Short URL for this page:

[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[decorative delimiter]

 [decorative delimiter] Class of 1814

Vol. I

(Born Ct.)

James W. Ripley

(Ap'd Ct.)

James Wolfe Ripley: Born Dec. 10, 1794, Windham County, CT.

Military History. — Cadet of the Military Academy, May 8, 1813, to June 1, 1814, when he was graduated and promoted in the Army to

Second Lieut., Corps of Artillery, June 1, 1814.

Served: in the War of 1812‑15 with Great Britain, in Defense of Sackett's Harbor, N. Y., 1814‑15; in garrison at Portland, Me., 1815‑16, — and New Orleans, La., 1816‑17; as Battalion Quartermaster of Artillery, Dec. 28, 1816, to June 1, 1821, in Major-General Jackson's Campaign

(First Lieut., Corps of Artillery, Apr. 20, 1818)

of 1817‑18 against the Seminole Indians, and his Invasion of Florida, being engaged in the Seizure of Pensacola, Fla., May 24, 1818, — and Bombardment and Capture of Ft. San Carlos de Barrancas, Fla., May 26‑27, 1818; on Recruiting service, 1819 and 1820‑22; in garrison at St.

(First Lieut., 4th Artillery,
in Re-organization of Army, June 1, 1821)

Augustine, Fla., 1823; as Commissioner for running Boundary of Florida Indians' reservations, 1823‑24; in garrison at Ft. Monroe, Va. (Artillery School for Practice), 1824‑25, — Ft. St. Philip, La., 1825, — Savannah,

(Captain, 4th Artillery, Aug. 1, 1825)

Ga., 1826, — Ft. Monroe, Va. (Artillery School for Practice), 1826‑28, — and Ft. McHenry, Md., 1828‑30; on Recruiting service, 1830‑31; in garrison at Ft. McHenry, Md., 1831‑32, — and Charleston harbor, S. C.,

(Captain, Ordnance, May 30, 1832)

1832‑33, during South Carolina's threatened nullification; in command of Kennebec Arsenal, Me., 1833‑42; as Inspector of Cannon, 1835‑42;

(Major, Ordnance, July 7, 1838)

as Superintendent of Springfield Armory, Mas., 1841‑54, and of Contract Arms, 1843‑54; as Member of Ordnance Board, Feb. 10 to Mar. 6, 1847;

(Bvt. Lieut.‑Colonel, May 30, 1848, for Meritorious Conduct, particularly in the Performance of his Duty in the Prosecution of the War with Mexico)

in command of Watertown Arsenal, Mas., 1854‑55; as Chief of Ordnance

(Lieut.‑Colonel, Ordnance, Dec. 31, 1854)

of Pacific Department, Mar. 29, 1855, to Sep. 20, 1857; as Inspector

(Colonel and Chief of Ordnance of the U. S. Army, Apr. 23, 1861)

(Bvt. Brig.‑General, U. S. Army, July 2, 1861)

(Brig.‑General and Chief of Ordnance of the U. S. Army, Aug. 3, 1861)

of Arsenals, 1857‑60, — and on special duty to Japan, Asia, 1860‑61.

Served during the Rebellion of the Seceding States, 1861‑66: as Chief of Ordnance, U. S. Army, Apr. 3, 1861, to Sep. 14, 1863, and in charge of the Ordnance Bureau at Washington, D. C., Apr. 23, 1861, to Sep. 14,  p120 1863, — and as Inspector of the Armament of Fortifications on the New

(Retired from Active Service, Sep. 15, 1863, under the Law of July 17, 1862,
"having been borne on the Army Register more than 45 Years")

England Coast, Sep. 14, 1863, to Jan. 22, 1869.

Bvt. Maj.‑General, U. S. Army, Mar. 13, 1865, for long and Faithful Services in the Army.

Died, Mar. 15, 1870, at Hartford, Ct.: Aged 76.

Buried, Springfield Cemetery, Springfield, MA.

