by Chet Bennett
Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 2017. Pp. xviii, 422+.
Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $49.99. ISBN: 1611177545
Down East General in Gray
Ohio-born West Point grad and sometime Regular Army officer Roswell S. Ripley (1823-1887) wed a wealthy South Carolina widow, and as was the case with several other officers of northern origins who married South, when the Civil War broke out he adhered to the Confederacy. Ripley and proved an able officer, yet surprisingly, until now he has not been the subject of a biography, a matter largely remedied by Dr. Bennett’s effort.
While perhaps over-sympathetic to Ripley, Bennett demonstrates that Ripley was an officer of considerable ability. He served against Mexicans (penning a good history of that war) and Seminoles, and then retired to private life and business at Charleston, managing his wealthy wife’s properties. In 1861 he joined the Confederacy, and commanded some of the batteries that fired on Fort Sumter.
Ripley led an infantry brigade during the Seven Days, at Antietam, and Fredericksburg, ably if not spectacularly. A man who seems to have made friends and enemies easily, Ripley clashed often with superiors – though Bennett defends him – and he ended up in command of the defenses of Charleston, his own city, as it were, including the later famous Fort Wagner. Ripley proved to be an excellent fortification engineer, developing the elaborate defenses that kept the city out of Union hands until the final days of the war. He was also noted for laying an elaborate table (despite increasing food shortages across the South), entertained visitors lavishly, and was a raconteur of some ability. Postwar Ripley settled in New York, pursuing business interests and was a moderately successful inventor.
Resolute Rebel is a very useful biography of an interesting, little known general.
ote: Resolute Rebel is also available in several e-editions.
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