Edward Ripley was born on Nov. 11, 1839 to a wealthy father and caring mother in Rutland, Vt. Ripley’s father, William, made a fortune in the marble business. It was estimated he made over $6,000 a month during a time when the average private in the army made $13.
Ripley’s wealthy upbringing included summers at Saratoga Springs, intellectual gatherings and the comfort of having servants wait upon his every need.
Coming from a well-to-do family and showing impressive signs of intelligence, the Ripley family turned to one of the most prestigious colleges of the 19th century for their middle child, Union.
In September of 1858 the 18-year-old Ripley entered his first term at Union. On a medical track, Ripley took an array of subjects. During his freshman year, he tackled the fields of algebra, Latin and Greek.
His sophomore and junior years were composed of rhetoric, trigonometry and mechanics, along with joining the Psi Upsilon fraternity. In Ripley’s senior winter term of 1862, he found difficulty focusing on the tough classes of moral philosophy and chemistry.
This difficulty arose from the outbreak of the Civil War. Thousands of men older and boys younger than Ripley enlisted in the army to help suppress the rebellion of the South. Ripley grew worried the war would quickly come to an end while enrolled at Union.
He begged his father to let him enlist, but the notion was quickly dismissed. William would much rather have a doctor in the family than a soldier. So, Ripley returned to school.
While there, he found, “the most spirited and impetuous natures among my friends already off to war.” Knowing he was missing out, Ripley’s desire to enlist grew stronger.
When he returned home for vacation, Vermont Governor Fredrick Holbrook received an order to raise another regiment for the Union army. Ripley marched to his home and told his father he was enlisting. His father replied, “Edward! You must do what seems to you your duty.”
With great energy, Ripley started recruiting a company for the newly formed 9th Vermont Infantry Regiment. Ripley, who was eventually elected captain, and his newly formed Regiment shipped out to Washington D.C. Once the boys received their gear, they were shipped to Winchester, Virg.
Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was a menace to Union commanders in the area. The 9th Vermont marched off to Harper’s Ferry, a key arsenal for the Union. On the night of Sept. 12, Jackson launched an assault on Harper’s Ferry.
Due to poor leadership at higher command, the Union troops were forced to surrender after a few days of fighting. The boys of Vermont were sent to a parole camp in Chicago called Camp Douglas. After several months, Ripley and his troops were released.
Ripley’s claim to fame came in the first few days of April in 1865. U.S. General Ulysses S. Grant had a siege upon Richmond and Petersburg for months. Upon the retreat of CSA General Robert E. Lee, buildings and supplies were burned so they would not fall into the hands of the Federal soldiers. As the rebels fled, the Yankees started to make their push into the city.
Cautiously, commanders ordered their soldiers to move forward and beware of enemy sharpshooters. As the Union soldiers made their way closer and closer to the capital of Richmond, Colonel George W. Hooker, who was assistant adjutant of the 3rd Division, rode up to Ripley and informed the general of the 1st Brigade 3rd Division XXIV Corps, “You are in luck today, Gen. Weitzel has given orders that you are to have the head of the column in the triumphal entry which we are ready to make into the city.”
With the band playing Union tunes, Ripley ordered his men into the fallen capital of the Confederacy. Ripley was then given the duty of putting out the fires and maintaining order within Richmond.
The young general did an excellent job of removing the hysteria and implementing martial rule. To add to his task and problems he faced, Lincoln arrived with his son Tad on April 4 to view the fallen capital.
Through a captain, Ripley learned of a possible assassination plan to take the life of the presidency. Ripley urged him to not be so open to the public for he is an easy target for assassins. Ripley misjudged the situation.
A few days later, Lincoln was gone and Ripley would never see his president and commander-in-chief again.