Stephen Dodson Ramseur was born on May 13, 1837 in Lincolnton. At Davidson College, D. H. Hill encouraged him to apply to West Point Military Academy. He graduated in 1860 in the last class before the Civil War.
He served briefly as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Artillery before resigning his commission and then donning the Confederate gray. He started out as an artillery captain in the Ellis Light Infantry, but his superiors soon promoted him to colonel of the 49th North Carolina. In October 1862, the young officer was promoted to brigadier general and commanded a brigade in General Robert E. Lee’s Second Corp. (Stonewall Jackson was the Corp commander and Ramseur’s immediate superior.) After gaining experience in several battles in 1863 and 1864, Ramseur was promoted to major general. The Lincolnton native became, writes historian Joe Mobley, the “youngest graduate of West Point to achieve that rank in Lee’s army.”
The young general served in many campaigns. In 1862, he fought in the Peninsula Campaign and later as a colonel, he led his men in the Seven Days’ Battle, in particular Malvern Hill (May 31, 1862). As a brigadier general, Ramseur participated in the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11-15, 1862). The following year, Ramseur commanded his brigade in the Battle of Chancellorsville and the Battle of Gettysburg. 1864 was a year of intense action for the young general. He was in the line of enemy fire at the Battle of the Wilderness, Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, the Battle of Cold Harbor, and Third Winchester, Fisher’s Hill, and Cedar Creek.
Ramseur earned a reputation for being an aggressive fighter and this fearlessness contributed to his mortal wound at Cedar Creek on October 19, 1864. Before that time, he suffered three wounds: a bullet in the right arm at Malvern Hill (May 31, 1862); shell fragments in the leg at Fredericksburg (December 11-15, 1862); and a bullet in the right arm at Spotsylvania Courthouse (May 12, 1864). At the Battle of Cedar Creek, two horses were shot out from under the Major General, and when mounting the third, a Union bullet pierced his lungs and lodged in his chest. He was captured and died the next day. Three West Point classmates and Union officers, George A. Custer, Wesley Merritt, and Henry A. duPont, were beside the Tar Heel’s deathbed during his last hours.
Historian Douglas Southall Freeman considered Stephen Dodson Ramseur to be “[one] of the most daring, hardest fighters in the Army.” The town of the same name in Randolph County is named after the youngest major general in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.
Joe A. Mobley, Confederate Generals of North Carolina: Tar Heels in Command (Charleston, S.C., 2011).