Does Comfort Come to Those That Mourn?

Aug 6, 2016
The life of General William Dorsey Pender, has been for me, one of the saddest stories of the Civil War. I got to know him through the book “One of Lee’s Best Men; The Civil War Letters of General William Dorsey Pender”. General Pender was a West Point graduate, and on the 2nd day at Gettysburg he was hit in the thigh from a shell fragment fired from Cemetery Hill. He was taken to Staunton, Virginia and died when an artery ruptured and the subsequent leg amputation was not able to save him. He was 29 years of age when he succumbed to his injury on July 18, 1863.


Public Domain - Wikipedia

General Pender was a faithful letter writer to “his dear Wife”, and his letters were filled with love for his children. He eldest son Samual “Turner” born November 28, 1859 was always upmost in his mind as seen in one of his 1st letters he would write March 4, 1861 - - -

My dear Wife, - “Excuse my writing so soon, but I hurried off so unceremoniously that I feel as if I ought to write you. You must be cheerful, and try to make the best of our position. It is bad but might be worse. I did not tell Turner good bye as you must kiss him and make my apology to him. Keep the little fellow in good health. God bless, you darling, and keep you in good spirits.” - Your devoted husband - Dorsey

The native born North Carolinian resigned from the U.S. Army on March 21, 1861, and was appointed a captain of artillery for the Confederate States Army.

On March 26th he would write Fanny - - -

“My darling how is Turner” Excuse my putting you second in my inquiry”

By June 2nd, 1861 he includes an inquiry of another little one - - -

“I have said nothing of you and dear Turner and Little Dorsey, but not because I have not thought of you”.

Based on his letters it appears that William Dorsey Pender, II was born on May 28th of 1861. On June 13th, 1861 he writes - - -

“you say it is not fair that I should give all my love to Turner instead of dividing it with Dorse. I have no doubt but that after I become well acquainted with the latter I shall love him as well as Turner, but Turner is such a dear boy, and the other I have had such a short acquaintance with. In the meantime I know your heart is large enough to give him plenty to exist on.”

On June 28th, 1861 he wrote Fanny - - -

“I would indeed like to see Turner. If you could hear me brag on my wife and child you would suppose no one ever had a wife or child before.”

His love for Turner is so evident in his letters. His family visits several times in camp, and he grows to love Dorsey, but there is no doubt how much Turner meant to his father. His last letter dated June 28, 1863, his last paragraph is for Turner - - -

“Now darling, may our Good Father protect us and preserve us to each other to a good old age. Tell Turner I have a pretty pair of low patent leather shoes with heels for him” - - - Your loving Husband.”

In 20 days his life was over. Among his last statements he gives to a chaplain that approached him in fear that the general would bleed to death. The chaplain inquired about the state of his soul. - - -

“Tell my wife that I do not fear to die. I can confidently resign my soul to God, trusting in the atonement of Jesus Christ. My only regret is to leave her and our two children. I have always tried to do my duty in every sphere in which Providence has placed me.”

The Pender family must move on. Their 2nd son, Dorsey, studied law at the University of North Carolina and practiced law in Norfolk, the youngest Stephen, whom his father never saw, went into the cotton business. The little boy in General Pender’s letters, Turner, would be the next in the family to bring more sorrow in the tragic tale.


Samuel Turner Pender (Public Domain)

Turner Pender was employed as a general freight and passenger agent of the Carolina and Northwestern Railroad, and then on April 22, 1897 death comes again - - -


Clipped from Daily Concord Standard, Friday, April 23 1897

Turner was 37 when he died and he is buried in Bellview Cemetery, North Carolina. His mother, Mary Frances “Fanny" joined her husband in death in 1920 and they are buried in Calvary Church Cemetery, North Carolina.

The Death of a Father, the Death of His Name Sake

In 1843, Albert Sydney Johnston wed his 2nd wife 8 years after the death of his 1st wife. Together General Johnston and his wife Eliza would welcome a son they named after his father. General Johnston was killed fighting at Shiloh.


Memorial st Shiloh - Public Domain
A year would pass and the Johnston family was once again faced with death, when an accident would claim another Albert Sydney Johnston. General Johnston’s 17 year old son was in California in April of 1863 visiting his mother. He was returning back east, many thought to join the Confederate army. As he was being taken from the shore to the awaiting “Senator”, he was being ferried on a small steamer. The name of the steamer was the “Ada Hancock”, and on that spring day as the winds were gusty, the waves washed upon her decks, people panicked, causing the boat to list and eventually cold water made it’s way to the boiler - it exploded. 17 year old Albert Sydney Johnston, Jr. was among the 26 people killed.


