Generals from VMI

This entry is part 7 of 8 in the series Military Academies of the United States

Generals from VMIAt least 20 VMI graduates served as generals during the Civil War. Some were obscure while others were well-known. Of course, Stonewall Jackson was a lieutenant-general and corps commander but he was not a VMI graduate. He had served as a professor for almost a decade.

Jackson surrounded himself with VMI graduates, many whom had been his students. He knew them and their abilities, therefore he felt comfortable having them as subordinates.

Here is a brief biographical look at some of the generals.

  • Raleigh E. Colston, Class of 1846. Born in Paris, he was sent to Virginia under the care of his uncle. He entered VMI in 1843 and graduated in 1846. He was a Professor of French at VMI from 1846 until the outbreak of war. In November 1859, he accompanied a contingent of VMI cadets assigned to guard duty at the execution of abolitionist John Brown. He was commissioned Colonel of the 16th Virginia Infantry Regiment. In December 1862 he was appointed Brigadier General and led a brigade under Longstreet on the Peninsula. He commanded a brigade under Stonewall Jackson in April 1863 and he commanded a division at Chancellorsville. He later served under P.G.T. Beauregard in defense of Petersburg in 1864. At the end of the war he was in command at Lynchburg.
  • Samuel Garland, Class of 1849. Born in Lynchburg, Virginia, Garland entered VMI in 1846 and graduated at 19 in 1849.  He studied law at University of Virginia; practiced in Lynchburg, VA. Following John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry in 1859, Garland organized the Lynchburg Home Guard. Commissioned Colonel, 11th Virginia Infantry Regiment at the start of the war. He led his regiment at 1st Manassas. He was wounded at Williamsburg but did not leave field. He was promoted to Brigadier General in May 1862 and commanded a brigade at Seven Pines, Gaines’s Mill, and Malvern Hill. He was mortally wounded on Sept 14, 1862, at South Mountain during the Maryland campaign, he was buried in Lynchburg.
  • Robert E. Rodes, Class of 1848. Rodes was also born in Lynchburg. He graduated from VMI in 1848 and was appointed Assistant Professor (Physical Science, Chemistry, Tactics) at VMI, 1848-1850. In 1850 Rodes began a Civil Engineering career, working on various railroad projects in Alabama and elsewhere in the south. In 1860 he was elected Professor of Applied Mechanics at VMI, but never served in this capacity because of the outbreak of war. In May 1861 he was commissioned Col. 5th Alabama Infantry Regiment. In Oct 1861 he was appointed Brigadier General, commanding a brigade at Fair Oaks, Gaines’s Mill, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville. He was promoted to Major General May 1863. He led a division at Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania. He then went to the Shenandoah Valley in June 1864, where he served under Jubal Early and fought at Kernstown and elsewhere. Rodes was killed at Winchester, VA, on 19 September 1864 and was buried in Presbyterian Cemetery, Lynchburg.
  • William Mahone, Class of 1847. Mahone was born 1826 December 1, 1826 on a farm near Monroe, Southampton Co., Virginia. He enrolled at VMI on July 20, 1844 at age of 17½; was graduated on July 5, 1847, standing 8th out of 12 graduates. He taught at the Rappahannock Academy, Caroline Co., Virginia, 1848-1849. From 1851-1861 he was a civil engineer; Chief Engineer and subsequently President, Chief Engineer and General Superintendent of the Norfolk and Petersburg railroad. At the start of the war Mahone was a Lt. Col. and Colonel of the 6th Virginia Infantry Regiment. He was promoted to Brigadier General November 1861. During the Peninsular Campaign he led a brigade at Seven Pines and Malvern Hill. He also fought at 2nd Manassas, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania. He was promoted to Major General on July 30, 1864 for his performance at the Battle of the Crater (near Petersburg, VA). He returned to engineering and continued to be instrumental in developing railway system in Virginia; unsuccessful bid for governor in 1877. He was a United States Senator, 1881-1887. Mahone died October 8, 1895 and was buried in Blandford Cemetery, near Petersburg, VA.
  • Thomas T. Munford, Class of 1852. Munford was born March 29, 1831 at Richmond. He enrolled at VMI on July 30, 1849 and was graduated in July 1852, standing 14th in a class of 24. He was commissioned Lt. Col. of the 13th Virginia Mounted Infantry; Col., 2nd Virginia Cavalry. He served in the  in the Shenandoah Valley under Stonewall Jackson, succeeded Turner Ashby, fought at Cross Keys, Harrisonburg, White Oak Swamp, 2nd Manassas, Antietam; appointed Brigadier General November 1864; took command of Fitzhugh Lee’s division and fought at Five Forks, High Bridge, Sayler’s Creek, and Appomattox. After the war he was an Iron manufacturer and farmer. He was President, VMI Board of Visitors, 1884-1888. Munford died February 27, 1918 at the home of his son in Uniontown, Alabama and was buried in Lynchburg, Virginia.

The Last Confederate Surrenders

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series The Confederate Surrenders

General Richard TaylorAfter the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston to Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman at Bennett Place, North Carolina it became clear that it was just a matter of time that the remainder of the Confederate armies would surrender. Gen. Johnston’s surrender was the largest for the Southern armies with 89,270 soldiers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. His surrender was finalized on April 25, 1865.

Lt. General Richard Taylor was a brother-in-law of Jefferson Davis and also a son of President Zachary Taylor. He was given command of the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana. After John Bell Hood’s disastrous campaign into Tennessee, Taylor was given command of the Army of Tennessee. Taylor had a total of only 12,000 men in his command.

With the closing of April 1865, knowing full well that all hope was lost for the Confederacy, Gen. Taylor agreed to meet with Union Maj. Gen. E.R.S. Canby for a conference a few miles north of Mobile, Alabama. After learning of the surrender of Lt. Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army near Appomattox, Virginia, Canby and Taylor established a truce on April 29th. Two days after the initial truce was established, Taylor received additional news which told of Maj. Gen. Johnston’s surrender to Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in North Carolina, and of President Jefferson Davis’s capture in Georgia.

With pressure to broker a favorable peace for his army, Taylor elected to surrender rather than initiate a campaign of guerrilla warfare. On the 4th of May at Citronelle, Alabama, Taylor surrendered the last Confederate Army east of the Mississippi. Under the terms of surrender, officers retained their sidearms, and mounted men their horses; all other property and equipment, however, was to be turned over to the Federals. Confederate soldiers under Taylor’s command were paroled, began their long and sad journey’s home, and the war east of the Mississippi was finally over.

The last sizable Confederate Army left in the field was that of the Trans-Mississippi Department commanded by Lt. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith. Smith’s main area of operation was west of the General Edmund Kirby SmithMississippi in Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, present day Oklahoma, and as far west as the New Mexico Territory. Upon hearing the news of the crippling major surrenders in the Eastern Theater – Lee surrendering the Army of Northern Virginia on the 12th of April and Gen. Johnston the Army of the Tennessee on the 26th – Smith, nevertheless, desired to continue his fight for Confederate Independence.

