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Harris Hunt McGee Pelham

Article Detailing Genealogy And Service Record Of John Pelham, Calhoun County, Alabama.

(This paper, by Mrs. Emmie Martin Hunt, of Ozark, Ala., won the Mary Lou Dancy prize, Alabama State Division, U. D. C.)

Among the hills of Calhoun County, Ala., when the Indian war whoop had scarce ceased reverberating, there was born a boy whose name will ever keep its place in Southern history and bring a thrill of admiration to the hearts of those who love to read a youthful daring.

The first known ancestor of John Pelham was Peter Pelham, an engraver of Chicester, England. His son, Peter Pelham, came to Boston in 1726. He, too, was an engraver and painter of considerable note. Many of his portraits and engravings are still treasured in New England. A third Peter Pelham, son of the above, removed to Williamsburg, Va., when a very young man. He became one of the best known musicians of Colonial Virgina. His son, Charles Pelham, born July, 1748, held the position of major in the Continetnal army and after the close of the Revolutionary War removed to Marysville, Ky.

Dr. Atkinson Pelham, son of Major Charles Pelham, was born near Marysville, November 21, 1797. He graduated from Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, married Miss Martha McGee, of Pearson County, N. C., and a few years later moved to Alexandria, Calhoun County, Ala. On September 14, 1838, a son was born to them, of whose heroism and daring it has been the pleasure of historians to write, of great war chieftains to speak, and about whom this narrative is written.

John Pelham spent a very happy boyhood around the old home at Alexandria. Much time was devoted to outdoor sports, and early in life he became a superb horseman. In 1856 he was appointed cadet at West Point by Congressman Sampson W. Harris. He became a member of the only five year class ever organized there, which accounts for his presence at the academy in 1861. He was assigned to Company D, composed chiefly of Southern men.

A member of Pelham's class, Major General Ames, who faced Pelham's guns at Bull Run, also in McClellan's Peninsula Campaign, says of him: "He was a general favorite in the corps of cadets, and, I think I am safe in saying, the most popular man in our class. He was a gentleman in the highest sense of the term. A discourteous act was wholly foreign to his nature. His kindly heart, sweet voice, and genial smile carried sunshine with him always. What he instictively claimed for himself he graciously conceded to others."

Colonel Dupont, also of the Union army, says: "John Pelham, of Alabama, entered the Military Academy with me. He was of medium height, very straight, and with a remarkably well-proportioned figure. His complexion was not very fair, although his eyes were blue and his hair decidedly blonde. Altogether he was a very handsome youth, with attractive manners, which lent an additional charm to his open and engaging countenance. Although his natural abilities were good, he could not be called clever and did not stand very high in his class, my recollections being that he did not apply himself particularly to his studies. He was, however, a young man of high tone and decided character, and his proficiency in military exercises and inall that pertained to a soldier's life made him a cadet noncommissioned officer and cadet officer."

Pelham passed his final examinations and would have received his commission had he reamined at the Academy a few days longer. But the Southern sky was overcast by the dark cloud of sectional strife, and Alabama called her sons to come to her defense. Pelham resigned his cadetship and started South. At New Albany, Ind., the Federal authorities refused to allow him to proceed. Disguising himself as one of General Scott's couriers, he escaped and made his way to Jeffersonville. While watching his chance to slip across the river, he became acquainted with a pretty Yankee maid, who at once fell in love with the handsome young soldier. Later he gained here confidence enough to disclose his identity without fear of betrayal and told her of his intentions to go South. She urged him to stand by the "old flag," but, seeing her entreaties were of no avail, she offered to ferry him across the river. The following day they took a skiff for a pleasire row on the Ohio, but he never returned, They landed on the Kentucky side, where he bade her farewell and immediately made his way to Montgomery, where he reported for duty. He was commissioned first lieutenant of field artillery in the regular army and placed in charge of the ordnance at Lynchburg, Va. He was soon transferred to Winchester, where he was assigned as drillmaster of Alburtis' Battery. The superb courage which he displayed at Manassas in handling these guns attracted the attention of General Stuart, who soon afterwards intrusted him with the organization of six pieces of horse artillery. Some of these men were from Virginia and Maryland, but most of them were from Alabama. This six-gun battery was the nucleus around which gathered the brave body of men known as Stuart's artillery.

At Williamsburg, Pelham had his first opportunity of engaging the men of his new command. The coolness with which he directed them would have done credit to a veteran.

