- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 28, 2007

Hetty Cary was a beautiful woman. Such a compliment was paid to others who had major or minor roles in the Civil War, but contemporary portraits have sometimes suggested otherwise. However, Cary, with her brown eyes, auburn hair and flawless complexion, undoubtedly had the kind of looks to turn men’s heads. She seems also to have been popular.

She was born in 1836, either in Baltimore or near that troubled city. Her Virginian family claimed kinship with the famous Jeffersons and Randolphs. Had she been content to live a quiet life, all would have been well, but discretion was not among her virtues. A fervent believer in secession, she voiced her opinions and inevitably this brought her to the attention of the authorities in a city that was officially Union but had many Confederate supporters among its population.

In a gesture reminiscent of Barbara Fritchie (who was, however, staunchly Union), she is said to have waved a Confederate flag as Union troops passed through Baltimore. This could have got Cary into serious trouble, but the commanding officer, who had an eye for a pretty woman, chose to laugh the incident off.

It seems, though, that Cary pushed her luck too far. She went aboard one of the fleet-footed blockade runners that crossed the Potomac. Courting disaster, for she was almost certainly under surveillance, she took clothing and other items to the Confederates. In a later war, this would be described as “giving aid and comfort to the enemy.”

Such conduct could not be disregarded. Belatedly aware of her danger, Cary fled Baltimore one jump ahead of an arrest warrant. Her mother, Mrs. Wilson Miles Cary, must have been appalled by the predicament in which her willful daughter found herself. She, too, may well have been in favor of secession, but had sense enough to keep her opinions to herself.

Together with her sister Jennie, Cary moved in haste to Richmond, where they settled in the home of their cousin, Constance Cary. The three spirited young women enjoyed a close friendship. Safe in Richmond, Hetty Cary could (and did) support the Confederacy in any way she chose. They became very much a part of Richmond society.

It was during a social occasion that Cary made the acquaintance of Brig. Gen. John Pegram, a decidedly eligible bachelor. In quite a short time, they became engaged, but it was an engagement that would last three years.

John Pegram, who received no further promotion, had an active and quite varied war career. A Virginian, born in 1832, he was at West Point in 1854. When a first lieutenant of dragoons, he resigned his commission to throw in his lot with the Confederacy, being promoted to brigadier general on Nov. 7, 1862. He was captured by Gen. George McClellan at Rich Mountain, Va., in 1861 but exchanged. He was wounded at the Wilderness.

This distinguished soldier and his beautiful fiancee were married on Jan. 19, 1865, at a time when the Confederacy was tottering toward collapse. The wedding took place at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond and was very much a society occasion, Jefferson and Varina Davis being among the guests.

No doubt happy in her new status, Cary went with her husband to his headquarters around Petersburg. But tragedy was lying in wait, and three weeks after his wedding John Pegram was dead, struck down by a Minie ball on Feb. 6, 1865, at the Battle of Hatcher’s Run, when his division was engaged in a counterattack on the Boydton Plank Road, which Union troops had occupied during the Petersburg siege. By a bitter irony, Pegram’s funeral also took place at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the same minister officiating.

Sadly, Cary’s brother-in-law, Col. William Johnson “Willie” Pegram was also killed. He died during the fight at Five Forks only two months after Gen. Pegram lost his life. An artilleryman, he was only 24. A few days later, Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House and the long war was almost over.

Cary’s beloved South was in ruins. There was nothing left for her there. She returned to Baltimore and was arrested there. A formidable foe of the militant South, but never a vindictive one, Ulysses S. Grant demanded that she be released and made sure she received an apology.

For a time, Cary is known to have taught at the Southern Home School in Baltimore, after which she made a trip to Europe. While abroad, she met professor Henry Newell Martin of Johns Hopkins University, and in 1879, being then 43, she married him.

Hetty Cary, as she is best known, died at age 56 on Sept. 27, 1892, at her home in Baltimore. As a courageous if somewhat foolish young woman, she had played a very minor part in the long and epic struggle, and rather less is known about her than one would wish. At least, she has not been forgotten.

Peter Cliffe, a retired corporate administrator, lives in Hertfordshire, England. He became interested in the Civil War while working with a multinational firm in this country.

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