George Douglas Ramsay

George Douglas Ramsay, one of the oldest officers to serve the Union in active service, was born in Dumfries, Virginia, February 21, 1802; he was the son of a Scotsman who had established himself as a merchant in Alexandria. The family later moved to Washington. George was graduated from West Point in the class of 1820 and was commissioned a second lieutenant of artillery. In 1835 he transferred to the staff and was made captain in the Ordnance Department—a grade in which he would languish for more than a quarter-century, despite distinguished service in the command of a dozen arsenals. Ramsay was finally promoted major a few days after the fall of Fort Sumter and lieutenant colonel on August 3, 1861. He commanded the Washington arsenal from 1861 to 1863; during this time he became a favorite of President Lincoln because of his rectitude, breadth of intellect, and experience. Shortly after his promotion to colonel on June 1, 1863, a controversy developed concerning the appointment of a successor to Chief of Ordnance General James W. Ripley, who was about to retire after a half-century in the service of the United States. Lincoln favored Ramsay, but Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who had been irritated previously by Ramsay's independence (an attitude impossible for Stanton to tolerate), urged the appointment of a certain Captain George T. Balch. A compromise was eventually struck by the two without Ramsay's knowledge: he was installed as brigadier general and chief of ordnance to rank from September 15, 1863, but Balch called the signals. This humiliating arrangement came to an end a year later on September 12, 1864, when Ramsay was retired "for age." He continued to serve by special appointment, however, as inspector of arsenals and on other related duties until 1870, and was brevetted major general, U. S. Army, on March 13, 1865, for "long and faithful services in the army." After his retirement General Ramsay continued to make his home in Washington and was an active church member until his death on May 23, 1882. He was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, Georgetown.  One of his sons, a graduate of the Naval Academy, rose to rear admiral, and two other sons were officers of the army.

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Reference: Generals in Blue. Lives of the Union Commanders by Ezra J. Warner. Louisiana State University Press. Baton Rouge.