Friday, June 26, 2015

Dying so Close to Home: The Pegram Brothers

Over the last couple of months I have posted about a number of United States Colored Troops soldiers from Kentucky who died while serving in Virginia and were buried there--far, far from home. Recently it struck me that readers might find it interesting to learn about two brothers, who fought for the Confederacy, and died near to their father's former home place in Dinwiddie County. 

John Pegram (pictured above) was born on January 24, 1832, in Petersburg, the son of James West Pegram and Virginia Johnson Pegram. James West Pegram had been born on his father's Dinwiddie County plantation in 1804. James was a bright young man and received a Harvard education. He returned to Virginia and began practicing law in Petersburg. In 1841, the Pegrams moved to Richmond ,where Virginia gave birth to William Ransom Johnson Pegram, John's baby brother. 

James Pegram soon became president of the Bank of Virginia. His new position offered the opportunity to expand his wealth by purchasing cotton lands in Mississippi. In 1844, while traveling by steamboat to visit his recently purchased property, the boiler on the boat James was traveling on blew up near Louisville, Kentucky. His body was never located.

John went on to receive an appointment at West Point, where he graduated in 1854, in class top ten. Pegram served at several army posts in the West before the Civil War. Captured in 1861, Pegram was soon exchanged and back in Confederate service. Pegram made of tour of duty in Kentucky,Tennessee, and Georgia in 1862 and 1863, but transferred to the Army of Northern Virginia in the fall of 1863. 

After participating in the Overland Campaign, during the spring and summer of 1864, John was stationed near his hometown of Petersburg. On January 19, 1865, he married the noted Southern beauty Hetty Cary in St. Paul's Church in Richmond. On February 6, while Hetty waited at John's headquarters near Burgess Mill, John ventured out with his division to repulse a Union advance at Hatcher's Run, where he was shot and killed; just three weeks after his wedding day, and only a few miles from where his father grew up. John's body was recovered and his funeral was held in the same church where he was married. General John Pegram was buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.

John's younger brother William, or "Willy" as he was often know, also sought a soldier's life. Willy enlisted in a militia unit as a young man of about sixteen years. In 1859, Willy's militia company was on hand to witness John Brown's execution. Writing to his brother John, who at the time was in the United States army, Willy stated: "Before the Harper's Ferry outbreak this Regiment could not muster over three hundred and fifty men; now was have about seven hundred and fifty." 

With war on the horizon, but not yet a fact, Willy entered the University of Virginia in the fall of 1860. When war did break out, Willy joined the Purcell Artillery, a unit out of Richmond. The Purcell Artillery fought largely in A.P. Hill's Third Corps, where Willy rose through the ranks to colonel. Willy was on sick leave in Richmond when he learned of his brother's death at Hatcher's Run. The studious and bespectacled artilleryman took the misfortune as God's will, but felt the deep pain of losing a close sibling. 

Just two months after losing John, Willy lost his own life fighting beside his artillery at the Battle of Five Forks. He had been hit in the left arm and the bullet entered his side while he sat on his horse among his guns. Taken from the field in an ambulance to Ford's Depot, he died on the morning of April 2, just one week before Lee's surrender at Appomattox; and only a few miles from where his brother had died and his father was born. Willy, like his brother John rests in peace at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, close, close to home.

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