He remained resolute even as his relatively small 20,000 man force began to melt away into the Texas brush. In a last ditch effort to morale, Smith took a stagecoach on the 18th of May bound for Houston in hopes of mustering more men. Along the way however, the remnants of his army further dissolved when Lt. Gen. Simon B. Buckner, acting in Smith’s name, surrendered the Trans-Mississippi Department on the 26th of May. Finally reaching Houston on the 27th and realizing that he had virtually no troops left to command, Smith reluctantly agreed to surrender his forces and did so officially on June 2nd in Galveston Harbor aboard the Fort Jackson. Thus ended all major and organized Confederate military resistance in North America.

The very last force to surrender was led by Brig. Gen. Stand Watie. He was a leader of the Cherokee Nation and a brigadier general of the Confederate Army. During the Civil War Watie served as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation (1862–1866). By then, the majority of the tribe supported the Confederacy. A minority supported the Union and refused to ratify his election.

Fearful of the Federal Government and the threat to create a State (Oklahoma) out of most of, what was then, the semi-sovereign “Indian Territory”, a majority of the Cherokee Nation initially voted to support the Confederacy for pragmatic reasons, though less than a tenth of the Cherokee owned slaves. Watie organized a regiment of cavalry. In October 1861, he was commissioned as colonel in the 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles.

Although he fought Federal troops, he also led his men in fighting between factions of the Cherokee and in attacks on Cherokee civilians and farms, as well as against the Creek, Seminole and others in Indian Territory who chose to support the Union. Watie is noted for his role in the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, on March 6–8, 1862. Under the overall command of General Benjamin McCulloch, Watie’s troops captured Union artillery positions and covered the retreat of Confederate forces from the battlefield after the Union took control. However, most of the Cherokees who had joined Colonel John Drew’s regiment defected to the Union Side. Drew, a nephew of Chief Ross, remained loyal to the Confederacy.

Stand WatieHe was promoted to brigadier general by General Samuel Bell Maxey on May 10, 1864, though he did not receive word of his promotion until after he led the ambush of the steamboat J. R. Williams on July 16, 1864. He commanded the First Indian Brigade of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi, composed of two regiments of Mounted Rifles and three battalions of Cherokee, Seminole and Osage infantry. These troops were based south of the Canadian River, and periodically crossed the river into Union territory.

Among the battles in which he participated were Wilson Creek, Bird Creek, Pea Ridge, and Cabin Creek. In the battle of Cabin Creek, the Confederates routed the Federals and captured about three hundred wagons loaded with supplies, thus, for a time, enabling the destitute Indian Confederates to continue in the war. The total value was estimated at about $1 million. The Confederate Army put Watie in command of the Indian Division of Indian Territory in February, 1865. By then, however, the Confederates were no longer able to fight in the territory effectively.

On June 23, 1865, at Doaksville in the Choctaw Nation, Watie signed a cease-fire agreement with Union representatives for his command, the First Indian Brigade of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi. He was the last Confederate general in the field to surrender.


After the War: The Lees

This entry is part of 4 in the series After the War: Military Leaders

Custis LeeRobert E. Lee had three sons and a nephew serve in the Confederate Army. Three of them attained the rank of major general and all of them had interesting postbellum lives.

George Washington Custis Lee was born in 1832 at Fort Monroe, Virginia. He was familiarly known as Custis to his family and friends. Custis entered West Point at the age of seventeen and attended the national military academy from 1850 until his graduation in 1854.

During his first year, Lee excelled both academically and militarily. Toward the end of his first year he was almost expelled, when alcohol was found in his room. He claimed that he did not put it there, and got away with only minor punishments. He did well his second year also. At the beginning of his third year, his father became the Superintendent of West Point. He graduated first in his class of forty-six, in 1854.

Lee was commissioned in the Corps of Engineers as a brevet Second Lieutenant. He served primarily in California, Georgia, and Florida during his time in the U.S. Army. In 1855, he was promoted to Second Lieutenant in the Regular Army. In 1859, Lee was commissioned a full First Lieutenant. Lee was stationed in Washington D. C., during the period of secession and the firing on Fort Sumter.

He then resigned from the U.S. Army, in the spring of 1861 after Virginia seceded from the Union. He resigned about two weeks after his father had done the same. Lee then offered his services to the Virginia state forces.

Lee served in the Virginia state forces, until July 1861. At that time he was given a commission as a Captain in the Confederate Army. During the next few months, Lee worked in the Confederate engineers corps. He spent his time constructing fortifications for the new capital city, Richmond.

At the end of August 1861, Lee was offered and accepted the position of aide-de-camp to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. He was then promoted to the rank of Colonel. Lee served in his position for the next three years of the war. He was often sent on missions to assess the military, and would then return to report to Davis.

By 1864 he had commanded troops in the defenses of the capital city and was promoted to Major General. After the fall of Petersburg he commanded troops in the retreat. He was captured at Sayler’s Creek three days before his father’s surrender at Appomattox.

In late 1865, Lee was hired as a professor at the Virginia Military Institute. Lee held this position until the death of his father. Between 1871 and 1897, Lee served as the ninth president of Washington and Lee University. In 1897, Lee resigned as president of Washington and Lee University. He then moved to the home of his late brother, Major General William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, Ravensworth Mansion. Lee died on February 18, 1913 in Alexandria, Virginia, and is buried in the Lee Chapel, near his family members.

William Henry Fitzhugh Lee was born in 1837 at Arlington House in Arlington, Virginia. He attended Harvard University Rooney Leeand in 1857 entered the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant. He participated in the Utah War against the Mormons while serving in the 6th U.S. Infantry. In 1859, he resigned from the U.S. Army to operate his White House Plantation, on the south shore of the Pamunkey River, in New Kent County, Virginia.

Lee, known as Rooney to his family and friends, spent the entire war in the Calvary. He primarily served in the command of J.E.B. Stuart. He was wounded at Brandy Station and captured by Union forces.

He was shipped to New York State, where he was held as a prisoner of war until returned to the Confederate Army on February 25, 1864, in exchange for Union Brig. Gen. Neal S. Dow. In April, Lee was promoted to major general and commanded a division in the Cavalry Corps during the breakout from Petersburg and the retreat of his father’s army in the Appomattox Campaign.

By the end of the war, Rooney Lee had risen to second-in-command of the Confederate cavalry. He surrendered along with his father at Appomattox Court House.

After the surrender he returned to White House Plantation. After their mother died in 1873, Rooney inherited Ravensworth Plantation, the old Fitzhugh family property in Fairfax County. He moved there with his family from White House.

In 1875 Rooney was elected to the Virginia Senate, serving until 1878. He was elected as a Democrat to the United States House of Representatives in 1887. He served in the House until his death at Ravensworth in 1891. He is interred in the Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, with his parents and siblings.

Rob LeeRobert Edward “Rob” Lee, Jr., known as Rob, was born in 1843. Rob never envisioned a military career and in 1860 enrolled at the University of Virginia. To his mother’s dismay he joined the Rockbridge Artillery as a private.

