Saturday, October 25, 2014

Prattville Dragoons October Camp Meeting - Part 2, The Gallant John Pelham

Dr. William Dean provided an outstanding presentation on "The Gallant John Pelham (1838-1863)" as guest speaker at the October 9th camp meeting of the Prattville Dragoons.  The following are his notes but his delivery, expounding on this outline made it a most enjoyable speech.

John Pelham was born on September 7, 1838 in Calhoun County, Alabama.  He would become one of Alabama's most gallant sons in the War Between the States.  His father was a doctor and prosperous farmer and the family was deeply Presbyterian in their faith.  He grew to nearly six feet tall but weighed a reedy 150 pounds  and grew strong working on the family farm.  He was accepted to West Point in 1856 at the age of 17. He was one of 71 plebes.
John was a very good athlete and was popular at West Point. He struggled mightily with math and did incur several disciplinary tours.  He was often sick.
At the end of 1860 and beginning of 1861 southern cadets began resigning their positions and going south to their home states. Pelham was an ardent secessionist, but was torn by his love of West Point.  In late March 1861, he was given a commission as a First Lieutenant in the C.S.A.  He fought to stay on to graduation in May but left the USMA two weeks before graduation . Pelham was one of the last two Southerners to leave the academy.
John had a tough time traveling through the North enroute to his home as tensions were. Upon arriving, he stayed home for a brief time and then joined his unit in May. Pelham took two family slaves with him as servants to Virginia. John joined a green unit, the Alberta Battery consisting of men from all over the South. Pelham's first combat was the Battle of First Manassas in July 1861,. He commanded outdated artillery and untrained men.
From the beginning, Pelham showed great courage and competence in battle at Manassas as his battery repelled Sherman's counter-attack. In this battle, the CSA captured 28 cannons and 37 caissons, which helped them to modernize their artillery. Manassas established Pelham as a fearless officer and a skilled artillerist. He was horrified by the casualties though and learned war was not glo rious. Battle was a combination of exhilaration and repugnance.

General J.E.B. Stuart wanted Pelham for horse artillery. Pelham briefly went back to Alabama to recruit for the horse artillery. John emerged as a taskmaster and perfectionist . He taught his men to rapidly fire their artillery pieces.  
                                Pelham's artillery became an integral cog in Stuart's cavalry . He had 8 cannons of varying types. In March 1862, Pelham was made a captain. By April 1862, he commanded 158 men and 130 horses.  Pelham became a close friend with Jeb Stuart. Both Pelham and Stuart were excessive risk takers .
At the beginning of McClellan's Peninsula campaign, Pelham covered the Confederate retreat from Williamsburg. He showed great calm and courage on the battlefield. He depended on captured Yankee artillery and was able to slow McClellan down.
At the Battle of Gainesville, Pelham with one cannon engaged two Union batteries. Often he was outnumbered in artillery duels . Pelham was a key part of the Confederate victory at Gaines Mill. This ended the Union advance towards Richmond . During this campaign he drove back a Union gunboat and prevented Yankee troops from landing on the River Bank . Pelham was quite adept at counter-battery fire.
By August, Pope was in command of the Union Army and Robert E. Lee was in charge of the CSA Army. Soon Pelham was part of Stuart's raids and destroyed Yankee locomotives . He was given a second battery and promoted to Major. In combat he would sometimes personally man the guns. Pelham always aggressively brought his guns to the front lines.
At the Battle of Second Manassas, his battery was reduced to one gun. He fought Yankee infantry at 60 yards away with canister . His unit was almost over-run . Stonewall Jackson had great confidence in him and allowed him to place his guns where he elected to do so. He reserved re-enforcements of men and guns but ran out of ammunition.  Pelham fired enfilading canister into retreating Yankee troops . At Second Manassas, he fought 48 hours without sleep.  He had great stamina and his men loved him.
Dr. Dean with Dragoons Commander Waldo

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