Edmund Pettus

Edmund Pettus
United States Senator
from Alabama
In office
March 4, 1897  July 27, 1907
Preceded by James L. Pugh
Succeeded by Joseph F. Johnston
Personal details
Born Edmund Winston Pettus
(1821-07-06)July 6, 1821
Athens, Alabama, U.S.
Died July 27, 1907(1907-07-27) (aged 86)
Hot Springs, North Carolina, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Relations John J. Pettus (brother)
Alma mater Clinton College
Military service
Allegiance  United States
 Confederate States
Service/branch United States Army
 Confederate States Army
Years of service 18471849 (USA)
18611865 (CSA)
Rank Lieutenant (USA)
Brigadier general (CSA)
Battles/wars Mexican–American War
American Civil War (POW)

Edmund Pettus (born Edmund Winston Pettus; July 6, 1821 July 27, 1907) was an American politician who represented Alabama in the United States Senate from 1897 to 1907. He previously served as a senior officer of the Confederate States Army who commanded 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] – an assertion that's questioned by some historians.

The Edmund Pettus Bridge across the Alabama River in Selma was named in his honor, and later became a landmark of the American civil rights movement.

Early life and career

Edmund Pettus was born in 1821 in Limestone County, Alabama.[2] He was the youngest son of John Pettus and Alice Taylor Winston, 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 would have three children. Also that year he was elected solicitor for the seventh Judicial Circuit of Alabama.[5]

During the Mexican–American War in 184749, Pettus served as a lieutenant with the Alabama Volunteers, and after hostilities he moved to California, where he participated in paramilitary actions against Yukis and other American Indians.[6]

By 1853 he had 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 War

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 then 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. However 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]

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] Afterward during the 1865 Carolinas Campaign, Pettus was sent to defend Columbia, South Carolina, and participated in the Battle of Bentonville from March 1921.[5] Pettus was wounded in this fight, hit in his right leg—perhaps a self-inflicted wound, according to some sources—during the battle's first day. On May 2 he was paroled from Salisbury, North Carolina, and, after the Confederacy surrendered at Appomattox, Pettus was pardoned by the U.S. Government on October 20.[6]

Later life

After the war, Pettus had 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, Pettus was named Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan, during the final year of Reconstruction.[2] 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. 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 was elected to the U.S. Senate, and was re-elected in 1903.

Pettus died at Hot Springs, North Carolina, in the summer of 1907. He is buried in Live Oak Cemetery located in Selma.[7]


Pettus has been described by military historian Ezra J. Warner as "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]

The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma became a Civil Rights Movement landmark when, on March 7, 1965, 525 civil rights marchers on their way to march from Selma to Montgomery attempted 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 also


  1. Watson, Elbert L. (January 5, 2015). "Edmund Pettus". Encyclopedia of Alabama.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 "Who Was Edmund Pettus". Smithsonian.com. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
  3. Eicher(2), p. 427.; Wakelyn, p. 344.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Warner, p. 238.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Wakelyn, p. 344.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Eicher(2), p. 427.
  7. 1 2 "Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress". uab.edu. Retrieved 2009-01-31.
  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 2009-02-05.


U.S. Senate
Preceded by
James L. Pugh
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Alabama
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
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