Among the events from the Battle of Cedar Creek selected for this year's re-enactment is a portrayal of the death of Confederate Maj. Gen. Stephen Dodson Ramseur, who was mortally wounded while leading the rear guard at the end of the battle.
At his death during the Battle of Cedar Creek, Oct 19, 1864, the 27-year-old Ramseur, hailing from North Carolina, commanded a division under Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early.
"Ramseur in personal appearance was slight, erect, alert, earnest in speech, with dark prominent eyes and a well developed forehead. He was an ideal soldier," according to William R. Cox, a congressman and former Confederate brigadier general who presented a paper on Ramseur to the Ladies' Memorial Association of Raleigh, N.C., in 1891.
In a report on Cedar Creek, Early wrote: "Major General Ramseur has often proved his courage and his capacity to command, but never did these qualities shine more conspicuous than on the afternoon of the 19th of this month, when, after two divisions on his left had given away and his own was doing the same thing, he rallied a small band, and for one hour and a quarter held in check the enemy, until he was shot down himself.
"In endeavoring to stop those who were retiring from the field, I had occasion to point them to the gallant stand made by Ramseur with his small party, and if his spirit could have animated those who left him thus battling the 19th of October would have had a far different history. He met the death of a hero, and with his fall the last hope of saving the day was lost."
Letter to his wife
Maj. R. R. Hutchinson wrote to Ramseur's wife, Nellie, telling her of her husband's death. The couple had been married less than a year, and Ramseur had received word of the birth of their child on the eve of the battle of Cedar Creek. This is Hutchinson's account of Ramseur's final hours:
"I do not know how to write to you; how to express my deep sympathy in your grievous affliction; but the Christian soldier who has gone before us to that other world has asked me to do it, and I must not shrink from the performance of this duty, however painful.
"I am writing by the side of him whose last thought was of you and his God, his country and his duty. He died this day at 27 minutes past 10 o'clock a.m., and had at least the consolation of having by his side some who wore the same uniform and served in the same holy cause as himself.
"His last moments were peaceful; his wounds were painful, but his hope in Christ led him to endure all patiently. He received his mortal wound yesterday afternoon [Oct. 19] between the hours of 5 and 6 p.m. at the post of honor and of danger, where he always was. Our troops had fallen back a short distance but had reformed, and were stubbornly contesting a position on a hill which the enemy attacked from three sides.
"He exposed himself to every shot, cheering and encouraging all. I was not far from him when I saw his horse shot; he procured another, which was shot also, and immediately after he received his fatal wound (the second), all in the space of a very few minutes.
"I ran over to him, got some men, and bore him to the rear, your brother joining us on the way. I then went off after an ambulance, found it, but saw on returning with it that he had been left, as I thought, in the enemy's lines. This fear was soon after dissipated, however, by seeing him on Captain Randolph's horse, the captain running along side and supporting him.
"We got him then to the ambulance I had brought up. I thought he was safe then, not knowing how dangerous was his wound, and remained with the rear guard. When I was subsequently captured by the enemy's cavalry, I was carried to General Sheridan's headquarters, and learning that General Ramseur had been captured, asked and obtained permission to remain with him.
"The road had been blocked up by wagons, causing a delay, that gave the enemy time to get up and take him prisoner, just south of Strasburg. Many of his former friends (West Pointers) called to see him yesterday and to-day, and offered every assistance in their power, General Sheridan among the number. He was taken to General Sheridan's headquarters and made as comfortable as circumstances would permit. Dr. James Gillespie (Cutshaw's battalion of artillery), a Confederate surgeon, assisted by the enemy's surgeons, attended to him and did all that could be done under the circumstances.
"He suffered a good deal from his wound, the ball having entered his right side, penetrating the right and left lung, and lodging near the left side. But the end was peaceful and quiet. He spoke continually of you, and sent very many messages to his family, but above all, to his wife. He told the ambulance driver to tell General Hoke that he 'died a Christian and had done his duty.' He told me to 'give his love and send some of his hair to his darling wife'; and often wished he could 'see his wife and little child before he died.' He told me to tell you he had a 'firm hope in Christ, and hoped to meet you hereafter.' He died as became a Confederate soldier and a firm believer."
