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Bill Thayer

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 [decorative delimiter] Class of 1839

Vol. II

(Born N. Y.)

James B. Ricketts

(Ap'd N. Y.)


James Brewerton Ricketts: Born June 21, 1817, New York, NY.

Military History. — Cadet at the Military Academy, Sep. 1, 1835, to July 1, 1839, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to

Second Lieut., 1st Artillery, July 1, 1839.

Served: on Northern Frontier, at Plattsburg, N. Y., 1839‑40, during Canada Border Disturbances; on Maine Frontier, pending "Disputed Territory" controversy, at Houlton, Me., 1840‑41, — and Ft. Fairfield, Me., 1841‑43; in garrison at Hancock Barracks, Me., 1843‑44, — Ft. Sullivan, Me., 1844‑45, — and Ft. Pike, La., 1845‑46; in the War with Mexico, 1846‑48, being engaged in the Battle of Monterey, Sep. 21‑23,

(First Lieut., 1st Artillery, Apr. 21, 1846)

1846, — and holding the Rinconada Pass, Feb. 21‑23, 1847, during the Battle of Buena Vista; in garrison at Ft. Columbus, N. Y., 1848‑50; as Quartermaster, 1st Artillery, June 15, 1849, to Aug. 3, 1852; in garrison at New Orleans Barracks, La., 1850‑51; in Florida Hostilities against the Seminole Indians, 1852; in garrison at New Orleans Barracks, La.,

(Captain, 1st Artillery, Aug. 3, 1852)

1852, — and Baton Rouge, La., 1852‑53; on Recruiting service, 1853‑54; on frontier duty at Ft. Duncan, Tex., 1854‑55, 1856, — Ringgold Barracks, Tex., 1856‑57; in garrison at Baton Rouge, La., 1857‑59; on frontier duty at Ft. Brown, Tex., 1859‑60, — and Ringgold Barracks, Tex., 1860; and in garrison at Ft. Monroe, Va., 1860‑61.

Served during the Rebellion of the Seceding States, 1861‑66: in Defense of Washington, D. C., Apr. to July, 1861, being in command of a battery in the Capture of Alexandria, Va., May 24, 1861; in the Manassas Campaign, July, 1861, being engaged in the Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861, where he was severely wounded and captured; as Prisoner

(Bvt. Lieut.‑Col., July 21, 1861,
for Gallant and Meritorious Services at the Battle of Bull Run, Va.)

(Brig.‑General, U. S. Volunteers, July 21, 1861)

 p2  of War, July 21, 1861, to Jan. 5, 1862; on sick leave of absence, disabled by wounds Jan. 5 to May 8, 1862; in Operations in Shenandoah Valley, June, 1862; in the Northern Virginia Campaign, Aug.‑Sep., 1862, being engaged in the Battle of Cedar Mountain, Aug. 9, 1862, — Actions of Rappahannock Station, Aug. 22‑24, 1862, — Action of Thoroughfare Gap, Aug. 28, 1862, — Battle of Manassas, Aug. 29‑30, 1862, — and Battle of Chantilly, Sep. 1, 1862; in the Maryland Campaign (Army of the Potomac), Sep. to Nov., 1862, being engaged in the Battle of South Mountain, Sep. 14, 1862, — Battle of Antietam, Sep. 17, 1862, — Skirmish of Shepardstown, Va., Sep. 19, 1862, — and march to Falmouth, Va., Oct., 1862; on Courts Martial and Commissions, Nov., 1862, to Mar. 18, 1864; in the Richmond Campaign (Army of the Potomac), Mar. 18 to

(Major, 1st Artillery, June 1, 1863)

July 6, 1864, being engaged in the Battle of the Wilderness, May 5‑6, 1864, — Battles around Spottsylvania, May 9‑21, 1864, — Skirmishes on North Anna, etc., May, 1864, — Battles and Actions of Cold Harbor, June 1‑13, 1864, — Passage of James River, and march to Petersburg,

(Bvt. Colonel, June 3, 1864,
for Gallant and Meritorious Services at the Battle of Cold Harbor, Va.)

