Sacred Duty – Sherman Honors Thomas E.G. Ransom

Portrait of Brig. Gen. Thomas E.G. Ransom taken in St. Louis. (Courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society)

In June of 1884, General William T. Sherman stood before the members of St. Louis’ newest Grand Army of the Republic post. Just having retired from the U.S. Army and residing in the Gateway City, Sherman “was invited by several of the posts of the Grand Army of the Republic to join them, but learning that some of my neighbors intended to form a new post more convenient to my residence, I concluded to unite with it.”[1] He was the new post’s first commander. In front of the many members of Post 131, he intended to make the case for the post’s official name.

Just two decades prior during the war, a “young, most gallant, and promising officer” by the name of Thomas E.G. Ransom had risen through the ranks in the Army of the Tennessee. [2] The son of a fallen officer in the Mexican War, the Vermont native attended Norwich University and then moved to Illinois to pursue surveying and civil engineering. At the outbreak of the Civil War, the patriotic Ransom raised and was elected captain of a company in the 11th Illinois Infantry. Sherman first noticed Ransom at Vicksburg in 1863, as an “almost boyish” appearance, but “though of slender form, he had the bearing of a gallant soldier.”[3] By the age of 29 in 1864, he was promoted to brigadier general and had been wounded four separate times in combat. His severe wounds from Sabine Cross Roads in April 1864 had forced him to recover for over four months in Chicago.

By August of 1864, as Sherman’s Military Division of the Mississippi maneuvered around the Confederate fortifications at Atlanta, the recovering Ransom returned to the Army of the Tennessee. His leadership and coolness under fire led him to temporarily command both the XVI and XVII Army Corps at different times during the Atlanta Campaign. Even Grant himself would say that “Ransom, would have been equal to the command of a corps at least.”[4] When Sherman’s Military Division embarked upon the March to the Sea, Ransom “was not well at the time we started from Atlanta, but he insisted on going along with his command.” In October, he became stricken with dysentery but continued to lead his troops until too weak to do so. According to Sherman himself, “his symptom became more aggravated on the march … I visited him with Surgeon John Moore, United States Army, who said that the case was one of typhoid fever, which would likely prove fatal.” On October 29, 1864, while being transported from Gaylesville to Rome, Georgia, Ransom passed away at a “farmhouse by the roadside.”[5] For his bravery, Ransom was brevetted to major general. His body was taken to Chicago for burial, where he rests today under a beautiful obelisk memorial at Rosehill Cemetery.

Though this post is specific to Sherman’s remembrance of Ransom, countless prominent commanders of the Army of the Tennessee made heartfelt and emotional tributes to their fallen friend and hero. Bvt. Major General William Carlin said that “Ransom was one of the daring and dashing young Generals who, if he had lived and the war had continued, would have reached higher rank at no distant day.”[6] Grant was also said to have wept when he found out Ransom had died. Additionally, if you look closely at Sherman’s monument in Washington, DC, you will find Ransom’s bas relief on the pedestal.

Nearly twenty years after Ransom died, Sherman made the case to honor his dear friend and comrade.

“I saw Ransom during the assault of the 22nd of May 1863 – saw his brigade dash against those battlements to be hurled back because the time was not yet ripe – and I then marked him as of the kind of whom heroes were made … I could name hundreds who fell under my own personal observation, but my office tonight is only to demonstrate that General T.E.G. Ransom, whose name we bear and whose portrait is now exhibited before us, is a conspicuous example. In his own language, looking death in the face, far from home, he was content to die, because he had done a man’s full work on earth, and because every motive and instinct of his nature had impelled him to the duties of a soldier and patriot … Comrades of Ransom Post No. 131, Department of Missouri, Grand Army of the Republic, I hope that I have made plain that we have secured a name and title that do us honor, and that we should make it our life’s work to perpetuate the fame of our patronym, General Ransom, son of a knightly father who was killed in battle, and who himself died of wounds and exposure in the field of duty, the type of a class of youthful heroes that do honor to our country and to humanity.” [6]

A member of Ransom Post No. 131 planting a flag and flowers at a comrade’s grave, continuing the “sacred duty” Sherman himself requested. (Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri)

Ransom Post No. 131 became one of St. Louis’ most popular Grand Army of the Republic posts. In its ranks included Generals William T. Sherman, John Pope, John B. Henderson, Benjamin G. Farrar, Joseph S. Fullerton, and William S. Harney. At the time of Sherman’s death in 1891, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a letter from Sherman to the Ransom Post discussing the former general’s devotion to it: “Ransom Post has stood by me since its beginning, and I will stand by it to my end … My health continues good, so my comrades of Ransom Post must guard theirs that they may be able to fulfill this sacred duty imposed by their first commander.” [8]

 

 

 

Sources:

  1. Sherman, General W.T. 1884. The Vermont Boy Who Volunteered in 1861, Served Bravely, was Wounded Grievously, and Died for the Union, Eulogy of General T.R.G. Ransom given before Ransom Post No. 131, Grand Army of the Republic, St. Louis, Missouri, June 20, 1884. Washington, DC: The National Tribune, June 1884.
  2. William T. Sherman, Memoirs of General William T. Sherman (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1957), 161.
  3. Sherman, The Vermont Boy, Washington, DC: The National Tribune, June 1884.
  4. Ulysses Grant, Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: The Century Co., 1895), 480.
  5. Sherman, Memoirs of General William T. Sherman, 161.
  6. William Carlin, “Military Memoirs,” Washington, DC: The National Tribune, June 11, 1885.
  7. Sherman, The Vermont Boy, Washington, DC: The National Tribune, June 1884.
  8. Letter from William T. Sherman to Smith P. Galt, Ransom Post, February 9, 1890, Published in St. Louis: St. Louis Post Dispatch, February 14, 1891, Newspapers.
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