Brigadier General John Pegram, LEE’S Paradoxical Cavalier

Scott Laidig


CW 516
By: Scott Laidig
February 1998

Many extraordinarily gifted lieutenants served General Robert E. Lee. Among the most famous were Lieutenant Generals Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson, James Longstreet, A. P. Hill and Richard Ewell, and Major Generals J. E. B. Stuart, George Pickett, Fitzhugh Lee and W. F. (Rooney) Lee.1 Most of these men were Virginians who shared a social background similar to Lee; all were, like Lee, West Point graduates and former officers in the U. S. Army.2 Lee had reputation for ridding his army of mediocre commanders as well as men whose demeanor and bearing did not resemble his own. Of those famous "lieutenants" named above, only George Pickett, forever remembered for his division’s fateful charge at Gettysburg, was a mediocre commander during the war. True, Hill and Ewell did not distinguish themselves as corps commanders, but they had done extremely well at the brigade and division level. What were the prerequisites for promotion in Lee’s army? Did social, as opposed to political, position play a role? Were there Virginia cavaliers whose performance more closely resembled Pickett’s than Jackson’s or Stuart’s? Arguably, there was at least one.

John Pegram was born in Petersburg, Virginia in 1832, the oldest son of James West Pegram and Virginia Johnson. James Pegram was part of the third generation of a planter family. James’ father rose to become a major general in the War of 1812. As one of twelve children, James did not inherit sufficient wealth to live on an inherited plantation. Perhaps encouraged by his father, James studied for the law. In 1829, he married Virginia Johnson, the daughter of a wealthy planter and racehorse owner. The couple lived initially at Mr. Johnson’s plantation, but when James was offered the position of cashier at Bank of Virginia’s Petersburg office, he readily accepted. Within a few years, the couple moved to Richmond, when James became president of the bank.3

Throughout his life James continued his family’s longstanding tradition of public service, becoming an active Whig orator; and, sometime between 1830 and 1841, he was appointed a colonel and then brigadier general in the Virginia militia. By 1844, Virginia Pegram had given birth to five children, and James had accumulated sufficient capital to invest in plantations. In October, John Pegram remained in Richmond with his mother and siblings while James made a fateful trip to Mississippi. An accident aboard a steamboat on the Ohio River made Virginia Pegram a widow and left her children fatherless. The shock of James’ death left the family emotionally traumatized and financially reduced, though certainly not ruined. Virginia moved her family back to her father’s plantation, but her father’s fortunes were on the wane and the family, while remaining high on the social list, was not quite so secure financially. In the mid-1850’s, Virginia started a school for girls in Richmond. The school remained open during the war years and the income, including income from boarders, augmented Virginia’s inheritance nicely.

Virginia Pegram was a strong Episcopalian, and she raised her family with the values imparted by the southern church. Many southerners had a strong sense of re-sponsibility toward others, especially Negroes, as part of their rationalization of slavery; their churches reinforced that belief. The Pegram family was part of that tradition.4

Given Pegram’s social status, and the militia service of his father and grand-father, it is not surprising that John received an appointment to West Point in 1850. A good student who adapted well to military life, Pegram graduated 10th in a class that included J.E.B. Stuart. In the years following graduation, Pegram saw service in the cavalry in the West. Given a leave of absence in 1858-9, he traveled to Europe to observe the war between Italy and Austria. In 1860, he was ordered to service in New Mexico, but, like most Southerners, Pegram returned home when Virginia seceded.

As a former U.S. Army officer and West Point graduate, Pegram’s offer of his services to native state were accepted, though for reasons unclear the negotiations took a few months. He accepted a commission as a Lieutenant Colonel in July 1861. He was assigned to command of the 20th Virginia Infantry regiment and sent to the western part of the state, where Union forces were threatening to seize several counties.

