MG William Dorsey Pender: Phenom or Overhyped?

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Joined
Jan 20, 2020
Location
Frostburg, Maryland
Hello everyone! This is my first post here and I am happy to join a community with such great passion and knowledge on the Civil War.

My question pertains to MG Dorsey Pender, a man who is considered by many of his colleagues to have been one of the best up and coming young generals in the AoNV. If i so recall, Lee said that his loss at Gettysburg was the second greatest loss, second to Jackson ( i could be wrong on that.) I must admit I do not know much of Pender’s excellence other than what his colleagues said of him, but what do yall think. Does he deserve the praise he gets or is a victim of being cut down before he could do anything that we could grade him on as a divisional commander (Similar to AS Johnston, the loss mythologizes the mans impact)? If he had lived, how do you think he would have faired if he had been later promoted to Corps Command (I do remember reading he was seen as that in the future.)? Thank you all!
 

nc native

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 30, 2011
Location
NC Piedmont
I like your avatar! Dorsey Pender was a young star on the rise at the time of his death at Gettysburg in the eyes of many and his performance on the battlefield did nothing to tarnish this growing reputation. He was an aggressive commander and a strict disciplinarian
who seemed to get the best from the men who served under his command. His personal bravery is without question, he was wounded in most of the battles he fought in and won praise from General Lee and General Jackson for his leadership abilities.

As a corps commander, I believe his aggressive nature would have served him well. If he instead of Ewell had been in command of of Second Corps on the first day at Gettysburg, I think the high ground around Gettysburg may have been seized. Pender also worked well with his fellow generals and could be counted on to follow instructions. It is hard to say how he would have done with an independent command but as part of a team, he was reliable and could be counted on to get a job done.

Welcome to the forum from a member who had a direct ancestor who was an officer in the Pickett/Garnett brigade! The ancestor I speak of served in the 18th Virginia Infantry from 1861 until he was wounded for the third time during the war and captured at Gettysburg.
 
Joined
Jan 20, 2020
Location
Frostburg, Maryland
Thank you! Great picture yourself, great minds think alike lol. I have at least a half dozen ancestors that fought in the 28th VA if not more. I do know none of them were killed or captures at Gettysburg but given the losses, i have no doubt many were wounded. I have other ancestors in other Va regiments, including McNeill’s Rangers (His name was William Maloney and he wrote the account of the rangers capturing two union generals in my county seat, Cumberland MD.) I also have NC ancestors too but i dont remember their regiments.

As for my opinion of Pender, I agree with what you have said about him. I am just curious as to others opinions on him.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

rpkennedy

Lt. Colonel
Member of the Year
Joined
May 18, 2011
Location
Carlisle, PA
As a brigade commander, he was outstanding. His troops were often in the heaviest of the fighting and Pender led his men from the front, which led to his being wounded in almost every engagement in which he fought. At Chancellorsville, he showed ability when he took over A.P. Hill's division and Lee rewarded that with command of the division when the army was reorganized.

On July 1 at Gettysburg, however, he had a bit of a hiccup. For the first time, he did not lead his men but rather sent them forward. This caused his attack to be somewhat disjointed. Scales on the right was taken in the flank and stopped cold by a wall of lead. Lane on the left barely did anything at all when his brigade lagged behind the others and missed most of the fighting (this was a mix of Lane's desultory actions and the brilliance of Gamble's cavalrymen). And Perrin in the center nearly faltered until Perrin rode in front of his line and urged it forward under a terrible fire. If not for Perrin's actions, Pender's attack may well have failed. In addition, when he finally reached Seminary Ridge, Pender called off the pursuit, infuriating Perrin. All in all, it was not a good day for Pender. Unfortunately for him, he wasn't able to make up for it because he was wounded before he could get his men into action on the evening of July 2.

Overall, I would rate him an excellent brigade commander and an ok division commander who showed promise but died before he could make good on it.

Ryan
 

rpkennedy

Lt. Colonel
Member of the Year
Joined
May 18, 2011
Location
Carlisle, PA
Poor guy lingered on for over a month following his wounding at Gettysburg. He even had his leg amputated back in Virginia before dying on July 18th. Oh by the way Howdy + Welcome from Texas!
The amputation was an attempt to save his life. His femoral artery ruptured and the took the leg to stop the blood loss. Unfortunately, it was too late and he died a few hours after the operation. Ironically, some of the doctors believed that the rough ambulance ride back to Virginia caused the rupture and thought that if he had been left behind, he likely would have lived.

Ryan
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Rick Richter

Private
Joined
Dec 6, 2012
As a brigade commander, he was outstanding. His troops were often in the heaviest of the fighting and Pender led his men from the front, which led to his being wounded in almost every engagement in which he fought. At Chancellorsville, he showed ability when he took over A.P. Hill's division and Lee rewarded that with command of the division when the army was reorganized.

