Document 17: Letter from John Pelham to Marianna Pelham Mott, 26 March 1861, Garrison Family Papers, Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.


       Soon after the firing on Fort Sumter, John Pelham traveled to Alabama to become an officer in the Confederate Army. But on his way south, he stopped in Philadelphia to visit Marianna, her mother Martha Wright, and other members of their family. John’s skill and courage at the Battle of Fredericksburg later led General Robert E. Lee to label him “gallant Pelham,” a name by which he is still known and honored throughout the South. He was killed in action in March 1863 at the age of 24; his body was laid in state in Richmond and viewed by thousands before being returned to Alabama for burial. None of “gallant Pelham’s” several biographers appear to have known that on his trip south to take up arms against the Union, John stopped in Philadelphia to visit his abolitionist cousin and aunt.[20]

                                                                                 West Point N.Y.
                                                                                         March 26th / ’61

Dear Cousin

       I am just in receipt of your kind letter of the 23rd Inst.

       I would like above all things to meet your Mother and Sister in Phila.--it may be the only opportunity I will ever have of seeing them.[A] I am most anxious to see them, but can not say when I will leave. If I remain to get my diploma I will have to wait till 15th June. But whether I will stay till then is the question. I am not master of my own acts at present. I have been appointed a 1st Lieutenant in the Army of the “Confederate States of America.” My appointment has been confirmed by the Congress. The appointment was made without my consent or knowledge. I cannot accept an appointment from them as long as I am a member of this Institution, but if I am recalled by the Authorities, I will obey it. I have thus far resisted every overture, on the part of my friends, to resign., disregarded their advice and braved their anger. My father and brothers alone wished me to graduate. I had no idea I was so well supplied with friends. All seemed to vie with each other in attempting to force me to resign. I have worked almost five years for my diploma, and it pains me to give up the undertaking now--besides all this, it chagrins me to be forced to leave an undertaking unfinished. I believe there is only two Cadets here at present from the Seceded States--Myself and a classmate from Texas.[B] We will leave together--in June--or before, as the fates will it. We have been living together for three or four years, and I feel like we are inseperable--like his presence is necessary to my happiness. If we leave before June, it will be in about two weeks. You must allow me to introduce him.

       I suppose you have heard of Bro’ Charles’ Marriage, through Aunt Ann[C] or some of our Kentucky kin. I believe Aunt Martha knew Bro’ Chas--if so, tell her, he married one of the nicest ladies in Ky. So they all write--I have never seen her.

       I had a letter from Henry Pelham[D] a few days since, he says all are well in Ky. Sister is almost crazy about her Sister--it is the first she has ever had.[E] I think it would be doing her a kind and brotherly act to present her with another, but none of the girls will have me. It's the most unaccountable thing I ever heard of--don’t you think so?

       I can let you know definitely in a week or two whether I will have the pleasure of visiting you before you leave Phila.

       If anything could compensate me for giving up my dearest object--graduating--it is the pleasure I would have in visiting your family, your Mother & Sister.

       Tell Cousins Belle & Emily[F] we may get another ride together--and then I will teach them to ride like Cavalry officers. Give them my best love. Remember me kindly to Mr. Mott.

                                                                                                 Jno. Pelham


A. Martha Wright and her daughter Ellen Wright were both expected to be in Philadelphia within a few weeks. The family was gathering to celebrate the golden wedding anniversary of Lucretia and James Mott.
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B. Thomas Rosser, who resigned West Point and traveled south with John Pelham in April 1861. Rosser became a Colonel in the Confederate Cavalry and frequently fought alongside John, who became a Major in the Horse Artillery under General J. E. B. Stuart. Rosser was in the March 1863 battle at Kellys Ford, Virginia, where John was killed. John Pelham was posthumously promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.
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C. Marianna had met Charles’s aunt, Ann Pelham Miller, on her visits to Maysville, Kentucky, and they corresponded for some years regarding family doings.
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D. A Kentucky cousin of John and his brothers, also referred to by Charles in a letter to Martha Wright (see Document 16).
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E. John had five brothers but only one sister, Elizabeth (Betty).
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F. Marianna’s daughters Isabel, then 15, and Emily, then 13, whom John had met on an earlier visit to Philadelphia.
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