June 15‑18, 1864, — and Siege of Petersburg, June 18 to July 6, 1864; in Defense of Maryland against General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Early's Rebel Raid, July, 1864, being engaged in the Battle of Monocacy, July 9, 1864; in the Shenandoah Campaign, July 17 to Oct. 19, 1864, being engaged in Skirmishes at Snicker's Gap, July 18, 1864, and near Berryville, Va., Aug. 21, 1864, — Skirmish of Smithfield, Aug. 29, 1864, — Battle of Opequan,

(Bvt. Maj.‑General, U. S. Volunteers, Aug. 1, 1864, for Gallant Conduct during the Rebellion, and particularly in the Battles of the Campaign under General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant; the Monocacy, under General Wallace; and Opequan, Fisher's Hill, and Cedar Creek, in the Shenandoah Campaign under General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Sheridan)

Sep. 19, 1864, — Battle of Fisher's Hill, Sep. 22, 1864, — and Battle of Cedar Creek, Oct. 19, 1864, where he was severely wounded; on sick leave, disabled by wounds, Oct. 19, 1864, to Apr. 7, 1865; and in command

(Bvt. Brig.‑General, U. S. Army, Mar. 13, 1865,
for Gallant and Meritorious Services at the Battle of Cedar Creek, Va.)

(Bvt. Maj.‑General, U. S. Army, Mar. 13, 1865,
for Gallant and Meritorious Services in the Field during the Rebellion)

of a District in the Department of Virginia, July 28, 1865, to Apr. 30, 1866.

Mustered out of Volunteer Service, Apr. 30, 1866.

Served on Courts Martial, July 17, 1867, to Jan. 22, 1869.

Lieut.‑Col., 21st Infantry, July 28, 1866: Declined.

Retired from Active Service, Jan. 28, 1867, with the rank of Major-General, for Disability from Wounds received in Battle.

Died, Sep. 22, 1887, at Washington, D. C.: Aged 70.

Buried, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA.

Biographical Sketch.

Major-General James B. Ricketts was born June 21, 1817, in New York city; entered the Military Academy, Sep. 1, 1835, and, upon his graduation therefrom, was promoted, July 1, 1839, to the First Artillery. He served on the Northern Frontier during Canada Border Disturbances, and the "Disputed Territory" controversy in Maine, till ordered  p3 to Louisiana in anticipation of hostilities with Mexico. After the Battles of Palo Alto and Resaca-de‑la‑Palma, he joined General Taylor's army, and participated in the Battles of Monterey and Buena Vista. After the termination of the Mexican War till the outbreak of the Rebellion he was engaged on garrison duty, in Florida hostilities, and on Recruiting service.

Ricketts's conspicuous career during the Civil War is so admirably told by his classmate, Gen. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Henry J. Hunt, in an obituary notice, that we copy it entire. He says: —

"In April, 1861, he was ordered to Washington, and his battery formed part of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.McDowell's army at the Battle of Bull Run, in which he was dangerously wounded, being hit in the forehead, shoulder, chest, and leg, and taken prisoner. In the early stage of the war, with raw troops, and inexperienced officers on both sides, the fate of prisoners was often a hard one. Captain Ricketts suffered greatly, and was designated as one of the hostages for the safety of certain Confederate prisoners held by the Federal Government on a charge of piracy. It is hardly necessary to say that when this fact was brought to the notice of the higher Confederate authorities by his wife, all wounded officers were exempted. By the care and devoted attention of Mrs. Ricketts, who hastened to him at Manassas as soon as she heard of his wounds, his life and those of others were saved, while sharing their imprisonment. That special request of General Scott, he was, after months of suffering, exchanged for Colonel De Lagnel, and brevetted Lieutenant-Colonel, thus passing over the grade of Major; and was also appointed Brigadier-General of Volunteers, as his commission specifically states, 'for gallant and meritorious conduct in the Battle of Bull Run, Virginia,' to rank from the date of the battle. These were unusual and marked honors.

