General Pender, I Salute You
William Dorsey Pender
One of my favorite Confederate Generals is Major General William Dorsey Pender. Dorsey Pender was born in North Carolina in 1834. He began his college education by entering the United States Military Academy in 1850. He graduated in 1854 ranked nineteenth in a class of forty-six students. It seems he was weakness was learning French.
In the U.S. Army, he began his career in the artillery. He eventually was transferred to the dragoons. He would still be serving in the dragoons when the Civil War began. Prior to the Civil War, his only combat action was three skirmishes with Native Americans out west. He personally subdued an Indian Chief at Spokane Plains and hurled the man from his horse where Pender's fellow soldier's killed him.
In 1859, Pender married Mary Frances “Fanny” Shepperd, the daughter of Augstine Henry Shepperd a long serving U.S. Congressman. She was so in love with Dorsey that she travelled with him as he was sent from post to post on the West Coast.
Dorsey and Fanny Pender
When the Civil War began, Pender resigned his commission and returned to North Carolina where he offered his services to the Confederacy. Initially beginning the war as colonel of the 13th North Carolina Infantry, three months later he would be assigned to command the 6th North Carolina Infantry.He handled this unit so well at Seven Pines that President Davis arriving on the field announced, “General Pender, I salute you.”
He was promoted to Brigadier General a week later. His brigade would become part of A.P. Hill's Light Division. Pender would see action in the Seven Days', Second Manassas, and Antietam campaigns. He was slightly wounded in the arm during the Seven Days' and was knocked down by the concussion of an exploding shell at Second Manassas where he received a cut on his head. During the Battle of Fredericksburg a bullet passed through his left arm without breaking a bone.
Pender was known to be a strict disciplinarian. His men became almost horrified of him, but they also respected him in much the same way they respected Stonewall Jackson. For some unknown reason, Confederate Brigadier General James Jay Archer despised Pender. When he heard that Pender had been struck in the arm at Fredericksburg, Archer announced, “I wish they had shot him in his damn head.”
During the early months of 1863, many Confederate congressmen petitioned Lee to promote Pender to division command. Major General D.H. Hill, who like James Longstreet thought there were too many Virginia promotions, went to bat for his fellow North Carolinian. Hill said of Pender, “He is an accomplished officer, a christian, and a gentleman of the very first order.” Pender's own Virginia commander A.P. Hill was also begging for Pender's promotion.
Dorsey Pender in Confederate Uniform
Pender fought very well at the Battle of Chancellorsville where he was wounded yet again. He was standing behind some breastworks when a Federal bullet passed through a man standing in front of Pender. The bullet killed the man, but slowed enough to only produce a deep bruise to his shoulder.
Following the battle, Robert E. Lee promoted Pender to major general. Dorsey would hold that rank for just two months. During the first day at the Battle of Gettysburg, Pender would help push the Federal Army back through town to the heights beyond. The next day, just moments before he was to move his division against the Federal center, an exploding shell sent shrapnel into his leg. The wound was not considered dangerous at all.
The next morning, he attempted to mount his horse, yet found it too painful. He was placed in an ambulance with Brigadier General Alfred Scales and made the long trip back to Virginia. In Staunton, the wound began to bleed, yet Pender managed to form a tourniquet and stop the bleeding. A surgeon attempted to mend the artery but only managed to cause it to begin bleeding again. He then amputated the leg, but Pender would die just an hour following the surgery.
Pender was just twenty-nine years old and is considered to be one of Lee's best commanders. He rests today in Calvary Churchyard in Tarboro, North Carolina. Following the Battle of Gettysburg, Robert E. Lee said, “If General Pender had remained on his horse half an hour longer we would have carried the enemy's position.”