Stanley Nelson

During the Civil War a century and a half ago this Saturday -- July 13, 1863 -- a federal occupation force of 1,200 troops arrived at the Natchez landing on steamboats. The Union commander was 28-year-old Gen. Thomas Edwin Greenfield Ransom.

Gen. U.S. Grant, following the Union victory at Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, sent Ransom to Natchez.

Part of Ransom’s job was to cut a Confederate supply line from Natchez to the little Catahoula Parish village of Trinity, located where four rivers meet at present-day Jonesville. He was also under orders to maintain peace and to keep the river open to navigation from Rodney, Miss., south to the Louisiana-Mississippi border.

At the Adams County Courthouse, Ranson met with the mayor and council and formally took possession of the city as well as the post office, mail and telegraph office. Simultaneously, federal troops moved out to roads leading into town where pickets were assigned 24 hours a day. Ransom also began disarming the citizenry, one of the first acts of a conquering army. 

By the time he arrived in Natchez, the Vermont native's body had been battered, bruised and bloodied in battle on three occasions. His superiors, including Grant, were crazy about him.

Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman said Ransom was one of the best officers in the army..."been shot all to pieces, but it doesn't hurt him." A newspaper reported that "when in battle he (Ransom) becomes tiger like, fearing nothing and becoming terrible in action."

Ranson found Natchez "abounds in fine horses, mules, cattle, and other stock. All plantations are planted with heavy crops of corn..." He also learned "that within a few days 150 wagons loaded with ordinance stores for Kirby Smith (commander of Confederate forces west of the Mississippi) had been ferried across this point to the Louisiana shore (Vidalia), and that beef-cattle in large numbers were constantly being driven across through this point, as previously reported to General Grant, and pastured between Natchez and the Mississippi Central Railroad, and that a portion of them were still in the county, a few miles east of me."

The New York Times reported that these “cattle were driven from Texas to Vidalia, and swam across the river to Natchez. Here they were distributed among the different plantations to be fed, and afterwards sent to the different rebel armies ... 100,000 have been driven through Natchez during the last seven months ... The route from Mexico, through Texas and Natchez, was used very extensively for the smuggling of medicines and various articles of which the rebels stand in need."

Ransom secured horses for 200 men, split the group up on both sides of the river, and went looking for Confederate supplies. In Adams County, his men found 5,000 head of Texas cattle grazing four miles east of Natchez. The small Rebel Calvary guarding the livestock fled as the Union army approached.

Ransom had the cattle loaded on transports for shipment to the Union army along the Red River.

In Concordia Parish, Ranson reported his men "captured a lieutenant ... and rear guard with a portion of Kirby Smith's ordinance train, which had been delayed 15 miles out on the road to Trinity, bringing back with them 312 new Austrian muskets, 203,000 rounds musket cartridges, and 11 boxes of artillery ammunition, and destroying 268,000 rounds of ammunition, which could not be moved. The rest of the train had pressed on beyond our reach."

Sixteen months later Ransom suffered his fourth war wound at the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads at Mansfield in Louisiana during the Red River Campaign in April 1864. Sent to Chicago to recover, he was back in action during the Atlanta Campaign several weeks later. Severely ill with dysentery, he refused to leave his command and later died in the field.

In a program honoring Ransom years later, Gen. Sherman said "war is the supreme test of manhood, and an hour, a minute sometimes, reveals the spirit which is in the man ... I saw Ransom during the assault of the 22nd of May 1863 (Vicksburg) - saw his brigade dash against those battlements to be hurled back because the time was not yet ripe - and I then marked him as of the kind of whom heroes were made."

Ransom died on October 29, 1864. His final words from inside a farmhouse on the roadside dealt with his love for country, his duties as a soldier and patriotism.

He was 29-years-old.

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