Born on Nov. 11, 1839, Edward Hastings Ripley was the son of wealthy business owner William Young Ripley and Jane Betsy Warren. Edward’s father, William, amassed a fortune in the marble industry. With his partner William F. Barnes, the elder Ripley brought the first slabs of marble to Rutland, VT, which today is still known for marble. At its peak, Ripley’s marble company made well over $6,000 dollars in profit in a month during a time the average private in the army made $13.
Edward’s wealthy upbringing included summertime retreats at Saratoga Springs, NY, intellectual gatherings, and 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 Union, one of the most prestigious colleges of the 19th century for their middle child.
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 composed of rhetoric, trigonometry and mechanics. In Ripley’s senior winter term of 1862, he found difficulty focusing on the tough classes of moral philosophy and chemistry. The Civil War quickly approached its first year and Ripley burned to don the Yankee blue. He feared “the Army may be thundering along South so rapidly that I may never overtake it.” In a letter to his father in March of 1862, Ripley proclaimed, “my feelings have for more than a year been so intensely absorbed in the struggle going on that my former absorbing taste for surgery seems to have evaporated.” Ripley’s father, William, was hesitant to let his son go off to battle.
His eldest son, William Young Warren Ripley, had been in military service since 1858 with the Rutland Light Guards and recently joined the 1st U.S. Sharpshooters as a Lieutenant-Colonel. Ripley’s father informed him, “now is the time when you ought to be making a position for yourself for life. My creed is that a man with health and a fair share of common sense can do anything he wants to do – if it is what he ought to do.” Submitting to his father’s wishes, Edward reluctantly continued his college education.
While at Union, Edward found “the most spirited and impetuous natures among my friends already off to war.” Edward soon grew tired of his studies and reached out to politician Senator Solomon Foot and his brother, William, to get a commission in the army, all to no prevail. While on vacation in his home known as “The Center” in Rutland, VT, Ripley found “no alternative but to go back to Union.” As his vacation neared its end Ripley’s life took a drastic turn. On May 21, 1862, Vermont Governor Frederick Holbrook received an order to raise another regiment for the Union army. That morning Ripley recalled, “I drove into Rutland and found the streets alive with stirring news. President Lincoln had that morning called for 300,000 more men. I felt the hour had come.”
The call from the President was a result of the Union’s inability to put down the rebellion and the “snail pace” of the Army of the Potomac during the Peninsula Campaign under Major General George B. McClellan. Ripley hurried home and informed his father, “Mr. Lincoln has had to call for 300,000 more men and I must go now. I have waited as long as I can.” Not wanting to frustrate his parents, Edward did ask for their permission in which his father replied, “Edward! You must do what seems to you your duty.” With great energy, Edward started recruiting a company for the newly formed 9th Vermont Infantry Regiment.
Ripley’s recruiting paid off and his company was the second formed for the 9th Vermont Infantry, being beaten by a company from Swanton, VT, which formed several days before Ripley’s. With all his spots filled, Company B made their way to Brattleboro, VT, to officially report for duty. The men arrived at Camp Davis, named after Vermont’s Quarter-Master General George F. Davis, in June of 1862 and Ripley accepted the captaincy for the company which “the men so unanimously urged upon” him. On July 1, while Edward and “the Rutland Company (Co. B) has been four days under canvas” due to heavy rains, William, Edward’s brother, was engaged in the Battle of Malvern Hill. He bravely guided his men but was forced to be carried away after a bullet struck his leg. When news reached Colonel George J. Stannard of the 9th Vermont, he hastily told Edward, “it was not known whether he was going to live or die.” Stannard granted Edward permission to leave his regiment and attend to his brother who was on a train home. On July 15, Stannard, with orders to have the 9th Vermont Infantry report to Washington D.C., had his Green Mountain Boys up early for the journey while the captain of Company B was home in Rutland tending to his injured brother. William survived the wound but was never able to return to the field.
Edward reunited with his company and regiment on Sunday July 20, 1862, being beaten by his men by less than 12 hours. Edward said he had just enough “time to step off the cars, buckle my sword, and start for this place, breakfastless and sleepless.” While on the “scared soil” of Washington, the Vermonters received new firearms. They traded in their old Belgian muskets for “the most beautiful” Model 1861 Springfield rifled muskets. Ripley, beyond excited about the new weapons, informed his brother William, “I don’t believe they will put their best muskets into the hands of men to remain idle long.” Edward’s prophecy was fulfilled on July 23, 1862, when Colonel Stannard received orders to report to Brigadier General Abraham S. Piatt at Winchester, VA. Excitement overran the camp and Ripley informed his mother, “our marching orders came Wednesday night. We cooked and distributed rations and gave out ammunition. I was up all night getting the men ready to strike tents and march at 3 o’clock in the morning.” The boys of the 9th Vermont marched for Alexandria the next morning at 4:00 a.m. but the train to take them to Winchester did not arrive until 6:00 p.m. Ripley recalled the “rickety train of old cattle cars, and crept at a snail’s pace all that night and the next day” until arriving at Harper’s Ferry, some 20 miles away from Winchester. To make sure the final stretch of the journey would be safe, Colonel Stannard sent Ripley ahead with his men to scout the area. Ripley reported, “this railroad has been habitually torn up, by either [C.S.A. General Thomas] ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, or the Union leaders, about every other week. It is now the most wretched road you can possibly imagine.” Ripley’s words proved true by the actions of “Stonewall” Jackson and his “foot cavalry” who dominated much of the Shenandoah Valley in 1862.
