Despite both being relatives of Major Pelham — a native of Jacksonville who at 24 died a Confederate hero in the Civil War — the first time they’d met was Tuesday, they said.
“It turned into being a family reunion of sorts,” Tom Pelham said. “Seriously, four days ago, I didn’t know he existed.”
Jason Pelham, from the city of Canadian, Texas, went on spring break with his daughter to learn more about their famous relative. They first visited the Alabama town of Pelham, he said. But the town didn’t have much information about Maj. Pelham, he said. They got a tip to head to Jacksonville so they headed to Calhoun County not realizing the wealth of knowledge they were about to pick up.
They arrived Tuesday and while taking pictures of the Pelham monument on the square, Jason Pelham and his daughter ran into Joe Maloney, one of the organizers of the weekend’s commemorative ceremonies of “the Gallant Pelham.”
“I introduced myself and that’s when he said, ‘Did you come in for the celebration?’” Jason Pelham said. “He couldn’t believe that I’d just showed up.”
Maloney put the two in touch with Pete and Tom Pelham, their relatives in town, and Jason Pelham decided to stay for the weekend’s event.
“His dad, he’s jealous that he couldn’t come,” Tom Pelham said.
Jason Pelham agreed.
“He said, ‘Jason this is 150 years and you’re there and you went and found them and you need to stay there for it,’” Jason Pelham said.
While this weekend’s events center on Major Pelham, the commemoration was created to celebrate the town’s heritage, said Ollie Noles, a volunteer at the event.
“It was the 150th anniversary of the John Pelham’s death,” Noles said. “With everything named Pelham around here and he’s the first of a long line of military heroes from Jacksonville or from this area, we just thought it would be a good idea.”
Noles noted the Dr. Francis Medical Museum, a block off the square, was also open for the event. The museum was one of the stops on a tour to explore the town’s historic sites.
Dozens of people took the tour, including Suzanne and Jonathan Adams, who sought to learn more about their town’s history. Suzanne Adams came to Jacksonville in 1989 to attend Jacksonville State University and never left, she said.
“It’s a beautiful day to be out and about in Jacksonville,” Suzanne said. “I think it’s important for our son to learn about the history of the city where he has lived.”
Their 12-year-old son was exploring the square spending his money, she said with a laugh. They had also learned about some of the older churches and buildings in town.
“One thing I thought was interesting was that this was a main thoroughfare between Rome to Selma,” she said. “It was well travelled by stagecoaches.”
The commemoration was completely funded by private donations and gifts from organizations, Noles said. The group relied mostly on more than 50 volunteers to work the event, he said.
Carlton Ward, another volunteer at the event, was selling copies of the Jacksonville Republican, a newspaper which served Jacksonville for 60 years many decades ago. He made copies of two of the papers from the old digital archives at the Jacksonville State University library, Ward said. One contained the story about Maj. John Pelham’s death and the other a week later had the obituary and funeral arrangements.
Ward got involved in the commemoration in December because he had a relative who died in a Yankee prisoner of war camp during the Civil War.
“He’s buried there, probably in a mass grave,” Ward said. “I’m not an ardent rebel or anything like that. But my family in Virginia goes back all the way to the American Revolution. I have a great sense of history and family.”
One of the younger volunteers, Korey Sparks, 13, was dressed as an infantry soldier from the Texas division. He was quite knowledgeable about Civil War history.
“I’ve heard about John Pelham since I was a little boy,” Sparks said. “He played a major role in our history about how Jacksonville was founded and he gave his life on the battlefield for us.”
Sparks said in the early years, someone his age would have been a drummer boy in the Confederate Army. However, as the war dragged on, boys as young as 11 were allowed to enlist.
The Commemoration will continue today with a prayer service using period prayers at 9:30 a.m. at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. At 1 p.m. there will be a ceremony on the square followed by a funeral procession to Pelham’s gravesite for a decoration of the grave at 2 p.m.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.