Ramseur, the second child of Jacob A. and Lucy M. Ramseur, had Revolutionary blood in his veins through John Wilfong, a hero who was wounded at King's Mountain and fought at Eutaw Springs. He was born in Lincolnton, N.C., May 31, 1837.
His parents were members of the Presbyterian Church and saw to it that their son was instructed in their religious tenets. They had ample means and gave to him the best advantages of social and intellectual improvement.
Ramseur received his preparatory training in the schools of Lincolnton and Milton, N.C., then he attended Davidson College in Davidson, N.C., for 18 months before receiving appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
Ramseur spent the usual term of five years at West Point, and graduated 14th in the Class of 1860. Among those attending the academy during Ramseur's time there were James H. Wilson, Wesley Merritt and George Armstrong Custer, all of whom became prominent Union generals during the Civil War.
After graduating, Ramseur entered the light-artillery service and was commissioned second lieutenant and assigned to duty at Fortress Monroe, Va.
Joining Confederate service
On April 6, 1861, he resigned his commission and entered Confederate service. About this time a battery of artillery known as the Ellis Artillery was being formed at Raleigh, and Ramseur accepted command of it
Ramseur was ordered to report with his battery at Yorktown, Va., in the spring of 1862. When he arrived Brig. Gen. John B. Magruder, who had known him in the old army, detached him from his battery and placed him in command of all the artillery on his right, where Ramseur saw his first field service at the start of Union Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's Peninsular Campaign and was promoted to major.
In April 1861 Ramseur was elected colonel of the 49th North Carolina Regiment. The regiment was composed of recruits who were in basic training at Raleigh.
Ramseur led this regiment in the Seven Days' Battles and the Battle of Malvern Hill, where he received a severe wound in the right arm but declined to leave the field until the action was over.
After Malvern Hill, Ramseur was compelled to wear a sling for his arm.
A brigadier general
Ramseur was promoted to brigadier general Nov. 1, 1862, and given command of a brigade under Maj. Gen. Daniel H. Hill, which he commanded at Chancellorsville, Va., where he was wounded; Gettysburg, Pa.; the Wilderness, Va.; and Spotsylvania, Va, where he was again wounded.
He was promoted to major general June 1, 1864, and led his division at Cold Harbor, Va., before taking it to the Shenandoah Valley to serve under Early, where he participated in the attack on Washington.
Of Early's invasion of Maryland, Ramseur wrote to his wife, "We have accomplished a good deal."
In addition to expressing sincere hope for the future of the Confederacy, Ramseur voiced disappointment at the coverage of Civil War battles by the Richmond Enquirer.
According to Ramseur, the Enquirer looked to blame rather than support Early for his failed campaign.
On July 20, during the retreat from Washington, Ramseur ordered his division, serving as the rear guard to attack the pursuing Union cavalry north of Winchester, Va. Ramseur underestimated the strength of the Union force, and when he was outflanked, his men "broke and ran like sheep."
The Enquirer described Ramseur's efforts during this battle as "the deplorable affair in which Ramseur's division was humiliated in the dust." In a letter to his wife, Ramseur wrote that his men "behaved shamefully" as soldiers and, for the first time, he was "deeply mortified" at the general conduct and behavior of his troops. Ramseur also expressed concern that his critics did not know what exactly took place during this campaign and unnecessary blame was being placed on him personally. He looked for an opportunity to erase this blotch from his record.
He found his opportunity at Cedar Creek, where he led his division in the success of the early morning surprise attack on the Union encampment and in the final rear guard action at Belle Grove mansion, where he was mortally wounded.
According to the Rev. E. Harding, his chaplain, Ramseur "was a high-toned and chivalrous gentleman, a gallant soldier, an humble Christian. His last thoughts on earth were of home and heaven, the sweetest words in any language. He said, bear this message to my precious wife: 'I die a Christian and hope to meet her in heaven.' "