Pegram’s service in western Virginia was anything but glorious; but then, even Robert E. Lee failed when sent there to meet Union Major General George B. McClellan. Pegram’s command was part of Brigadier General Richard Garnett’s force. Garnett was extremely well regarded and thought to be a future star in the Confederate high command. But McClellan’s command was stronger and probably better trained.5

Pegram was not particularly well liked by his fellow Confederate officers, having argued over seniority immediately upon his arrival in western Virginia.6 Then, tasked to defend a mountain pass, Pegram permitted his unit to be flanked and cut off from Garnett’s main force. Lost in the mountains and unable to find Garnett, the victim of some bad luck and his own poor leadership, Pegram’s stock fell further when he decided unilaterally to surrender without attempting to escape, even though he was uncertain where the closest Union forces were located. He sent a courier to McClellan asking for terms. In August 1861, in less than two months of combat, Pegram suffered the humiliation of being the first former U.S. Army officer captured during the war. His officers were irate and openly critical.7 Pegram’s problems with volunteers would recur later in the war in another theater.

Although all of his men were paroled immediately, Union officials were unable to decide how to handle Pegram, keeping him at Fortress Monroe for six months.8 Finally, in January 1862, Union officials decided Pegram could be exchanged for either Colonel O.B. Willcox or Lieutenant Colonel J. Bomford and gave him parole in Baltimore.9 Pegram would see more of Willcox later in the war.

On parole, Pegram returned to Richmond in February. During his stay in Richmond, Pegram became romantically involved with the beautiful Hetty Cary. Despite the results in western Virginia, Pegram was still highly regarded, but there was a question as to his next assignment. He wanted a position in the Army of Northern Virginia and hoped for a generalship. But Pierre G.T. Beauregard and his western army desperately needed a military engineer, and he readily accepted Pegram, newly promoted to Colonel, for the position.10

Pegram did not serve as Chief Engineer for long; instead, he was assigned as Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Chief of Staff.11 Little is recorded about Pegram’s performance while serving as a staff officer, though he appears in much correspondence. Pegram served as Chief of Staff during Smith’s abortive raid into Kentucky. Kirby Smith was a professional soldier who had done well in the East, but probably was sent West by Robert E. Lee.12 A man of limited ability, as it turned out, but who had a very large ego, Kirby Smith no doubt liked having the affable Virginia gentleman and professional soldier on his staff. Smith failed to cooperate with General Braxton Bragg during the incursion into Kentucky, and as a result the whole affair turned out poorly for the Confederacy. Bragg, the senior commander, was assigned the blame for the barren results of the campaign, but surely Kirby Smith had earned a full share. Pegram witnessed the entire episode from his position, though his opinion is not known. Finally, though, staff success led to Pegram’s promotion to Brigadier General.

John Pegram had long sought a line command, and when he was promoted in November 1862, he was given a small brigade of cavalry. It was composed, at various times, of the 1stLouisiana, 1st Georgia, 1st Florida, 1st and 2nd Tennessee Cavalry Regi-ments, the 16thTennessee Cavalry Battalion, and Huwald’s Tennessee Artillery Battalion. Initially, Pegram, John Hunt Morgan and Col. John S. Scott were the three cavalry brigade commanders in Kirby Smith’s force.13 Later, however, Scott was assigned to Pegram. Serving under a variety of generals, the Pegram commanded the brigade until November 1863. His assignment was neither happy nor successful. It was marked by poor performance, controversy with subordinates as well as other brigadiers, and an unbecoming appeal to one of his commanders for support.

At the Battle of Stones River, December 1862, Pegram’s command was cited for poor intelligence gathering and slipshod performance. In fact, some placed the respon-sibility for the defeat of Bragg’s forces squarely on Pegram.14 It is not certain how he failed, by poorly training his men, by improperly supervising them or by simply not executing his responsibilities. In any event Pegram failed to accurately report Union movements. His problems during the battle did not end with faulty reconnaissance.

Contemporaries also challenged Pegram’s tactical skills. Brigadier General John Wharton, the only brigadier in Bragg’s army junior to Pegram, bluntly questioned Pegram’s ability to employ artillery effectively. His report clearly shows that Pegram was unable to direct his battery at a critical moment of the battle.15 Interestingly, Pegram’s report of Stones River is missing. Is the omission just another case of lost records, or was it a case of poor form for a brigadier only recently removed from being Kirby Smith’s Chief of Staff?

