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4 Streight’s Raid, 1863 My highest regardes to Miss Emma Sansom. —Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest He came home by ferry, train, steamboat, and wagon. But this was no joyful arrival of a living, breathing hero. It was, rather, the mournful return of his mortal remains, encased in a cast iron coffin with a glass face plate. John Pelham, so young, handsome, and brave, had been hit by an exploding artillery shell during a clash at Kelly’s Ford, Virginia, on March 17, 1863. Theretofore , his remarkable valor and tactical genius had inspired thousands of beleaguered Southrons, who eagerly followed his exploits on distant battlefields from Sharpsburg to Fredericksburg. At the latter fight he had famously checked an entire Federal corps, 16,000 men, with only two guns, and earned the open-­ mouthed admiration of officers and men on both sides, in­ clud­ ing George Armstrong Custer, perhaps the supreme egotist of the war, who sent him a congratulatory note. The violent and stark end to his youthful martial exuberance was a deeply sobering reminder of war’s futility and waste.1 Because of the difference in railroad gauges, Pelham’s body crossed the Chatta­ hoochee River into Ala­ bama aboard a rickety ferry and was then placed upon the Montgomery and West Point Railroad for the 80-­ mile trip to the capital city. As had occurred at stations and sidings large and small all the way from Richmond, a silent crowd was on hand when the engine chuffed to a halt. Former Governor Moore was there, though whether he had any thoughts about the consequences of a war he had helped precipitate is unknown. As the people looked on, Pelham’s body was reverently taken off the train and escorted by Streight’s Raid, 1863 83 troops to the capitol building where it lay in state heaped with flowers and attended by a mute sentinel. From Montgomery, the body traveled to Selma via steamboat, then by train on the Ala­ bama and Tennessee River Railroad to Blue Mountain, where it arrived late on the night of March 28. There it was placed into a hearse drawn by four white horses and taken to the steps of the family home, 7 miles away. As Pelham’s sister-­ in-­ law described the scene, “The Father and Sister were crushed and in sorrow kept their rooms, but that Spartan Mother met her beloved son on the threshold as she would have done had he been living and led the way into the parlor and directed where he must be laid where the light would fall on his face when Sunday came.” Three days later he was buried in nearby Jacksonville, where serious children filled his grave with lilac blossoms. John Pelham’s war was over, but not so that of his north­ ern Ala­ bama friends and neighbors. They were about to bear firsthand witness to a Union raid that would cost lives, property, and not a little anxiety. But when it was all over, the South would have yet another youthful hero, this one an indomitable country girl in homespun dress and sunbonnet.2 By the spring of ’63, the Union war effort hardly presented an encouraging picture. In the east, Robert E. Lee continued to win big battles despite fearsome casualties. On the Mississippi River, Grant was bogged down before a seemingly impregnable Vicksburg in what was clearly going to be a complicated , costly, and lengthy campaign. And in middle Tennessee, Gen. William S. Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland licked its wounds opposite Bragg’s Army of the Tennessee after a bloody stalemate at Murfreesboro. While many of Rosecrans’s veterans were no doubt content to rest and avoid another fight, at least one of their officers chafed at the inactivity. Abel D. Streight, thirty-­ three, was an Indiana infantry colonel noted for his impatience and abolitionist sympathies. A native New Yorker, he had moved to Indianapolis before the war, where he owned a lumberyard and a printing company. Physically impressive if a bit overweight, and sporting a dour beard but no moustache, he took pride in his reputation as a successful businessman and committed Republican. In the fall of 1861, despite his lack of military experience , Streight was commissioned a colonel in command of the Fifty-­ First Volunteer Infantry Regiment and took his staunch beliefs into action. His men were held in reserve at Shiloh and Perryville but saw action at Corinth 84 Chapter 4 and Murfreesboro. After...


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MARC Record
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