Edmund Pettus

Edmund Winston Pettus (born July 6, 1821 – July 27, 1907) was an American politician who represented Alabama in the United States Senate from 1897 to 1907. He served as a senior officer of the Confederate States Army, commanding infantry in the Western Theater of the American Civil War. After the war, he was politically active in the Ku Klux Klan, serving as a Grand Dragon.[1]

Edmund Pettus
Brig. Gen. Edmund Winston Pettus, C.S.A.jpg
United States Senator
from Alabama
In office
March 4, 1897 – July 27, 1907
Preceded byJames L. Pugh
Succeeded byJoseph F. Johnston
Personal details
Born
Edmund Winston Pettus

(1821-07-06)July 6, 1821
Athens, Alabama, U.S.
DiedJuly 27, 1907(1907-07-27) (aged 86)
Hot Springs, North Carolina, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
RelationsJohn J. Pettus (brother)
Alma materClinton College
Military service
Allegiance United States
 Confederate States
Branch/serviceSeal of the United States Board of War and Ordnance.png United States Army
 Confederate States Army
Years of service1847–1849 (USA)
1861–1865 (CSA)
RankUnion army 2nd lt rank insignia.jpg Lieutenant (USA)
Brigadier general (CSA)
Battles/warsMexican–American War
American Civil War (POW)

The Edmund Pettus Bridge across the Alabama River in Selma, built in 1940, was named in his honor. In 1965, the bridge became a landmark of the civil rights movement.

Early life and careerEdit

Edmund Pettus was born in 1821 in Limestone County, Alabama.[2] He was the youngest of nine children of John Pettus and Alice Taylor Winston, a brother of John J. Pettus, and a distant cousin of Jefferson Davis.[3] Pettus was educated in local public schools, and later graduated from Clinton College located in Smith County, Tennessee.[4]

Pettus then studied law in Tuscumbia, Alabama, under William Cooper and was admitted to the state's bar association in 1842. Shortly afterward he settled in Gainesville and began practicing as a lawyer. On June 27, 1844, Pettus married Mary L. Chapman, with whom he had three sons, two of whom died in infancy, and two daughters.[1] Also that year he was elected solicitor for the seventh Judicial Circuit of Alabama.[5]

During the Mexican–American War in 1846–48, Pettus served as a lieutenant with the Alabama Volunteers, and after the end of hostilities he moved to California, where he fought against the Yukis and other Native Americans.[6]

By 1853, he returned to Alabama, serving again in the seventh circuit as solicitor. He was appointed a judge in that circuit in 1855 until resigning in 1858. Pettus then relocated to the now extinct town of Cahaba[4] in Dallas County, Alabama, where he again took up work as a lawyer.[7]

American Civil WarEdit

In 1861, Pettus, an enthusiastic champion of the Confederate cause and of slavery, was a Democratic Party delegate to the secession convention in Mississippi, where his brother John was serving as governor. Pettus helped organize the 20th Alabama Infantry, and was elected as one of its first officers.[4] On September 9, he was made the regiment's major, and on October 8, he became its lieutenant colonel.[6]

Pettus served in the Western Theater of the American Civil War. During the Stones River Campaign, he was captured by Union soldiers on December 29, 1862, and exchanged a short time later for Union soldiers. Pettus was captured again on May 1, 1863, while part of the surrendered garrison that had been defending Port Gibson in Mississippi. He managed to escape and return to his own lines. Pettus was promoted to colonel on May 28, and given command of the 20th Alabama.[6]

 
Siege of Vicksburg; positions June 23–July 4, 1863

During the 1863 Vicksburg Campaign, Pettus and his regiment were part of the force defending Confederate control of the Mississippi River. When the garrison surrendered on July 4, Pettus was again a prisoner until his exchange on September 12.[6] Six days later he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general,[8] and on November 3 he was given brigade command in the Army of Tennessee.[6] Pettus and his brigade participated in the Chattanooga Campaign, posted on the extreme southern slope of Missionary Ridge on November 24, and fought during the action the following day.[9]

