Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Stephen Dodson Ramseur: Among the best

Stephen Dodson Ramseur

       Stephen Dodson Ramseur was born on May 31, 1837, in Lincolnton, North Carolina. The above image is a very young photograph of Stephen Ramseur. He turned out to be a very aggressive commander under General Robert E. Lee in the Army of Northern Virginia. He had a very good education before obtaining an appointment to West Point. He was an excellent student, graduating just 14 out of 41 cadets. He stood just five feet, eight inches tall and was very slender. Ramseur was very religious, a member of the Presbyterian Church, he was very military in bearing, securing an appointment in the U.S. Artillery. 
       He never reported to his assignment, having resigned his commission before his native state left the Union. He was already a member of the Confederate Army before North Carolina seceded. Ramseur believed that much in 'States Rights.' His new command saw limited action before joining the army in Virginia that fought in the Seven Day's Campaign. He suffered a wound to his right arm at the Battle of Malvern Hill during the last engagement of the campaign. 
       Ramseur would miss action for the next six months, but upon his return would be promoted to brigadier general. He would take command of the North Carolina Infantry brigade of George B. Anderson, who had been mortally wounded at Sharpsburg (Antietam). He would lead his brigade at Chancellorsville in the spring of 1863 where he was once again wounded. General Robert E. Lee praised his young brigadier general for his action there. Ramseur seemed fearless in combat. Robert E. Lee declared Ramseur among the best of the brigadiers in his army. 

Brigadier General Stephen Ramseur showing premature balding

       During the first day of Gettysburg, Ramseur, along with Junius Daniel and George Doles, led his brigade to victory. His division commander failed him that day and he was forced to use his own judgement against the Federal troops. He would see no more action at Gettysburg and unfortunately, the Confederate Army would suffer a defeat as its best commanders missed the important part of the battle. 
        He would see action at the Wilderness where he would prove his worth as a commander. His finest day would come at the Battle of Spotsylvania just six day after the Wilderness battle. There, he led a counterattack that saved the day for General Lee. He was also wounded in this engagement. Robert E. Lee thanked him personally and his commander Richard Ewell also praised his gallantry. 

Brigadier General Stephen Ramseur as he would have appeared at the time of his death

       Ramseur was 27 at the time of his promotion to major general and command of a division. One problem that historians have found with Ramseur is his inability to properly scout the position his division was to assault prior to an attack. I have found very little to support this claim. He made a mistake in his first action as division command at Bethesda Church, but more than made up for it at Cold Harbor. Lee then sent Ramseur along with Jubal Early on the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864. 
   Ramseur was successful at the Battle of Monacacy and then because of poor reconnaissance on his part (see above) at Stephenson's Depot, he made this greatest mistake of his career. Ramseur blamed his subordinates and men, this was a tragic mistake. He led his men forward at the Third Battle of Winchester and made up for his mistake. This would reverse itself several days latter at the Battle of Fisher's Hill. There, Ramseur commanded the entire division because of the loss of Robert Rodes. He would react slowly and see his division crushed. 
          At Cedar Creek in October of 1864, Ramseur hoped a victory would grant him a furlough to see his new born child. He urged his men forward and was an impressive commander. He placed a flower in his lapel as he urged his men forward. One soldier said that Ramseur's presence was electrical. Although the day soon turned against the Confederates, Ramseur remained with his division, rallying them at every reverse. A Federal bullet struck him in the side, penetrating both lungs before exiting his body. He was soon captured on the field. 

Belle Grove Plantation

       Ramseur was carried to Belle Grove Plantation where he died that night. He was checked on from time to time by Federal General Phillip Sheridan who had attended West Point with many Southern officers. Sheridan had hated everything Southern prior to the war and throughout his life. Ramseur would die without ever seeing his wife or newborn child again.

Sight where Ramseur was mortally wounded at Cedar Creek, this monument was unveiled by his daughter Mary Dodson Ramseur in 1921

Resting place of Stephen Ramseur

       Stephen Ramseur was just 27 years old. He rests today in Saint Luke's Episcopal Church Cemetery, Lincolnton, North Carolina. He never got to meet his daughter who was born just four days before he died. She would die in 1935 having been an art teacher. 

Mary D Ramseur

Mary Dodson Ramseur (daughter of General Ramseur)

Ellen Richmond Ramseur

Ellen Richmond Ramseur (wife of Major General Stephen D. Ramseur) she lived until 1900

Monday, January 19, 2015

Humphrey Marshall: Obese and Verbose

Brigadier General Humphrey Marshall

       Humphrey Marshall was born in Frankfort, Kentucky in 1812. His father John was a politician and lawyer. Humphrey graduated from West Point ranked 42 out of 45 cadets. He saw action in the cavalry during the Black Hawk War. He would serve in the military for less than a year before resigning to a law practice in Louisville. Marshall was active in the Kentucky Militia and helped raise a cavalry company to fight during the Mexican War. He became somewhat a hero for his command charged a larger Mexican force at the Battle of Buena Vista.        Following the Mexican War, his reputation secured him a seat in the U.S. Congress. He would remain a politician in some capacity until the beginning of the Civil War. When the war began, he left Kentucky for fear of being arrested because of his Southern sympathies. At this point in his life, he stood just under six feet in height and weighed over three hundred pounds.  

