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Confederate General William Dorsey Pender

The Hope of Glory

Brian Steel Wills

Publication Year: 2013

During the Civil War, North Carolinian William Dorsey Pender established himself as one of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia's best young generals. He served in most of the significant engagements of the war in the eastern theater while under the command of Joseph E. Johnston at Seven Pines and Robert E. Lee from the Seven Days to Gettysburg. His most crucial contributions to Confederate success came at the battles of Second Manassas, Shepherdstown, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. After an effective first day at Gettysburg, Pender was struck by a shell and disabled, necessitating his return to Virginia for what he hoped would be only an extended convalescence. Although Pender initially survived the wound, he died soon thereafter due to complications from his injury.

In this thorough biography of Pender, noted Civil War historian Brian Steel Wills examines both the young general's military career and his domestic life. While Pender devoted himself to military service, he also embraced the Episcopal Church and was baptized before his command in the field. According to Wills, Pender had an insatiable quest for "glory" in both earthly and heavenly realms, and he delighted in his role as a husband and father. In Pender's voluminous correspondence with his wife, Fanny, he shared his beliefs and offered views and opinions on a vast array of subjects. In the end, Wills suggests that Pender's story captures both the idealistic promise and the despair of a war that cost the lives of many Americans and changed the nation forever.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Series: Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

William Dorsey Pender has fascinated me in my journey through the American Civil War because he was such a complex and interesting individual, reflected in the substantial amount of personal correspondence he had with his wife that survived the war. Pender established a reputation within the Army of...

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Introduction: Lee’s Fighting Carolinian

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pp. 1-6

Robert E. Lee had every reason to be distressed in the summer of 1863 as he tallied the butcher’s bill of the three-day battlefield ordeal of Gettysburg, particularly with regard to the toll it had taken on his command structure. In the past others had stepped forward to fill the void left by those who had fallen, but in terms of numbers and talent, many...

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1. Young Pender (1834–54)

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pp. 7-19

William Dorsey Pender remained a proud North Carolinian for all of his brief twenty-nine years. Although his antecedents hailed from Virginia, his parents, James and Sarah Routh Pender, were longtime residents of the area near the small community of Tarboro, in Edgecombe County, North Carolina. James engaged...

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2. First Blood (1854–58)

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pp. 20-38

So much of the world lay before William Dorsey Pender as he celebrated his matriculation from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He had challenged himself successfully, and his reward was a commission in the nation’s armed forces. In the service of his country, he was about to be required to travel great distances, to be introduced to adventures...

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3. “Unexplored Country” (1858–61)

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pp. 39-53

Lieutenant Pender had emerged from his trial by combat unscathed. He would shortly undertake new assignments and describe moving through an “unexplored country” to Fanny in terms that reflected the exhilaration and sense of adventure he felt as a soldier and that served, unwittingly to him perhaps, as a metaphor for his life.1 But the challenges...

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4. A “Lion” Roars (March–June 1861)

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pp. 54-81

In the spring of 1861, Dorsey Pender found himself in danger of languishing in the backwater of any conflict that might emerge despite the bold action he had taken in resigning his commission before his state had left the Union. He tried to remedy this situation by first traveling to Raleigh to see Governor John W. Ellis in the hopes of obtaining a field command. He...

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5. “My Dancing Days Are Over” (July 1861–February 1862)

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pp. 82-110

Colonel W. D. Pender must have reeled from the blow that the letter from his wife dated June 30, 1861, represented. Trained to endure hardship in camp and battle, this sharpest of arrows came not from the arsenal of an opposing warrior, but from the pen of the dearest creature he knew. Dorsey was devastated. “I have loved life dearly, but...

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6. A Presidential Salute (February–June 1862)

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pp. 111-131

Dorsey Pender was disappointed that his wife and family could not reach him before Christmas 1861. But happily, he did not have to wait indefinitely, and when they finally arrived, he had seven weeks in which to enjoy their company and bask in the glow of familial embrace. All too quickly, though, the time passed until Fanny and the...

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7. “Mrs. W. D. Pender’s Husband” (June–July 1862)

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pp. 132-150

Dorsey Pender had experienced a religious baptism in October 1861; the following spring he received a military one on a scale he had not previously experienced. The latter came as he left the comparative quiet of winter quarters and marched to confront the hosts that George McClellan had assembled to threaten the Confederate capital. By the...

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8. “I Know You Will Hate to Hear This” (July–September 1862)

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pp. 151-167

After the immediate Union threat to Richmond had subsided, Dorsey Pender found an opportunity to rest and recover by spending a short time with his beloved Fanny and their children in North Carolina. Writing to her had brought him comfort, but there was no substitute for being in her arms. Unhappily for the couple, the...

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9. “Drive Those Scoundrels Out” (September–December 1862)

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pp. 168-189

William Dorsey Pender might be grappling with issues relating to his troops and staff officers, his wife and family, his religious and military obligations and responsibilities, but he would soon be struggling with his Union opponents on the battlefield again in one of the highest stakes gambles of the war thus far. General Lee...

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10. “You Must Hold Your Ground, Sir!” (January–May 1863)

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pp. 190-215

Fanny Pender spent almost two months with her husband while the winter weather and bad roads kept the army transfixed. Even so, the time they shared together was not entirely carefree. General Burnside contemplated another crossing of the Rappahannock which he hoped would redeem the blood spilled at Fredericksburg. By mid-January 1863, the...

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11. “I Am Tired of Invasions” (May–July 1863)

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pp. 216-238

Robert E. Lee had been too long around history himself not to understand the odds that were gathering against him in waging a successful revolution. The Confederate general had noted with exasperation, “I wish I could get at those people over there.”1 Earlier in the spring, even before the miraculous and dearly bought victory at Chancellorsville, Dorsey Pender...

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Epilogue: A “Good Fight” Finished and Remembered

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pp. 239-246

The mortal remains of William Dorsey Pender reached the Confederate capital late on July 19, 1863. Several Richmond newspapers took note of the body’s arrival by way of the central train and its repose in a place of honor in the Capitol.1 The Daily Dispatch added that although the general’s wound was known, his death had not been expected. “At...

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pp. 264-271


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pp. 247-280


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pp. 281-294


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pp. 295-304

E-ISBN-13: 9780807153000
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807152997

Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 11 halftones, 8 maps
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Conflicting Worlds: New Dimensions of the American Civil War