One of Alabama’s most outstanding young men whose personal bravery and military expertise caught the attention of both Gen. Lee, Ge. Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, and J.E. B. Stuart was John Pelham, commander of an artillery battery, from Jacksonville, Alabama. He was enrolled in West Point when the WBTS began; he resigned a few weeks short of graduation in order to accept a commission in the Alabama State Militia. State Militias or State Troops were either released by the governor into the regular Confederate Armies or kept locally to defend the state.
John Pelham soon went to Virginia where his well-drilled and disciplined battery caught the eye of J.E.B. Stuart. Thereafter, he was involved in every major military engagement of Stuart’s cavalry from First Manassas to Kelly’s Ford, more than 60 encounters.
Pelham particularly distinguished himself as Chief of Stuart’s Artillery at the Battles of Sharpsburg and Fredericksburg. At Sharpsburg (the deadliest day in the WBTS), Pelham’s battery harassed the flanks of oncoming Union lines causing numerous casualties and breaking up battle formations. Without the Pelham Battery’s constant barrage, Gen. Lee’s army would have been surrounded in Maryland and the war would have ended there. Gen. Stonewall Jackson said of him, “It is really extraordinary to find such nerve and genius in a mere boy. With a Pelham on each flank, I believe I could whip the world.”
General Lee’s army would have been destroyed at Fredericksburg, except for Pelham’s guns positioned well in advance of the main Confederate line which held up the entire flank of the union Army of the Potomac for several hours enabling the Confederates to repel a series of strong attacks. Gen. Robert E. Lee, in his official report commended Pelham for “unflinching courage” while under direct fire from multiple Union batteries. At the time Pelham had only two guns remaining in service with which he enfiladed the entire advancing Federal lines of battle. Gen. Lee himself, used the term “the gallant Pelham” for our Alabama artillerist and that epitaph remains today.
John Pelham was on horseback waving his cap and urging the infantry on: “Forward boys! Forward to victory and glory”; when he was shot and killed at the battle of Kelly’s Ford. He was 24 years old. There is a life-size monument of him in downtown Jacksonville, (Alabama).