The Bravest of the Brave: The Correspondence of Stephen Dodson Ramseur (review)
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The Bravest of the Brave: The Correspondence of Stephen Dodson Ramseur. Edited by George G. Kundahl. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010. Pp. xv, 324. $45.00 cloth)

This volume includes the edited correspondence, over 180 letters, of Confederate army general Stephen D. Ramseur. The great majority of this correspondence is addressed to David Schenk, Ramseur's closest friend and brother-in-law, and Ellen Richmond, Ramseur's cousin and wife. Ramseur was on intimate terms with both of these people, but the overall tone and subject matter of his correspondence with each of them is very different. The insightful letters to Schenk deal in large part with political, military, and business affairs. Those to Ellen, or "Nellie," reflect Ramseur's intense love for her and his Christian convictions.

Stephen D. Ramseur hailed from a mercantile family in the North Carolina Piedmont town of Lincolnton, and his values and religious beliefs reflect those of a typical small, slaveholding family of the antebellum South. Following two years of study at Davidson College, Ramseur attended West Point, graduating in the class of 1860. He then served as an artillery officer in the U.S. Army before resigning his commission in the first week of April 1861. Ramseur's subsequent outstanding service in the Confederate army on the battlefield and in camp led to a rapid series of promotions. A severe wound in the arm sustained at Malvern Hill while leading his regiment, the Forty-ninth North Carolina, kept Ramseur away from the army for much of the remainder of 1862. When he rejoined Lee's army, he was a brigadier general in command of an infantry brigade. Ramseur subsequently directed his regiments with skill and courage at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Court House.

At the end of May 1864, Ramseur received a promotion to major general shortly after his twenty-seventh birthday. As a division commander, Ramseur amassed a mixed record, his penchant for attacking resulting in costly defeats at Bethesda Church in early June 1864 and at Stephenson's Depot the following month. The later battle particularly upset Ramseur, as it elicited harsh criticism of him [End Page 102] in the southern press. Ramseur repeatedly defended his actions at Stephenson's Depot in letters that contain no admission of misjudgments that could have contributed to the rout of his command.

Ramseur's letters are valuable not only for statements about military and political matters, but also for what they reveal about the cultural, religious, and social values of mid-nineteenth-century white Southerners. The missives reveal a deep hatred for the foe, particularly those written in the summer and fall of 1864 when Ramseur witnessed the devastation of the Shenandoah Valley. Ramseur was a fervent and unwavering believer in southern independence, even in the midst of battlefield defeats and the anguish that military duty entailed because of separation from his beloved Nellie.

George Kundahl did a fine job editing these literate letters, thoroughly identifying the people, places, and events mentioned in them and providing satisfying background commentary. This reader did question the inclusion in their entirety of a few mundane official Confederate army documents, such as requests for commissions and blank bonds for a quartermaster in Ramseur's original regiment. Such documents could probably have been summarized in footnotes or omitted entirely from the volume. The final letters in the book, written in the fall of 1864, are particularly poignant as they express Ramseur's deep concern for his wife as she approached the birth of their first child. Ramseur's death at the battle of Cedar Creek in October 1864 occurred immediately after the birth of the baby; the general never knew the sex or name of his child.

Keith Bohanon

Keith Bohanon teaches in the department of history at the University of West Georgia, in Carrollton, Georgia.

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