The "Gallant Pelham" writes home from West PointJohn Pelham Autograph Letter Signed. Four pages, 6.5" x 8.75", West Point, September 25, 1858. West Point Cadet John Pelham, later known as the "Gallant Pelham" for his bravery and exceptional use of light artillery under cavalryman J. E. B. Stuart, writes this roguish letter to his brother at home in Alabama. Pelham employs the new military commands he was learning to advise his brother on how to overcome a rival and impress women. He also writes of his hope to be able to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy one year early. The cadet has signed (non-cursive) at the very end of the letter. In the right margin, another hand (likely the brother to whom he writes) has docketed in cursive, "Jn Pelham". The letter reads in part as written by Pelham:
"You certainly have selected an enviable situation Calhoun [County] & Talladega [County] - to associate with the beautiful Houses of both, but a rival such as Dock Moon, a hero of unfathomable wisdom and beauty, is capable of making a youth of undaunted courage and the steadier arm than you possess trembles, and acknowledges his defeat. I had some hopes for you before I heard of his entrance into the Lists, but I think with your shrewdness, you may weather him yet by drawing off his [love?] by a pretended attack on lower Cane Creek (B.F.) and while he is intoxicated with his successful victory, renew your attack upon Upper Cane Creek ('Henrietta Robinson'). Carry it by storm, take position where you can both see & return your Enemy's fire, strengthen your works as much as possible by enlisting as many of the 'Old Folks' in your cause as you can - build a strong breast work of envies and jealousies. . . . Then and not till then, I think you may bid defiance to 'Doc. Moon' and all his boasted Beauty. I think you treated Miss M. F. shamefully in bringing her in contact with such a heart-'buster' as he, when you knew there was no chance for her, he's so susceptible & fickle. But remember the best weapon for conquering woman is flattery. Don't talk to them about History or Grammar, nor the Phylosophy of Socrates, Plato or Zeno, but tell them about the Moon, spoons, the Starry Heavens, moonlight walks &c. Flatter them and be certain and let all your words be sentimental. I would like to be back in Ala again although I am almost a follower of Machiavelli. I do not think he judged them too lightly. However my vanity must be gratified. Nothing will please me more than to hear all the movements of the Calhoun Girls and the maneuvers of the Boys. . . . How and where are Miss Henrietta Bush, 'Henrietta Robinson' & last but not least of all Miss Addie. If she was sincere in what she said (but I don't believe she was) I have wronged her in telling her such lies. I respected her liked her company, but to love a lady is not in my composition now. . . . Furlough seems like a plasant dream, in which every action word & thought is vividly stamped upon the mind, but thanks to the presiding Deity of the heart it has made no impression there. But that pleasant dream is passed. I now stand face to face with the stern realities of life. I did hope & think the course would be reduce to four years but now it is very uncertain. Most of the Corps have lost all hope they say they are certain it will not be reduced. And when hope dies the man is in a bad condition. I believe it will be changed some time if not this year, and that it will affect my class. I expect to graduate in two years, but if I should not and the worst come to the worst then
"'Whatever skies above me
Here's a heart for every fate.'
"Keep me here as long as they will, there is one consolation left me still. I was endowed with mind enough to use some independence in the section Rooms and baffle their attempts to find me. One instructor tried to find me but he could not, nor does it lay in the power of any of them to do it. I may not graduate here, but you may rest assured that I will never be dismissed on studies or demerit, but they may discharge me for some mischief, fighting &c. Lord & Lady [Francis and Elizabeth] Napier [minister plenipotentiary to the U.S.] were to be up here to day but I do not know wheather they came or not. I have not seen them."
John Pelham was born into a large and prominent family near Alexandria, Calhoun County, Alabama. In 1856 at the age of seventeen, he secured an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy as part of a trial program which was to last five years. The special program was established in 1854 by Jefferson Davis, who was then serving as President Pierce's secretary of war. Near the end of this letter, Pelham hopes that he will be able to graduate in 1860 after only four years, rather than five. The program, however, stayed with the five-year graduation. While at the academy, Pelham was very popular, but he was never near the top of his class. In 1858, the year that Pelham wrote this letter, his standing in the Fourth Class was 34 out of 52 cadets. He had 92 demerits. Two years later in 1860, he again ranked 34 out of 52, but that year he had accumulated 156 demerits; only three other cadets in the Second Class had more.
When Alabama voted to secede on January 11, 1861, the young cadet remained at the academy. Seven weeks later, he wrote Jefferson Davis offering his services to the new Confederacy, but it wasn't until after the Battle of Fort Sumter - only weeks before his graduation - that he left for the South. He reported to Montgomery where he was commissioned a first lieutenant of artillery. At the First Battle of Bull Run, his bravery, discipline, and skill won him the attention of J. E. B. Stuart, who thereafter supplied the young artillerist with horses for mobility. For the next two years, Pelham fought with Stuart in over sixty engagements. At Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Sharpsburg, he especially distinguished himself, reaping praise from Stonewall Jackson and General Lee. But he was killed during a cavalry charge at Kelly's Ford on March 17, 1863. The loss of the talented soldier was mourned especially by General Stuart, who named his third child after him.
Letters by the "Gallant Pelham" are rare. This one bears weakness (and some separations) at the folds. Toned paper with some discolorations, but all text is easily legible.
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