STEPHEN DODSON RAMSEUR LETTER
|Stephen Dodson Ramseur (1837--1864) was a North Carolinian who attended West Point in the 1850s, graduating just as the sectional crisis came to a head in 1860. In 1861 he joined the Confederate army, prior to the secession of his native state. Although injured by a riding accident in July, he would rise to a brigade command in the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia and then a divisional command in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864. He was mortally wounded at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864. This letter of his to his friend, David Schenk, is offered for the light it sheds on the motivation of Upper South men who would become Confederate officers. The publisher would like to thank his friend, T.J. Smith, a great North Carolinian (a vale of humility between two mountains of conceit) for her help in obtaining this text. The part of the letter that is most relevant here is given in bold-face type; the rest of the letter, for the sake of completeness, is given in normal type. The letter may be found in the University of North Carolina collections.|
West Point, N.Y.
Saturday Nov. 8, 1856
My Dear Dave,
How are you this wintry night? I am terribly lonesome (my Noble roommate Gibbes, being confined to the Guard-room until Tattoo for some unmilitary offense) but strange to say in fine spirits. I am with one in huzzas for Buchanan & the indomitable Democracy. Our country is safe for a few years more & I believe those years to be very few. I never have & do not now, devote much time to politics, but any man of the smallest observation can plainly see that the Union of the States cannot exist harmoniously; that there must, & can & will be a dissolution, wise, peaceful & equitable I hope but at whatever cost, it must come! The more I see of Northern people & manners of character, am I convinced that it must be so. Look at the vote of the North in the late contest. An overwhelming majority for a renegade, a cheat & a liar, only because he declared himself in favour of Abolishing Slavery, the very source of our existence, the greatest blessing both for Master & Slave that could have been bestowed upon us. Say not that the Nationality of the Noble Democracy can prevent it. The result in New Hampshire alone is amply sufficient to satisfy any impartial mind that opposition to Southern institutions was the ruling principle. See what strides the rankest abolitionism is making over the entire North! From my heart, I hope such a fate may be averted, but I confess the wonder is, how we have remained in peaceful connection so long. Our manners, feelings & education is as if we were different Nations—indeed. Everything indicates plainly a Separation. Look out for a stormy time in 1860. In the mean time the South ought to prepare for the worst. Let her establish armories, collect stores & provide for the most desperate of all calamities—Civil War—.But, I did not intend to occupy so much space with my fear, which probably are very foolish & unfounded. I wish I could think so. Before leaving the Subject let me crow a Score of times more over the defeated Scoundrels, Enemies of their country, their God and themselves—Cheers! Long and loud for those Noble & daring Patriots who have achieved the glorious victory.
I am delighted to hear that you are so deeply in love with your profession. I feel confident that you will succeed, that your brightest anticipation will be realized. That such may be the case is the most sincere desire of your friend (Dod). You must have a glorious time in the midst of all your studies at “Log Town.” [Nickname for “Richmond Hill,” where Schenck went to law school] I wish I could be with you & talk over the good old times & be strengthened in my determination to keep on in the arduous path I have undertaken. Dave, I tell you what no mortal else suspects even; that I am not satisfied at West Point. You are surprised, but if you knew everything to which we are compelled to submit, & which can only learn by experience, (No mortal can describe it for you would think it perfectly natural.) The government is which we are placed is the most despotic in the world. We have no rights & everything we possess is at the disposal of the Authorities except our lives. It is ten times worse than ever before since Maj. Delafield, who has the reputation of being the best disciplinarian & most thorough soldier in the Army has been sent here as Superintendent. Since his arrival—six weeks ago, eleven men have resigned—heretofore a cadet never was known to resign voluntarily. It is almost insufferable. Yes, I am dissatisfied, but I am determined to graduate. I came here to do it, & if I fail, it will be because I am incapable—I will submit to their tyranny, provided it is necessary to make me a better Soldier. One thing is certain. We will know that we have endured an ordeal that none but Men of true Stamp could stand. I shudder to think of what we have yet to go through, but with a brave heart & will, try to bear it all. I do not want you to think that we are always gloomy & oppressed with our manifold duties & consequently, enjoy very little social pleasures. Oh ! No! I have some dear Noble devoted friends at W.P. & with them have many joyous times—not withstanding our hardships, etc—But I’ll stop grumbling. Let me tell you about an Affaire de Coeur that I have been carrying on for the amusement of both of the parties concerned for three weeks. A lady visiting one of our West Point Ladies, my friend Miss Emma Thompson by name. Pretty, smart and fast of course. Concluded she should have some fun by flirting with this individual & who never having been accustomed to 'climb' on any occasion counted himself in. I knew that there was nothing more in her sayings & doings than a real (& what she would prove) a Killing flirtation. But she hasn't slowed me. I saw what she was up to & as it is Leap Year, I have permitted her to make all of the advances. The consequence is ( I forgot to say she has gone & will be back again soon) I am the happy recipient of a pair of beautiful slippers hooked by herself, her daguerreotype, three letters, tow of them four pages and crowded and a basket of cakes, candies, etc and I have the promise of Sweeter Privileges yet. This kinder counter-balances the terror of our discipline. Would you not relish it? I was delighted to hear that old Lincolnton was awaking & putting on a new appearance. Long may She prosper & may the day soon come when She will be the Star of Western Carolina. Dave, please excuse me for writing so badly. I’ve got mean light (my camp in on the “Sick Report”) a miserable pen & was obliged to write fast in order to finish before Tattoo which is being beaten—Good night. Dave, I hope you will excuse the careless haste in which this is written & was very much hurried last night, etc., etc. Remember me kindly to McDougall—I always thought him a clever fellow although I had very little, scarcely anything, to do with him. Ask him if he has heard from Kell or Neagle lately? Ed White told me Kell was studying medicine. Well, mon amor must close. Good-bye, may a kind & merciful God bless, protect & save you is my constant prayer. As ever, Dod.