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The Purcell battery from Richmond, Va. [from the Galveston, Texas, news, November, 1899.]

Its gallant conduct at the battle of Cedar Run.

After helping McClellan to change his base from the Pamunkey to James river (in which operation our battery lost in killed and wounded sixty-five men out of less than one hundred), we were ordered from Malvern Hill to Richmond to refit and recruit. After several weeks' rest, we were attached to Jackson's flying column, and sent to meet the army of the Potomac, commanded by General John Pope, who, the Northern press declared, would prove ‘more than a match for Stonewall Jackson,’ and had been sent to Virginia to teach him (Jackson) the art of war.

Arriving at Orange Courthouse about August 8th, we took a short rest, and on the afternoon of the 9th crossed the Rapidan at Morton's Ford. A. P. Hill's division, to which we were attached, was marching in columns through a wooded country, over a very rough road. Our battery was about the centre of the column. As soon as the head of our troops emerged from the woods into the open fields of [90] Culpeper, they were attacked by Banks's corps. After a short but desperate conflict, Banks fell back, and the fighting ceased. We had been posted in the woods, and did not see or participate in the fighting, at which our boy captain—little Willie Pegram—was very much chagrined. But his chance was soon to come. In a short time an order came to send Pegram's rifled guns to the front. Going forward, we soon came to the open country, where Jackson and our chief of artillery, General R. L. Walker, met us and pointed out the position we were to take and the work we were to do. In an old stubble-field on a little knoll we unlimbered, and Jackson in person directed Pegram to throw shells into a distant woods. We opened fire as directed, using 1 and 2-second shells—no enemy in sight. Three hundred yards in front of us was a heavy growth of green corn, extending for a mile or more over beautifully undulating ground. To the left was the road by which we had come, and the only line of retreat in case such an emergency arose.

We had fired only a few shots, when over the hill and through the corn we saw at least a brigade of blue infantry coming straight for the guns. Changing from shell to shrapnel and canister, we turned our entire attention to this column, but they continued to come on without a waver. Finally we doubled the charges of canister, and then they broke and went back over the hill. Just then we noticed coming down the road at full speed, and in easy shell range, a body of blue cavalry. If they passed our flank we were lost. Changing front to the left, we raked the road, first with shell, then with canister. The cavalry came on almost past the danger point, then broke and went back.

Our attention was then called to our old friends, the infantry, who had been reinforced, and were coming through the corn as if to take our guns at all hazards. The situation looked desperate, as we had no support near by. Pegram ordered double charges of canister, and seizing the flag, he went from gun to gun, waving it in the very faces of the men, and begging: ‘Don't let the enemy have these guns or this flag; Jackson is looking at you. Go in, men; give it to them.’

The column faltered and went back and reformed, only to come again. On they came, and were getting in good canister range, when an order came to fall back. The bugle blew, ‘Limber to the rear; cannoneers mount.’ Just as this order was executed, one of the gun horses was killed, and it looked as if the only prudent thing [91] to do was to leave this gun and save the rest, if we could. Pegram did not think so, and he quickly gave the order:

‘Action, front! Fire double charges of canister!’

While we obeyed this order under his personal direction, the drivers replaced the dead horse, and again the bugle sounded: ‘Limber to the rear! Cannoneers mount! Retire!’ which was instantly obeyed, for the enemy were within less than 100 yards of our guns and in great force.

We galloped away with all of our guns, but reinforcements coming up, we soon had our old position back. After this, Pegram heard the men discussing how near we came to losing the gun. He merely said: ‘Men, whenever the enemy takes a gun from my battery, look for my dead body in front of it.’ And he kept his word.

From a private in an infantry company, he rose to be a colonel of artillery, and commanded at one time, as high as sixty guns in battle. He never lost a single piece until the final break — up at Five Forks. He died, aged 22, in Gilliand Field, in a little redoubt, by the side of the first gun the enemy had ever captured from his command, and his eyes were closed in death 'ere they claimed the prize.

What Napoleon said of Ney might well be said of Willie Pegram, the boy artillerist: ‘What a man! What a soldier!’ Of boyish form and face, in camp and on the march he had the voice and manners of a school-girl. Kind and gentle to his men, still a stern disciplinarian, requiring every one to do his whole duty. Amid the roar of his guns on the battlefield he became a giant in voice and stature, and seemed to know in the hottest battle just which gun was doing the best work, even when he had forty in action, and never failed to give praise even to a private when due, but just as quick to censure if it was deserved. He once heard that some of his men had censured him for volunteering to go into a very desperate position, where a whole gun's crew were cut down with one shell. He immediately called the company into line, and said:

‘Men, I have heard that I have been blamed for the disaster that occurred to our company at Manassas. Every man who is not willing to follow me wherever I choose to take him, will please step to the front. If a majority, I will resign and go into the ranks; if a minority, I will give them a transfer to such other commands as they may select.’

He waited some time. Not a man stirred. ‘Then,’ said he, ‘let us have no more of this talk. A soldier should always seek the most desperate post that has to be filled.’ [92]

He was a shining example of the influence a good officer has over his men. I believe almost any set of men would have fought under W. J. Pegram.

A. S. Drewry, Private Purcell Battery, Pegram's Battalion Artillery, Third Corps, Army of Northern Virginia.

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