Document 15: Letter from Charles Pelham to Martha Coffin Wright, 12 March 1861, Osborne Family Papers, Department of Special Collections, Syracuse University Library.
Charles wrote his response to Martha’s letter of December 1860 only a month before the start of the Civil War (see Document 14). Charles reported rather proudly that an abolitionist and two black people had been lynched in his hometown of Talladega, Alabama, while in the next sentence professing love for his abolitionist aunt. Soon after this letter, Charles entered the Alabama Infantry. He and his five brothers all served in the Confederate Army.
12th March 1861
Your letter of the 21st of Decr was quite a treat. I enjoy’d your home thrusts at the Seceeders very much. You are as much mistaken in regard to the privacy of our letters as you are about our institutions & prospects generally. I will admit that you live in a government more despotic than the Austrian but deny that I do.
Now Aunt Martha just lay aside your abolition prejudices one moment & say if you dont like the bold stance the Cotton States have taken? It would have been better if we had disolved our connexion with the Mother Government years ago--but we are now clear of it & the day is not far distant when our Southern flag shall be omnipotent from the gulf of Panama to the coast of Delaware “when Cuba shall be ours,” when the western breeze shall kiss our flag as it floats in triumph from the guilded turrets of Mexico’s capital, when the well clad, well fed, Southern Christian Slave shall nightly beat his Tamborine & Banjo amid the orange bowered groves of Central America; and when a Pro Slavery Legislature shall meet in council in the Halls of the Montezumas.
Many changes have taken place since I received your letter--in fact too many for me to devote much attention to any of them--one among the many is--that on the 22nd Jany I was married in Louisville Ky to Miss Lulie Johnston--Daughter of Hon. Geo W Johnston,--Judge of the City Court of that city. Aunt Ann Miller--Carrie & Henry Pelham were at the wedding.[A] Carrie has grown to be a beautiful & accomplished young lady. Henry is a junior at the Ky Mil Inst--a fine dashing young man--will make a fine officer. He is decidedly Southern in his feelings and I trust will some day hold a commission in the Southern Army.
One Hundred & Eighty of our boys went about three weeks since to Fort Morgan near Mobile. Nearly all of them my personal friends. Many of them my old School Mates and boon companions--several of them near relatives & among the number was my brother William. Three Hundred volunteered for 12 months but gov. Moore only received 180 of them. Bro Will[B] is now in Fort Morgan--and we just dare Old Abe to attempt to retake the property he calls “public.”
You ask if Bro John has seceeded? He has not but he expects to every day he has his resignation written out, his permission in his pocket and a Commission of 1st Lieut in the Confederate Army and as soon as it is probable there will be an engagement he will leave in six hours.[C] Gov Moore & his friends at the Capital wanted him to come home in Jany but he preferred to stay till he graduated unless actual hostilities began. The appropriations for the Military academy were made before Ala seceeded & he is the only student remaining from Ala to reap the benefit of the money Alabama appropriated through the United States to the Mil Academy.
Your allusion to the mulatto race was an unfortunate one for while Mulattos in the South are the offspring of the male Stage drivers & School teachers who come from the north. Your Mulattos are a necessary consequence from the great number of females in the north who marry Buck negroes. Your own Statistics show this to be a fact. To the credit of the government in which I live be it said there is no such record. Nor is there an instance of that kind in the whole of the Cotton States. I would not refer to this had it not been called out – in answer to what you wrote.
We boys are all secessionists but Pa[D] & Lulie (my wife) are very conservative--we call them submissionists. My partner cast the vote of Ala in the Baltimore convention for Stephen A. Douglass.[E] You can guess his politics from that. You complain of the way abolitionists are treated in the South. We hung one to a china tree on the square last Oct without a Judge or Jury--we tried three negroes by a jury of citizens & hung two of them before court. I had no hand [in] it but many of our best citizens did. Pa asked me to assure you of his continued love & esteem. Lulie sends her love.
A. Charles referred to various Pelham relatives here. His aunt Ann Pelham had married Alexander Miller and moved from the Pelham home in Maysville to her husband’s home in Millersburg, Kentucky. Caroline Pelham was a first cousin of Charles and a daughter of Charles Pelham of Batesville, Arkansas. Henry Pelham was a nephew of John Pelham of Maysville whom Martha had met when she visited there in 1853.
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B. Charles’s brother William would become a prisoner of war and would write to Marianna for help in obtaining a parole (see documents 19 and 20).
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C. John would secede in April, shortly after the firing on Fort Sumter (see documents 16 and 17).
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D. Charles’s father was Atkinson Pelham, an Alabama doctor. Martha had known Atkinson in Philadelphia in the 1820s, and had corresponded with him for several years after her first husband Peter Pelham’s death in 1826.
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E. Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois was the Presidential candidate of the Northern Democrats in 1860 (the Democratic party split, the Southern Democrats nominating John C. Breckenridge). Douglas won only 12 electoral votes, but he ran second in the popular vote.
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