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I am a lifelong student of military history with particular interest in the Battle of Antietam. I work for the federal government in Washington DC and have two young adult children who I love very much. I currently volunteer at Antietam and devote much time to the study of this battle and the Maryland Campaign. I enjoy collecting notable contemporary quotations by and about the men of Antietam. Since 2013 I have been conducting in depth research on the regular artillery companies of the Union Army and their leaders. I hope to turn this into a book on this subject in the future. My perspective comes from a 28-year career in the U.S. Army. Travels took me to World War II battlefields in Europe and the Pacific where American valor ended the tyranny of Nazism and Empire. But our country faced its own greatest challenge 80 years earlier during the Civil War. And it was the critical late summer of 1862, when Robert E. Lee launched the Maryland Campaign. It is an incredible story of drama, carnage, bravery, and missed opportunities that culminated around the fields and woodlots of peaceful Sharpsburg MD. So join me as I make this journey South from the North Woods.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Perfect Lion

Major John Pelham C.S.A.
Jerry H. Maxwell’s new book The Perfect Lion is the latest and most complete biography on the life of Confederate artillerist John Pelham.  The book is a well crafted and detailed account of the life of one of the South’s premier gunners - the Gallant Pelham. 

What was most fascinating to me was the struggle that Pelham endured to remain at West Point in the last few months of his senior year in early 1861.  When the nation fell apart and all of his southern colleagues went home as their state’s seceded, Pelham and best friend Tom Rosser gamely hung on to the admiration of their classmates long after their home states of Alabama and Texas respectively left the Union.  It was only the firing on Fort Sumter that made further tarrying at the Academy impossible.  Pelham and his closest friend Rosser’s adventurous journey through the now fully aroused Northern states to the borders of still neutral Kentucky is well covered.

The book fully treats all the battles that Pelham was engaged in from First Manassas to Kelly’s Ford where the 24 year old was mortally wounded. Pelham’s insanely brave exploits are very well told and it is no wonder that he earned the admiration of Stuart, Jackson and Robert E. Lee.  Yet this remarkably brave and talented gunner was one of the most modest and self-effacing of men and his men loved him for it.  Pelham’s relationship with J.E.B. Stuart is fully explored and the book while not focused on Stuart provides interesting insights into his personality and relationships (some not so warm) with his colleagues in the Confederate cavalry.  One would almost believe that the war was nothing but courting, singing, and strolls in between the fierce fighting.  We also are introduced to Pelham’s subordinate officers in the Stuart Horse Artillery.  Pelham’s last battle at Kelly's Ford on March 17, 1863 is thoroughly covered and this account answered a number of questions that I had about Pelham’s final hours.

The work is well researched with over 68 pages of notes and bibliography, eight photos, and eight battle maps.  However,  I was somewhat distracted by the author’s use of the word “army” to describe all levels of fighting formations.  As one example, he cites Stuart's restless prowls around Nicodemus Heights [and he] must have observed Hooker's army lurking closely in the darkness.  Also as a volunteer and guide at Antietam National Battlefield I know that despite what the book says,  D.H. Hill was not in command of the entire Confederate line at South Mountain.  Rebel elements at the southernmost gap at Burkittsville were lead by cavalryman Thomas Munford, not Hill.  By this account, it would also seem that Pelham's guns alone stopped the Federal attack at Fox Gap when in truth eventually much of D.H. Hills division and parts of Longstreet's wing were also drawn to the struggle and contributed greatly there.  

These observations are truly minor.  I enjoyed the book very much and in its entirety, The Perfect Lion is an important addition to the scholarship of perhaps Lee’s most able artillerist. I highly recommend it. 

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