Capt. John Pelham, of Calhoun county, who is now in the Confederate army at Manassas, temporarily in command of the Jeff Davis Artillery, is authorized to raise two hundred volunteers for mounted Artillerists, to serve during the war. The Confederate States will furnish 240 horses, and eight splendid brass cannon, wagons, caisson and equipments complete for men and horses.
This flying artillery, when raised and organised, is to have one Captain, 3 first and 3 second Lieutenants, and non-commissioned officers in proportion, and will be attached to Gen. J. E. B. Stewart’s Cavalry.
The artillery of 8 splendid brass guns—200 men rank and file, and 250 horses, has the novelty of being the only one in our service—in fact the only one in America. All the men or cannoneers are mounted on horses furnished by the government.
This doubtless will be the most desirable, pleasant, and efficient service in our entire army. The service will be active and energetic, the men will never be detailed guard, forts, fortifications, luggage or prisoners; neither will they be quartered in one place long at time. The career of this company is destined to be a brilliant one; and whenever or wherever there is likely to be a fight, they are bound to be in the front—sustained by the gallant General Stewart who commanded the Virginia “Black horse Cavalry” which struck such terror to the Yankee army on the plains of Manassas, on the 21st of July last.
If there be any young men who desire to enlist for the defense of their native sunny South—who desire eminent distinction, glory or renown, here is no doubt the finest opening that has yet been offered.
Doubtless it will be enquired who is to command this battery of mounted artillery. All we can say is, it is expected that John Pelham will be the captain. The officers will be elected by the company when organized.
It may be asked, who is John Pelham? It is with pride and pleasure we say he is the son Dr. A. Pelham, and was raised in this county, near Alexandria. He was educated at the military school at West Point—was five years—has been in the military service ever sine—was in the battle of Manassas on the 21st of July, had command of a battery on that day and did gallant service, having had his horse shot under him in the midst of the fierce conflict: He is a young man of fine attainments—high military culture—has been tried on the field of battle, and found equal to the emergency. If he has the honor to command this splendid company, we are satisfied that his men, his native State, and his Country will have cause to be proud of him.
We are informed by private letters, that Capt. Pelham could not be spared at present, to come home to aid in raising this company, he has sent out in his place, Lieut. Brown, who comes among us highly recommended. He is a native of Maryland, and is one of the gallant and patriotic young men, who at the commencement of hostilities, nobly left his native land, and joined General, (then Colonel) Stewart’s “Black Horse Cavalry”—as it was called by the terror stricken “Bull runners.”
Lieut. Brown was in the battle of Manassas and distinguished himself on that day. He will make his head quarters at Dr. Pelham’s in Alexandria, and at Jacksonville, where he may be consulted in reference to this important service.
We will close this article with an extract from a private letter from Capt. Pelham to a friend.
“Now is the time to serve your country—enlist the interest of the Ladies—tell them I want to do something to render myself worthy of them, and they must aid me in furnishing men. I have the finest equipments and the finest guns in the service, and I want good men to man them.”[i]
It sounded impressive on the page, but in reality, the Stuart Horse Artillery faced an uphill battle to get organized. The concept for the horse artillery had been hatched in General J.E.B. Stuart’s mind shortly after the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) when he saw the effectiveness of artillery and considered employing a Napoleonic tactic of pulling the cannons close to fire off a few rounds and quickly repositioning for continued effective fire. In his early proposals, Stuart wanted to form his artillery detachment by assigning two men from every company to man the two guns which would be provided by the governor of Virginia; this plan—while agreeable to the Virginians—did not meet with President Davis or Secretary of War Benjamin’s approval.
Then, Stuart ran into trouble finding a commander for his artillery scheme. His first pick—his cousin John Esteen Cooke—was turned down by the Confederate government, and since Cooke preferred to spend his days in Richmond and seemed to want little do with actually forming a unit and drill the available artillerymen, Stuart finally conceded and put his sights elsewhere. The second pick for leadership, James W. Breathed, was also roadblocked by Richmond authorities, though Breathed did join the unit and would eventually become its commander a few years later.
If the third try is supposed to a charm, Stuart’s third choice for horse artillery commander certainly had that quality abundance if later legends are believed. John Pelham turned twenty-three in the autumn of 1861 and had successfully led Alburtis’s Battery during the first battle. He had attended West Point, but left just prior to graduation and returned to Alabama, his homestate. A commission in the Confederate army waited for him, and he quickly reported to the gathering forces in Virginia. On November 29, 1861, in Special Orders No. 557, Pelham transferred to the horse artillery. Captured cannons and a few men from his previous command went into service for the new unit.
Prior to the news of Pelham’s appointment to command, recruiting had already started for the horse artillery and Lieutenant Brown, a Virginia Military Institute attendee, joined to Alexandria, Alabama to recruit directly around Pelham’s home county. Records are incomplete for the history of Stuart’s Horse Artillery, but about 40 Alabamians went into the units, including some men with French and Italian heritage who became known as the “Napoleon detachment.”
The artillery unit camped near Culpeper Court House in Virginia during the winter of 1861-1862. They lacked recruits and had only 100 horses ready at the beginning of January. Artillery drill and horsemanship exercises occupied the winter day and new cannons were added to the battery. Records for the horse artillery are incomplete and generally not detailed, either because Pelham chose not to spend time on paperwork or because the records have been lost.
In March 1862, John Pelham journeyed to Richmond to pick up $600 of bounty money. Persuaded by cash, enough men recruited into the unit to allow official recognition and organization which was completed on March 23. The Confederate Conscription Law passed in April 1862 filled the ranks about the same time that the supply situation improved for the horse artillery. When Stuart’s Horse Artillery rolled toward the Virginia Peninsula and their first battle, it had 141 artillerymen, 130 horses, and six cannon—two 6-pounder Howitzers, two 12-pounder Howitzers, one Napoleon, and one 3-inch Blakely rifled cannon.
The Battle of Williamsburg in May 1862 was the unit’s baptism of fire, and the Stuart Horse Artillery existed through the Appomattox Campaign, though it reorganized several times and changed commanders. Pelham and his batteries were known for “Rushing his guns into position upon every hill, there he staid until the enemy were almost at the muzzles and were closing in upon his flanks. Then, hastily limbering up and retiring, under & storm of bullets, he took position on the next elevation , and poured his canister into the advancing columns as before.[ii]
An artilleryman from the unit wrote after the war, “Gen. Theodore Garnett once said there might be a question as to who fired the first shot of the war and who fired the last shot, but there could be no question as to who fired the most rapid shots. It was the horse artillery of Stuart’s Corps, Army of Northern Virginia!”[iii]
[i] Jacksonville Republican, December 19, 1861. Jacksonville, Alabama. Page 2. Accessed via Newspapers.com.
[ii] John Esteen Cooke. Surry of Eagle’s-nest, Or, the Memoirs of a Staff-officer Serving in Virginia. (New York: M.A. Donohue, 1866). Page 339. Accessed via Google Books.
[iii] Robert H. Moore II. The 1st and 2nd Stuart Horse Artillery. (Lynchburg: H.E. Howard, Inc., 1985). Page 148.