In the battles that followed he was like a meteor, dazzling his superior officers by the daring of his onrushes, never hesitating until he was in the thickest of the fight. At Cold Harbor, for an entire day, he engaged three heavy batteries with a single Napolean gun, fighting with such stubborn determination that General Jackson grasped his hand and thanked him for his wonderful service. During this battle Pelham advanced one gun one-third mile, and for more than an hour it was the only gun on the Confederate left firing.Shortly after this, with only one gun, he forced a Federal gunboat to retire from the "White House."

At Second Manassas he again received the thanks of old Stonewall. Here he thrust his guns almost into the enemy's columns and used them with bloody effect. During this fight Jackson said to Stuart: "General, if you have another Pelham, give him to me."

The battery of "Jeb" Stuart's "boy artillerits" had become famous. At the battle of Sharpsburg he was placed in command of almost the entire artillery in the left field. How well he deserved the confidence placed in him could be seen by the havoc wrought by his guns that day.

Again, at Sheperdstown, his guns could be heard fo hours. He accompanied Stuart on that bloody march from Aldie to Markham's fighting against overwhelming odds, firing until the enemy was within a few paces of his guns, falling back a short distance to take up the fight again. On this march he was far ahead, with only one gun, when Stuart ordered him to retire. He begged to remain a little longer. His cannoneers ran away and left him. He loaded the piece and fired almost into the face of the enemy, then, mounting one of the lead horses, began to gallop away with the cannon, but the horse was shot from under him. Quickly cutting the traces, he mounted another, which was also immediately shot down, and he escaped with the gun only after the third horse had been shot down and cut from the traces.

But it was at Fredericksburg the Pelham showed his true greatness and utter disregard of danger. The flower of the South's young manhood was on the heights that day. Jackson, Stuart, and Lee rode down the lines. Stuart called to Pelham and said something. Pelham, turning, galloped to his guns. Immediately he dashed down the heights, followed by one gun, never halting until the foot of the heights was reached. The mist that hung over the fields cleared away, and the Southerners saw, sweeping toward them, a long compact blue line. Pelham gave the order to fire. The shell went crashing through the charging line of blue. The Federals recoiled, then with a yell pressed toward the single gun. For a moment there was a ghastly hush, then from across the Rappahannock came boom on boom and huge shells, whirling death in their arms. Pelham had drawn upon himself the concentrated fire of half a dozen batteries. Yet his gun continued to roar and carry death with it. No other gun on the Confederate side had yet opened, but the Federals were unable to pass that single Napolean. Three times that day Pelham drove them back. Although he could not be seen for the dense cloud of shot and shell, he never ceased firing until his ammunition was exhausted and, in obedience to a peremptory order, he retired. He was then placed in command of the entire artillery on the right flank, and throughout the day repulsed the Federals with fearful slaughter. Of him General Lee said: :It is glorious to see such courage in one so young." His name will ever be remembered just as it was written by Robert E. Lee in his report of that day's battle-"the gallant Pelham"-the only name below the rank of major general mentioned in the rport.

For his heroic courage Pelham was promoted from major of horse artillery to lieutenant colonel, and his commission only awaited confirmation when he was killed.

On the night of March 17, 1863, while visiting friends in Culpepper County, he heard the sound of guns at Kelley's Ford. He hurried to the scene. His command had not arrived, but he galloped up to a regiment that was wavering and shouted: "Forward, boys. Forward to victory and glory!" Order was instantly restored, but his devotion was crowned with a soldiers death. A fragment of shell penetrated the brain and stilled forever the sweet and winning figure of the "boy artilleryman." General Stuart, in a telegram announcing his death, said: "The noble, the chivalric, the gallant Pelham is no more. How much he was beloved, appreciated, and admired let the tears of agony we here shed and the gloom of mourning throughout my command bear witness. His loss is irreparable." His body lay in state in the Capitol at Richmond and was afterwards sent to Jacksonville, Ala., for burial.

General Stuart, in a general order to the division, said: "His eye had glanced over every battlefield of this army, from the first Manassas to the moment of his death, and he was, with a single exception, a brilliant actor in all. The memory of the gallant Pelham, his many virtues, his noble nature, and purity of character is enshrined as a sacred legacy in the hearts of all who knew him. His record has been bright and spotless; his career brilliant and successful. He fell-the noblest of sacrifices-on the alter of his country, to whose glorious service he had dedicated his young life from the beginning of the war."

By order of General Stuart, the horse artillery and division staff wore military badges of mourning for thirty days in respect to this cherished memory.

A monument has been erected to his memory at Jacksonville, Ala. His photograph and his commission hang in the Confederate Museum at Richmond.

"His deeds upon many a bloody field will live in history, story, and song. His memory is enshrined in the hearts of men and women who followed and loved the Stars and Bars, and his fame will last as long as deeds of bravery and daring are related."

SOURCE: Confederate Veteran Magazine, September, 1922.

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