After the Battle of Sharpsburg, he was promoted to the rank of Captain and assigned as aide to his older brother Custis. The latter was a major general and aide-de-camp to the Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and involved in defending Richmond, Virginia.

After the war, Rob lived and farmed Romancoke Plantation on the north bank of the Pamunkey River in King William County, which he inherited from his maternal grandfather George Washington Parke Custis.

Rob also became a writer, gathering his memories of his family and life in Recollections and Letters of General Robert E. Lee (1904). The first-hand account provides a valuable source of information on day-to-day life at Arlington House during his youth, and includes many items of interest regarding his father’s entire life. However, some are now offended by racial views expressed therein.

Robert E. Lee, Jr. died in 1914. He was interred with his parents and siblings in the Lee Chapel in Lexington, Virginia, where his father and brother Custis each had served as a president of the college now known as Washington and Lee University.

Finally, there is their cousin Fitzhugh Lee who was born in 1835. He was the son of Sydney Smith Lee who had a distinguished career in the United States Navy. Fitz Lee graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1856 and was Fitzhugh Leecommissioned as a cavalry officer in the regiment that was commanded by Albert Sidney Johnston with his uncle Robert E. Lee as second-in-command.

Lee resigned his position at West Point when Virginia seceded. He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the cavalry and as a staff officer. However, he rose rapidly and by July 1862 was a brigadier general. He served primarily under the command of J.E.B. Stuart. After the Battle of Gettysburg Stuart singled him out as “one of the finest cavalry leaders on the continent, and richly [entitled] to promotion”. He was soon promoted to major general.

After Stuart’s death at Yellow Tavern Wade Hampton was promoted to command the Confederate cavalry. Lee remained in command of his division. When Hampton was sent to North Carolina to assist General Joseph E. Johnston Fitz Lee succeeded to command. He personally led the last cavalry charge on April 9th at Farmville, Virginia.

After the war, Lee devoted himself to farming in Stafford County, Virginia, and was conspicuous in his efforts to reconcile the Southern people to the issue of the war, which he regarded as a final settlement of the questions at issue. In 1885, he was a member of the board of visitors of West Point. From 1886 to 1890 he was governor of Virginia having defeated Republican John Sergeant Wise with 52.77% of the vote.

In April 1896, Lee was appointed consul-general at Havana by President Cleveland, with duties of a diplomatic and military character added to the usual consular business. In this post (in which he was retained by President William McKinley until 1898) he was from the first called upon to deal with a situation of great difficulty, which culminated with the destruction of the warship USS Maine. Upon the declaration of war between Spain and the United States, he re-entered the army.

He was one of three ex-Confederate general officers who were made major generals of United States Volunteers (the others being Joseph Wheeler and Thomas L. Rosser). Fitzhugh Lee commanded the 7th Army Corps, but took no part in the actual operations in Cuba. He was military governor of Havana and Pinar del Río in 1899, subsequently commanded the Department of the Missouri, and retired in 1901 as a brigadier general, U.S. Army, having come full circle.

Lee died in Washington, D.C., and is buried in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia.

The Lee family with five members in the Confederate Army distinguished themselves as true sons of Virginia and defenders of their state. They served Virginia in a variety of positions both in war and peace.


After the War: James Longstreet

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series After the War: Military Leaders

James Longstreet post bellumLieutenant General James Longstreet of South Carolina was at the very top of the Army of Northern Virginia commanding the First Corps. General Robert E. Lee called him his ‘Old Warhorse’.

Moxley Sorrel, one of his staff officers, wrote of Longstreet’s confidence and calmness in battle: “He was like a rock in steadiness when sometimes in battle the world seemed flying to pieces.” Gen. Lee said, “Longstreet was the staff in my right hand.” He had been established as Lee’s principal lieutenant.

At the Seven Days Battles he was in operational command of nearly half of the army, 15 brigades. Longstreet was an aggressive commander especially at Gaines’ Mill and Glendale. His command eventually became the First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Longstreet’s reputation suffered unfairly from the disastrous attack on the Union center on the third day at Gettysburg when the misnamed Pickett’s Charge had nearly wrecked the Confederate Army. After the war many of the ‘Lost Cause’ proponents blamed Longstreet rather than the man who ordered the attack, Robert E. Lee.

After the war Longstreet and his family settled in New Orleans where he entered a partnership in the cotton brokerage business and became the president of the newly created Great Southern and Western Fire, Marine and Accident Insurance Company. In 1870, he was named president of the newly organized New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad.

He applied for a pardon from President Andrew Johnson, endorsed by his friend, Ulysses S. Grant. Johnson refused, however, telling Longstreet in a meeting: “There are three persons of the South who can never receive amnesty: Mr. Davis, General Lee, and yourself. You have given the Union cause too much trouble.” Regardless of such opposition the United States Congress restored his rights of citizenship in June 1868.

James Longstreet was the only senior Confederate officer to join the Republican Party during Reconstruction. He endorsed Grant for president in 1868, attended his inauguration ceremonies, and six days later received an appointment as surveyor of customs in New Orleans. For these acts he lost favor with many Southerners. His old friend Harvey Hill wrote to a newspaper: “Our scalawag is the local leper of the community.”

Longstreet and Grant had been friends since their days at West Point. Grant married Longstreet’s fourth cousin, Julia Dent, and Longstreet was in attendance although his role is disputed by historians. The two men would remain friends through the war and the peace that followed.

The Republican governor of Louisiana appointed Longstreet the adjutant general of the state militia and by 1872 he became a major general in command of all militia and state police forces within New Orleans. During protests of election irregularities in 1874, referred to as the Battle of Liberty Place, an armed force of 8,400 White League members advanced on the State House.

Longstreet commanded a force of 3,600 Metropolitan Police, city policemen, and African-American militia troops, armed with two Gatling guns and a battery of artillery. He rode to meet the protesters but was pulled from his horse, shot by a spent bullet, and taken prisoner. The White League charged, causing many of Longstreet’s men to flee or surrender. Federal troops were required to restore order. Longstreet’s use of black troops during the disturbances increased the denunciations by anti-Reconstructionists.

The Longstreet family left New Orleans and moved to Gainesville, Georgia over concerns for their health and safety. He applied for various jobs through the Rutherford B. Hayes administration and was briefly considered for Secretary of the Navy. He served briefly as deputy collector of internal revenue and as postmaster of Gainesville.

In 1880 Hayes appointed Longstreet as his ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and later he served from 1897 to 1904, under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, as U.S. Commissioner of Railroads, succeeding Wade Hampton III.

Longstreet’s wife Louise died in December of 1889. He remarried at the age of 76 in 1897, in a ceremony at the governor’s mansion in Atlanta, to Helen Dortch, age 34. Although Longstreet’s children reacted poorly to the marriage, Helen became a devoted wife and avid supporter of his legacy after his death. She outlived him by 58 years, dying in 1962.

After suffering criticism of his war record from other Confederates for decades, Longstreet refuted most of their arguments in his memoirs entitled From Manassas to Appomattox, a labor of five years that was published in 1896.

