Roswell S. Ripley was born on March 14, 1823 in Worthington, Ohio. His family moved to New York before he was appointed to West Point (USMA ’43), where he was classmates with Ulysses S. Grant.
Ripley was on General Taylor’s staff in the Mexican War, then served with General Pillow, where he won brevets for gallantry at Cerro Gordo and Chapultepec. He wrote a two volume history of the war before taking part in the Second Seminole War in 1849.
While serving in the garrison of Fort Moultrie in 1852 he married a wealthy widow, Alicia Middleton. He resigned from the army in 1853 and the couple settled in Charleston. Ripley managed his wife’s estate, published a newspaper, and served as a major of ordnance in the South Carolina militia.
Wth the secesion of South Carolina Ripley was made a lieutenant colonel in the state forces. He commanded the troops that took over Fort Moultrie after it was abandoned by Major Anderson, directed a battery during the bombardment of Fort Sumter, and commanded the troops that occupied the fort after its surrender. On August 15, 1861 he was made a brigadier general in the Confederate Army and given command of the Department of South Carolina. In December he was given command of the Second Military District.
In the Spring of 1862 Ripley clashed with Major General John Pemberton, the new commander of Charleston. Ripley requested a transfer and was sent to the Richmond area and given a brigade of two Georgia (4th and 44th) and two North Carolina (1st and 3rd) regiments in D.H. Hill’s Division. Ripley fought in the Seven Days Battles, but was with Hill’s Division in the Richmond area during the Second Battle of Manassas.
Ripley’s Brigade rejoined the Army of Northern Virginia for the Maryland Campaign. He did not do well at the Battle of South Mountain, almost leaving one of his Georgia regiments behind during a withdrawal.
At Sharpsburg Ripley was badly wounded in the neck rallying his men near the Mumma farm, but gallantly returned to the field after having the wound dressed. Recovering from the wound took him away from the Army of Northern Virginia, which Lee saw fit to make permanent.
In early 1863 Ripley returned to South Carolina to command the First Military District, requested by both Governor Pickens and General Beauregard, who would be his commander. It was during this time that he was observed by Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Fremantle of His Majesty’s Coldstream Guards (on his way to Lee’s Army and, eventually, the Battle of Gettysburg) who characterized Ripley as, “a jovial character, very fond of the good things of this life, but it is said that he never allows this propropensity to interfere with his military duties, in the performance of which he displays both zeal and talent. He has the reputation of being an excellent artillery officer, and although by birth a Northerner, he is a red-hot and indefatigable Rebel.” “Notwithstanding his northern birth and occasional rollicking habits, he is generally popular. ”
Ripley threw back the first Federal attack from the sea in April of 1863. By the summer of 1864 Ripley was clashing with his superiors as much as with the Yankees, leading Beauregard to try to have Ripley transferred. But popular support – backed by the Governonr, both Senators and the Mayor – forced Beauregard to leave him in place. “Charleston’s Gallant Defender” continued to command the city until it was forced to be abandoned in February of 1865 by the advance of Sherman’s Army. Ripley then took his command to fight under General Joseph Johnston, surrendering at Bentonville.
After the war Ripley moved to England. He engaged in a manufacturing operation that eventually failed and drove him into bankruptcy, and his wife and daughter left him. He returned to New York City in 1885.
On March 29, 1887, Ripley died of a stroke. He had written that he wanted to be buried in Charleston, and the city responded. Charleston gave him a magnificent funeral, which his daughter attended.
Roswell Ripley is buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Charleseton, South Carolina.