Biographical Sketch.

Bvt Major‑General James Wolfe Ripley was born Dec. 10, 1794, in Windham County, Conn.; was a lineal descendant, through his great-grandmother, of William Bradford, the historian, and second governor of the first Plymouth Colony; received a good elementary education in the principal school of his native town; and was appointed a Cadet of the Military Academy, May 8, 1813. War then existing with Great Britain, and officers being much wanted, he was graduated after a year's attendance at that institution; promoted, June 1, 1814, to be a Second Lieutenant in the Corps of Artillery; and was ordered to the Canada frontier, remaining on duty at Sackett's Harbor till the end of the war. Upon the termination of hostilities, after a short tour of duty at Portland, Me., he, as the Quartermaster of his battalion, was ordered to New Orleans, and soon after was sent with provisions to the relief of Major-General Andrew Jackson on the Escambia River, where he was operating against the Florida Indians. In this campaign, Ripley, who had become a First Lieutenant, April 20, 1818, was engaged, under the "old hero," in the Seizure of Pensacola and Capture of Fort San Carlos de Barrancas in May of the same year. In 1819, Lieut. Ripley was sent to Lancaster, Pa., on Recruiting service, and while there, on the re-organization of the Army, June 1, 1821, was assigned to the Fourth Artillery. In 1823, while on duty at St. Augustine, he was detailed as Assistant Commissioner, under Colonel James Gadsden, to run the boundaries of the Florida Indians' reservations, which he performed so satisfactorily that he was highly commended by both his chief and Duval, then Governor of the Territory.

In 1832, after eight years' service in various garrisons and on recruiting duty, Captain Ripley was ordered to Fort Moultrie, to keep the peace in Charleston harbor, during South Carolina's threatened nullification. His services here are best attested by Joel R. Poinsett, in his letter to President Jackson, of April 5, 1833, when Ripley, in consequence of his transfer, May 30, 1832, to the Ordnance Corps, was ordered to the command of Kennebec arsenal. That distinguished statesman, firm Unionist, and subsequent Secretary of War, says: "We part with Captain Ripley, who will have the advantage to deliver you this letter, with great regret. His indefatigable exertions to prepare his post to resist the lawless attacks which threatened it, and his gentlemanly deportment, have won the esteem and respect of the friends of the Government in this city. His appointment, although it removes him from among us, has been highly gratifying to his well-wishers here, and we sincerely hope that he may be placed in a situation where he may have an opportunity to exhibit his talents and activity in the service of his country, and which may reward him for the zeal he has displayed in defense of the Union." General Winfield Scott, then in command of Charleston harbor, adds his tribute of praise in a letter, of April 15, 1833, to the Secretary of War, in which he says: "Captain Ripley has no superior in the middle ranks of the Army, either in general intelligence, zeal, or good conduct," and, after detailing  p121 his admirable arrangements for the security of his post, continues: "In conclusion, I have pleasure in stating that no one left a higher reputation, either with our officers or the citizens of Charleston, than Captain Ripley." He continued for eight years in command of Kennebec Arsenal, and for the latter six was Inspector of Cannon; in the mean time, July 7, 1838, having been promoted to a Major of Ordnance.