Pettus and his command took part in the 1864 Atlanta Campaign, fighting in the battles of Kennesaw Mountain on June 27, Atlanta on July 22, and Jonesborough from August 31 to September 1.[5] Beginning on December 17, he temporarily led a division in the Army of Tennessee.[10] During the 1865 Carolinas Campaign, Pettus was sent to defend Columbia, South Carolina, and fought in the Battle of Bentonville from March 19–21.[5] Pettus was wounded in this fight, hit in his right leg during the battle's first day. On May 2 he was paroled from Salisbury, North Carolina, and, four months after the Confederacy surrendered, Pettus was pardoned by the U.S. Government on October 20.[6]

Later lifeEdit

 
Edmund Pettus in his later years

After the war, Edmund Pettus returned to Alabama and resumed his law practice in Selma. Pettus served as chairman of the state delegation to the Democratic National Convention for more than two decades.[2] In 1877, during the final year of Reconstruction, Pettus was named Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan. With earnings from his law practice, he bought farm land.[2]

In 1896, at the age of 75, Pettus ran for U.S. Senate as a Democrat and won, beating incumbent James L. Pugh. The state legislature, rather than state voters, elected United States Senators then. His campaign relied on his successes in organizing and popularizing the Alabama Klan and his prominent opposition to the constitutional amendments following the Civil War that elevated former slaves to the status of free citizens.[2] On March 4, 1897, he began service in the U.S. Senate. The state legislature re-elected him on 26 January 1903 and 22 January 1907. This term would begin two years later, in 1909.

Pettus died at Hot Springs, North Carolina, in the summer of 1907, at age 86, while still in office and elected for the next term. He is buried in Live Oak Cemetery in Selma.[7]

LegacyEdit

Military historian Ezra J. Warner wrote that Pettus was "a fearless and dogged fighter and distinguished himself on many fields in the western theater of war" and after his promotion to a general officer "he followed with conspicuous bravery every forlorn hope which the Confederacy offered..."[4] Likewise historian Jon L. Wakelyn summed up his military career by saying " … he volunteered for service in the Confederate Army and distinguished himself in the western command."[5] As a U.S. Senator, Pettus was "the last of the Confederate brigadiers to sit in the upper house of the national Congress."[4]

In 1940, a bridge across the Alabama River in Selma was named after him. In 1965, it became a civil rights movement landmark when 525 to 600 civil rights marchers on their way from Selma to Montgomery tried to cross the bridge, but were turned back and attacked by Alabama state troopers and members of the Ku Klux Klan. This event has since been called Bloody Sunday.[11]

See alsoEdit

NotesEdit

  1. ^ a b Watson, Elbert L. (January 5, 2015). "Edmund Pettus". Encyclopedia of Alabama.
  2. ^ a b c d Whack, Errin (March 7, 2015). "Who Was Edmund Pettus". Smithsonian. Smithsonian.com. Archived from the original on April 22, 2019. Retrieved March 7, 2014.
  3. ^ Eicher (2), p. 427. Wakelyn, p. 344.
  4. ^ a b c d e Warner, p. 238.
  5. ^ a b c d Wakelyn, p. 344.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Eicher (2), p. 427.
  7. ^ a b "Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress". uab.edu. Retrieved January 31, 2009.
  8. ^ Wright, p. 112. Appointed from Alabama on September 19, 1863, to rank from September 18, and confirmed by Confederate Congress February 17, 1864.
  9. ^ Eicher (1), p. 607.
  10. ^ Eicher (2), p. 427. Led Stevenson's Division until wounding on March 19, 1865.
  11. ^ "Selma to Montgomery March". stanford.edu. Retrieved February 5, 2009.

ReferencesEdit

External linksEdit

U.S. Senate
Preceded by
James L. Pugh
U.S. senator (Class 3) from Alabama
1897–1907
Served alongside: John T. Morgan, John H. Bankhead
Succeeded by
Joseph F. Johnston
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Daniel T. Jewett
Oldest living U.S. Senator
January 6, 1901 – July 27, 1907
Succeeded by
John Conness