Later, in early 1863, Pegram was directed to lead a cavalry raid into Kentucky. During that raid, the brigadier suffered the discontent of two of his subordinates, Colonels Henry M. Ashby of the 1st Tennessee and John S. Scott of the 1st Louisiana. Scott in particular was a seasoned cavalry veteran who commanded his regiment, and often a brigade, for almost the entire war; his performance at Big Hill, Kentucky, in August 1862 was brilliant, for example.16 Both Scott and Ashby objected to Pegram’s tactical decisiveness, and both were outspoken in their criticism. Pegram appealed to commander, outlining how the officers and men of his brigade supported him.17

There is a good possibility that Pegram may have failed in command, for during the Civil War affability, bravery and piety were often equated with competence. Scott and Ashby were principal subordinates who were well placed to evaluate their com-mander’s tactical abilities, which at the brigade level are far more important than other characteristics. While affability, bravery and piety impressed soldiers and encouraged them to follow a man as a leader, it was tactical skill that won or lost battles. And the former qualities did not assure tactical competence, though they were very helpful to earning the respect of men as leaders.18Despite the warm words in their exchanged letters, Pegram did not enjoy his commander’s full confidence, for it is obvious that his senior preferred to have John H. Morgan as his commander of cavalry.19

The final skirmish of Pegram’s cavalry raid into Kentucky, March 31, 1863, had a numerically inferior Union force, outnumbered perhaps 2 to1, besting Pegram, even though the Confederate had an advantageous defensive position. That battle, near Somerset, Kentucky, generated the personal animosity between Pegram and Scott. Each blamed the other for the Confederate defeat. In any event, Pegram lost several hundred men as prisoners as well as most of the cattle he had gathered to feed Bragg’s army.20

A month later, in one of the many interesting ironies of the war, Pegram faced Brigadier General O.B. Willcox in battle on May 1, 1863. Either by fate or good judg-ment, the Union officers who proposed that Pegram should be exchanged for Willcox may have know the Union was getting the better of the deal. Pegram’s brigade was assigned to picket the Cumberland River and defend two northern Tennessee counties. Willcox was able to surprise Pegram and drive him back from the River. Pegram claimed that lack of forage for his horses caused him to retreat, along with the threat provided by eleven Union infantry regiments. But Pegram’s superior in east Tennessee, Major General Dabney Maury, was appalled that Pegram had withdrawn, and in a series of messages Maury cajoled, pleaded and ordered Pegram to regain his position.21 Perhaps the most indicting correspondence that points to Pegram’s leadership failures is found in this letter of May 15, 1863, from Maury’s successor, Major General Simon Bolivar Buckner, to Pegram:

"…General Morgan is your junior... You are aware of the feeling which exists in some irregular organizations in reference to being commanded by regular officers. In your relations with the troops, even more than with General Morgan, you should endeavor to conciliate that feeling. I have written to General Morgan, informing him that I have a right to expect from him a hearty co-operation with you as his senior. I feel assured that you will receive from General Morgan his able and hearty support, if you show toward him and his command the proper consideration and a spirit of great conciliation.

I am informed that you have a large amount of transportation. I am now largely reducing the allowance. We must be burdened with little. I propose to require even the infantry to bivouac. Situated as you are, you should have no needless wagons.

You write for an ammunition train, without specifying what ammunition is required. As soon as the courier leaves, I will endeavor to find out your necessities and supply them; but I must urge you to call for nothing that is not absolutely requisite."22(Italics added.)

Buckner counsels Pegram in two areas: personal relations with volunteers, and improper logistics planning and execution. Had Buckner known that his subordinate was defeated at Somerset by a force half as large, it is doubtful Pegram would have maintained his command, given Buckner’s preference for Morgan.

As the year progressed, Pegram assumed temporary command of east Tennessee when Buckner left for service with Bragg. Then his brigade became part of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s corps, serving with that legendary cavalryman for several months. Even though in early October Pegram had been ordered to Virginia to join Robert E. Lee, the imminent battle at Chickamauga kept him in the west. Pegram’s service with Forrest seems to have been largely uneventful. Forrest was well known for giving explicit orders, and Pegram probably did not have to execute tactical judgments as he would have in a semi-independent command, such as during his raids or when stationed on picket duty along the Cumberland.

It is not clear why Pegram’s personal relations with other officers were so poor. There are several possibilities, of course. First, Pegram was an aristocratic member of the planter class, and many of the volunteers in his commands were mountain people or farmers who had little in common with their slave-owning commander. That situation was true both in western Virginia and in the western armies. Second, Pegram was a West Pointer and former cavalry officer; he was used to the strict discipline and well trained troops of the regular army. Handling volunteers, and especially volunteer officers who resented West Pointers, did not come naturally to many regulars, and perhaps Pegram was one of them, as Buckner’s warning clearly implies. His transfer to Virginia seems to have ended his problems with subordinates and contemporaries, which implies that both his social standing and professional demeanor were more acceptable there.

