James Wolfe Ripley

James Wolfe Ripley was one of a handful of Civil War officers born in the eighteenth century. A native of Windham County, Connecticut, he was born December 10, 1794. Only 101 men preceded him at West Point, where, like most of his classmates of 1814, he was commissioned after little more than a year of study due to the exigencies of the War of 1812. Ripley served his country continuously for fifty-five years. For the first eighteen years of his army career he was an artillery officer, serving at Sackett's Harbor, New York, in 1814-15, under Andrew Jackson against the Seminoles and during the invasion of Florida. He transferred to the staff in 1832 and a year later was placed in charge of the Kennebec arsenal, which he directed until 1842. He then served as superintendent of the Springfield armory for twelve years; on the Pacific Coast as chief of ordnance of the department; and as inspector of arsenals until 1860. Abroad on inspection duty in 1861 when the news of secession reached him, he immediately took a ship for home. When a friend observed that his country needed the sixty-six-year-old veteran, Ripley stoutly replied, "It can have me and every drop of blood in me." Ironically, he was the uncle of Ohio-born Confederate brigadier Roswell S. Ripley. He assumed direction of the Ordnance Department on April 23, 1861, succeeding the seventy-year-old Colonel H. K. Craig, who had been its chief for ten years. As a zealous and incorruptible, if not always imaginative, head of the Ordnance Department, his honesty, devotion to duty, and unbending principles were never seriously questioned; however, his notions about advances in the science of ordnance were no less inflexible, causing him to oppose virtually every innovation suggested to the War Department. Although his position may to some extent be justified by the multiplicity of existing weapons for which he was expected to supply ammunition, his last-ditch fight against the introduction of breechloaders ultimately caused his replacement on September 15, 1863, "under the Law of July 17, 1842, having been borne on the Army Register more than forty-five years." On August 3, 1861, he had been commissioned brigadier in the Regular Army, and until 1869 he continued to serve as "Inspector of Armament of Forts on the New England Coast." Brevetted major general, U. S. Army, in 1865, General Ripley died in Hartford, Connecticut, on March 15, 1870, and was buried in Springfield.

Previous Page

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