"When sufficiently recovered from his wounds to do duty in the field, he joined, in May, 1862, McDowell's Corps, and was soon assigned to the command of its Second Division, being engaged in the Battles of Cedar Mountain, Aug. 9; Rappahannock Station, Aug. 22‑24, 1862. This Corps, whilst under orders at Fredericksburg to join the Army of the Potomac near Richmond, was suddenly diverted, notwithstanding the urgent remonstrances of General McDowell, to the Shenandoah Valley to intercept Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Stonewall Jackson's withdrawal, after he had driven Banks's Corps out of the valley. This attempt failed, and McDowell was ordered for the third time to join Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.McClellan, but was again delayed until Jackson had joined Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Lee, and the 'seven days' battle commenced. On that day McDowell's, Banks's, and Fremont's Corps were united to constitute the 'Army of Virginia' under General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pope. Fremont thereupon resigned, and Sigel succeeded to the command of his Corps. Of McDowell's two divisions, King's was then at Fredericksburg, where it was left for the time; and Ricketts's was at Manassas Junction. Banks's and Sigel's Corps were in the Shenandoah Valley. Pope immediately drew his troops together, east of the mountains and north of Culpeper. Aug. 7, they were moved forward towards the Rapidan. On the 9th, Banks prematurely engaged Jackson's superior force at Cedar Mountain, and Ricketts, who was then at Culpeper, was ordered to his support. He arrived too late for the main battle, but in time to cover Banks's retreat, and check Jackson's pursuit. On the 11th the latter retired behind the Rapidan, and was followed at once by Pope. Lee, set free by the withdrawal of McClellan from the Peninsula, hastened to Jackson's aid with his whole army. His arrangements to surprise the inferior Federal force, which was now in a perilous position, and cut it off, were disconcerted by Pope's skillful withdrawal behind the line of the Rappahannock, which, under his instructions from Washington, he was required to hold until reinforced by the Army of the Potomac via Acquia and Fredericksburg. Lee, however,  p4 by simply moving up the river, forced such an extension of this line that it became untenable, and General Pope ordered, on the evening of the 26th, the occupation of a new one from Warrenton east to Gainesville. Soon after, learning that Jackson had, unperceived, turned his right, passed through Thoroughfare Gap, and was now at Bristoe Station in his rear, he ordered a concentration towards Gainesville, and then on Manassas Junction. McDowell, having now learned from Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Buford, whom he had sent on a reconnoitring expedition, that Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Longstreet, with the remainder of Lee's army, was following Jackson's route, ordered Ricketts, who was, on the morning of the 28th, approaching Gainesville, to proceed to Thoroughfare Gap and bar his passage. Ricketts's progress was at first much impeded by wagon trains; but dropping his knapsacks at Haymarket, he hurried forward, to find Longstreet already within the Gap, and holding strong positions on both sides of it. Ricketts tried to force an entrance, but failed after severe losses, and therefore took position to command the outlet. He thereby detained Longstreet until night, and delayed by one day the junction of the two wings of Lee's army. Finding that Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.D. R. Jones's Confederate division had got through the pass, that Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Wilcox's three brigades were coming through Hopewell Gap on his right, and two infantry brigades under Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Hood were crossing the mountains on his left, he knew that his own position was no longer tenable, and at 10.30 P.M. drew off on the Gainesville road. Reaching Gainesville, he found that King's division had had that evening, 28th of August, between that place and Groveton, a severe fight, which proved that Jackson's Corps was present, and that early next morning the two wings of the Confederate army would be united.

"King withdrew in the night to Manassas, where Ricketts joined the Corps and was engaged in the battles that followed — Manassas, Aug. 29‑30, and Chantilly, Sep. 1, 1862, whence they soon advanced into Maryland to meet Lee's invasion.