Pegram had many reasons for wanting to return to Virginia. Foremost among them was his fiancée, Hetty Cary. According to numerous sources, many besides John Pegram found the beautiful Miss Cary irresistible.23 Hetty was born in Baltimore, but her outspoken support of the Confederacy required her to leave in order to escape arrest as a sympathizer. Her stays in Richmond were well publicized and the attention paid her, especially by Confederate generals, was renowned. She and Pegram had become engaged in 1862, probably while he was on parole.

Upon returning east, Pegram was assigned to an infantry brigade in Jubal Early’s division of Richard Ewell’s Second Corps. An all Virginia brigade composed of the 13th, 31st, 49th, 52ndand 58th Infantry regiments, Pegram could not have asked for a better assignment; his commander, Early, was a fighting general with an excellent reputation. Wounded at his unit’s first major engagement, The Wilderness, in May 1864, Pegram returned to the army and won laurels with Early during that officer’s fall campaign in the Shenandoah Valley. There Pegram rose to command a division, and he certainly gained the responsibility of a major general, although he was never promoted to that rank. Pegram’s reputation in Lee’s army was never in doubt. Many accounts speak to his personal bravery, handsome appearance, cavalier demeanor and faithful piety. But there was also controversy about the high command, including Pegram. Some citizens thought the generals should have spent more time drilling and less praying, though perhaps as early as the spring of 1864 Lee and his officers may have felt prayer was their fledgling nation’s only hope.24

A careful reading of Henry Kyd Douglas’ war memoirs suggests, however, another conclusion as to Pegram’s abilities. Douglas rose from one of Stonewall Jackson’s junior staff officers to command of the Stonewall Brigade (Pegram’s Division) in the final months of the war. He was a close friend of Pegram’s, and it was Douglas who held Pegram as the latter died. But Douglas found fault with Pegram’s tactical handing of troops. Given the way the post-war veterans such as Lieutenant General John B. Gordon and Douglas wrote about their fallen comrades-in-arms, Douglas’ criticism is simultaneously an indictment of Pegram and a great surprise. Former Confederates subjected only James Longstreet and other designated scalawags to direct criticism. Pegram, the fallen cavalier who made Hetty Cary a widow, was no scalawag!

The first incident where Douglas criticizes Pegram happened at Cedar Creek in October 1864. Major General Philip Sheridan was in the midst of routing Early, and the Confederate forces were retreating. Douglas and several hundred men formed a hasty defense in order to provide protection to the Confederate artillery and wagon train, parked close to their rear. Pegram came by, and using Douglas’ word, "unfortunately" ordered the men to the rear, thinking the position untenable. Douglas tried to fight with a few men, but was captured along with the artillery and trains.25 The next occasion for criticism occurred at Pegram’s final fight.

Cedar Creek marked the end of a disastrous campaign in the Valley and Pegram’s division was sent to rejoin Lee at Petersburg. By this time, Lee’s army stretched from north of Richmond to south of Petersburg, where Pegram’s unit was assigned. Though the siege was hard duty, Pegram found more than enough time off to enjoy Virginia society and Miss Cary.26 While it is unclear that the war had honed Pegram’s tactical skills, he had developed his "whistling" skills before an appreciative audience.27 Then, requesting leave for "urgent business," Pegram left his division and married Hetty Cary on January 19, 1865.28 Hetty and her mother accompanied Pegram back to his division after a brief honeymoon in Richmond.

Although the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia was less than three months away, Pegram’s corps commander, Gordon, perhaps in a move to raise morale, arranged a review of Pegram’s division and invited the new Mrs. Pegram as a guest. Showing that Confederate high command was socially correct, most attended, including General Lee. Gordon, in true gentlemanly form, withdrew as the troops started to pass in review, leaving Mrs. Pegram alone with Lee to take the salute.29

Less than three weeks after the marriage, Union forces began pressing the Confederates at Hatcher’s Run. Lieutenant General U.S. Grant was again trying to stretch Lee’s defenses to the south. After a day of skirmishing, the Union forces had started to drive back the Confederates, who were then reinforced. Pegram was given the mission of regaining the lost ground.