When Ripley arrived in Winchester he exclaimed, “the valley is perfectly magnificent, rich and well cultivated, splendidly watered and well wooded.” The beauty of the country did not mask the ugliness of the ardent secessionists which Ripley and the rest of the 9th Vermont encountered upon their arrival. On July 26 Colonel Stannard informed Edward that it would be “justifiable if we shot these rascals who insult our Flag and our men – and shot the women too who shoot our men – believing that petticoats should no longer be used as shelter.” Finding everything was clear, the 9th Vermont made their way to Camp Sigel in Winchester.
During late August of 1862, C.S.A. Major General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson increased activity around Winchester. Fearing an attack, Major General Julius White began to quickly reinforce his fort and prepare for the worst. Edward told his brother, “the works are being pushed ahead as fast as possible, and great anxiety in reference to movements of Jackson is felt at headquarters.” Jackson was making his presence known. He dominated the entire Shenandoah Valley for much of 1862. The smashing victories during his valley campaign against Brigadier General James Shields and Major General Nathaniel Banks elevated him to almost mythic status known in almost every household.
The pressure placed upon White and the 9th Vermont was relieved during the last couple days of August. C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee engaged the Army of Virginia under Major General John Pope in Manassas, Virginia, the home of the first battle of the Civil War. Through effective movements and strategic flanks made by the Confederate generals Jackson and James Longstreet, the Yankees were forced to retreat and Lee began his march across the Potomac with plans to place his army between Washington, D.C., and the Shenandoah Valley. Fearing the lack of men at Harper’s Ferry and the vulnerability of Winchester, Major General Henry W. Halleck (Union Class of 1837) ordered General White to move his men from Camp Sigel to Harpers Ferry immediately. On Sept. 2, the 9th Vermont made their way to Harpers Ferry in the “deepest darkness and silence.”
As Edward and his “green” troops were dreaming of home, C.S.A. General Robert E. Lee was planning his next military operation. Lee decided that his next target would be Harpers Ferry. On Sept. 9, Lee issued Special Order No. 191, calling for three direct attacks upon the garrison. This task fell upon the shoulders of Major General Lafayette McLaws, Major General Robert H. Anderson, Major General James Longstreet, General John Walker and a name familiar to the 9th Vermont: “Stonewall” Jackson. Jackson was given the order to take Bolivar Heights were Edward and the 9th Vermont were stationed. Jackson and his “foot cavalry” began their march the night of Sept. 9. Union scouts twice saw the movement of Jackson and reported directly to Colonel Miles, who, mistakenly, dismissed the possibilities. The fears of Colonel Stannard, Captain Ripley and everyone except Colonel Miles came to fruition on September 12 as General McLaws began shelling Maryland Heights almost two miles away from where Ripley was stationed.
On the morning of Sept. 15, Colonel Miles agreed to surrender his forces to Jackson. Believing that the fight was not lost and the soldiers could easily make an escape, Colonel Stannard marched the 9th Vermont into Harpers Ferry where a pontoon bridge would serve for an easy escape. Word came to Stannard that he must report back with his men or there would be serious consequences. Like the good soldier he was, Stannard returned to Bolivar Heights. According to Ripley, “Stannard made the only military mistake of his service.” C.S.A. Major General A.P. Hill was selected by Jackson to oversee the surrender. The terms agreed upon would shape the next several months of Ripley’s military career. Hill, due to lack of being able to care for the prisoners, had the 11,000 captured Union soldiers paroled. Ripley ordered his men to stack arms along with the rest of the Union soldiers and to wait for further instruction.
As Ripley and his boys waited they noticed a “full sandy-bearded officer in dilapidated clothes and slouched hat.” They all agreed that he had to be the famed “Stonewall” Jackson. As they stared at their captor, a first lieutenant of Company E of the 9th Vermont, Elisha M. Quimby, marched directly up to Jackson asking if he was the “Stonewall” Jackson. The officer in the “dilapidated clothes and slouched hat answered, yes, to which Quimby asked ‘did you not agree to protect us under the terms of surrender?’”
The next day, Sept.17, the paroled prisoners of Harpers Ferry “took up [their] unhappy march for a destination unknown.”