SUBMITTED BY: Jack Travis
William Dorsey Pender was born on February 6, 1834, to James and Sarah Routh Pender, on the family’s plantation near Tarboro, NC. On July 1, 1850, at the age of sixteen, he went to the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY. Pender struggled in French, which held his overall class standing at 19 out of 46. He was a member of the distinguished class of 1854, which included these future generals: Brig. Gen. John Pegram, Maj. Gen. James “JEB” Stuart, Maj. Gen. G. W. Custis Lee, Lt. Gen. Stephen D. Lee, Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard, and Brig. Gen. Thomas H. Ruger. The Cadet Conduct Roll of 1854 revealed that Pender had a total of 111 demerits for his senior year.
After his graduation in 1854, Pender was promoted in the Army to Second Lieutenant of Artillery. He served in Florida hostilities against the Seminole Indians in 1854 and ‘55 (Second Lieut., 2D Artillery, AUG. 16, 1854 and Second Lieut., 1ST Dragoons, March 3, 1855). In 1856, he served on frontier duty at Ft. Thorn, New Mexico, scouted in Ft. Craig, New Mexico, was engaged against the Apache Indians in a skirmish at Almagro Mountain, NM on March 30th, and took part in the march to California and was stationed at Ft. Tejon, CA. In 1857 and ‘58, Pender was at Ft. Walla Walla, Washington, Ft. Dalles, Oregon, and Ft. Vancouver, WA. In 1858, Pender served as First Lieutenant of the First Dragoons on the Spokane Expedition in Washington and was engaged in combat at Four Lakes on Sept. 1, 1858 and at Spokane Plains on Sep. 5, 1858 and fought in the skirmish at Spokane River on Sep 8, 1858. In 1859 and 1860, Pender served in Oregon hostilities and was engaged in a skirmish near Harney Lake on May 24, 1860 and a skirmish near Owyhee River on June 23, 1860. He served as Adjutant 1st Dragoons from Nov. 8, 1860 to Jan 31, 1861 at San Francisco, California.
On March 3, 1859, Pender married Mary Frances “Fanny” Shepperd, the daughter of Augustine Henry and Martha Turner Shepperd. [Fanny’s father, Augustine Henry Shepperd (1792-1864), served in the North Carolina state house of Representatives for four years (1822-1826). He was also elected as a U.S. Representative from North Carolina several times, serving a total of 18 years (1827-1839, 1841-1843, and 1847-1851).] Pender and Fanny had two sons, Turner and Dorsey.
On March 21, 1861, Pender resigned his Federal Army Commission on to fight for the Confederate States of America. He was described as being a thin, short, handsome man who had brown eyes, dark hair, an olive complexion, and a beard that was neatly trimmed. Pender was known for being firm but courteous; he spoke little but his voice was low with a Carolina drawl. One officer stated that he was one of the coolest, most self- possessed, most fearless men under fire that he ever knew.
At the beginning of the war, Pender was given the task of training recruits. He was soon promoted to Colonel of the 6th North Carolina. Under the command of General William H. C. Whiting, at Seven Pines, Pender had the opportunity to maneuver the 6th N.C. under fire at a critical moment in the presence of President Jefferson Davis, who greeted him, saying, “General Pender, I salute you.” Davis gave Pender an on-the-field promotion to Brigadier General on June 1, 1862. Pender was assigned to a North Carolina Brigade under the command of Maj. Gen, A. P. Hill’s Division. Pender’s brigade fought well during the remainder of the Seven Day Battles. However, he received a flesh wound in the arm at the Malvern Hill. His Brigade was transferred to General Jackson’s command fighting at Cedar Mountain, at Second Manassas, he was knocked down by the explosion of an artillery shell. His head was cut, removing some of his hair, but he refused to leave the field and his command. In September 1862, Pender’s Brigade moved with A.P. Hill’s march, after the capture of Harper’s Ferry, to save General Lee from Union General Burnside’s attack at Sharpsburg, MD.
At Fredericksburg, VA, while holding the Confederate right, a mine ball passed through Pender’s left arm; however, his luck prevailed, and no bones were broken. He continued to ride along his line with the injured arm hanging down, blood dripping from his fingers. Then, at Chancellorsville, VA, he was with General Jackson when a spent mine ball hit Pender’s right shoulder after passing through and killing an officer standing in front of him. The wound was superficial, but left Pender with a very stiff, painful arm for weeks afterward.
Stonewall Jackson’s death at Chancellorsville left General Lee with the task of reorganizing his army. General Lee then promoted A. P. Hill to Lieutenant General and commander of the Third Corp and promoted Pender to the rank of Major General commanding a Division under General A. P. Hill. While at Culpeper, VA, on June 15, 1863, Generals Lee, Longstreet, and Hill moved up to the Shenandoah Valley, using the Blue Ridge Mountains as a screen from the Union troops. In the early morning hours of July 1, 1863, Pender and Heath’s divisions marched down the Chambersburg Pike toward the village of Gettysburg, PA. There, they were met by Union Cavalry under the command of General John Buford. Pender’s men were hot and fatigued from the July sun, but were able to help Heath’s men repulse the Union advance and pushed them through the town of Gettysburg, where the Union took and held the high ground of Cemetery Ridge and Culp’s Hill.
On July 2, 1863, General Hill sent Pender’s Division forward to follow up on an attack of the Union lines. Pender was riding down his line when he was struck in the leg by a two-inch-square piece of artillery shell. The wound bled profusely, and Pender was taken to the rear where surgeons attempted to control the hemorrhaging. The following day, Pender tried to mount his horse, but could not due to his injury. He was placed in an ambulance, and during the long journey back to the hospital in Staunton, VA, his leg became infected. The hospital’s surgeons attempted to repair the damaged leg without success, and as a life-saving measure, Pender’s leg was amputated above the knee. On July 18, 1863, only a few hours after the amputation, Pender was pronounced dead. Reportedly, his last words were: “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.” Pender’s body was transported back to North Carolina, where he was buried at the Episcopal Calvary Church Yard in Tarboro. Pender’s tomb stone is a very unusual design, called a “Hipster,” and is surround by cannon balls.
As part of the new South, Pender County, NC, was formed and named in 1875 under the leadership of Dr. Elisha Porter, of Rocky Point, NC. Dr. Porter served as a physician under General Pender during the war and held Pender in very high regard.
On May 27, 1914, there was an unveiling of a Confederate monument that was created by Coopers Monuments of Raleigh, NC. Dr. Porter paid for half of the monument and the Pender County Chapter Daughters of the Confederacy paid the balance. The son of General Pender had a special plaque made in Italy that was an exact replica of the General as he appeared in life, and it was affixed on the lower pedestal of the monument.
William W. Hassler’s book, titled The General to His Lady, includes many of the letters General Pender and Fanny wrote to one another. These letters tell us great deal about the lives and hopes of these two individuals and their families.