Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pottsville's Robert Hampton Ramsey: Brevet Colonel & Assistant Adjutant General to George H. Thomas

Bvt. Col. Robert Ramsey
[Hoptak Collection] 

Throughout the Civil War, Robert Ramsey rose to the rank of colonel, by brevet, and served capably as an officer on the staff of Major General George Henry Thomas, the “Rock of Chickamauga."

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Ramsey was born in Pottsville on May 29, 1838. He was educated at the Pottsville Academy and taught school at the Presbyterian Church before entering upon a career as a printer and newspaperman. After working for six years in the officer of the Pottsville Miners’ Journal, Ramsey moved to Philadelphia where he found work first as a printer in the office of Stein & Jones and then as a clerk in the Corn Exchange Bank. He was so employed when civil war erupted in the spring of 1861. Ramsey’s military service began in the summer of 1863, when Robert E. Lee led his Army of Northern Virginia into Pennsylvania. Scores of militia units were organized throughout the Commonwealth in response to this threat, including the 45th PA Militia, which the twenty-five-year-old Ramsey entered as Company H's second lieutenant. Although these Pennsylvania militia units witnessed little, if any action during the Gettysburg Campaign, Ramsey and the 45th PA Militia were sent to Schuylkill County to maintain order during the labor unrest and draft resistance that defined the anthracite coal-rich county in the summer of ’63. While back at this home town of Pottsville, Ramsey was chosen by Brigadier General William D. Whipple, commander of the district, to serve as his assistant adjutant general. When the anticipates threats subsided and a sense of order returned to Schuylkill County, General Whipple was ordered to report to General George H. Thomas and the Army of the Cumberland. Whipple insisted that Ramsey follow him and succeeded in getting the young officer a captain’s commission, to date from December 5, 1863. After much persuasion, Ramsey was ordered west where he ultimately joined Thomas’s headquarters staff. During the 1864 Atlanta Campaign, Ramsey served as Thomas’s acting aide-de-camp and assistant adjutant general. “Though almost constantly exposed to the fire of the enemy, and several times narrowly escaping capture, he passed through the entire campaign uninjured. . . .Captain Ramsey’s bravery, faithfulness, and devotion to duty, during the Atlanta Campaign, so impressed General Thomas that he lodged with the Secretary of War a strong recommendation for his promotion to the rank of major and assistant adjutant-general, which was done, his commission bearing date January 27, 1865. He was afterward commissioned, by brevet, lieutenant-colonel and colonel. He was urged to take a position in the regular army, but always refused, preferring the life of a private citizen.” (1)

Robert Ramsey
[Hoptak Collection] 
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Robert Ramsey was mustered out of the service in July 1866 and he returned to his native Pottsville. He once again entered the newspaper business, becoming a partner in the Miners’ Journal. Later that year, in December, he married Maggie Lindsley of Nashville, Tennessee, whom he no doubt met with serving under Thomas. In February, 1873, Benjamin Bannan, the long-time editor of the Miners’ Journal sold all his interest in the paper to Ramsey and turned the editorial helm over to him. In describing Ramsey, Bannan wrote, “He has been found faithful in every position he has heretofore occupied, and has met the approbation and friendship of all whom he has served. He is fully imbued with the leading principles which have characterized the conduct of the Journal—he is affable, capable, and pushing in business, and is also a fluent writer; but, above all, he is HONEST, and is governed in all his actions by upright principles; and in these degenerate days, when so much corruption abound among public men, and there is so much plundering by office-holders and office-seekers, an honest editor and proprietor of a newspaper is a jewel. . . .” (2)

Ramsey proved an influential editor and won the esteem of his readership. Sadly, however, he began to suffer from a terrible and painful disease, laryngeal phthsis. “It began with a slight affection of the throat, which grew worse, until it affected his voice, and made speaking more and more difficult.” Within several months, Ramsey died of the disease. He sought treatment in Philadelphia to no avail and later traveled to his father-in-law's home in Nashville, “hoping to find relief under milder skies and balmier air.” Ramsey described his life as tortuous and his sufferings as constant and intolerable. “It was only by the greatest effort that he could force himself to swallow enough food to sustain life, and sleep came to him but for two or three hours at night.” By the time he arrived in Nashville in early May 1876, he was very weak and soon became confined to bed. “He expected death, and was fully prepared to meet it. For a week or two before it came, his pain grew easier, and, freed from suffering, but very weak, he lay and waited for the destroyer—to him, the welcome herald of release from a life too full of agony to be endured.”

Finally, on May 31, 1876, the suffering ended and Robert Hampton Ramsey died, just two days after turning thirty-eight years of age. His body was returned to Pottsville, where he was laid to rest in the Presbyterian Cemetery on Tenth and Howard Streets. (3)

Eulogies poured in for the deceased, including the following testimonials from those who knew him best:
“Colonel Robert Hampton Ramsey is no more. . . .That warm and genial heart that was wont to greet us, to sympathize with us, and to encourage us in the battle of life, is stilled in death. . . .He was a man of rare business capacity, indomitable energy, with a heart mellowed by Christian kindness, though bold in conception, courageous in carrying out his plans, yet never infringing on the rights of others, never exalting himself above his less successful competitors, always cheerfully forgiving and even willing to aid those who wronged him, he put the mildest construction upon the action of others, and deported himself in such a kindly and Christian-like manner as to deserve the esteem of all. His line of duty was marked out, and he went forward in it, never swerving to the right or to the left, with the courage and fidelity of a true hero; and whether in the public school, Sabbath school, the church, the army, or in the field of journalism, his talents, his urbanity, his industry, and sterling integrity won for him the highest meed of praise, and, in death, progressive journalism has received a staggering blow. . . .”

Another wrote, “Colonel Ramsey was so young, so full of life, so endowed with energy, that it seemed as if he had many years of work and progress before him. There is left to us, as a consolation, the knowledge that he died content; that his intolerable pain left him some days before he died; that consciousness did not leave him; that the hard-drawn lines of repressed and well-night conquered physical agony were replaced, on his worn face, by a radiance born of his near approach to that God of Love whom he saw by faith, and into whose hands he entrusted his soul with an unfaltering trust. . . .” (4)

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The Grave of Robert Ramsey
Presbyterian Cemetery, Pottsville, PA

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(1) Society of the Army of the Cumberland, Tenth Reunion, (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Company, 1876), 202-203.
(2) Ibid., 204.
(3) Ibid., 205-206.
(4) Ibid., 206-207.

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