The Bravest of the Brave: The Correspondence of Stephen Dodson Ramseur

The Bravest of the Brave: The Correspondence of Stephen Dodson Ramseur

The Bravest of the Brave: The Correspondence of Stephen Dodson Ramseur

The Bravest of the Brave: The Correspondence of Stephen Dodson Ramseur

Synopsis

Born in Lincolnton, North Carolina, in 1837, Stephen Dodson Ramseur rose meteorically through the military ranks. Graduating from West Point in 1860, he joined the Confederate army as a captain. By the time of his death near the end of the war at the Battle of Cedar Creek, he had attained the rank of major general in the Army of Northern Virginia. He excelled in every assignment and was involved as a senior officer in many of the war's most important conflicts east of the Appalachians.

Ramseur's letters--over 180 of which are collected and transcribed here by George Kundahl--provide his incisive observations on these military events. At the same time, they offer rare insight into the personal opinions of a high-ranking Civil War officer. Correspondence by Civil War figures is often strictly professional. But in personal letters to his wife, Nellie, and best friend, David Schenk, Ramseur candidly expresses beliefs about the social, military, and political issues of the day. He also shares vivid accounts of battle and daily camp life, providing colorful details on soldiering during the war.

Excerpt

Nearly thirty years have elapsed since I first encountered the Stephen Dodson Ramseur Papers at the Southern Historical Collection in Chapel Hill. I had chosen Ramseur as the subject of my doctoral dissertation, planning to examine his Confederate career as a case study of how able young officers rose to prominence in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. I knew that Douglas Southall Freeman, whose books on Lee and his army stood as monuments in the field of Civil War military history, had characterized the letters as “a large, fine series.” Freeman’s description led me to believe the collection would yield important information about Ramseur’s military development. I also hoped the correspondence would illuminate his personality, relationships with members of his family, and attitudes toward nonmilitary topics and issues. I soon realized the papers far exceeded my most optimistic expectations. Consisting of two groups of letters, one to Ellen Richmond (his cousin and later wife) and the other to David Schenck (his closest friend from childhood and later brother-in-law), the collection revealed Dodson Ramseur and his world in fascinating detail. All historians who work in unpublished materials dream of finding a rich, largely untapped lode of personal testimony — which is precisely what awaited me in the many folders of the Ramseur Papers. Every day I spent in Wilson Library, which houses the Southern Historical Collection, proved to be a joy. I found it hard to believe that no one had decided to exploit the letters for a book or at least an article. Ramseur wrote to Ellen Richmond in such touching, intimate terms that I often felt like an intruder reading his words. the letters to Schenck, more concerned with political, military, and other public subjects, rivaled the personal ones in interest.

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