Monday, November 10, 2014

War, death, irony and friendship in Lincolnton

Veterans Day -- Tuesday -- is the national holiday to remember veterans and be thankful for their service.

All veterans -- like all humans -- pass away. Some in their old age, some in their youth; some are buried in a marked place, others not.

One fitting place to honor their service is Salisbury National Cemetery -- which began as 18 mass graves for Union soldiers who died at the POW camp there during the Civil War. It has been an active cemetery ever since;  historical markers and rows upon rows of markers are reminders of the duty and sacrifice of those buried there.

At a rest area  on I-85, near Thomasville, the N.C. CarolinaVietnam Veterans' Memorial recognizes the 1,607 killed or missing during the war in Southeast Asia.

For a different experience, visit the historic graveyard at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, in Lincolnton, and look for the marker honoring Stephen Dodson Ramseur, who died 150 years ago last month, at age 27.

The Lincolnton native, born in 1837, was an 1860 graduate of West Point who enlisted in the Confederate army before North Carolina voted to secede. In three years of hard fighting, he was wounded several times and rose through the ranks. In 1862, at age 25 and despite having an arm mangled and paralyzed during that year's Peninsula Campaign in eastern Virginia, Ramseur  became the youngest general at that time in the Confederate army.

Brig. Gen. Ramseur went on to fight at the battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, and in the May 1864 bloodbath called the Wilderness Campaign. He was promoted to major general and fought at Cold Harbor, Va.

Portraits of  Ramseur increasingly show the conflict taking its toll on his body. (They're at the top of this post.)

He was mortally wounded while on horseback -- shot through the lungs --  rallying his troops, at the Battle of Cedar Creek, Oct. 19, 1864 and died the following day in Union custody.

According to a state biography, Ramseur had learned the day before the battle that his wife, whom he married the year before, had given birth to a daughter.

Another irony: The battle was an impromptu, drawn-weapons reunion of West Point classmates and friends: Confederate Gen. Tom Rosser, U.S. Maj. Wesley Merritt, U.S. Col. Alexander Pennington, U.S. Capt.Henry Du Pont... and U.S. Gen. George Custer.

Custer, who had been the class clown at West Point, went looking for Ramseur's ambulance after the Battle of Cedar Creek, found it, and ordered it  to be sent to the headquarters of victorious U.S. Gen. Phil Sheridan.

Ramseur's West Point pals -- his Union opponents -- were with him when he died; it is said that Custer arranged for Ramseur's body to be shipped home to Lincolnton.

An article at tells of their friendship --  and final parting.

A recent article on tells more of the story of St. Luke's Episcopal, which is at 315 N Cedar St, Lincolnton.

Ramseur's marker is a tall white obelisk.


Anonymous said...

Interesting story.