Monday, October 27, 2014

Prattville Dragoons October Camp Meeting - Part 3, 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 conclude his notes on Pelham but his delivery, expounding on this outline made it a most enjoyable speech.

At the beginning of Lee's invasion in September of 1862, the Confederates were searching for the Federals. While Stuart & Pelham were waiting for the Yankees, they'attended a dance in UrbanaMaryland. When they heard Union troops were nearby, they left the party and engaged in combat. When the small battle was over, they went back to the dance . Soon the dance hall was turned into a hospital and the ladies became nurses a day later. Pelham soon thereafter was fighting at South Mountain, covering Longstreet's retreat. Pelham gave Lee time to concentrate his forces at Sharpsburg.

The night before the Battle of Sharpsburg, Pelham placed his guns on Lee's left at Nicodemus Hall. His guns would dominate the battlefield and provide enfilading fire.  Pelham's three batteries raked Hooker's infantry with canister and then he engaged in counter-battery fire.  At the height of the battle, Pelham ceased battery fire and helped the women and children of Nicademy Farm escape. Union infantry attacked Pelham's battery; and he could not tell who was friend or foe because of the smoke . His fire enabled D.H. Hill to re-enforce Jackson.  Pelham moved his batteries south and helped save the Confederate center.  Union counter-battery fire killed Pelham's horses and destroyed some of his cannon. Pelham showed pure genius at Antietam.  Pelham's superb training kept the Yankees' off guard.  Stuart and Pelham were effective partners. Pelham covered Lee's retreat into Virginia and at one home he let a little girl fire his cannon.
In the fall of 1862, Pelham was in command of five batteries and 600 men. Before battles he often petted his guns as if they were animals. Part of the Fall was spent at Bower plantation, where he courted Sallie Dandridge. Pelham fought a Yankee cavalry raid and the came back to dinner with Sallie.  Pelham was a part of Stuarts's raid into Pennsylvania and Maryland in October. To keep his Artillery rapidly moving, he had to constantly change horses. John made it possible to escape Union cavalry . In this raid, Stuart captured 1,200 horses and 30 artillery pieces. Because of Pelham's consistent courage and competence, Stuart petitioned for his promotion.
He helped repel the Union invasion in Northern Virginia in the late fall.  Pelham was feared by Union cavalry . During a series of small battles Pelham man-handled the guns and loaded and armed the pieces.  Pelham and Tom Rosser now fought together side by side.  He repelled a Yankee infantry attack against his battery with his saber . His troops were surrounded but he cooly exhorte d his men to fight on. The Napoleon detachment sang the Marseilles . He lifted his hat to salute his men. He slept outdoors with his men.  Pelham had a great coup d'oeil, eye for the battlefield.
                      By December the Confederate Army moved south to Fredericksburg to defend against Burnside's invasion. As usual Pelham went to a dance and courted the ladies on the eve of battle. The Battle of Fredericksburg was the first time in the Civil War that Confederate artillery was systematically massed. Pelham commanded 18 guns at this battle.

             From well protected position Pelham fired one gun into Meade's advancing troops. He used enfilading fire against advancing union artillery and infantry. The Union batteries massed against Pelham's one gun. No Confederate guns but Pelham's, was firing at this point. Nonetheless, Pelham's battery held up Union advance for more than an hour. Stuart sent a message to Pelham that said, "Get back from destruction you infernal, gallant fool, John Pelham."  Pelham only left when he ran out of ammunition. He had great positive impact on southern morale. Lee called him, "the gallant Pelham". This was the largest number of guns under the command of Pelham . After an intense day of fighting, Pelham and  his men built field fortifications.  The only result of the battle was a flood of women's tears from the St. Lawrence to the Rio Grande . Pelham's courage was reported in the Layden Journal.
Pelham always blushed at praise made about himself. He joined another Stuart raid in Janua ry 1863 and came within 12 miles of Washington D.C. Pelham excelled in 3 categories: leadership , courage, and ability . He exuded a quiet confidence and demonstrated great charisma with his men..
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            Pelham showed cool judgment and had a passion for combat. He was an innovator. Pelham was not a good organizer or disciplinarian but other commanders wanted Pelham to work for them but he wanted to stay with Stuart .
              From Christmas 1862 to march of 1863, he found more women to court . Pelham was charmed by the independent Bessie Shacklefords. Women were strongly attracted to this slim,blushing blonde. A lady from Alabama gave him a 12  pound cannon ball as a gift. Ladies made him dandy. 
In mid-March he took advantage of Stuart to visit the Shackleford ladies.  He became involved in a Battle at Kelly's ford at St. Patrick's in 1863.  He rode to battle with Stuart and Gilmore .  During the height of battle reconnaissance  he led a cavalry charge with Sword in hand.  Ironically, he was wounded by shrapnel from artillery fire.  Pelham was wounded  in the skull and was found on the ground smiling. Stuart said, our loss was irreparable and began to weep.  John was taken by ambulance to the Shackleford house.  The ladies, he had just met were very distressed . Three surgeons could,not save  him; his skull was shattered . Gilmore took a piece of his skull for a memento .  Bessie stood vigil over
him until his death at 1:00 A .M. Stuart kissed his brow with tears in his eyes and took a lock of his hair.  Pelham's gunners wept .

Pelham's body was displayed in the capital in Richmond.  He went by train to Montgomery , where he laid in state at the Alabama Supreme Court building. At the end of March he was buried near his home in Jacksonville, Alabama. John Pelham was perhaps the most gallant son of Alabama in the War Between the States.

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