"At Antietam, Ricketts, in command of his division, 3,158 strong, was again distinguished. The First Corps was now under General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Hooker. In its bloody attack, in the early morning of September 17, on Jackson's Corps, both sides suffered terribly, and Ricketts lost a third of his division, — 1,051 killed and wounded. One of his classmates, General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Lawton, was severely wounded in this conflict. 'Honors were easy.' Jackson's force fell back, their place being taken by Hood's; and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Mansfield's Corps — the Twelfth — performed the same good office for Hooker's. Some of both Jackson's and Hooker's men, however, joined the fresh combatants; and when Sumner advanced over the same ground after Mansfield's fight — who was killed — he found General Ricketts and some three hundred of Hooker's men still there. Ricketts had two horses shot under him, and was badly injured by one of them falling on him, but remained with his troops, until in October his injuries compelled him to leave the field temporarily, and while still suffering from wounds.

"In December General Ricketts was appointed a Member of the Court for the trial of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Fitz-John Porter for alleged misconduct in General Pope's campaign, on charges prosecuted by the War Department. Public feeling in and out of the Army ran high. The court was small; two of the members had been engaged in the same campaign, and this led to grave imputations. The oath taken by courts martial enjoins secrecy, both as to votes and opinions. This oath, intended as a protection for the weak, may also serve as a cover for the base; and all members must submit in silence to consequent suspicion, however unjust. It was remarked, however, as significant that, although the merits and services of General Ricketts were always fully appreciated by the War Department, yet he was not one of the members promoted after the verdict was rendered,  p5 nor one of brigadiers who at the close of the war were made major-generals before being mustered out of the volunteer service.

"He was unable to return to the field until March, 1864, when he took command of the Third Division of Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Sedgwick's (Sixth) Corps in the Petersburg Campaign, being present at the battles of the Wilderness, Spottsylvania (in which Sedgwick was killed, and succeeded in command of corps by General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Wright), and North Anna. At Cold Harbor, in the assault of June 1st by Wright's and W. F. Smith's Corps, Ricketts's Division struck those of Hoke and Kershaw, handsomely carried the intrenchments, in which work he was joined by Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Upton's Brigade, and captured five hundred prisoners. His losses in killed and wounded were severe, and he received the written congratulations of the commanding general. On the 3d his division took part in the general assault at Cold Harbor, was engaged in various actions there until June 13, and in the assaults on the lines of Petersburg, June 15‑18. Grant's two armies of the Potomac and the James were now brought to a stand in front of Petersburg and Richmond, and operations by regular approaches against the former place were ordered. On June 13th General Lee had detached Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Ewell's Corps, under General Early, from Cold Harbor, to meet General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Hunter's advance toward Lynchburg. On his approach, Hunter withdrew, and Early, with a force of some 12,000 men, crossed over into Maryland, and threatened Baltimore and Washington. To check this movement, Ricketts's Division, 3,350 strong, was ordered, July 6th, to Harper's Ferry via Baltimore, and reached the Monocacy by rail in time to take part in the battle of the 9th, under General Lew Wallace, who had a mixed force of 2,500 men, many of them new and undisciplined troops. The brunt of the affair fell on Ricketts's veteran division, which, as Wallace reported, 'fought magnificently.' Ricketts himself was conspicuous for his gallantry, and was again wounded. Early's force was greatly superior in numbers, and he reports that his loss in killed and wounded was 'about 700.' Wallace's loss was 677, of which Ricketts's share was 595. The field was lost, but Early was delayed a sufficient time to secure the safety of Washington. The scant miscellaneous forces in that city were manning the works on the northern approaches when Early arrived on the afternoon of the 11th, in advance of his troops. Having fought a division of the Sixth Corps at Monocacy, he had grounds for believing that the other two were before him, yet, after a reconnoissance, he determined to attack next morning. This delay, which seems to have been warranted by the circumstances, enabled Wright, who had been hastily summoned and had just arrived from City Point, to land his two divisions, occupy the works, and repulse Early's attack. Ricketts's Division, after the Battle of Monocacy, had fallen back on Baltimore, and rejoined the corps whilst in pursuit of Early, Wright taking the general direction, and Ricketts commanding the Sixth Corps until it was formally united to the Eighth (Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Crook's), and the Nineteenth (Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Emory's), and a Cavalry Corps to form the Army of the Shenandoah under General Sheridan, when Ricketts returned to his division, at the head of which he took an important part in the Valley Campaign, being engaged in skirmishes at Snicker's Gap, July 18th; Berryville, August 21st; Smithfield, August 29th; and especially in the battles of Opequan and Fisher's Hill.

