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Boy Major

02/27/2013

 

The city of Jacksonville will host a weekend to remember on March 16-17, when it commemorates the 150th anniversary of the death of Major John Pelham, CSA, dubbed The Gallant Pelham by General Robert E. Lee.

The weekend will include encampments throughout the city, guest speakers, historic tours, actors in period clothing and music by the Grammy Award-winning band Un-Reconstructed. The weekend will culminate on Sunday with a solemn funeral procession to the gravesite of The Gallant Pelham.

John Pelham was born September 7, 1838 in then Benton County, now Calhoun County. Although Alabama was still young and the Civil War was decades away, the Pelham family had a rich military history that included service in the American Revolution. John was the third of seven children and one of six sons born to Atkinson Pelham, a doctor, and Martha Munford McGhee, first cousin to politician Henry Clay.

Pelham was awarded an appointment to West Point in 1856 by the congressional representative from Talladega, The Honorable S.W. Harris. Pelham proved a popular cadet and his equestrian skills were legend long after his death. His was the only five-year class in the history of West Point, which explains why Pelham had been at West Point for four and a half years when he withdrew (just before he was to graduate) in 1861 to return to Alabama and join the confederate army. Fellow cadet Thomas Rosser (later a confederate general) left the academy at the same time and travelled with Pelham to Jacksonville, where they drilled new volunteers.  They then made their way to Montgomery where they entered the Confederate Army.

Pelham advanced quickly through the ranks from lieutenant to captain and then major.  He was not shy, giving advice to generals when he felt they needed it. Although Pelham wanted to join the cavalry, artillery officers were most needed then and he was drafted into service and assigned to oversee arms and ammunition at Lynchburg, Virginia.  He quickly won the trust and confidence of his superiors and was instrumental in defeating the Union army at Bull Run in the first major battle of the Civil War.

General J.E.B. Stuart then tapped him to organize and lead a mobile artillery unit, and Pelham was with Stuart at most every other major battle.  One of Pelham’s biggest victories was at Fredericksburg, where he held off a Union army of 120,000 men with only two guns.  He continued to shift positions, confusing the federal forces and disobeying repeated orders to withdraw, and getting high praise from General Robert E. Lee is his official report.

Dr. Harvey Jackson, History Professor Emeritus at Jacksonville State University said, “Pelham was one of the great romantic figures of the South.” Harvey also said “General Lee praised Pelham, and said although the Confederate Army didn’t give medals, General Lee made mention of Pelham on two occasions -- when he called him “Gallant Pelham” and another time when he said “It is glorious to see such courage in one so young!”

Sadly, the Boy Major was killed at the Battle of Kelly’s Ford at the age of twenty-four.  According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, “His body lay in state in Richmond and then was escorted to Jacksonville, Alabama, for burial.  Stuart named his daughter Virginia Pelham, and the towns of Pelham, Alabama and Pelham, Georgia, are named in honor of him.”

The following is an outline of the events that will be held in Jacksonville on Pelham commemoration weekend:

 

Saturday, March 16

  • Beginning at 8:00 a.m. – Guests can wander about the camps to speak to the re-enactors.
  • 9 a.m. – noon-- Events on the square including music, tours and notable sites, re-enactors.
  • Noon – 3 p.m. -- Prominent historical figures of the time in period costumes that relate to historical events.
  • 4:30 p.m. – until…Dance on the square to the music of “Un-Reconstructed”.

Sunday, March 17

  • Morning -- Services at St. Luke’s Episcopal, First Presbyterian, First United Methodist and First Baptist Churches.
  • 1 p.m. -- Join in the square for the Gallant Pelham funeral and procession re-enactment down “Wagon Road” (Pelham Road) to the historic Jacksonville Cemetery for the commemorative ceremony. The ceremony will take place at Major Pelham’s gravesite, culminating in a gun salute and cannon salute from Ketchum Battery for this artillery hero of the Confederacy.

 

We hope you are inspired to bring your family and friends to experience this hometown hero weekend.  This event is free of charge and all are welcome. The weekend is presented by the Major John Pelham Commemorative Committee and volunteers.

 

For additional information, contact Joe Maloney, joemmmaloney@yahoo.com or log onto John Pelham Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/Lt-col-John-Pelham/24070216881.

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