Behind the hearse, ancestors of the pallbearers and relatives of Maj. John Pelham, along with re-enactors in period dress and a few dozen area residents, recreated the funeral procession of a Confederate hero of the Civil War.
The procession was a bit more jovial than the one that would have followed the hearse 150 years ago. People talked about gardening and waved to cars pulled along the side of the road. They joked as they dodged the leavings of the horses pulling the hearse.
But they also talked about their own ancestors who fought during the Civil War and the history of the road they were walking down. And that was the point of the event.
Bill Jones, one of the re-enactors, said he does six to eight re-enactments a year to learn and to teach what he has learned and in that way to honor his ancestors.
“I’m here to honor John Pelham and in honoring John Pelham I am also honoring my ancestors, anyone that was a Confederate veteran,” he said.
The funeral procession and graveside service were the culmination of a weekend of events commemorating Jacksonville’s history from the Civil War era.
Sunday was the 150th anniversary of Pelham’s death in Culpepper, Va., from injuries sustained in a battle a few miles away at Kelly’s Ford. Although Pelham was just 24 when he died, he was a celebrated soldier and was nicknamed “the gallant Pelham” by Robert E. Lee.
Pelham attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point but dropped out two weeks before his graduation in 1861 to join the Confederate Army, said the Rev. Bob Ford, a retired Baptist campus minister from Jacksonville State University, who delivered a eulogy at Pelham’s gravesite. By the summer of 1862, the young soldier had become Maj. Pelham, Ford said. But his career was ended by an artillery fragment less than a year later in Virginia.
The men assumed Pelham was dead when they found him after the battle, slung him over a horse and took his body to a friend’s home in Culpepper, Ford said.
It was there they discovered he was still alive, Ford said; but Pelham never regained consciousness and died early the next day on Mar. 17, 1863.
His body was transported to Richmond, Va., where it lay in state for a time. Then he was transported to Jacksonville for burial. It took two weeks for his body to arrive, Ford said.
Brian Chaney and his wife Melody, brought their three children, Brianna, 10, Amber, 4, and Gavin, 1, to the commemoration Sunday to teach them a little of the city’s history, he said.
“I’ve lived here most all my life,” Chaney said. “I didn’t know some of the stuff about Pelham that I just learned today.”
Chaney, who according to his wife is a “walking history book,” wanted his children to really know the town where they live, he said.
Linda Jones would be pleased.
The Jones family, no relation to Bill Jones, were re-enactors who came from Georgia to support the event. The trips to re-enactments are her family’s recreation, she said.
“We learn history; we do it as a family,” Jones said. “The boys will remember it a whole lot more participating and being here and seeing this than they would reading about it in a book.”
This particular time period in the country’s history is important to preserve, she said.
“So much was sacrificed,” she added.
Pete Pelham summed up the event at the gravesite.
“There’s always a reason to celebrate bravery and character,” Pelham said.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.