John Pelham was born in Alexandria, Alabama, on September 7, 1838. In 1856 he entered the U.S.M.A., which that year extended its curriculum to 5 years.
In 1861, a week prior to graduation, he resigned from the academy to enroll in the Confederate Army.
His service at First Bull Run impressed his superiors, and he was instructed to organize a battery of light artillery.
At Fredricksburg, he earned the nom de guerre "The Gallant Pelham" for delaying the Union attack for several hours with a single battery.
On March 17, 1863, he was killed by a shell fragment at the Battle of Kelly's Ford. He was 24 years old.