John Pelham was the son of an Alabama planter. He started West Point in 1856 and enrolled in an experimental 5-year curriculum. He excelled in artillery studies and within weeks of graduation, he quit school to join the Confederacy, posted to Lynchburg, Virginia as an artillery/ordnance officer.
As a Lieutenant Col., he commanded the Horse Artillery Battalion, Cavalry Division, Army of Northern Virginia from August 1862 until his death on March 17, 1863.
After fighting at lst Bull Run, he was promoted to captain and became commander of an 8-gun battery of Horse Artillery. His battery served with Brigadier G en. J.E.B Stuart's cavalry, becoming close friends with the general. While serving in the artillery, he improved artillery tactics by increasing speed of movement, fire, and accuracy. Pelham was one of the Confederacy's finest artillery commanders during the war. Before being killed, he fought in more than 60 engagements.
After the battle of 2nd Bull Run, he was promoted and given command of a battalion of horse artillery.
Known as the "Boy Major," he heard of an impending action at Kelly's Ford on March 17, 1863. Away from his battalion at the time on personal business, he joined Gen. J.E.B. Stuart in the fray. He joined in a cavalry charge with the 3rd Virginia Cavalry. He was struck in the neck with a shell fragment while directing a column past a fence. After being injured, he was taken to his fiance's house in nearby Culpeper. He died later that same day.
Pelham was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel posthumously on April 4, 1863. He bragged of never losing one of his guns in battle.