Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Conspicuous Courage and Gallantry of Brevet Major General Thomas Edwin Greenfield Ransom

                                           photo by David Seibert

In 2001 the State of Georgia placed a wayside marker on State Route 20 honoring Union Brevet Major General Thomas Edwin Greenfield Ransom who died near the markers location on October 29, 1864, a month short of his 30th birthday. Ransom is one of a score of courageous young Americans, little remembered today, who made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve the country they loved and revered.  It is fitting, as we approach the 150th anniversary on Ransom's death to honor his memory.

Ransom was born in Norwich, Vermont, November 29, 1834 the second son of Colonel Truman Bishop Ransom and Margaret Greenfield Ransom.  His father was killed September 13, 1847 during the Mexican War Battle of Chapultepec.   He graduated from Norwich University in 1851 along with older brother Dunbar Richard and lifelong friend Grenville M. Dodge.  After graduation Thomas moved to Illinois where he was employed at Farina as an agent for the Illinois Central Railroad when the Civil War broke out in 1861.  He raised a company of volunteers in Fayette County which were incorporated into the 11th Illinois Volunteer Infantry.  Ransom quickly rose through the ranks from Captain to Major to Lt. Colonel when the remnants of the three month 11th Illinois were mustered into the 11th Illinois that had been raised as a three year unit. 

In August 1861 Ransom was wounded in the shoulder during the Battle of Charleston, Missouri (Birds Point) by a Confederate officer who, while pretending to surrender, fired at Ransom.  Ransom received a second shoulder wound while leading the 11th Illinois at Ft. Donelson in February 1862.  Though wounded, he refused to leave the field  until the fighting was over.  His clothing was pierced by 6-8 bullets and at least one horse was shot under him. He was sick for some time, after the battle, from fatigue, exposure and the wound, but refused to leave his regiment, traveling with it in an ambulance.  On February 15, 1862 he was promoted to Colonel for "bravery. skill and gallantry" at Ft. Donelson.

Colonel Ransom commanded the 11th Illinois during the April 6-7, 1862, Battle of Shiloh.  He was wounded in the head during the early hours of the battle but again refused to leave the field.  Division commander Major General McClernand wrote of Ransom that he "performed prodigies of valor, though reeling in his saddle and streaming blood from a serious wound."

On November 29, 1862 Thomas Ransom was commissioned Brigadier General of Volunteers.  He commanded a brigade in Major General John A. Logan's Division at Vicksburg.  After the fall of Vicksburg Ransom lead an expedition against Natchez.  His behavior so pleased Major General Grant that Grant wrote in his official report, "He has always proved himself the best man I have ever had to send on expeditions. He is a live man and of good judgment."

In October 1863 Brigadier General Ransom participated in a campaign in Texas and in early 1864 was engaged in the Red River Expedition commanded by Major General Nathaniel P. Banks.  Ransom was  wounded in the left knee and knocked from his by a piece of shrapnel during the April 8, 1864 Battle of Sabine Crossroads where he commanded a division in Banks advance guard that was attacked by three Confederate divisions.  Though seriously wounded he remained on the field until the attack had been suppressed.

After being wounded at Sabine Crossroads Ransom returned to Chicago and points north to convalesce. By July 27, 1864 however he was in Northern Georgia fighting with the Army of the Tennessee in the Atlanta Campaign.  He commanded the XVI Corps in the Battle of Jonesboro which sealed the fate of Atlanta.   While chasing Hood though Northern Georgia after the fall of Atlanta General Ransom became seriously ill with either dysentery or typhoid fever.  As always he was unwilling to leave his command and commented "I will stay with my command until I leave in my coffin." 

 When he became so ill that he was unable to sit his horse or ride in an ambulance his troops carried him on a litter.  Finally by 11:00 a. m. on October 29, 1864 while near Rome, Georgia Ransom was unable to go farther and his staff took him to the home of John Berryhill.   When told a few hours later by the surgeon that his death was imminent Ransom "Looking up, with a cheerful expression, said: "I am not afraid to die, I have met death too often to be afraid of it now.'  He breathed his last at 2:45 p.m.

Brevet Major General T. E. G. Ransom was buried in Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois.  He was revered by his command and commanders including Generals U. S. Grant and W. T. Sherman. 

When remembered in Martyrs and Heroes of Illinois the author had this to say of Ransom:  
 "General Ransom was retiring and unostentatious. There was no strut about him. He was simple in his manners. Quiet, unobtrusive. In a company of gentlemen he would not have been selected as a military man, according to the people's estimate. His power was always in reserve for occasions and the greater the occasion, the deeper the peril, the more capable did he show himself to be. Ambitious - meaning thereby desire of power or eminence  he was not. His ambition was to honor his country the service to quit himself as a man should, acting in such a presence and such an hour."

Further Reading "Hard Dying Men" by Jim Huffstodt

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