Major Ripley, April 16, 1841, was selected for the Superintendent of the United States Armory at Springfield, Mass. It had long been under inefficient civil administration, and when it was to be placed under military control, the choice of commandant fortunately fell upon one who, for the performance of his difficult and responsible duties, united stern integrity, untiring industry, unflinching courage, and an almost prophetic insight into the nation's necessity to perfect her arms for her coming struggle for existence. At once he vigorously began the herculean labor of cleansing this Augean stable of the mass of corrupting influences, taxing the people and periling their safety. He banished idleness; ejected charlatans and demagogues; adjusted pay to production; rewarded merit with promotion; purchased new land; closed useless lanes; graded, planted, and fenced the grounds; changed a desolate sandy plain into a beautiful landscape park; transformed a village of dilapidated shanties into one of the best built armories of the world; doubled the value of the Government property, while correspondingly diminishing the cost of arms; introduced improved machinery making like parts of all weapons interchangeable; saved millions to the country by properly directing labor, adopting new inventions, and increasing the capacity of the works; courteously, with the assent of the Government, though perhaps not wisely, gave England the benefit of tools and apparatus to produce our Springfield (called their Enfield) rifle; and in fine, after a prolonged battle against armorers, the local public, and Congressional influences to thwart his authority and salutary reforms, he ended the best and stormiest years of his life, through the strength and energy of his character, with high honor to himself, the goodwill of the community, the cordial respect of those who had most opposed his policy, and fulfilled his mission of produ­cing the means of our more perfect defense in the preservation of the Union. Springfield Armory is truly Ripley's monument.

In the thirteen years of his command, so notable had become his reputation at Springfield that nearly two hundred of her most eminent citizens, headed by the Hon. George Ashmun, tendered Ripley a public dinner (which he modestly declined) in the most complimentary letter, from which we make the following extract: "Knowing, as most of us do personally, the condition of the U. S. Armory when it passed under your charge in 1841, and having before us the palpable evidence of the very great improvements you have introduced into its management, both in the internal economy and its external appearance, and recognizing as we do the great value and importance of these improvements to this city, and knowing also full well the uncompromising and unjust hostility you have encountered at almost every step, from interested and prejudiced parties, in establishing these improvements, we earnestly desire to tender to you some expression of appreciation of the value and success of your administration of the Armory, as a public officer, and of our confidence in your unflinching integrity and energy, and fidelity to the best interests of the Government during your residence here." The Armorers soon after, not to be outdone "in obeying an impulse of their own hearts," and appreciating "that manly independence and freedom of action" which had so eminently characterized his administration of the Armory, presented him Jan. 1, 1855 with a New Year's gift of a beautiful service of plate.

During Ripley's superintendence of the Springfield Armory, it in great  p122 part had supplied the excellent arms for carrying on the Mexican War of 1846‑48; in consequence of which the Major was brevetted, May 20, 1848, to be a Lieut.‑Colonel "for meritorious conduct, particularly in the performance of his duty in the prosecution of the War with Mexico." This was followed, Dec. 31, 1854, by his full promotion to a Lieut.-Colonelcy of Ordnance.

After a short period of command at Watertown Arsenal, Mas., he was ordered to California as Chief of Ordnance on the Pacific Coast, with instructions to select sites for arsenals and armories; and, upon the completion of his tour of duty there, Sept. 20, 1857, was detailed as Inspector of Arsenals.

The notorious and profligate Floyd, then Secretary of War, sent, June 23, 1860, Colonel Ripley to Japan, in charge of certain arms and military stores which had been prepared for presentation to the Tycoon. He was instructed to return by way of the British overland mail route, and "visit and examine professionally the most important arsenals and military manufactories in Europe." Doubtless Floyd had in view putting at a distance the second ranking officer of the Ordnance Corps; one who could not be silenced in any emergency; and one who, in his short service with General Jackson, had imbibed much of his resolute character. Hearing in the far-off Red Sea the mutterings of the coming storm of Civil War, and taking the responsibility of not carrying out his further orders, he hurried home, without a moment's delay, and promptly reported for duty, though at an age when he might have been asked to be retired from active service. "Your country needs you," said an old friend, as he landed from the Persia. "It can have me and every drop of blood in me," the old veteran replied.

