One of Lee's Best Men: The Civil War Letters of General William Dorsey Pender

One of Lee's Best Men: The Civil War Letters of General William Dorsey Pender

One of Lee's Best Men: The Civil War Letters of General William Dorsey Pender

One of Lee's Best Men: The Civil War Letters of General William Dorsey Pender

Synopsis

On the day that Lincoln was inaugurated in 1861, twenty-seven-year-old William Dorsey Pender, en route to the provisional Confederate capital in Montgomery, Alabama, hurriedly scribbled a note to his wife, Fanny. So began a prolific correspondence between a rising Confederate officer and his cherished wife that would last until Pender was mortally wounded at Gettysburg.



First published by UNC Press in 1965, Pender's letters are filled with personal details, colorful descriptions, and candid opinions of such important figures as Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, J. E. B. Stuart, and A. P. Hill. His comments on his military activities and aspirations and the challenges of command, combined with his husbandly advice and affection, sketch an intimate and unvarnished portrait of the man who was perhaps the most distinguished North Carolina commander.

Excerpt

The wagon headed south toward Virginia, bouncing along the rutted roads that took it farther from the killing fields of Gettysburg. Inside lay a soldier not yet thirty years old, who nursed as best he could a terrible gash in his leg, caused by a fragment of a shell that had exploded near him on July 2. the swelling from the injury was responsible for the indignity of the ambulance ride, since the wound was too painful to allow him to mount his horse.

The hours in the back of the wagon must have seemed interminable, the pain excruciating. But by the time the officer reached Staunton, Virginia, the situation began to appear much improved, the wound apparently starting to heal without difficulty. Suddenly, however, complications arose. the wound began to bleed profusely, and only the application of a temporary tourniquet allowed enough time for a surgeon to reach the soldier.

The surgeon did what he could for the young officer, but repairs to his damaged artery failed, forcing the removal of the leg in hopes of saving the soldier’s life. Unfortunately, as was often the case with Civil War surgery, the trauma of the amputation proved to be too much. the patient, comforted by the presence of his favorite older brother, lingered long enough to hear that the Army of Northern Virginia was once again on Southern soil. in his last moments, his thoughts also must have drifted to his beloved wife and two sons. But fate had denied him the chance to see his family one final time. in a matter of hours, William Dorsey Pender was gone.

Indeed, from the vantage point of his commanding officers, family

1. This account is taken from Hassler’s afterword, 259-60, below.

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