He placed Kyd Douglas’ brigade at the front and ordered Douglas to develop the Union position, which Pegram thought consisted only of cavalry. Douglas’ account describes Pegram’s final moments of life.30 Again, his words seem to carefully avoid censuring Pegram for his tactical placements. But the truth comes through, Douglas had more feel for the situation and used better judgment in advancing than Pegram had displayed. Pegram was shot while at the front of his division. There can be no mistake that the grief felt by his officers, particularly, was deep and anguished. Nonetheless, an army starved for capable division commanders would have to find another – Pegram was dead.

The aftermath of his death showed the depth of feeling for him. Robert E. Lee wrote Hetty a personal note, as did Mrs. Lee. One of Robert E. Lee’s sons, Custis, accompanied Hetty Pegram at the funeral.31 All Richmond society mourned the fallen hero, as they soon would his younger brother Willy, who was killed in the very next battle. Did all generals who died in the line of duty merit this attention by the Commanding General and his wife? Probably not, but Mrs. Lee no doubt knew Virginia Pegram and all knew Hetty. Lee’s unusual relationship with a variety of pretty young women is well documented in Emory Thomas’Robert E. Lee; and his writing to Hetty Pegram would have been typically characteristic.32After all, Lee had recently attended the division review with her within the past two weeks.

Pegram was a Virginia gentleman from an aristocratic family. He was also a professional soldier who answered his state’s call to rebellion. In battle he was courageous to a fault, and his officers and men generally responded to his leadership by example. But there was something wrong about his generalship. His relations with non-Virginians and volunteers were strained. His judgment on the battlefield, especially when in independent duty outside the direct supervision of his commander, was often poor. Perhaps Mary Chestnut had him pegged best when she discussed Hetty Cary, "She is engaged to General Pegram, who is promoted regularly after every one of his defeats. Shows what faith they have in him, a conspicuous mark of the confidence his superior officers have in his merits..."33 The cavalier Pegram was warmly praised in the press at the announcement of his death, but at that late stage in the war, the press was not critical of generals who died at the head of their troops.34

John Pegram, son of generals, looked every bit the part of a Confederate general, and he was widely respected in the Army of Northern Virginia. But in all likelihood he was a mediocre general at best. Aside from Mary Chestnut’s evaluation, the possibility that Pegram was indeed only mediocre comes from Douglas Southall Freeman’s condemning silence as to his abilities. The best thing that Freeman says of John Pegram was that he was Willie’s brother.35 Admittedly, John Pegram had relatively brief service with the Army of Northern Virginia, but that did not keep Freeman from praising other officers.

In conclusion, history shows that Pegram was Lee’s paradoxical cavalier. While the very model of courage and comportment, style and spirituality, Pegram was a poor leader of volunteers and a mediocre tactical commander.


1. Perhaps no army in history has been the topic of more writers than Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Arguably the best study of the southern general and his key subordinates is Douglas Southall Freeman, Lee’s Lieutenants, 3 vols., (New York: Charles Schribner’s Sons, 1945).

2. Many authors have remarked on Lee’s fondness for Virginians. Only Longstreet among those named was not from Virginia. Pickett, both Lees (one Robert’s nephew and the other his son), Hill and Ewell were from the Virginia social aristocracy. Richard N. Current, ed.Encyclopedia of the Confederacy, Vol. 3 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993).

3. A recent biography of John Pegram’s youngest brother, Willy, provides valuable insights into the Pegram family. See Peter S. Carmichael, Lee’s Young Artillerist: William R. J. Pegram (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995), p. 7-13.

4. Ibid., p. 14-15. The author’s thesis is that many southern aristocrats had a strong sense of religious obligation toward maintenance of the social order, including slavery, and fervently fought for their way of life. These men and women would equate losing faith with the southern cause with losing their religious faith. They never lost hope in their cause.

5. Garnett was very surprised at the poor quality of his troops. See, for example, Richard L. Armstrong, 25th Virginia Infantry and 9th Battalion, Virginia Infantry (Lynchburg: H.E. Howard, Inc., 1990).

