Originally aired on September 23, 1994 - In part 4 of our Civil War series, Virginia Tech history professor James Robertson relates a touching love story that resonates to this day.
#4 – Sandie and Kate Pendleton
The Stonewall Jackson Memorial Cemetery in Lexington, Virginia, is a fascinating monument of American history. To walk along its paths is to step back in time, especially to the days of the Civil War. Not too far from the spot where the legendary Stonewall Jackson sleeps is an inconspicuous grave. The headstone identifies the remains beneath as Alexander Swift Pendleton, born September 28, 1840; died September 22, 1864.
Therein is a touching love story.
A native of Lexington, and known to his friends as “Sandie”, young Pendleton graduated with honors from Washington College. He was pursuing a Master’s degree at the University of Virginia when the Civil War began. Pendleton quickly joined the Confederate army. The gifted young scholar became a member of General Stonewall Jackson’s staff and, by the end of 1862, was the highly capable chief of staff for the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia.
It was during the 1862-63 winter encampment at Moss Neck plantation near Fredericksburg that Sandie Pendleton met Catherine Corbin. She was the vivacious daughter of a prominent landowner in the area. One Confederate described her as “the charming girl of 23 with the most bewitching eyes I ever encountered”. Another Lexington soldier thought her “a handsome young lady of the best manners”.
It was not exactly love at first sight for Sandie and Kate. Both were “playing the field”, so to speak. Early in the relationship, Kate told a friend: “Major Pendleton is moderately large…considered by some conceited, though…he has very good grounds for it in view of his intellect; possesses a splendid, almost boyish, exuberance of spirits, commands the respect of all who meet him…but…my chief comfort is the knowledge that he is a sincere, professing Christian”.
They were engaged before the snows melted that winter. When General Jackson heard of the betrothal of Kate and Sandie, the usually tight-lipped commander observed that “if he makes as good a husband as he has a soldier, Miss Corbin will do well”.
As spring drew near, Sandie wrote his fiancée: “I do love you so much, and deem it a privilege to be able to minister to your happiness, to bear your sorrows and lighten your burdens, to share your joys, and heighten your enjoyments. I have been very happy since I first loved you, and you ought to be thankful that you have been able to brighten one life amid the sorrows of the times”.
Yet the military campaigns of that critical time continually delayed the wedding of the two lovers. When, in November, 1863, a new Federal thrust on Virginia again postponed marriage, Sandie informed his beloved Kate that “if hope deferred maketh the heart sick, then my poor organ is well-nigh unto death”.
Finally, on December 29, 1863, Sandie and Kate were married. The following March, Sandie stated in a letter from the front: “How I do love to think about providing for you. How I do cherish the hope that soon we shall be together for good, and all the pleasures of home and peace (will) be ours to enjoy together”.
Such was not to be the case. On September 22, 1864, Colonel Sandie Pendleton was killed at the battle of Fisher’s Hill. Six weeks later, his widow gave birth to a son. The child lived ten months before dying of diphtheria.
It was then that Kate Corbin Pendleton gave way to a total grief. To her aging father she wrote: “I wonder people’s hearts don’t break when they have ached and ached as mine has done till feeling seems to be almost torn out of them. My poor empty arms, with their sweet burden torn away forever”.
Kate then reached out for strength by adding: “If God loves all he chastens, surely I have good reason to believe He loves me”.
God did love Kate Pendleton. She survived, and in 1871 she married a widower, John Mercer Brooke, professor of physics and astronomy at the Virginia Military Institute. Following the death of Brooke in 1906, Kate lived with a daughter until her death in 1919 at the age of eighty.
Family members brought Kate’s body back to Lexington. She is buried in the Jackson Cemetery, near her second husband and not far from the graves of Sandie and little Sandie. She had mourned the loss in war of a brother and a husband, and she had watched an infant son as his life slowly ebbed away. Her first husband had found love in war, only to die on the field of battle at the height of his romance.
Who suffered the most from that war, Sandie Pendleton or Kate Pendleton? Does it really matter? Each sacrificed everything each had. Only their love survived to the end.