Humphrey Marshall

       Marshall went to visit President Davis, who made him a brigadier general in the fall of 1861 and gave him a small command. He truly wasn't suited for campaigning because of his weight. He would spend the war without seeing any major fighting. Like most political generals of the time, Marshall thought himself a military genius and practically demanded independent command. Each time he was ordered to report to a senior officer, he would submit his resignation. He did participate in the invasion of Kentucky in 1862, but saw no serious fighting. 
       In the summer of 1863, Marshall again turned in his resignation and this time it was accepted cheerfully. He continuously sent letters to both President Davis and Robert E. Lee. Lee was polite with Marshall, but Davis had little patience for the man. He would spend the rest of the war serving as a Confederate congressman representing his home state. Following the war, Marshall lived in Texas and later moved to New Orleans, Louisiana where he practiced law. He eventually made his way back to Louisville, Kentucky where he practiced law until his death in 1872. 

Humphrey Marshall

The grave of Humphrey Marshall

       Brigadier General Humphrey Marshall rests today in Frankfurt Cemetery, Frankfurt, Kentucky. He was 60 years old. There are a couple of anecdotes surrounding his service in the field I'd like to share. Once, when he was warned about Federal snipers easily targeting him because of his size, he remarked that he would be forced to surround himself with fat staff officers. He so hated the thought of being commanded by any superior officer that once he was asked why he was camped in such a remote location. Was he afraid of the Yankee's. No, he replied, he was attempting to avoid Confederate major generals. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Robert Doak Lilley: The only Confederate General I ever cursed

Brigadier General Robert Doak Lilley

       For anyone that has any doubt, my personal hero's are Confederate Generals, Colonels, and Soldiers, not necessarily in that order. I would never speak evil of any of these guys, but a man has his limits, so to speak. I was pushed beyond my feeble limit with my red haired temper and poor General Lilley paid the price. 
       Robert Doak Lilley was born in Greenville, Virginia in 1836. He graduated from what is today Washington and Lee University. He then became a salesman of surveying instruments of his father's design. He just happened to be in Charleston, South Carolina when the Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter in 1861. He returned to Virginia where he recruited a company in the 25th Virginia Infantry and became its captain.
       The above photograph was once considered the only wartime photographed image of General Lilley, like his grave, this too is now false. Part of his regiment was captured in the battle's in the Rich Mountain Campaign. Lilley managed to escape with part of his company. They would be a part of Stonewall Jackson's 1862 Shenandoah Valley Campaign. At the Battle of Cedar Mountain on August 9, 1862, Lilley saw the regiment break from a Federal assault. He personally took the regimental colors and helped solidify the Confederate line. He was commended for bravery at Second Manassas. He also led his troops, exhibiting great courage at Sharpsburg (Antietam) and Fredericksburg.
       He was promoted to Major just after new years of 1863. His regiment was sent back to the Shenandoah Valley during the Chancellorsville Campaign. They would rejoin Lee's Army for the invasion of Pennsylvania. He would fight under John Marshall "Rum" Jones at Gettysburg and be promoted to lieutenant colonel following that battle. 
       His next major battle would be at the Wilderness in the spring of 1864. He would fight at Spotsylvania and be promoted to colonel of the 25th Virginia Infantry. He was promoted to brigadier general following Spotsylvania. They joined Early in the invasion of Maryland and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864. 
       On July 20, 1864, while attempting to rally his broken lines at Stephenson's Depot, Lilley was hit three times and captured. Federal surgeons removed one of his arms that day. When the Federal army retreated from Winchester, they left the wounded brigadier behind. He was soon recovered by Confederate forces in the area. Once he was ready to take the field again, he commanded forces in the Shenandoah Valley. He held this command until the end of the war.

Another photograph of Lilley

       He spent his years after the war devoted to Washington and Lee College and his church. He would die in Richmond, Virginia in 1886 and be buried in Thornrose Cemetery, Staunton, Virginia or so they say. This is where we come to the part about me cursing a Confederate General for the first time in my life. My buddy Jerry Smith and our wives entered this cemetery in search of General Lilley and General Echols. General Echols was quickly found. General Lilley as my buddy Jerry likes to say (not so much). 

