Confederate artillery officer Major John Pelham died March 17th 1863 during the Battle of Kelly‘s Ford.
John Pelham was born September 7th 1838 on Cane Creek in Alexandria, Alabama, the son of Doctor and Martha [McGehee] Pelham. He grew up on his families plantation, where he learned to be a proficient rider. With the help of his local United State Congressman Sampson Willis Harris, Pelham received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point. While at West Point Pelham was popular with his class mates, and ranked highest in his class in cavalry tactics. With the Civil War brewing Pelham resigned on April 22nd from West Point just two weeks before graduation in 1861.
Upon returning home, with the Civil War under way, Pelham accepted a commission in the Alabama militia. He soon became a Lieutenant in the artillery, a part of Confederate General Joseph E Johnston’s army. Pelham was quickly noticed by Confederate Cavalry General JEB Stuart, who transformed Pelham’s battery into Horse Artillery. Pelham and his artillery were involved in over 60 fights, including First Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. At Sharpsburg his guns harassed the flanks of the Union line causing heavy casualties. Lieutenant General Thomas Stonewall Jackson said of Pelham after the battle, “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."
On March 17th 1863 at the Battle of Kelly’s Ford, Pelham took part in a cavalry charge. He was standing in his stirrups to urge his men forward, when he was struck in the head by a piece of exploding Union artillery shell. Pelham was carried six miles to the Culpeper Courthouse, where he died without ever regaining consciousness.