6. Ibid., p. 14. Pegram’s problems are reported by many authors, including Freeman, vol. 1, p. 27.

7. During the early part of the battle, Pegram was surprised when Union forces attacked from his left, instead of his right. His relations with his subordinates probably added to his woes. "…Not long after the sounds of axes could be heard on the left of Camp Garnett as well. Captain Higginbotham heard the chopping on his left, and twice sent word…to Pegram. The Captain was curtly told ‘to mind his own business.’ This ended any further communications between the two officers…" Armstrong, p. 14.

8. Freeman, Vol. 1, 34. Union General McClellan had to ask Washington for guidance in handling his first prisoners of the war. The War of the Rebellion: A compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols., (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1901), Series II, Vol. 4, p. 931 (Cited hereinafter as O.R. All subsequent references are to Series I unless otherwise noted.)

9. O.R., Series II, vol. 1, p. 99. Pegram did not suffer too badly in captivity. He stayed at the Barnum’s Hotel in Baltimore for some time, corresponding with Confederate authorities from there, before making his way to Richmond in February. He was officially exchanged in April, 1862, when Lieutenant Colonel Bomford reached Fortress Monroe from Texas, where he had been captured. O.R., Series II, vol. 3, p. 181.

10. Carmichael, p. 64.

11. Clement A. Evans, ed., Confederate Military History, Vol. 3, Virginia, by Jed Hotchkiss (New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1962).

12. Although Kirby Smith, of Florida, had done well, he was wounded at Manassas and wound up in the West after Lee’s reorganization following the Seven Days. Was that a coincidence or Lee’s doing, given Lee’s affinity for officers from Virginia? Freeman, Vol. 1, p. 674-5.

13. O.R., vol. 16, part 2, p. 985.

14. O.R., vol. 20, part 1, p. 785.

15. "Upon Friday I was ordered by General Bragg to the right. When Breckinridge's division attacked the enemy's left on Friday afternoon, having received no intimation that such an attack was contemplated, I accompanied Pegram's battery to the front and right with Companies D and K, of the Texas Rangers, and my escort company. Capt. Paul [F.] Anderson not being able to induce General Pegram to open with his battery (he being fearful of firing into our own troops), I took charge of the battery, placing it upon a commanding hill, and opened fire upon a heavy column of the enemy advancing from their extreme left to turn Breckinridge's right. The fire was so effective (the range not being over 500 yards) as to shoot down their standard and throw them into confusion…" O.R., vol. 20, part 1, p. 969.

16. O.R., vol. 16, part 1, p. 885-6.

17. Brigadier General John Pegram to Major General Simon B. Buckner, May 24, 1863, Pegram-Johnson-Macintosh Papers, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond. In this letter Pegram appeals for assistance in dealing with Ashby and Scott, whom Pegram accuses of intriguing against him. Pegram also expresses dismay that the colonels would think him unfit.

18. See, for example, United States Marine Corps, Warfighting (New York: Doubleday, 1994), p. 27-30. Even modern day military manuals stress leaders must share dangers and deprivations, expose themselves to danger, and generally lead from the front.

19. O.R., vol. 23, part 1, p. 316. In a letter from Buckner to John H. Morgan, dated May15, 1863, Buckner states, "I can only wish that you were permanently in command of my cavalry; and should I have the good fortune to have you assigned to command, I will so arrange it. In the mean time, I am informed that General Pegram, at present in command of the cavalry of this department, is your senior…With your consent, I will endeavor, at the proper time, to obtain your transfer to my department."

20. O.R., vol. 23, part 2, p. 760. Bragg was relying on cavalry raids to keep his force supplied with beef. For the conflicting reports of the Confederate defeat, see Pegram’s and Scott’s reports, O.R., vol. 23, part 1, p. 171-6. Clearly one was wrong.

21. Correspondence and messages about the Willcox-Pegram skirmishes and Maury’s instructions to Pegram are found in O.R., vol. 23, parts 1 and 2.

22. O.R., vol. 23, part 2, p. 838-9.


23. Perhaps the best article about Hetty Cary Pegram is found in Jeffry D. Wert, "The Confederate Belle," Civil War Times Illustrated, August 1976, p. 20.