"At the decisive Battle of Cedar Creek, Oct. 19, General Wright was in command of the Army during the temporary absence of General Sheridan, and that of the Corps again devolved upon Ricketts. On Oct. 18, the Eighth and Nineteenth Corps were in line, intrenched behind Cedar Creek, a little north of Strasburg, the Eighth Corps being on the left; and Early's army again occupied Fisher's Hill and its vicinity south of the town. The Sixth Corps was to the right rear of the Nineteenth, in reserve, with the Cavalry Corps well on its right. By  p6 early dawn of the 19th of October the Confederate divisions of Ramseur, Gordon, and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Pegram, favored by peculiarities of the ground, crossed the Shenandoah below the mouth of Cedar Creek, and unperceived gained a position on the left flank and rear of the Eighth Corps; while Kershaw's and Wharton's took position in front of both corps, outflanking the Nineteenth. Under cover of a dense fog, all attacked vigorously. Taken by surprise, and overwhelmed by numbers, the Eighth Corps was partly routed and its own guns turned upon it. Although a brigade of the Nineteenth was then under arms for an early reconnoissance, that corps became involved in the retreat, and fell back under the orders of General Wright, making a stand when practicable. At the first sounds of the attack, Wright sent for two divisions of the Sixth Corps. Ricketts soon brought them up and arrested the enemy's progress. A new line was formed in the rear of these divisions, the Sixth Corps on the left, the Nineteenth on the right. Sheridan soon after arrived, the line was completed by the Cavalry Corps and the rallied troops of the Eighth advanced, and a crowning victory was won.

"But in rendering this vitally important service Ricketts received his sixth​a and most severe wound — a bullet penetrated the right breast, injured the lung, and lodged under the right shoulder. It disabled him, and Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Getty took command of the corps. His right arm remained partially paralyzed, and it was not until Apr. 7, 1865, that he resumed command of his division and participated in the pursuit of the rebel army, terminating in the capitulation of General Lee at Appomattox.

"He accompanied the corps to Danville, Va., whilst the main body of the Army was on its way to Washington. He was now placed in command of a district in Virginia, which he held until Apr. 30, 1866, when he was mustered out of the volunteer service as a Brigadier-General. In January, 1867, he was retired with the rank of Major-General, for wounds received whilst in command of an army corps.

"The army brevets conferred on General Ricketts were 'Lieutenant-Colonel, for gallant and meritorious services at the battle of Bull Run, Va.'; 'Colonel, for Gallant and Meritorious Services at the Battle of Cold Harbor, Va.'; 'Brigadier-General, for Gallant and Meritorious Services at the Battle of Cedar Creek, Va.;' 'Major-General, for Gallant and Meritorious Services in the field during the Rebellion.' He was also brevetted 'Major-General of Volunteers, for gallant conduct during the Rebellion, and particularly in the battles of the campaign under General Grant; the Monocacy, under General Wallace; and Opequan, Fisher's Hill, and Cedar Creek, in the Shenandoah Campaign under General Sheridan.'

"General Ricketts was a favorite in his class at West Point, quiet, modest, diligent in his studies, and faithful to all his obligations. He carried these traits with him into the Army and social life, and his success­ful career was due, not to any extraordinary circumstances or opportunities, but to a thorough discharge of all duties as they presented themselves.

"After his retirement General Ricketts resided in Washington until his death. His constitution was shattered by his wounds, and his life was one of constant suffering, which he bore with patient fortitude. Yet he was active in every good work, and his loss is felt by the poor and needy, especially by his old soldiers, who always found in him a friend on whom they could rely."

Thayer's Note:

a His tombstone (q.v.) states that he was Wounded five times.

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Page updated: 17 Mar 16