Monday, June 26, 2017

Booknotes: Resolute Rebel

New Arrival:
Resolute Rebel: General Roswell S. Ripley, Charleston's Gallant Defender by Chet Bennett (Univ of S Carolina Pr, 2017).

Like a number of his army colleagues, Ohio-born West Pointer and U.S.-Mexican War veteran Roswell Ripley married into a southern family and transferred his sectional sensibilities in that direction as well. When secession and Civil War came, he joined the Confederate Army and fought Union forces in Virginia, Maryland, and along the South Atlantic coast. His service was eventful and not without controversy, with his Charleston commands drawing much criticism from leading politicians and fellow military figures. History has passed down a fairly negative view of Ripley, and Chet Bennett's new biography Resolute Rebel: General Roswell S. Ripley, Charleston’s Gallant Defender "strives to paint a more balanced picture of the man and his career."

In addition to detailing Ripley's antebellum and Civil War military service, the book also explores Ripley's other endeavors as published author, engineer, arms merchant, and inventor. After the Confederacy's fall, Ripley fled to England. There, "he unsuccessfully attempted to gain control of arms-manufacturing machinery made for the Confederacy, invented and secured British patents for cannons and artillery shells, and worked as a writer who served the Lost Cause."

More from the description: "After twenty-five years researching Ripley in the United States and Great Britain, Bennett asserts that there are possibly two reasons a biography of Ripley has not previously been written. First, it was difficult to research the twenty years he spent in England after the war. Second, Ripley was so denigrated by South Carolina’s governor Francis Pickens and Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard that many writers may have assumed it was not worth the effort and expense. Bennett documents a great disconnect between those negative appraisals and the consummate, sincere military honors bestowed on Ripley by his subordinate officers and the people of Charleston after his death, even though he had been absent for more than twenty years." While offering a fresh reappraisal of Ripley's life and military career, the book should also serve as a very useful addition to the Civil War Charleston historiography.


  1. Drew: This looks interesting. Ripley was highly involved in the war with Mexico and had a diverse Civil War service. As an aside, am I wrong or do lower level Confederate officers garner more attention from modern scholars than do their Union counterparts?

    1. That's been the conventional wisdom. As an anecdotal observation, it does seem that way to me, too.

  2. Being the contrarian that I am, I have always had an odd affinity for Ripley. I am supposed to review this book, so a copy should be arriving soon.


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