Lt. William Pelham (1836-1889)
John Pelham's older brother, William, was born September 14, 1836 in Benton (Calhoun) County, Alabama, the second son of Dr. Atkinson and Martha McGehee Pelham. Growing up, William had a reputation of being rowdy and undisciplined; indeed, he apparently never outgrew those characteristics. He probably attended Oglethorpe College, as his future wife was from Oglethorpe, Georgia. The war interrupted any career, and William enlisted on February 22, 1861 in Company A, 2nd Alabama Infantry.
Before the war, William met Tallulah Hansell, daughter of William Young and Anne Byne Hansell of Oglethorpe, Georgia. They soon became engaged. William's correspondence to her is quite revealing of his personality. From Fort Pillow on April 15, 1862, he tells her about the recent fight at Corinth:"...some of our soldiers behaved very badly, but not cowardly there." He says he is in command of the "2nd best Gun in the fort...[it] will draw the first Yankee blood." The letter ends on this teasing note: "If I take a trip North soon I shall not trouble any more [to write] -- get me a Yankee gall [sic] for a sweetheart & be a loyal subject, for a while, then kick up some deviltry & emigrate South again."
William's letter proved at least partially prophetic. He was elected second lieutenant on September 2, 1862. In October he was wounded at a skirmish at Lavergne, Tennessee. After this fight, his regiment became part of the 51st Alabama Cavalry Partisan Rangers. William was captured at Shelbyville, Tennessee on June 27, 1863 during the fighting near Tullahoma. William did not prove to be a model prisoner. He was transferred from a Federal prison at Louisville, Kentucky to Johnson's Island, Ohio, in order "to learn to behave [as a] Prisoner of War." He served at Johnson's Island from July 6, 1863 until his exchange at City Point (now Hopewell), Virginia on February 24, 1865. Even then William did not prove manageable, for on the day of his exchange, "4 Marines [appeared] in column as William Pelham."
Following the war, William married his "Lulu" on January 29, 1868. The couple had five children: Susan Harris (1869-1907), who married Orceneth Fisher of Texas in 1902; Martha McGehee (1871-1932); John Peter (1873-?), who married Mary Gordon of Dyersburg, Tennessee; Frances Gilmer (1875-1900); and Tallulah Hansell (1880-?) who married Dan Sullivan. William's letters to his wife show him to be deeply dependent upon her emotionally.
There were apparently periods of extreme financial hardship. None of William's descendants seem to know how he made his living; his widow's application for a pension states her worldly belongings to be only a few pieces of household and kitchen furniture. William's end was violent -- he was shot to death by a policeman named Stallings in Anniston, Alabama, after a personal altercation on July 9, 1889.
This article first appeared in Volume 3, No. 4 of The Cannoneer.
William Pelham File, National Archives (researched by Pat Shaub). Tallulah Hansell Pelham's Application for Pension, July 8, 1910, Georgia Department of Archives & History, Atlanta, Ga.
Letter of William Pelham to Tallulah Hansell, April 15, 1862.
Letter of Atkinson Pelham to William Pelham, undated.
Genealogical notes of Tallulah Pelham Sullivan (all in possession of Dan Sullivan, Atlanta , Ga.).
Peter Pelham, "An Unfortunate Shot, " Confederate Veteran, May 1922.