Preservation Group Buys 'Gallant Pelham' Site
By Deborah Fitts
The place where Confederate ar-tillerist John
Pelham earned ever-lasting renown as "the gallant Pelham" is
the focus of a modest preservation effort by the Central Virginia
Battlefields Trust (CVBT).
The nonprofit has purchased a quarter-acre sliver of land near
the intersection of Route 2/17 and 608 about four miles south
It was here at 10 o'clock on the morning of Dec. 13, 1862, that
Pelham with a single gun began firing on the Union line, opening
the battle of Fredericksburg.
CVBT spokesman Jim Pates said that former CVBT president Enos
Richardson had single-hand-edly pursued the purchase when the
opportunity arose. The $8000 sale was recorded in August.
The residential lot, only 50 feet wide, is 600 feet west of
the inter-section on Route 608. Much the lot is unbuildable
due to a drainage easement.
Pates said CVBT is "looking at" one other residential lot for
sale. "We can't do much with one-quar-ter acre, but we may be
able to preserve enough of a parcel to do something there,"
he said. There is no federally owned land at the site.
The intersection, ringed with commercially zoned land, appears
on the verge of development, in-cluding a convenience store
Peggy Vogtsberger, president of the John Pelham
Historical Association, hailed CVBT's effort.
"This is the place where Pelham got his fame," Vogtsberger said.
Robert E. Lee, in a report following the battle, departed from
his usual reference to officers by rank alone and cited "the
A small stone marker was placed at the intersection in 1903
by James Power Smith of Stonewall Jackson's staff. The Pelham
Association erected a Virginia highway marker in 1992.
Frank O'Reilly, historian at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National
Military Park, said as the Union army was preparing to launch
an attack, its right flank fell short of the opposing Confederate
Pelham moved swiftly to take advantage of the weakness. He moved
a single 12-pdr. Napoleon almost a mile in front of the Confederate
line and aimed it to fire up the Union flank.
Pelham and 20 men lobbed shells at the Federals from a dis-tance
of eight-tenths of a mile, according to O'Reilly. When re-turn
fire disabled some of the crew, Pelham dismounted his horse
and sighted the gun himself.
Until Pelham ran out of ammunition, "he was making life very
difficult for 13,000 men," said O'Reilly. "It paralyzed the
entire left flank of the Union army and preempted a Union attack
for almost an hour. This was unique in that, basically, an individual
took on an entire army."
To avoid Union return shelling, Pelham constantly
shifted the single gun from spot to spot within a small area
at the southwestern corner of the intersection, making it likely
that the gun crossed the CVBT parcel, according to O'Reilly.
He called the intersection "the quintessential Pelham site.
This is where he breaks into national consciousness."