Pelham in Fiction: The Gallant Cannoneer as seen in Surry of Eagle's Nestfast payday loans online only today !
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John Esten Cooke was the only author of fiction who knew John Pelham. Al though Cooke tended to view all of his characters through a rosy haze of romance, we must still believe that he gave us a relatively accurate picture of Pelham. After all, he takes great pains to point out, vi'a footnotes, that certain events were "fact" and that certain phrases were "his words"; however, in all but one case, those quotations are not by Pelham but by Stuart or Jackson referring to Pelham. Cooke's vignettes of the physical appearances of historical figures furnish considerable information, but he tends to focus on Generals Stuart and Jackson in his novel. The narrator of the story, one Surry who never does receive a first name, is an officer of Jackson's staff who nonetheless manages to be in on a number of Jeb Stuart's escapades; thus we have a number of references to John Pelham.
When first he mentions Pelham, it is during the battIe of Cold Harbor (1862); General Jackson has just enquired of Stuart the identity of the gun so hotly engaged in front." Stuart identifies it as "one of Captain Pelham's Napoleons." Cooke continues,
At the next moment a young officer, slender, beardless, modest-looking, and covered with dust, came from the front. His blue eyes flashed, his firm lips gave evidence of an unconquerable spirit.
"This is Captain Pelham, General ," said Stuart; "he has fought with one gun that whole battalion on the hill, at point-blank range, for nearly an hour."
Jackson held out his hand, and the young artillerist took it with a low bow, blushing as he did so, like a girl.
This, Cooke points out, is historical (p. 235).
The next sight of Pelham occurs at Sharpsburg, beginning on page 332, and it includes a delightful bit of fluff as well as another of Jackson's historical comments about Pelham. Jackson remarks, "He is a very remarkable young man. He commanded today nearly all the artillery of the left wing of the army, and I have never seen more skillful handling of guns. It is really extraordinary to find such nerve and genius in a mere boy. With a Pelham on each flank, I believe I could whip the world!" Whether the entire speech or only the last sentence was really spoken by Jackson is unclear, but once again Cooke makes certain that his readers know they are "his words."
Following this comment, Surry is sent with a message for Stuart, who remarks -- with no footnote as to veracity -- "Pelham has covered himself all over with glory!" [An interesting sidenote here: Stuart remarks to Surry, "You ought to get our friend Joyeuse (the sobriquet of a member of his staff) to write your adventures." Now, does anybody know who this "Joyeuse" may have been? Who else -- besides Cooke -- was a writer on Stuart's staff? Is he therefore humorously referring to himself here?]
On the next page the fiction begins. Surry happens to meet his brother Will, a captured Federal officer, whom Pelham knew at West Point. Hungry, the three peer into a house, where the family is just about to dine. Pelham knocks on the door, and they are admitted. Pelham is entranced by the little girl in the family. Cooke relates this scene:
And she shook her head sadly, looking with her great blue eyes, half covered with golden ringlets, at Pelham. That gaze was met by Pelham with a long, sad, yearning look, which I could not understand. The penetrating eyes had grown soft, the laughter of the lips disappeared, an expression of longing tenderness relaxed the features of the young soldier -- and, without seeming aware of what he was doing, he drew the child toward him.
His arm encircled the slender form, his lips were pressed to hers in a long, lingering kiss; and then, as he turned aside his head, I saw tears in his eyes.
"You are the very image of a little sister I have," he said in a low voice, "far away in Alabama."
It can be seen that Cooke is not above twisting the truth. Throughout the book, he manages to place his narrator in the thick of important happenings, particularly the deaths of major figures; here he makes his brother the captured cavalryman and with a calm stroke of the pen takes some ten years off the life of Pelham's revered sister Betty. However, it is possible that Cooke did not know Betty's actual age, since Pelham seems to have been reticent about all aspects of his life. The staff evidently did not know Pelham's own age, for even W. W. Blackford thought him "only twenty-one or two years" (War Years with Jeb Stuart, p. 90).
Within the next few pages comes one of the scenes found in Mercer's biography of Pelham, the chapter entitIed, "How Pelham Fought His Horse Artillery." Although I have heard it alleged that Pelham did not actually refer to his Creoles as "the Napoleon detachment," Cooke certainly has him making that reference here. Since this chapter is in Mercer, I shall not repeat it here. It refers to the incident near Barbee's Crossroads (now Hume) in which Henry's Battery is surrounded in a rear guard action and only the timely arrival of the Confederate cavalry prevents the capture or annihilation of Pelham and his men. Cooke takes pains to point out that the Napoleon detachment's singing of "The Marseillaise" at this action was, in fact, historical. Here Cooke's repetition of the word "coolly" when referring to Pelham's actions gets a little monotonous, until the enemy charges from the rear and the combat becomes hand-to-hand. On page 350, Cooke paints a picture an artist would be proud of:
Pelham was everywhere, cheering on the ,men, with his drawn sabre flashing in the last rays of sunlight -- and as that blood-red light streamed on his slender figure, and countenance all ablaze with the fire of battle, his appearance was grand.
The boy-artillerist was in his proper sphere -- fighting his guns to the very muzzle, determined to die where he stood, or drive the enemy back.
Pelham's historic position at Fredericksburg is given but distant viewing, but Cooke adds on page 365, "To be the sole officer below the rank of Major-General mentioned by Lee -- and to be called 'the gallant Pelham!' -- That is better than a scrawl from any war department!" It is in the aftermath of that battle that Cooke once more touches on the tender emotions of Pelham -- the affecting scene, again picked up by Mercer, in which Pelham holds in his arms a dying fifteen-year-old Creole of his battery. The artillerist, so cool in battle, is moved to tears by the pathetic words of the devoted boy. Surry's orders bring Pelham to Jackson's headquarters, where Cooke informs us he is request