His final years were marked by poor health and partial deafness. In 1902 he suffered from severe rheumatism and was unable to stand for more than a few minutes at a time. His weight diminished from 200 to 135 pounds by January 1903. Cancer developed in his right eye, and in December he had X-ray therapy in Chicago to treat it. 

He contracted pneumonia and died in Gainesville, six days before his 83rd birthday. Longstreet’s remains are buried in Alta Vista Cemetery. He outlived most of his detractors, and was one of only a few general officers from the Civil War to live into the 20th century.

Longstreet’s reputation suffered greatly from the attacks of the believers in the Lost Cause mythology. It should be noted that the attacks began two years of the death of General Lee. They centered on Longstreet’s actions at Gettysburg. Jubal Early in a speech at Washington College falsely accused Longstreet of attacking late on the second day and of being responsible for the debacle on the third.

The following year William N. Pendleton, Lee’s artillery chief, claimed in the same venue that Longstreet disobeyed an explicit order to attack at sunrise on July 2. Both of these allegations were fabrications. However, Longstreet failed to challenge these lies publicly until 1875. That failure further damaged his reputation.

Most of the criticisms and fabrication lasted into the 20th century with Douglas Southall Freeman including them in his famous biography of Robert E. Lee. Clifford Dowdey, a Virginia newspaperman and novelist, was noted for his severe criticism of Longstreet in the 1950s and 1960s. (Dowdey was quite a prolific author and many of his works can be found on

The publication of Michael Shaara’s novel The Killer Angels in 1974, based in part on Longstreet’s memoirs, followed by its 1993 film adaptation, Gettysburg, have been credited with helping to restore Longstreet’s reputation as a general and to dramatically raise his public visibility. The 1982 work by Thomas L. Connolly and Barbara L. Bellows, God and General Longstreet, provided a “further upgrading of Longstreet through an attack on Lee, the Lost Cause, and the Virginia revisionists.”

Jeffry D. Wert wrote that “Longstreet … was the finest corps commander in the Army of Northern Virginia; in fact, he was arguably the best corps commander in the conflict on either side.”  Richard L. DiNardo wrote “Even Longstreet’s most virulent critics have conceded that he put together the best staff employed by any commander, and that his de facto chief of staff,Lieutenant Colonel G. Moxley Sorrel, was the best staff officer in the Confederacy.”

DiNardo cited the effective way in which Longstreet delegated responsibilities for control of battlefield movements to his staff and how they were able to communicate with him more effectively during battles than the staffs of other Confederate generals during the war.

After Longstreet’s death, his second wife Helen privately published Lee and Longstreet at High Tide in his defense, in which she stated “the South was seditiously taught to believe that the Federal Victory was wholly the fortuitous outcome of the culpable disobedience of General Longstreet.” (This book is also available on



After the War: Robert E. Lee

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series After the War: Military Leaders

Robert E. Lee in May 1869For Robert E. Lee the American Civil War ended on April 9, 1865 when he surrendered the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox. He told his staff “… then there is nothing left me but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths…”.

For Robert E. Lee the surrender of his army was perhaps the bitterest moment in a life replete with honors and victories. Leaving the McLean House he told his men ”Boys, I have done the best I could for you. Go home now. And if you make as good citizens as you have soldiers, you will do well”. When he returned to his camp Lee went into his tent and was not seen for several hours.

The day after his surrender, Lee issued this Farewell Address to his army.

Headquarters, Army of Northern Virginia, 10th April 1865.

General Order
No. 9

After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.

I need not tell the survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to the result from no distrust of them.

But feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.

By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.

With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your Country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell.

— R. E. Lee, General, General Order No. 9

Lee personally oversaw the writing and editing of General Order No. 9. He signed all of the copies that were circulated throughout the Army of Northern Virginia.

Robert E. Lee then returned to Richmond on horseback to the house that he had rented for his family. He insisted that the war was over and energetically campaigned for inter-sectional reconciliation. “So far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interests of the South.”

After the end of the war Robert E. Lee was neither arrested nor punished. However, he did lose the right to vote as well as some property. His family had lost the Custis-Lee Mansion in what is now Arlington National Cemetery. They were compensated for the property in 1883.

He supported President Andrew Johnson’s program of Reconstruction.  He joined with Democrats in opposing the Radical Republicans who demanded punitive measures against the South, distrusted its commitment to the abolition of slavery and, indeed, distrusted the region’s loyalty to the United States.

Lee generally supported civil rights for all, as well as a system of free public schools for blacks, but forthrightly opposed allowing blacks to vote. “My own opinion is that, at this time, they [black Southerners] cannot vote intelligently, and that giving them the [vote] would lead to a great deal of demagogism, and lead to embarrassments in various ways,” Lee stated.

Emory Thomas says Lee had become a suffering Christ-like icon for ex-Confederates. President Grant invited him to the White House in 1869, and he went. Nationally he became an icon of reconciliation between the North and South, and the reintegration of former Confederates into the national fabric.

The Lees resided in Richmond until June 1865 when he accepted the presidency of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in Lexington, Virginia, and served from October 1865 until his death.

The trustees used Lee’s famous name and reputation to raise money in large scale fund-raising appeals. Lee transformed Washington College into a leading Southern college expanding its offerings significantly and added programs in commerce, journalism, and integrated the Lexington Law School.

Lee was well liked by the students, which enabled him to announce an “honor system” like West Point’s, explaining “We have but one rule here, and it is that every student be a gentleman.” To speed up national reconciliation Lee recruited students from the North and made certain they were well treated on campus and in town.

Lee was highly respected by the students and faculty. A typical account by a professor there states that “the students fairly worshipped him, and deeply dreaded his displeasure; yet so kind, affable, and gentle was he toward them that all loved to approach him. … No student would have dared to violate General Lee’s expressed wish or appeal; if he had done so, the students themselves would have driven him from the college.”

Robert E. Lee was not pardoned, nor was his citizenship restored. On January 30, 1975, Senate Joint Resolution 23, A joint resolution to restore posthumously full rights of citizenship to General R. E. Lee was introduced into the Senate by Senator Harry F. Byrd, Jr. (I-VA), the result of a five-year campaign to accomplish this. The resolution, which enacted Public Law 94-67, was passed, and the bill was signed by President Gerald Ford on September 5, 1975.

On September 28, 1870, Lee suffered a stroke. He died two weeks later, shortly after 9 a.m. on October 12, 1870, in Lexington, Virginia, from the effects of pneumonia. According to one account, his last words on the day of his death, were “Tell Hill he must come up. Strike the tent”, but this is debatable because of conflicting accounts and because Lee’s stroke had resulted in aphasia, possibly rendering him unable to speak.

Robert E. Lee is considered one of the great tacticians of the Civil War. At Chancellorsville he divided his army and achieved a great victory against a Union Army twice the size of his.

According to my notion of military history there is as much instruction both in strategy and in tactics to be gleaned from General Lee’s operations of 1862 as there is to be found in Napoleon’s campaigns of 1796.

—Field Marshal Garnet Wolseley





Border State Cadets at West Point

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Military Academies of the United States

Henry du PontThe cadets that had the most difficult decisions to make were those who came from the Border States. Their states took a great deal of time to make up their minds on the question of secession.

One of the most well-known Border Staters was Henry du Pont of Delaware. Today, we might not think of Delaware as a Border State but in 1860 it was a slave state. The number of slaves in the state had been 8,887 in 1790 but by 1860 it had diminished to 1,798.

DuPont was a scion of the E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, a company founded by his grandfather, Eleuthère Irénée du Pont. Henry initially attended the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He then attended West Point and graduated first in his class in 1861.

Shortly before his graduation, du Pont received a letter from his uncle Samuel who was a naval officer. Cadets from the class of May 1861 had petitioned the government to allow them to graduate early. In the letter Samuel du Pont wrote: “…your country which has educated you is in danger…don’t let a du Pont be wanting in this hour of trial.”

He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant of Engineers upon his graduation on May 6, 1861. Soon after he was promoted to First Lieutenant in the 5th Regiment, U.S. Artillery on May 14, 1861. During the war he was an officer in the light artillery rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Henry du Pont was initially assigned to the defenses of Washington and New York Harbor. From July 6, 1861 to March 24, 1864, he served as regimental adjutant (administrative officer) until he was promoted to captain. He subsequently became chief of artillery in the Army of West Virginia. At the Battle of New Market du Pont successfully covered the retreat of the Union forces by skillful use of his artillery batteries.

Du Pont was part of General Philip Sheridan’s army in the Shenandoah Valley of northern Virginia. He received the Medal of Honor for his handling of a retreat at the Battle of Cedar Creek, allowing Sheridan to win a victory in the battle.

During the war, du Pont received two brevets (honorary promotions). The first was to the rank of major, dated September 19, 1864, for gallant service in the battles of Opequon and Fisher’s Hill. The second brevet was to the rank of lieutenant colonel, dated October 19, 1864, for distinguished service at the Battle of Cedar Creek, Virginia.

There were a number of Border State cadets who ultimately fought for the Confederacy. Charles Carroll Campbell of Missouri graduated with his class in May 1861, was commissioned  as a lieutenant of the First U.S. Cavalry but was dismissed on June 6, 1861 when he tendered his resignation.

He was second in command of the First Missouri Infantry at Shiloh. He later was in command of the Confederate arsenal at Atlanta and finally he was chief of ordnance on the staff of General Joseph Wheeler. In a turnabout Campbell served in the U. S. Corps of Engineers.

Olin E. Rice of Kentucky graduated with his class in May 1861, was commissioned  as a lieutenant of the Ninth U.S. Infantry but was dismissed on June 6, 1861 when he tendered his resignation. He was a captain of the First Missouri Infantry at Shiloh. He then served on the staff of General Simon Bolivar Buckner and was a colonel by the end of the war.

Mathias Winston Henry of Kentucky graduated with his class in May 1861, was commissioned  as a lieutenant of the Union’s Mounted Rifles but was resigned on August 19, 1861 and joined the Confederate Army. He became chief of artillery for Hood’s Division.

William Watkins Dunlap of Kentucky was dismissed from the Union Army when he refused to take the oath of allegiance. He eventually became a lieutenant colonel in the Confederate Army.

James Parker Porter of Kentucky was Custer’s roommate and contested the last in the class with him. He later became lieutenant colonel of the First Mississippi Artillery.

George Owen Watts of Kentucky graduated with his class in May 1861, was commissioned  as a lieutenant of the Union’s Mounted Rifles but was resigned on August 10, 1861 and joined the Confederate Army. As an engineer officer on the staff of General Simon Bolivar Buckner, he built the works at Fort Donelson, Fort Pillow and Nashville.

As you can see the vast majority of Border State cadets sided with the Confederacy.


1861 Confederate West Point Graduates: John Pelham and Thomas Rosser

This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series Military Academies of the United States

John PelhamThe several classes of 1861 at West Point had some significant members who served on both sides. Several went on to become generals in the Union and Confederate armies.

Perhaps the most beloved officer was John Pelham of Alabama. Pelham entered West Point in 1856 at the age of eighteen. At that time the term at the military academy was five years. He resigned from the academy just a few weeks before graduation in early 1861 when his state seceded from the Union.

He accepted a commission in the militia of his home state of Alabama. He soon went to Virginia, where he joined the army of Joseph E. Johnston as a lieutenant in the artillery. Pelham’s well-drilled and disciplined battery caught the eye of J.E.B. Stuart, who provided horses for the men and transformed the battery into “horse artillery”, more mobile than conventional artillery.

He served under Stuart in every major military engagement of Stuart’s cavalry from the First Battle of Bull Run to Kelly’s Ford, more than 60 encounters. He particularly distinguished himself as the Chief of Stuart’s Artillery in the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) and Battle of Fredericksburg.

At Kelly’s Ford on March 17, 1863, Pelham participated in a cavalry charge, his artillery not being engaged. Standing up in his stirrups, he urged his men to “Press forward, press forward to glory and victory!” He was struck in the head by a fragment of an exploding Federal artillery shell. He was carried six miles from the battlefield to Culpeper Courthouse, and died the following morning without having regained consciousness.

Maj. Harry Gene Beck III, a fellow officer and tentmate of Pelham’s, wrote: “He is the bravest human being I ever saw in my life.” After his death Stuart said in part:

The memory of “the gallant Pelham,” his many manly virtues, his noble nature and purity of character, are enshrined as a sacred legacy in the hearts of all who knew him. His record has been bright and spotless, his career brilliant and successful.

Pelham’s roommate at West Point was Thomas Rosser. Rosser also roomed with George Armstrong Custer. Born in Thomas Lafayette RosserCampbell County, Virginia and was appointed from Texas. He too entered the academy in 1856 and resigned before graduation in April 1861. He was commissioned a first lieutenant and became an instructor to the famed “Washington Artillery” of New Orleans.

He commanded its Second Company at the First Battle of Manassas in July 1861. He was noted for shooting down one of George B. McClellan’s observation balloons, a feat that won him promotion to captain. He commanded his battery during the Seven Days Battles, and was severely wounded at Mechanicsville. Rosser was promoted to lieutenant colonel of artillery, and a few days later to colonel of the 5th Virginia Cavalry.

He commanded the advance of J.E.B. Stuart’s expedition to Catlett’s Station, and was notable in the Second Battle of Bull Run, where captured Union commander John Pope’s orderly and horses. During the fighting at Crampton’s Gap at the Battle of South Mountain, his cavalry delayed the advance of William B. Franklin’s VI Corps with help from John Pelham’s artillery. At Antietam, his men screened Robert E. Lee’s left flank. He temporarily assumed command of Fitzhugh Lee’s brigade during the subsequent fighting against Alfred Pleasonton.

He was again badly wounded at the Battle of Kelly’s Ford, where “the gallant” Pelham was killed. Rosser was disabled until the Gettysburg Campaign, where he commanded his regiment in the fighting at Hanover and the East Cavalry Field at Gettysburg.

He was promoted to brigadier general of the “Laurel Brigade.” During one of his October – November West Virginia raids near Chancellorsville, Virginia, in November, Rosser seized a Federal wagon train containing much of the ammunition reserve of the I Corps and V Corps of the Army of the Potomac.

He was distinguished again in the 1864 Overland Campaign, driving back a large force of Union cavalry and artillery at the Battle of the Wilderness. Rosser was yet again wounded at Trevilian Station, where his brigade captured a number of prisoners from former West Point classmate and close personal friend George Armstrong Custer. The Federal rout at Trevilian Station became known to the Confederate forces as the “Buckland Races.”

His brigade later gallantly fought against Philip Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley, and he efficiently commanded Fitzhugh Lee’s division at Cedar Creek. A rare defeat where Custer overran Rosser’s troops at the Battle of Tom’s Brook allowed Custer to repay Rosser for Trevilian Station.

For no tactical reason, Custer chased Rosser’s troops for over 10 miles and the action became known as the “Woodstock Races” in Union accounts. Custer had also captured Rosser’s private wardrobe wagon at Tom’s Brook.

Rosser became known in the Southern press as the “Saviour of the Valley,” and was promoted to major general in November 1864. He conducted a number of successful raids in West Virginia in late 1864 and early 1865.

Rosser commanded a cavalry division during the Siege of Petersburg in the spring, fighting near Five Forks. It was here that Rosser hosted the “infamous” shad bake (fish feast) 2 miles north of the battle lines preceding and during the primary Federal assault. Guests at this small affair included George Pickett and Fitzhugh Lee.

Shelby Foote states that “Pickett only made it back to his division after over half his troops had been shot or captured..”. It is said that Lee never forgave Pickett for his absence from his post when the Federals broke the Confederate lines and carried the day at Five Forks.

Rosser was conspicuous during the Appomattox Campaign, capturing a Union general and rescuing a wagon train near Farmville. He led a daring early morning charge at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, and escaped with his command as Lee surrendered the bulk of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Under orders from the secretary of war, he began reorganizing the scattered remnants of Lee’s army in a vain attempt to join Joseph E. Johnston’s army in North Carolina. However, he surrendered at Staunton, Virginia, on May 4 and was paroled shortly afterwards.


Classes Divided: The West Point Classes of 1860 and 1861

This entry is part 16 of 21 in the series A Soldier's Life

West PointJust as the American Civil War divided the country so too did it divide the United States Military Academy at West Point. The military academy had the unusual occurrence of having three graduating classes in two years.

The Class of 1860 had a total of 41 members who represented states both North and South. Among the graduates were young officers who would lead brigades, divisions and corps for both sides in the coming conflict.

The following year the academy graduated 45 young officers in May, only one of which was a Southerner from Tennessee. There were two Kentuckians, a border state. One month later another 35 young officers graduated. By then all of the Southerners had gone home to enlist in the nascent Confederate States Army. Many had resigned several months before their graduations.

The graduates of the three classes can roughly be divided among the classes of service that they served in during the war. A number of them served in several different branches during the four years of war.

The Artillerymen

The ‘Gallant’ John Pelham should have graduated in the class of 1861 but he resigned just a few weeks before his planned graduation, in order to accept a commission in the militia of his home state of Alabama. Pelham soon caught the eye of J.E.B. Stuart who provided his battery with horses and transformed his battery into “horse artillery”.

Pelham and his artillery were involved in every major military engagement of Stuart’s cavalry from the First Battle of Bull Run to Kelly’s Ford, more than 60 encounters. He particularly distinguished himself as the Chief of Stuart’s Artillery in the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg) and Battle of Fredericksburg.

At Kelly’s Ford on March 17, 1863, Pelham participated in a cavalry charge, his artillery not being engaged. Standing up in his stirrups, he urged his men to “Press forward, press forward to glory and victory!” Not long afterward, he was struck in the head by a fragment of an exploding Federal artillery shell. He was carried six miles (10 km) from the battlefield to Culpeper Courthouse, and died the following morning without having regained consciousness. He was 24 years old.

Henry Du Pont graduated first in his class from the academy in May 1861. He served throughout the war as an artillery officer in the Union Army. At the Battle of New Market, Du Pont defended the Union rear with his artillery as his comrades withdrew. After the Battle of Cedar Creek, he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the initial Union withdrawal. He was also promoted to the brevet rank of lieutenant colonel.

Finally, here’s a cadet that was instrumental in the Union victory on the third day at Gettysburg, Alonzo H. Cushing. He graduated from the academy in June of 1861 and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the artillery. He was brevetted major following the Battle of Chancellorsville.

 Cushing commanded Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery at Gettysburg, and was hailed by contemporaries as heroic in his actions on the third day of the battle. He was wounded three times. First, a shell fragment went straight through his shoulder. He was then grievously wounded by a shell fragment which tore into his abdomen and groin. This wound exposed Cushing’s intestines, which he held in place with his hand as he continued to command his battery.

After these injuries a higher-ranking officer said, “Cushing, go to the rear.” Cushing, due to the limited number of men left, refused to fall back. The severity of his wounds left him unable to yell his orders above the sounds of battle. Thus, he was held aloft by his 1st Sergeant Frederick Füger, who faithfully passed on Cushing’s commands. Cushing was killed when a bullet entered his mouth and exited through the back of his skull. He died on the field at the height of the assault. He was 22 at the time of his death.

Currently, the recommendation for the long belated award of the Medal of Honor is awaiting a review by the Defense Department and approval by the President.

The Cavalrymen

James H. Wilson graduated in the class of 1860 and was assigned to the engineers. He spent the first years of his service as a topographical engineer but in 1864 he transferred to the cavalry where he would eventually become a top cavalry commander.

His daring cavalry raids destroyed vital Southern infrastructure in both the Eastern Theater and the Western Theater but his men with a sense of discipline that usually prevented looting and other collateral damage to civilian property. His repulse of a flanking attack by Maj. Gen.Nathan Bedford Forrest was instrumental in saving the Union Army at the Battle of Franklin. He was one of only a few Union officers to best the legendary Southern cavalryman. 

Wesley Merritt graduated in the class of 1860 and was immediately posted to the 2nd U.S. Dragoons (heavy cavalry) under John Buford. He served in a number of cavalry actions during the first two years of the war, most notably Stoneman’s Raid and Brandy Station. He was promoted from captain to brigadier general after Brandy Station for his “gallant and meritorious service”.

His brigade was engaged on the third day at Gettysburg, following Pickett’s Charge. Merritt took over command of the 1st Division of the Cavalry Corps following the death by typhoid fever of its commander, John Buford, in December 1863. He commanded that unit during Philip Sheridan’s Valley Campaign. 

Arriving at the opportune moment, his division routed the Confederate forces at the Third Battle of Winchester, a deed for which he received a brevet promotion to major general. He was second-in-command to Sheridan during the Appomattox Campaign and was one of several commissioners for the surrender at Appomattox Court House. He was brevetted major general in the regular army, in April 1865, for bravery at the Battle of Five Forks and the Appomattox Campaign.

Judson Kilpatrick was a May 1861 graduate who started his Civil War service in the artillery. Three days later he was transferred to the infantry. He was the first Union officer to be wounded. He was struck in the thigh at Big Bethel in June 1861. By September he was lieutenant colonel of the 2nd N.Y. Cavalry, a unit that he helped to raise.

Nicknamed Kill-Cavalry by his detractors, Kilpatrick was known for his daring tactics. He had a bad reputation with others in the Army. His camps were poorly maintained and frequented by prostitutes, often visiting Kilpatrick himself. He was jailed in 1862 on charges of corruption, accused of selling captured Confederate goods for personal gain. He was jailed again for a drunken spree in Washington, D.C., and for allegedly accepting bribes in the procurement of horses for his command.

The next post will cover the Infantrymen and the Engineers.



Our Best Men: Patrick Ronayne Cleburne

General Patrick CleburneMany soldiers of foreign origin fought on both sides of the American Civil War. Franz Sigel, Thomas Francis Meagher, Michael Corcoran and Prussian officer Heros von Borcke were just a few of the 2.2 million men who fought on both sides. In fact about 25% of the white people who served in the Union Army were foreign-born.

On the Southern side perhaps the best know was Patrick Ronayne Cleburne, an Irish-born officer in the Confederate States Army. Cleburne was born in County Cork, Ireland in 1828 and emigrated to the United States in 1849. Settling at first in Ohio, he shortly moved to Helena, Arkansas where he was employed as a pharmacist. 

When the Secession Crisis began Cleburne joined the local militia company as a private soldier. He had some military experience as a soldier in the 41st Regiment of Foot of the British Army and was soon elected its captain. He led the company in the seizure of the U.S. Arsenal in Little Rock in January 1861. When Arkansas seceded his unit became part of the 1st Arkansas Infantry, later designated the 15th Arkansas. Cleburne was elected as colonel of the regiment.

By March 1862, Cleburne was promoted to brigadier general. He led his brigade at the Battles of Shiloh, Richmond (Kentucky) and Perryville. He was wounded in the face at Richmond. After Perryville, he was promoted to division command. He was elevated to major general on December 13, 1862. He led his division in his now-aggressive style at the Battle of Stones River where they pushed the enemy back three miles and routed their right wing.

During 1863, Cleburne and his division fought bravely and with determination at the battles of Chickamauga, Wauhatchie, Missionary Ridge and Ringgold Gap. At Wauhatchie they conducted a rare night assault. At Ringgold Gap they protected the Confederate rear as the Army of Tennessee withdrew from battle. For that action they received the thanks of Confederate Congress.

Cleburne’s fame had spread throughout the South and into the North. General Robert E. Lee referred to him as “a meteor shining from a clouded sky” Cleburne’s use of terrain, his ability to hold ground, and his talent in foiling the movements of the enemy gained him the nickname “Stonewall of the West.” Federal troops were quoted as dreading to see the blue flag of Cleburne’s Division across the battlefield.

Cleburne had joined the Confederate Army because of his love for the people of Arkansas who welcomed him into their community. By late 1863, he could see that the Confederacy had a serious issue with manpower limitations. In early 1864 he made a proposal to emancipate slaves and enlist them in the Confederate Army to secure Southern independence to his fellow officers of the Army of Tennessee.

His proposal was met with polite silence by his fellow commanders. Eventually, word leaked out to the public at large. However, it was never officially recognized. Here is a portion of his proposal:

Satisfy the negro that if he faithfully adheres to our standard during the war he shall receive his freedom and that of his race … and we change the race from a dreaded weakness to a position of strength.

Will the slaves fight? The helots of Sparta stood their masters good stead in battle. In the great sea fight of Lepanto where the Christians checked forever the spread of Mohammedanism over Europe, the galley slaves of portions of the fleet were promised freedom, and called on to fight at a critical moment of the battle. They fought well, and civilization owes much to those brave galley slaves … the experience of this war has been so far that half-trained negroes have fought as bravely as many other half-trained Yankees.

It is said that slavery is all we are fighting for, and if we give it up we give up all. Even if this were true, which we deny, slavery is not all our enemies are fighting for. It is merely the pretense to establish sectional superiority and a more centralized form of government, and to deprive us of our rights and liberties.

Patrick Ronayne Cleburne met his end at the Battle of Franklin on November, 1864. The Union Army of the Ohio commanded by Maj. Gen. John Cleburne at Franklin by DGallonM. Schofield had built up a formidable defensive line in a semi-circle around the town, from northwest to southeast.

Attacking infantry would be confronted by a ditch about four feet wide and two–three feet deep, then a wall of earth and wooden fence rails four feet above the normal ground level, and finally a trench three–four feet deep in which the defenders stood, aiming their weapons through narrow “head gaps” formed by logs.

The armies were evenly matched with each having about 27,000 men. Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood, the Confederate commander, ordered a series of frontal assaults against the Union works. Cleburne observed the enemy fortifications as being formidable, but he told the commanding general that he would either take the enemy’s works or fall in the attempt. He later remarked to Brig. Gen. Daniel C. Govan, “Well, Govan, if we are to die, let us die like men.”

Cleburne’s division was positioned almost in the center of the Confederate line. They were able to cause a breach in the Union line with two other divisions. Collectively, they were able to penetrate the enemy’s line 50 yards deep in the center.

Led by Colonel Emerson Opdycke‘s brigade, the Union soldiers counterattacked and they were able to seal the breach. The fighting was hand-to-hand with bayonets, rifle butts, entrenching tools, axes, and picks used as weapons. The fighting continued for several hours around the Carter House and gardens. In one of the Confederate attacks, Cleburne was killed. Fourteen of his brigade and regimental commanders were also casualties.

Later accounts said that he was found just inside the Union lines. His men carried him back to an aid station where he died of a gun shot wound to the abdomen. When his body was found, his boots were gone, as were his sword, watch, and anything else of value.

Patrick Cleburne was buried at St. John’s Episcopal Church near Mount Pleasant, Tennessee, where they remained for six years. In 1870, he was disinterred and returned to his adopted hometown of Helena, Arkansas, with much fanfare, and buried in Maple Hill Cemetery, overlooking the Mississippi River.

Patrick Cleburne may have been the finest division commander on either side during the Civil War. His loss at Franklin was a serious blow to the Army of Tennessee. He was simply irreplaceable as an aggressive leader and field commander.



Our Best Men: Stephen Dodson Ramseur

General Stephen Dodson RamseurThe American Civil War is filled with stories of promising men who had their lives cut short. One such man was Maj. Gen. Stephen Dodson Ramseur of North Carolina. At one point, he was the youngest general in the Confederate Army.

Dodson Ramseur (he rarely used his given name) was born on May 31, 1837 in Lincolnton, North Carolina. He came from a somewhat prosperous family. He began his studies at Davidson College under future Confederate general Daniel Harvey Hill. He continued them at West Point, graduating in 1860. Commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the artillery, his career in the U.S. Army was short-lived.