Ada Hancock
Los Angeles Fire Department - Historical Archive

General Albert Sydney Johnston is buried in the “Confederate Field Section”, Texas State Cemetery in Austin. His son is buried Angelus Rosedale Cemetery, in Los Angeles, CA. His mother, Eliza, joined him there when she died in 1896.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
Mothers joined together in tragedy. They mourned their husbands and in time would mourn their sons as a result of tragic accidents. For Eliza Johnston’s there was only 12 months before she faced her son’s death. For Fanny Pender she got to see Turner grow up with a family of his own before death would take him. Their breaking hearts can still be heard through the years to those that listen.

1. One of Lee’s Best Men (“The Civil War Letters of General William Dorsey Pender”), edited by William W. Hassler
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Mar 26, 2018
Land of the tractors
I do think people that can mourn together gives them comfort in not feeling alone and holding each other together with understanding. They can share strength from one another and talk more openly knowing that one another knows those feelings themselves, I think one in mourning could feel more alone otherwise and have a fear of speaking more openly to those that haven’t been through it and therefore stay silent.

Such a sad tale of events here, but the letters he wrote are so full of love and I think those themselves would help with the grieving process as well.


First Sergeant
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Jul 30, 2018
To lose a husband is already bad enough but to lose a son when they still had their lives before them... such a tragedy. Especially for Eliza Johnston the deaths of husband and son within a year must have been devastating.

Love Pender's letters, so sweet. You can literally feel how proud he is of his wife and sons. Have you read the book The General to His Lady: The Civil War Letters of William Dorsey Pender to Fanny Pender? I've heard much good about it and will read it one of these days. :smile:

then on April 22, 1987 death comes again
I think you transposed digits - if Turner was born in 1859 and died aged 37, the death year would be 1897.

Cavalry Charger

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Jan 24, 2017
the letters he wrote are so full of love and I think those themselves would help with the grieving process as well.
Yes, Steph. That love is stated and assured can make a very big difference.

Which is why it is so important to do that as often as you can. Your love and affection can never be doubted, and also provide the healing salve needed when the loss is so great.
Aug 6, 2016
The letters are among the best that I have read when it comes to seeing the relationship between this young married couple. I have to remind myself that his wife was young when she married, approximately 19 or so (no actual date month/day) only the year of 1840. She lived over 80 years and never remarried. She was a widow at 23 - mother of 2 - with another baby on the way - the general had expressed a desire for a girl that he wanted to be named "Fanny".

Dorsey Pender always encouraged Fanny to be strong, and the author concludes the book with the following observation - - -

Fanny proved to be the strong and resourceful woman Pender had told her she was. Refusing outside help she independently supported her boys by running a school and working as post-mistress of Tarboro. Despite her success in making anew life, she could never bring herself to discuss her husband.”

With General Johnston, every photograph I have seen of him he always looks so stern. I know I can easily forget that these men had lives and loves outside of the war. I wonder how Eliza dealt with her husband’s death. He died far away from home, was buried in Texas, and according to everything I read she was in California. I can’t imagine how much of struggle it must have been - her husband goes off to war and she never sees him again. She knows he will never come home and then almost within a year, she lost her 17 year old son. Fanny Pender was aware he husband was injured and she was waiting for him to go home to convalescence.

but no parent should ever have to bury their child.. no matter the child’s age.
When I read that it made me think of General & Mrs. Winfield Hancock, they lost their daughter (Ada Hancock) the young lady that "christened" the steamer that Albert Sydney Johnston, Jr. was on when it exploded. The owner was a close friend of the General and named the boat after their daughter. They also lost their son, Russell, before the General died. in 1886.
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JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania
When we stop being moved by the personal tragedies of this brutal war, it's time to get away from the topic. The tsunami of tragedy that swept our family is one of the reasons I became so interested in this country's expereinces between 1861 and 1865. If ours was that affected so were unnamed, countless others- who were they instead of numbers on casualty lists?

Thanks for putting faces on more, good thread!
Aug 6, 2016
I don't think I know this story.
Here is a quote from the story - - -

“Banning {the owner of the boat} also had the tug rechristened Ada Hancock. The new name honored the friendship between Banning and U.S. Army Captain Winfield Scott Hancock. Banning asked Hancock’s five-year-old daughter Ada to perform the ceremony shortly before Hancock and his family left Los Angeles for a post with a Union Army regiment in Ohio.”

Ada Hancock - born February 24, 1857 - died March 28, 1875 - she is buried with her father.

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