150 years ago today, one of the rising stars of the Union army died along a lonely stretch of road west of Rome, Georgia. Twenty-nine-year-old Bvt. Maj. Gen. Thomas E.G. Ransom passed away from the effects of dysentery.
It would have shocked anyone who knew him that Ransom would meet his end in such a way instead of on the battlefield. Ransom was wounded in combat four times, twice seriously. Indeed, Gen. Sherman said of him, “Rising Man, one of the best officers in the service; been shot to pieces, but it doesn’t hurt him.”
Tom Ransom had been destined to be a soldier. Born in Norwich, Vermont, Ransom’s father, Truman, was the commandant of the military school there. Young Ransom enjoyed his life there until tragedy struck: his father, who became the colonel of the 9th US Infantry, fell in the War with Mexico in 1847 during the assault on Chapultepec Castle. Thomas did not let his grief consume him, though. He entered Norwich University in 1848, graduating three years later and taking a job as a civil engineer in Illinois, becoming known as the “Boy Surveyor” of LaSalle County.
When the war drums sounded after the firing on Fort Sumter, Ransom stepped forward, raised a company—the 11th Illinois—and was elected its captain, then major, and finally its colonel. During this rise through the ranks, he was wounded thrice, once in a skirmish near Charleston, Missouri; at Fort Donelson; and then seriously in the head at Shiloh.
When he recovered and returned to the army, he was promoted to brigadier general and took command of a brigade in time for the Vicksburg Campaign. His leadership quickly caught the eyes of both generals Grant and Sherman. “I saw Ransom during the assault of the 22nd of May 1863,” Sherman said. “I then marked him as the kind of whom heroes are made.”
After the fall of Vicksburg, Ransom did not go to Chattanooga, but found assignments in Texas and Louisiana, serving in the spring of 1864 in the Red River Campaign, where he was wounded, once again, in the battle of Sabine Crossroads. The nature of this wound, compounded with the damage his body already suffered, resulted in a trip to Chicago to recover; he stayed there for several months before once again asking to return to the field.
Ransom returned to Gen. Sherman, then besieging Atlanta. Ransom took command of a division this time, leading in the final actions around Atlanta. For this he was awarded the brevet rank of major general and led a corps as Sherman began his pursuit of Hood in October. However, his return to the field was too early, and his health began to decline. When Sherman finally ended his pursuit at Gaylesville, Alabama, as Hood continued his march west, Ransom was near death, suffering from fatigue, his old wounds, and dysentery. Sherman ordered that he be taken to Rome, Georgia—but it was too late. Ransom expired on the route.
When word of his death reached Gen. Grant at Petersburg, Grant reportedly wept. Sherman also mourned the bright young officer and kept a photograph of him for the rest of his military career. Ransom’s body was brought back to Chicago and buried with ceremony in Rosehill Cemetery.