Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Wearing of the Gray: The Gallant Pelham

I’ve spent this summer adding some 1500 books in the General Collection of the MMI Archives to the MMI Archives Inventory. Among the numerous gems in this collection, one book that caught my personal interest is an 1867 (just two years after the Civil War) edition of John Esten Cooke’s Wearing of the Gray, one of the classic contemporary accounts of Confederate military history, and specifically centering on famed cavalry commander, General “Jeb” Stuart, a relative of John Esten Cooke. Through Stuart, Cooke, a writer more than a soldier, gained access to the top Confederate leadership in the Army of Northern Virginia, from General Robert E. Lee on down.

A lifelong Civil War buff, one of my favorite personalities is Major John Pelham, C.S.A. – “The Gallant Pelham” (1838-1863) from Alexandria, Alabama. Pelham, commander of the Stuart Horse Artillery, revolutionized the use of light artillery as a mobile arm of the cavalry. He was inducted into the Alabama Hall of Fame in 1955, and was among the first inductees into the Alabama Military Hall of Honor here at MMI in 1976.

John Pelham in his West Point furlough coat. Pelham left the Academy in 1861, just before graduating, to offer his services to Alabama and the Confederacy. (Credit: Valentine Museum, Richmond, VA, and the National Park Service)

The youthful Pelham was the darling of Stuart’s cavalry and a personal favorite of John Esten Cooke. The women loved him, the men admired him, and he displayed all the combat skills of a genuine battlefield hero. John Pelham fought in over 60 battles and skirmishes from 1861 to 1863 – never receiving a scratch – until that fatal day (St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1863) when a shell exploded in a cornfield at Kelly’s Ford, Virginia, mortally wounding him. He was 24 years-old when he died.

The title page of the 1867 edition of Wearing of the Gray includes the faded image of General “Jeb” Stuart from the facing page. (Credit: MMI Archives)

This illustration on page 17 of the book places Major John Pelham in rather high company! (Credit: MMI Archives)

One of my Virginia Civil War friends always refers to John Pelham as the “Robert Redford of the South!” In short, he had it all.

Here are a couple of quotes about Pelham:

Stonewall Jackson at Antietam: “With a Pelham on each flank, I believe I could whip the world!”

Robert E. Lee at Fredericksburg: “It is glorious to see such courage in one so young.” Lee called him “the gallant Pelham” in his official report.

Our edition of the Wearing of the Gray includes an illustration of Major Pelham receiving his mortal wound that I have never seen before – or, at least, it is not now attributed to John Pelham. I checked the images of Pelham on Google and Yahoo, plus the site of the John Pelham Historical Association. No one seems to have this image, so, I hope this is a revelation, something that got misplaced/omitted over the years in successive editions of the book.

The illustration of Major Pelham receiving his mortal wound at Kelly’s Ford, VA, March 17, 1863. (Credit: MMI Archives)

The “Gallant” John Pelham is buried in the City Cemetery in Jacksonville, Alabama, in his home county of Calhoun County.

John Pelham’s grave and monument in Jacksonville, Alabama. (Credit: