "French Detachment," singing the loud, triumphant Moensacilois as that same Napoleon gun broke their ranks and drove them back. All that whole great movement was a marvel of hard fighting, however, and Pelham was the hero of the stout, close struggle, as he was of the hot contest on the right at Fredericksburg. Any other chief of artillery might have sent his men in, leaving the direction of the guns to such officers as the brave Captain Henry; hut this did not suit the young chieftain. He must go himself with the one gun forward, and beside that piece he remained until it was ordered back - directing his men to lie down, but sitting his own horse, and intent solely upon the movement- and designs of the enemy, wholly careless of the "fire of hell" hurled against him. It was glorious, indeed, as General Lee declared, to see such heroism in the boyish artillerist and well might General Jackson speak of him in terms of "exaggerated compliment" and ask General Stuart "if he had another Pelham, to give him to him!"
Modest, brave, loving and beloved — the famous soldfer, the charming com- panion, passed away from the friends who cherished him, leaving a void which n till. Alabama lent him to Virginia for a time; but, alas! pal.- face smiles no more as he return- to her. Many mourn his early death here where his -lory was won, as in the southern land from wheiiec he came. these— th< wile circle who loved him for his great qualities, and his kind, good heart — his loss is irreparable, as it is to the whole land. The "breed of noble minds" like hi- numerous, and, when such forms disappear, the gap is hard to Gil — the struggle for our liberties is more arduous than hefore. ]>ut the memory of this threat young soldier still reuiaius with us — his uame is immortal in history as in many heart* which throhbed at his death. GENERAL JOSEPH I ' STON JOHNS! -hr<l r<fCror i- <>n Hi' "" " H nnd bi Guilford, < oioa, wl nl.litcrni. . It b worth] the la: