Classes Divided: The Infantrymen

This entry is part 17 of 21 in the series A Soldier's Life
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Civil War InfantryThe American Civil War not only divided the country but it also divided its military academies. The West Point classes of 1860 and 1861 provided numerous commanders to both armies and suffered severe losses in the process. In the last post we covered some of the prominent artillerymen and cavalrymen. Today, we’ll look at the infantrymen.

The Infantrymen 

Stephen Dodson Ramseur was one of the graduates in the class of 1860. Dodson, a North Carolinian, resigned his commission even before his native state seceded from the Union. At the age of 24 he was already a colonel of the 3rd North Carolina Infantry. He was injured when his horse threw him and was transferred to the artillery.

His stay there was short and he returned to the infantry by April 1862 at the start of the Peninsula Campaign. He was wounded at the Battle of Malvern Hill and was sent home to recuperate until the fall of 1862, missing the Battle of Antietam. In November 1862 he was given command of an infantry brigade and promoted to brigadier general at 25, the youngest in the Confederate Army at the time.

In the Battle of Chancellorsville, Ramseur’s was the lead brigade in Jackson’s famous flank march of May 2, 1863, against the Union right. Ramseur’s performance was actually overly aggressive because his brigade moved out in front of the other brigades too quickly, became exposed, and ran out of ammunition. They had to have reinforcements rush in from the neighboring brigade to help consolidate their gains.

At Gettysburg, Ramseur’s brigade was one of five Rodes led in an assault south from Oak Hill against the right flank of the Union I Corps on July 1st. He routed the defenders when he swung around and hit them from the rear. To his dismay, he was ordered to halt his brigade and they saw no further action.

His unit was engaged at both the Wilderness and Spotsylvania. Both Robert E. Lee and corps commander Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell wrote in admiration of his gallant attack at the Wilderness.  He was wounded again at Spotsylvania, shot from his horse in the right arm, but refused to leave the field.

Ramseur assumed command of Jubal A. Early‘s division when that general took over from Ewell after Spotsylvania. He received a temporary promotion to major general on June 1, 1864, becoming the youngest West Point graduate to ever be promoted to major general in the Confederate Army. He fought at Cold Harbor and was the first division to intercept Grant before he could capture Petersburg.

Ramseur fought in the Valley Campaigns of 1864 under Early. At Cedar Creek, he was mortally wounded in the lungs. Captured by Union troops, he was taken to Belle Grove where he died the following morning surrounded by several classmates, most notably Henry Du Pont and Wesley Merritt.

Emory Upton of New York saw in the artillery and the cavalry but he became famous for his tactical use of infantry at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. He graduated in May of 1861 from West Point, ranking eighth out of 45.

He was commissioned as an artillery officer and was wounded at Blackburn’s Ford during the First Battle of Manassas. By October of 1862, he was appointed colonel of the 121st New York. He led that unit at Fredericksburg. Before Gettysburg he was promoted to the command of an infantry brigade. By the start of the Overland Campaign he had devised a new method of assaulting fixed defenses.

His new tactic would foreshadow tactics used in the trench warfare of World War I. Columns of massed infantry would swiftly assault a small part of the enemy line, without pausing to trade fire, and in doing so attempt to overwhelm the defenders and achieve a breakthrough. The standard infantry assault employed a wide battle line advancing more slowly, firing at the enemy as it moved forward.

On May 10, 1864, Upton led twelve regiments in such an assault against the Confederate’s Mule Shoe salient. His tactics worked and his command penetrated to the center of the Mule Shoe, but they were left unsupported and forced to withdraw in the face of enemy artillery and mounting reinforcements. Upton was wounded in the attack, but was promoted to brigadier general on May 12. On that same day Winfield Scott Hancock’s entire II Corps would assault and overwhelm the Mule Shoe salient.

Adelbart Ames of Maine graduated from West Point in May of 1861. Like many of his fellow West Pointers he began his service in the artillery. He fought with distinction at the First Battle of Manassas. He was badly wounded but refused to leave his guns. He was later awarded the Medal of Honor. He continued as an artillery officer during the Peninsula Campaigns and the Seven Days Battles. He received a brevet promotion to lieutenant colonel on July 1.

Transferring to the infantry where promotions were more easily attained, Ames was given the initial command of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry, a unit later led by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. He led the unit during the Maryland Campaign and then at Fredericksburg. During the Chancellorsville Campaign in May 1863, Ames volunteered as an aide-de-camp to Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, commander of the V Corps.

Ames was promoted to brigadier general in May 1863 and was promoted to the command of an infantry brigade. When his division commander was wounded and captured on July 1st, Ames took command of the division led it in retreat through the streets of Gettysburg to a position on Cemetery Hill.

On July 2, the second day of battle, Ames’ battered division bore the brunt of the assault on East Cemetery Hill by Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early, but was able to hold the critical position with help from surrounding units. At one point Ames himself took part in the hand-to-hand fighting. After the battle, the men of the 20th Maine presented Ames with their battle flag as a token of their esteem.

After Gettysburg, Ames reverted to brigade command and his unit saw action in Florida and South Carolina. In 1864, Ames’ division, now part of the X Corps of the Army of the James, served under Maj. Gen. Benjamin Franklin Butler in the Bermuda Hundred Campaign and the Siege of Petersburg. That winter, the division was reassigned to the XXIV Corps and sent to North Carolina.

During the two years following his service in the Army of the Potomac, Ames shifted between brigade and division command (and even led his corps on two occasions), though he generally can be identified as a division commander. He led the successful assault in the Second Battle of Fort Fisher (commanding the 2nd Division, XXIV Corps), accompanying his men into the formidable coastal fortress. He received a brevet promotion to major general in the Union Army (and brigadier general in the Regular Army) on March 13, 1865, for his role in the battle.

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