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Battle of Spotsylvania Court House
Southern Historical Society Papers

Major-General Stephen D. Ramseur: His Life And Character.


          On the afternoon of the 11th there was severe fighting on our right, when Ramseur's men mounted over our works and drove the enemy from our front in a hand-to hand engagement. It was expected by Lee that during the night Grant would withdraw his troops for the purpose of continuing his advance on Richmond. In order to be in readiness to confront him when he should make this change, Lee had directed that the guns in front of Ed. Johnson's Division, in a point in our lines known as the "salient," should be withdrawn during the night to facilitate our movements in the morning. This fact became known to Grant through a deserter from our lines. Hancock's corps was in front of this point, and he was directed to approach under the cover of night and a dense fog and assault the line at early dawn. The attack resulted most successfully, for our works were captured, together with a large number of prisoners. To restore in part this line became Ramseur's duty. In his report of the action he speaks substantially as follows: That in anticipation of an attack on his front on the morning of the 12th he had his brigade under arms at early dawn. Very soon he heard a terrible assault on his right. He therefore moved Cox's regiment, which was in reserve, to a position perpendicular to his line of battle. At this time the enemy was massing his troops for a further advance. For the purpose of driving him back he formed his brigade in a line parallel to the two lines held by the enemy. The men in charging were directed to keep their alignment and not pause until both lines of works were ours. How gallantly and successfully these orders were executed were witnessed by Generals Rodes and Ewell. The two lines of Federal troops were driven pell-mell out and over both lines of our original works with great loss. The enemy held the breastworks on our right, enfilading the line with destructive fire, at the same time heavily assaulting our right front. In this extremity, Colonel Bennett, of the Fourteenth, offered to take his regiment from left to right, under a severe fire, and drive back the growing masses of the enemy on our right. This hazardous offer was accepted as a forlorn hope, and was most successfully executed. To Colonel Bennett and his men, says General Ramseur, and his gallant officers, all honor is due. I distinctly recall the circumstances under which the charge was made, and for cool audacity and unflinching courage I never saw it surpassed. At the time the movement was commenced Colonel Parker's regiment and the Federals were engaged in a hand-to-hand encounter in and over the works, while my regiment was pouring a most destructive fire into the Federals in our front. We entered these works at 4 o'clock on the morning of the 12th and remained in the works fighting and contending for over twenty hours. When relieved, hungry and exhausted, we dropped upon the wet ground and slept most profoundly.

          A correspondent of the London Morning Herald, who had familiar access to Lee's headquarters, in a description of the battle of the Wilderness, gives this vivid account of the action of Ramseur's brigade on the morning of the 12th:

          "The Federalists continued to hold their ground in the salient, and along the line of works to the left of that angle, within a short distance of the position of Monoghan's (Hays') Louisianians. Ramseur's North Carolinians, of Rodes' division, formed, covering Monoghan's right; and being ordered to charge, were received by the enemy with a stubborn resistance. The desperate character of the struggle along that brigade-front was told terribly in the hoarseness and rapidity of its musketry. So close was the fighting there, for a time, that the fire of friend and foe rose up rattling in one common roar. Ramseur's North Carolinians dropped in the ranks thick and fast, but still he continued, with glorious constancy, to gain ground, foot by foot. Pressing under a fierce fire, resolutely on, on, on, the struggle was about to become one of hand to hand, when the Federalist shrank from the bloody trial. Driven back, they were not defeated. The earthworks being at the moment in their immediate rear, they bounded on the opposite side; and having thus placed them in their front, they renewed the conflict. A rush of an instant brought Ramseur's men to the side of the defenses; and though they crouched close to the slopes, under enfilade from the guns of the salient, their musketry rattled in deep and deadly fire on the enemy that stood in overwhelming numbers but a few yards from their front. Those brave North Carolinians had thus, in one of the hottest conflicts of the day, succeeded in driving the enemy from the works that had been occupied during the previous night by a brigade which, until the 12th of May, had never yet yielded to a foe--the Stonewall."

          In an address before the Army of Northern Virginia, Colonel Venable, of Lee's staff, says; "The restoration of the battle on the 12th, thus rendering utterly futile the success achieved by Hancock's Corps at daybreak, was a wonderful feat of arms, in which all the troops engaged deserve the greatest credit for endurance, constancy and unflinching courage. But without unjust discrimination, we may say that Gordon, Rodes and Ramseur were the heroes of this bloody day. * * * * Rodes and Ramseur were destined, alas! in a few short months, to lay down their noble lives in the Valley of Virginia. There was no victor's chaplet more highly prized by the Roman soldier than that woven of the grass of early spring. Then let the earliest flowers of May be always intertwined in the garlands which the pious hands of our fair women shall lay on the tombs of Rodes and Ramseur, and of the gallant dead of the battle of twenty hours at Spotsylvania."

          General Long, in his "Life of Lee," puts the name of Ramseur in the van of those who rushed into this angle of death and hurled back the Federals' most savage sallies. During the long and fierce struggle I saw soldiers place the arms of their comrades who had just fallen in such a position as when they had become stiffened they would hold the cartridges we were using. Yes, fighting and exhausted, amidst blood and mud and brains, they would sit on the bodies of their fallen comrades for rest, and dared not show even a finger above the breastworks, for so terrible was the fire at this angle that a tree eighteen inches in diameter was cut asunder by minnie balls. After the battle was over Generals Lee and Ewell thanked Ramseur in person, and directed him to carry to his officers and men their high appreciation of their conspicuous services and heroic daring. At this time such portions of the First and Third regiments as were not captured in the salient were placed in the brigade, and it is sufficient praise to bear witness that from that time on to the surrender at Appomattox their officers and men always showed themselves worthy of the highest confidence reposed in them. In appreciation of the conspicuous services rendered by Ramseur on this occasion, he was made a Major-General and assigned to the command of Early's division, and I had the distinguished honor of being assigned to Ramseur's (now to be Cox's) historic brigade.

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