On the relief of Colonel Craig, Ripley was appointed, Apr. 23, 1861, to succeed him as Chief of Ordnance, with the rank of Colonel; was brevetted, July 2, 1861, a Brigadier-General; and, by the Act of Congress for the better organization of the military establishment, was, Aug. 3, 1861, made a full Brigadier-General. At this time the Civil War had begun; hence he immediately made the most systematic and vigorous efforts to secure arms for the great conflict. Four days after Ripley became Chief of Ordnance, when we were without a single heavy rifled gun, he ordered the conversion of smooth-bores into rifled cannon, and the manufacture of new Parrott ordnance, soon after, July 21, 1861, introduced into actual service at the Battle of Bull Run; from which time, till the close of the war, these guns, of calibres from 10 to 300 pounders, were extensively and successfully adopted in both the Army and Navy. During 1861, the War Department authorized purchases and contracts for arms to the enormous amount of $46,144,665. This led, at Ripley's request, to a Congressional investigation, and a full report, Feb. 20, 1862, from the Ordnance Bureau, giving the entire correspondence upon the subject, on every page of which the unshaken integrity of General Ripley is exhibited. He was truth and duty incarnate. His reports and recommendations were always honest. They were almost daily overruled; but, day after day and month after month, the sterling soldier and stainless gentleman reappeared, the same enemy of jobbing and fraud. He was bitterly hated by the whole crew of corruptionists, and their hatred was only surpassed by his own scorn and contempt for them. The matter was much discussed in Congress, where Ripley found appreciative friends. The Hon. Mr. Olin, of New York, closed a speech as follows: "I undertake to say that, amid this widespread corruption, and the hordes of sharpers and brokers, and ex-members of Congress and bankers, and stock-jobbers and blood-suckers, who gathered instinctively around the Secretary of War for the purpose of plundering this Government and robbing the people, this old man, General Ripley, stood up like an old  p123 Roman, a pillar of virtue amid a widespread desert of corruption. He was a rock and a breakwater against a torrent of fraud. I wish to God the Government was full of such men."

After nearly half a century of faithful, efficient, and meritorious military service, and when his term of life was fast verging upon the threescore and ten of the Psalmist, he was, Sep. 15, 1863, placed upon the retired list of the Army by Secretary Stanton, who, in his inordinate desire for absolute military control, was not, with all his merit and patriotism, always considerate, generous, and just to his subordinates, particularly gray-haired veterans who had grown cautious after the experience of a long life in which they had fairly won a claim to have "done the state some service."

Upon Ripley's retirement, he was placed upon the nominal duty of a quarterly inspection of the armament of the forts and seacoast defenses of New England, with headquarters at his home in Hartford, Ct., and at the close of the Civil War, Mar. 13, 1865, was brevetted a Major-General in the Army, "for long and faithful services."

With the frosts of seventy-six winters on his head, "in years he seemed, but not impaired by years," when, Mar. 15, 1870, at Hartford, Ct., after more than half a century in his country's service, he answered his last roll-call and was borne to his final resting-place in Springfield Cemetery, with every demonstration of respect from the entire community, which fully appreciated his genuine worth.

General Ripley was a typical gentleman of the old school, and an officer worthy of the best days of the republic. His career is his character, — spirited, chivalric, honorable, honest, faithful, and true. He had the clear ring of the noble soldier; he knew the duty of obedience equally with the rights of command; his profession's reputation was his guidance in life; his inborn courage was as stubborn to resist wrong as to oppose a foe; his integrity knew no compromise with corruption; he scorned all conciliation with the nation's enemies; he loved the whole flag of 34 Union stars with its 13 Federal stripes; and his faith in his country's destiny was unbounded. In private life, he was as refined and courtly as a knight-errant; but, officially, he was a front of rigid steel to the whole crew of lobby leeches, treasury thieves, sham inventors, and charlatan contractors. He joined to a resolute will a heart of melting tenderness; his friendships were warm, for they were sincere; his attachments were lasting, for they were unselfish; and his devotion to family was only equaled by its returned idolatry. When age had silvered his locks and dimmed his fiery eye, his courage was unabated, and his affections pulsated as warmly as in his glowing youth. Calm and contented to the last,

"The remnant of his days he safely past,

Nor found they lagg'd too slow, nor flew too fast;

He made his wish with his estate comply,

Joyful to live, yet not afraid to die."

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 12 Nov 13