artillerists, it was a day of disaster not to be recorded
solely in terms of four guns lost or of good soldiers
captured. After Col. William Pegram had posted his six guns
at 10 o'clock, he had lain down on the field and had fallen
asleep. He had felt at its keenest, of course, the grief of
the South at the death of his magnificent brother John, the
General of the family, but he had shown and probably had
felt no disappointment that he had himself been kept so long
at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and had not been made a
general officer. Heth and "Dick" Anderson separately had
asked for his promotion and assignment to command of an
infantry Brigade. Powell Hill in these words had endorsed
Heth's recommendation of Pegram: "No officer of the
Army of Northern Virginia has done more to deserve this
promotion than Lieutenant Colonel Pegram." Pegram did not
know that when Heth had urged on Lee the advancement of the
artillerist, the Commanding General had said: "He is too
young--how old is Colonel Pegram ?" Heth had answered: "I do
not know, but I suppose about 25.' Lee had replied: "I think
a man of 25 as good as he ever will be; what he acquires
after that age is from experience; but I can't understand,
when an officer is doing excellent service where he is, why
he should want to change." The recommendation was returned,
camp gossip had it, with the statement that "the artillery
could not lose the services of so valuable an officer."
Pegram was made Colonel of Artillery as of February 18,
though reports had persisted almost until that time
that the higher honor was to be his. It did not matter: he
was content... even under that tree, on wet ground, and with
no food that day except the parched corn taken from the
frightful crash of Warren's opening volley awakened Pegram
with a start. Almost in the same moment he was in his saddle
and, with his Adjutant, Gordon McCabe, was racing toward the
assailed left. Soon he was among his gunners there. They
were firing furiously but in perfect order at Federals who
were not more than thirty to fifty yards in their front.
From those advancing bluecoats there came a continuous hail
admiringly watched the contest in the spirit that led Harry
Heth to say that the young artillerist was "one of the few
men who, I believe, was supremely happy when in battle."
Without deigning to dismount, Pegram then rode out between
the guns. "Fire your canister low," he said to his men. A
moment after he reeled and fell from his horse. "Oh,
Gordon," he cried to his companion, "I'm mortally wounded;
take me off the field."
exceedingly difficult to do, because the enemy was at the
very mouth of the guns. McCabe got his friend on a
stretcher, sent him a little distance to the rear and then
returned momentarily to the battery. When he came back, he
put Pegram in an ambulance and had it started for Ford's
Depot on the Southside Railroad.
Colonel and the Adjutant were scarcely more than boys. The
imminence of Pegram's death made them "as little children."
McCabe wrote three days later: "While in the ambulance I
held him in my arms and prayed for him and kissed him over
and over again. Once when I prayed that his life might be
spared, he said, 'If it is God's will to take me, I am
perfectly resigned. I only wish life for my Mother's and
sisters' sake.' He said several times-- 'Give my love to
mother and both sisters and tell them I thought of them in
my last moments.' Once when in my agony I cried out, 'My
God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me,' he said quickly,
'Don't say that, Gordon, it isn't right.' One thing I love
to dwell upon. I bent over and kissed him and said, calling
him by his name for the first time in my life, ' Willie, !
never knew how much I loved you until now.' He pressed my
hand and answered, 'But I did.' Without ceasing, except
when I lost my voice in tears, I prayed for him, for comfort
for body and soul, and he would simply say, 'Amen.' "
continued: "At about 10 o'clock we reached Ford's, and I
obtained a bed for him . . . I had given him morphine in
small quantities until he was easier, and he soon fell into
a doze. The enemy advanced on the place about 12 o'clock,
and I was left alone with him. I sent off our sabres,
horses, spurs, etc., as I felt sure that we would be
captured. I shall never forget that night of waiting. I
could only pray. He breathed heavily through the night, and
passed into a stupor. I bound his wounds as well as I knew
how and moistened his lips with water. Sunday morning he
died as gently as possible."
was dying with him.
Lee's Lieutenants, Vol. 3, pp. 672 - 674