24. Typical of the references to Pegram are those of his corps commander at the time of his death, "General John Pegram, one of my most accomplished commanders…" John B. Gordon, Reminiscences of the Civil War (New York: Charles Schribner’s Sons, 1903), p. 338. Mary Chestnut reported in March 1864 that, "Someone counted 14 generals in church and suggested less piety and more drilling of commands would suit the times better….Lee, Longstreet, Morgan… Pegram, Gordon and Bragg…" were among those seen. See C. Vann Woodward, ed. Mary Chestnut’s Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981), p. 476.

25. Henry Kyd Douglas, I Rode with Stonewall (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1940), p. 318. Douglas managed to escape his captors and return to Early’s lines. His wording seems most unusual and he appears to be trying hard not to censure Pegram.

26. The South had many belles, but "No reign in Richmond was more lasting, more undisputed than hers," wrote Thomas C. DeLeon, Belles, Beaux, and Brains, (New York; G.W. Dillingham, 1907.) Mary Chestnut mentioned the Pegram-Cary courtship and marriage several times. See Woodward, p. 584. Finally, Pegram’s brother, William (Willy) Pegram wrote a passionate letter to his mother describing attendance at parties that kept him up very late, and unfit for duty the days following, and that also show John Pegram was attending the parties. See William Pegram letter to Virginia Pegram, December 22, 1864, Eleanor Brockenbrough Library, Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond.

27. DeLeon, Chapter XVII, p. 20. The Brothers Pegram, John for sure, were members of a genteel Richmond society group known as the Mosaics, which met at various homes for evenings of music, conversation, improvisation, and general merriment. John Pegram attended whenever his duties permitted, as surely did Miss Cary. Of course, when paroled or recovering from wounds, Pegram could have attended regularly.

28. General John Pegram to Colonel Walter Taylor (Lee’s staff), January 16, 1865, Pegram-Johnson-Macintosh Papers. Pegram requests "…4 days leave of absence to visit Richmond on urgent business."

29. Most accounts of the review are taken from Douglas, p. 325.

30. Douglas, p. 325-327.

31. Wert, p. 27.

32. For interesting reading about Lee’s relationship with a variety of younger women, most of whom were very attractive, see Emory M. Thomas, Robert E. Lee: A Biography (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1995). For Lee’s very spiritual letter to Hetty Pegram see General R. E. Lee, Petersburg, to Mrs. Pegram, February 11, 1865, Eleanor Brockenbrough Library, Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond.


33. Woodward, p. 476.


34. The Richmond Whig, February 8, 1865, mentioned Pegram’s early troubles when it announced his death, "We are pained to announce the death of Brigadier General John Pegram…Though unsuccessful early in the war, General Pegram had latterly established an enviable reputation as a gallant soldier and an able and efficient officer…" The Richmond Dispatch, February 9, 1865, averted mention of earlier problems while saying, "Brigadier General Pegram, who fell nobly at the head of his men…He had been in the army since the opening of the war, and had borne a distinguished part in many hard-fought fields. He was a man of the most unflinching gallantry and a high order of intellect…" The Richmond Daily Enquirer, February 9, 1865, provides the most detailed account of the battle in which Pegram was killed, but makes little mention of Pegram’s background or service, simply stating he was a casualty.

35. Freeman, vol. 3, p. 238. Freeman spelled William Pegram’s nickname "Willie" as opposed to Carmichael’s "Willy." See Freeman, vol. 3, p. 678.




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Wert, Jeffry D. "The Confederate Belle". Civil War Times Illustrated, August 1976, 20.

Woodward, C. Vann, ed. Mary Chestnut’s Civil War. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981.


Author’s Note: While researching Pegram at the Museum of the Confederacy, where I received the very able and kind assistance of Dr. John Coski, the Museum’s historian, a biography of John Pegram was pointed out to me. The biography was written by a Virginia Commonwealth University professor of business. Since the literature about Pegram, aside from the OR, is very sparse, I decided not to look at the book and instead rely on my own research. Unfortunately, I failed to get the proper citation that I should have in order to point that book out to future readers. I did not use it in any way, though Dr. Coski certainly made me aware of its existence.

Interestingly, my inquiries about Pegram at the Virginia Historical Society did not result in the Pegram biography coming to light. Dr. Coski reports that the book was written as part of the H.E. Howard Inc. series about Virginia units and personalities in the Civil War. He also reports the series is of uneven quality, but he had not read the title on Pegram. The one Howard-series book I did use, Armstrong’s book on the 25th Virginia, is useful but very poorly cited, for example.


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