Robert Doak Lilley is fourth from left, standing just over Robert E. Lee's left shoulder

       We spread out and combed this cemetery for about two hours. There was not a sign of the tombstone you see below. I asked the locals and they claimed to have seen it before, but they couldn't locate the marker. My buddy Jerry found something on his phone that said that Lilley was buried near Jedediah Hotchkiss who was a map maker on Stonewall Jackson's staff. We found Jedediah's grave, and combed the area around it up to 100 yards, still no General Lilley. We left a message with a lady that oversee's the cemetery. She returned our call and told us that she could take us right to his grave, but we were almost to Richmond, Virginia by this time. 
       It was a hot afternoon (I don't do heat, it gives me a migraine, and this day was no exception), we had searched the cemetery several times, I was frustrated, had little sleep the night before and I may have cursed General Lilley under my breath a time or two that afternoon. I truly wasn't cursing him, but the fact that there was no way to find such a great man's grave. It only means I will have to return to the cemetery when I visit Gettysburg later this year. 

Robert Doak Lilley

The possible resting place of General Robert D. Lilley, but I'm not betting my paycheck on him being there

Sunday, January 4, 2015

William Felix Brantley: I have no brigade

W F Brantley CSA ACW.jpg

No uniformed photograph exists of General Brantley

       William Felix Brantley was born in Alabama in 1830. His parents moved to Mississippi while he was a youngster. Brantley became a lawyer in Greensboro, Mississippi in 1852. He voted to take Mississippi out of the Union and became captain of Company D, 15th Mississippi Infantry. He led his company at the Battle of Mill Springs in Kentucky in January of 1862. 
       They then moved to Corinth, Mississippi and he led the company in the Battle of Shiloh in April. When the regiment was reorganized, Brantley was elected lieutenant colonel of the 15th Mississippi Infantry. He fought again at Munfordsville, Kentucky, but missed the Battle of Perryville. He would be promoted to colonel and lead the regiment at the Battle of Murfreesboro. There, he was slightly wounded by an exploding artillery shell in the fight for the Cedar thicket on the Union right flank. He would lead a regiment at Chickamauga and fight near the Craven's House on Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga. He was praised for his courage there. 
        During the Atlanta Campaign, his men withstood assault after assault at Resaca all while receiving enfilade fire from Union artillery. They saw repeated action during the Atlanta Campaign. When Samuel Benton was mortally wounded at Atlanta, Brantley was promoted to brigadier general of the Mississippi Brigade. He led his brigade into the unsuccessful Battle of Ezra Church. They would lose heavily there and again at the Battle of Jonesboro. 
       The recently exchanged Major General Edward Johnson of Robert E. Lee's Army would soon command Brantley's Brigade. They would advance into Tennessee and become participants in the horrific fighting at Franklin. His corps commander Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee would praise both Brantley and Zachariah Deas's troops for their actions in the bloody fighting there. His brigade advanced after dark against the area just west of the Carter House. After the repulse, Major James Ratchford wrote, "After the firing had ceased, about midnight, I was sent along our corps front with orders from General Lee to the Brigadiers and Major Generals to get ready for a renewal of the fight at daylight. I found General Brantley, who had commanded a Mississippi Brigade, sitting almost stupefied on the ground near the line of battle. I gave him the order, but he seemed not to hear me. I put my hand on his shoulder and tried to rouse him, repeating the instructions for his brigade. He mumbled, 'I have no brigade.' I asked him where the men were, and he replied, 'They're all dead.' I said, 'Surely not all,' and added that if he did not make some effort to get his men together, I would be compelled to report it to General (Stephen D.) Lee. He roused himself then and said, 'I'll see if there are any left.' The next morning he had gathered up about two hundred men, all that remained of a whole brigade that went into the fight." A brigade during the Civil War usually consisted of 1500 to 2000 men. 


A pre-war image of William Brantley

       Brantley's dead were in the trenches and on the earthworks near the Carter House. He took the remnants of his brigade on to Nashville, where they faced Steedman's black troops. They held part of the line on the extreme Confederate right. They would get their vengeance there for the suffering they received at Franklin. They repulsed a desperate charge at Nashville. Following the campaign, he would reform his brigade in Mississippi. They numbered 152 men by this time. 
       Following the war, he returned to Mississippi and his law practice. He'd been warned about travelling between Winona and Greensboro, Mississippi, but he'd replied that he would travel wherever his business took him. He'd survived four years of bloody Civil War, to be killed in a shotgun blast on the road between the two towns. He was in the process of bringing the murderers of his brother Arnold to justice. His assailants were never found. His brother Edmund was killed in a duel. Another brother John was killed in Texas by David Balzell. In 1870, his brother Arnold, the mayor of Winona was shot dead in cold blood. William was attempting to bring his murderers to justice when they ambushed and killed him. 
       It was said of Brantley, that he would not turn from doing what was right once his mind was set. He was a fearless man, as can be proved by his Civil War record. He rests today in the New Greensboro Cemetery, Webster County, Mississippi. He was 40 years old. 

William Felix Brantley

The grave of William Felix Brantley