Sunday, February 8, 2015

John and Hetty - A Tragic Civil War Romance

With all the death and destruction caused by the Civil War we sometimes tend to forget that love still found a way to blossom for some. John Pegram and Hetty Cary were two who did find love. Unfortunately their story was short and sad.

John Pegram was back in his old stomping grounds when a fight broke out on February 5, 1865, just southwest of Petersburg. Pegram was born in the "Cockade City" in 1832. He had attended West Point and then served in the US Army out West before resigning and joining the Confederate cause in 1861. After being captured early in the war, Pegram fought in the Western Theater, becoming brigadier general in November 1862, but was transferred to Virginia in 1864. He arrived in time to fight at the Battle of the Wilderness where he was wounded. After recuperating, Pegram fought under Jubal Early's command in the Shenandoah Valley and then came home to Petersburg to help bolster the Confederate forces defending his home town.

Hetty Cary came from a well-connected Baltimore family. She was born in 1836 and grew up to be considered one of the most beautiful women in the South. Her dedication to the Confederate cause was part of the reason she and her sister moved to Richmond after the war broke out. The Cary women lived with their Richmond relatives, including their cousin, Constance Cary. The three Cary cousins have the distinction of being the sewers of the first three Confederate battle flags.

John and Hetty met at a party during the war and became engaged in 1862. They found the opportunity to get married when Hetty's mother obtained permission to visit Richmond from Baltimore in the winter of 1865. The wedding occurred at the famous St. Paul's Episcopal Church on January 19, 1865, and was attended by President Jefferson Davis and his wife Varina. The couple honeymooned at Pegram's headquarters on the Petersburg front.

On February 5, General Grant sought to extend his strangling lines around Petersburg. To do so he launched an offensive aimed at getting control the the Boydton Plank Road near Hatcher's Run, and also, if possible, the Southside Railroad. During a counter attack, on February 6, Pegram was shot in the chest and died almost instantly, only 18 short days after the couple's blissful wedding day.

Hetty returned to Richmond with John's body on the railroad. General Pegram's funeral was held just three weeks from their wedding day, in the same church, and was intoned by the same minister that had helped exchange their marital vows.

Shortly after hearing of Gen. Pegram's death, Gen. Robert E. Lee wrote to Hetty:
"I cannot find words to express my deep sympathy in your affliction, my sorry at your loss. God alone can give you strength to bear the blow he has inflicted, and since it has been death by his hand I know it can was sen in mercy. As dear as your husband was to you, as necessary apparently to his Country as as important to his friends, I feel assured it was best for him to go at the moment he did. His purity of character, his services to the Country and his devotion to his God, prepared him for the peace and rest he now enjoys. We are left to grieve at his departure, cherish his memory and prepare to follow. May God give us his Grace, that through the mediation of his blessed Son, we may be ready to obey his gracious Summons."

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