On July 1 at Gettysburg, however, he had a bit of a hiccup. For the first time, he did not lead his men but rather sent them forward. This caused his attack to be somewhat disjointed. Scales on the right was taken in the flank and stopped cold by a wall of lead. Lane on the left barely did anything at all when his brigade lagged behind the others and missed most of the fighting (this was a mix of Lane's desultory actions and the brilliance of Gamble's cavalrymen). And Perrin in the center nearly faltered until Perrin rode in front of his line and urged it forward under a terrible fire. If not for Perrin's actions, Pender's attack may well have failed. In addition, when he finally reached Seminary Ridge, Pender called off the pursuit, infuriating Perrin. All in all, it was not a good day for Pender. Unfortunately for him, he wasn't able to make up for it because he was wounded before he could get his men into action on the evening of July 2.

Overall, I would rate him an excellent brigade commander and an ok division commander who showed promise but died before he could make good on it.

Ryan
Pender was an excellent brigade commander. I don't think he has enough of a track record as a division commander to establish his level of competence; certainly his uneven performance at Gettysburg was representative of his first battle in that role. Anything beyond what he might have achieved as a division or even corps commander is pure speculation.
 

Tom Elmore

2nd Lieutenant
Member of the Year
Joined
Jan 16, 2015
Brigade commanders were expected to lead their men into battle, but not division commanders. At Gettysburg, Pender followed behind Perrin's brigade after it broke through the Union line near the Seminary, then rapidly rode forward into the town while the Federals were still retreating through the other side of it, making quick tactical decisions. He pulled back his troops from town to protect his right flank from an anticipated counter-attack. Afterwards he publicly praised Perrin's soldiers, saying, “Your brigade has done the fighting of my Division today.” Early the next day Pender approached Lane's brigade and ordered a small foray forward to clear enemy skirmishers from his front. When the artillery duel began that afternoon, Pender remarked to a staff officer, “Major, this indicates an assault, and we will ride down our line.” He was looking to advance his division if an opportunity presented itself. It was during this reconnaissance that he received his mortal wound from a shell fragment.
 
Last edited:

jackt62

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
My impression of Dorsey Pender is that he was one of a group of young and highly capable commanders in Lee's ANV. The loss of so many effective regimental and brigade officers in that army that could not be replaced was a significant factor in damaging the strength of the ANV, especially during the last 2 years of the war.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

James N.

Colonel
Forum Host
Civil War Photo Contest
Annual Winner
Featured Book Reviewer
Joined
Feb 23, 2013
Location
East Texas
Thank you! Great picture yourself, great minds think alike lol. I have at least a half dozen ancestors that fought in the 28th VA if not more. I do know none of them were killed or captures at Gettysburg but given the losses, i have no doubt many were wounded. I have other ancestors in other Va regiments, including McNeill’s Rangers (His name was William Maloney and he wrote the account of the rangers capturing two union generals in my county seat, Cumberland MD.) I also have NC ancestors too but i dont remember their regiments.

As for my opinion of Pender, I agree with what you have said about him. I am just curious as to others opinions on him.
Welcome to the forums from the host of the Stonewall Jackson Forum and another admirer of Dorsey Pender!
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

Saint Jude

First Sergeant
Joined
Oct 15, 2018
Location
Heaven
If he instead of Ewell had been in command of of Second Corps on the first day at Gettysburg, I think the high ground around Gettysburg may have been seized.
If so, his opponent would have been his West Point classmate, O. O. Howard. Both graduated with the class of 1854, Howard in fourth position and Pender in 19th. Several members of the class fought in that battle and some, including Pender, were mortally wounded there.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Joined
Jan 20, 2020
Location
Frostburg, Maryland
I must admit i have much affinity for Pender as a man. He was a devoted family man who loved his wife deeply, very religious, virtuous and extremely brave. It's the same type of affinity I have for men like Jackson, Micah Jenkins and many other officers from both sides that had these type of traits.

We often can wonder how a man can have no fear of death on what essentially is a field of death, and I attribute it to many of these men to their deeply religious lives. I personally can attest I saw some of this fearlessness in myself two years ago when I was nearly killed in a car accident. I was extremely calm and held no fear in my heart, and I attribute that to my faith in God. Had I not had this attitude, I would likely have bleed out from panic; but here I am today talking to y'all.

I would love to study Pender more, especially since I just found out I had an ancestor under his command at Gettysburg in Lane's Brigade. What are the best books on him? I desire the book that is his letters to his wife, but a good biography would be a fine addition to my shelf.

Thank you all for your greetings, it was very kind of you. I will be seeing y'all soon all over this site.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!

James N.

Colonel
Forum Host
Civil War Photo Contest
Annual Winner
Featured Book Reviewer
Joined
Feb 23, 2013
Location
East Texas
… I would love to study Pender more, especially since I just found out I had an ancestor under his command at Gettysburg in Lane's Brigade. What are the best books on him? I desire the book that is his letters to his wife, but a good biography would be a fine addition to my shelf.

Thank you all for your greetings, it was very kind of you. I will be seeing y'all soon all over this site.
Unfortunately the book of his letters is the only one I'm aware of and I forget its title; I don't remember ever seeing a copy, but remember it from a favorable and now long-ago review back in the 1960's when it appeared.
 
Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!
JOIN NOW: REGISTER HERE!
Top