Ramseur resigned his commission and joined the Confederate Army in Alabama. He quickly transferred to the 10th North Carolina Militia. He became the lieutenant colonel of the 3rd North Carolina Infantry on May 27, 1861. He was injured with a broken collarbone while being thrown from his horse in July and was out of service until the following spring.

At the start of the Peninsula Campaign Ramseur was assigned to the artillery in Brig. Gen. John B. Magruder‘s division, but he was elected colonel of the 49th North Carolina Infantry on April 12, 1862. Ramseur saw significant action at the Battle of Malvern Hill where he led a futile charge against the strong Union defenses.

He was severely wounded in the arm which was paralyzed. He would not return until after the Battle of Antietam when he was given command of a brigade of four North Carolina regiments in Brig. Gen. Robert E. Rodes‘ division.

 Ramseur was promoted to brigadier general in November 1862 even though he has missed a number of battle. Robert E. Lee had been impressed by his aggressive performance at Malvern Hill and wanted to reward him.

At Chancellorsville, Ramseur’s was the lead brigade on Jackson’s famous flank march on May 2, 1863. After Jackson was mortally wounded, J.E.B. Stuart ordered three cheers for the brigade’s aggressive assault and recommended that Ramseur be promoted to major general.

Actually, Ramseur’s brigade was too aggressive and moved out in front of the other brigades too quickly. They became too exposed and ran out of ammunition. This required reinforcements from the other brigades to help them consolidate their gains. The brigade suffered more than 50% casualties; by far higher than any other Confederate brigade. The following day Ramseur was wounded once again and came to Robert E. Lee’s attention:

I consider its brigade and regimental commanders as among the best of their respective grades in the army, and in the battle of Chancellorsville, where the brigade was much distinguished and suffered severely, General Ramseur was among those whose conduct was especially commended to my notice by Lieutenant General Jackson, in a message sent to me after he was wounded.

— Robert E. Lee, Official Report on Chancellorsville

Ramseur’s brigade was only engage on the first day at Gettysburg. Initially, they were in reserve but when the attack against the right flank of the Union I Corps began to peter out Rodes ordered them to attack the attack the Union positions in the rear. Ramseur was ordered to halt the pursuit at the foot of Cemetery Hill. This was their last action in the battle.

After Gettysburg, Ramseur returned home to marry Ellen E. “Nellie” Richmond and they spent three months together in the Confederate army winter encampment.

At the start of the Battle of the Wilderness, Ramseur’s brigade was once more held in reserve. On May 7, 1864, his brigade was called forward and smashed into Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside‘s IX Corps, which was attempting to outflank Ewell’s Corps. Both Lee and corps commander Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell wrote in admiration of his gallant attack, which drove Burnside’s troops back over a half mile.

At Spotsylvania Court House, his brigade was involved in intense combat against Winfield Scott Hancock’s II Corps when they attacked the Mule Shoe Salient at the “Bloody Angle.” The fighting lasted 20 hours and Ramseur was wounded once again in the arm. Despite being shot from his horse, he refused to leave the field.

After Spotsylvania, Ramseur was promoted to major general and given command of Jubal Early’s division when he took over for the wounded Ewell. He thus became the youngest West Point graduate to ever be promoted to major general in the Confederate Army. Following that accomplishment, he led his division at Cold Harbor where they thwarted Ulysses S. Grant’s attempt to take Petersburg.

In late June of 1864, Lee dispatched Early’s Corps to the Shenandoah Valley. Their objective was to draw off Union forces from the siege at Petersburg and also secure supplies in the Valley needed by the Confederate Army to survive the Union siege. Early’s Corps conducted a series of successful raids down thew Valley, into Maryland and to the outer defenses of Washington itself.

Grant responded by sending one of his favorites Maj. Gen. Philip Sheridan to the Valley. Sheridan met Early’s Corps on September 19, 1864 at at the Battle of Opequon, also known as the Third Battle of Winchester. The Confederates were outnumbered by more than 3-to-1 and were suffered severe casualties, although the Union Army suffered more.

Ramseur’s division was routed by a strong Union assault near Stephenson’s Depot. Ramseur allegedly wept openly and immaturely blamed his men for the retreat. His former commander Robert Rodes was mortally wounded. Early’s Corps was forced into a headlong retreat. The Battle of Opequon marked a turning point in the Shenandoah Valley in favor of the North. Early’s army for the most part remained intact but suffered further defeats at Fisher’s Hill and Tom’s Brook.

One moth after the Battle of Opequon, the two armies met at Cedar Creek. Outnumbered 3-to-2, Early devised an aggressive plan. They hoped to catch the Union soldiers when they least expected it, in the very early morning. To complicate matters, Sheridan had gone to Washington and had intended to send his Cavalry Corps to raid the Virginia Central Railroad.

But Early outsmarted himself when he sent signals that Lt. Gen James Longstreet’s Corps was on the way to reinforce him. Sheridan recalled the infantry that he had sent back to Petersburg and the cavalry. He himself was at Winchester awaiting events.

Early’s initial attack was a complete surprise. Most of the Union troops were routed and fled north but a few isolated units held the field. The Union corps commanders regrouped their commands and held off the Confederate attacks.

The hungry Confederate troops stopped to eat the Union soldiers’ breakfasts and pillage their tents. This slowed down the entire momentum of the attack. Ramseur managed to corral a few hundred soldiers out of his division and stood with them in the center of the line as Sheridan counterattacked. They held off the Union assault for an hour and a half.

Ramseur displayed great bravery in rallying his troops, but he was mounted conspicuously on horseback and drew continuous fire. He was wounded in the arm and his horse was shot out from under him. A second horse was also killed. On his third horse, he was struck through both lungs and fell, later to be captured by Union soldiers of the 1st Vermont Cavalry.

The mortally-wounded Confederate was taken to Union headquarters at Belle Grove. He found out the day before the battle that his wife had given birth to his baby daughter. At Belle Grove Dodson Ramseur was comforted by his former classmates from West Point: George A. Custer, Wesley Merritt and Henry DuPont, as he lay dying. He died the following day at 10:20 AM. His last words were, “Bear this message to my precious wife—I die a Christian and hope to meet her in heaven.”

Jubal Early summed up Stephen Dodson Ramseur in his report to General Lee:

Major-General Ramseur fell into the hands of the enemy mortally wounded, and in him not only my command, but the country suffered a heavy loss. He was a most gallant and energetic officer whom no disaster appalled, but his courage and energy seemed to gain new strength in the midst of confusion and disorder. He fell at his post fighting like a lion at bay, and his native State has reason to be proud of his memory.

— Jubal Early, Official Report from Cedar Creek

Nellie Ramseur never remarried; she remained with her family at Woodside, and wore black mourning clothes for the rest of her life.

You can read more about Dodson Ramseur in Gary Gallagher’s book: Stephen Dodson Ramseur: Lee’s Gallant General