Capt. Samuel Ridley: "Bravest of the Brave"
By Rebecca Blackwell Drake
"Here too, the gallant Ridley,
refusing to leave his guns, single-handed and
Major General Carter Stevenson
On March 22, 1862, Samuel Jones Ridley, a wealthy planter from Madison County, enlisted in the First Mississippi Light Artillery, also known as Wither’s Regiment, and left to join the troops in Vicksburg. He was accompanied by Old Bill, one of the plantation cooks, as well as a personal servant.
Ridley was named captain of Battery A which was composed primarily of soldiers from Hinds and Madison counties. During the early months of the war, he drilled his men endlessly until they became skilled in the art of gunnery.
Ridley’s first taste of war came December 26 – 29, 1862, when Sherman’s force, determined to capture Vicksburg by land, disembarked near the mouth of the Yazoo River and attempted to move inland toward the Chickasaw Bluffs. Sherman’s approach was met by Pemberton’s army who hammered away for days as the Yankees trudged through swamps lands and sloughs attempting to reach the bluffs. On December 29, after a fierce battle, the Yankees were forced back to their boats and the Confederates pocketed a major victory.
Ridley wrote to his wife of the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou: “The thrashing they [Union] got at Chickasaw was the most disgraceful one of the war. My opinion is that they would not rally their men to another attack. They were followed to their boats and fired into while getting into them. They departed precipitately, leaving many of their men who were guarding commissaries behind without letting them know, although they were but a little ways from them. They were completely demoralized.”
In the letter, Ridley also gave his opinions regarding the commanding officers who were in charge of Vicksburg’s defense: “I do not think there is any chance for them ever to occupy Vicksburg. If they ever do, depend on it, it will be by the bad management of the general in command, which we fear here he is frequently guilty of. Somehow this part of the army is the most unfortunate in its generals. Gen. Smith, who was in command here until Pemberton came, was the most deficient officer of his rank in the services; and to tell you the truth, I do not believe Pemberton is much better.”
Ridley’s negative opinion of Pemberton proved true when, five months later, on May 16, 1863, Pemberton’s army set up defenses midway between Bolton and Edwards, at a site known as Baker’s Creek or Champion Hill. His goal was to stop the Union army’s advance toward Vicksburg but by late afternoon, the Confederates were forced to retreat. As a result of the battle numbering 3,840 Confederate casualties, Pemberton’s career was destroyed and Captain Ridley lay dead.
Captain Ridley's heroic stand at Champion Hill is vividly described in Valor in Gray: Recipients of the Confederate Medal of Honor by Gregg Clemmer, author and historian: “Devoid of infantry protection, naked now to the full fury of the onslaught that would destroy them, the few survivors of Ridley’s Battery fled. The guns were lost; they could only save themselves. But for Captain Samuel Jones Ridley the day was not lost. Yes, the hour looked desperate and many men were down to be sure; in fact, his own horse had been shot from under him. Yet, perhaps the men of Company A would still rally on the guns. They would come if they saw him, if they knew he was not afraid. By personal example he had shown them before. Was today any different?
“Now across that short deadly space, through the drifting, nebulous haze of gun smoke, a single gun continued the fight for the Confederacy. Dozens of infantrymen – from Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio – sighted rifle muskets and pulled triggers…but again the gun – one from Mississippi they would one day learn – roared with a double blast of deadly canister. Determined to drive the rebels from this last gun, Union riflemen opened a concentrated fire on the position, aiming at the white blooming cloud that blazed red at each discharge.
“But suddenly, instead of pointing their rifles, men pointed their fingers. To their amazement, through a gap in the hanging smoke of battle, only one gunner could be seen, the first of so many who had stood against them this day. For a moment perhaps, their eyes filled with admiration, but then the cannon roared its defiance ... and they answered with a storm of lead. And in the next instant the lone figure vanished in the smoke.”
Also vanishing in the haze of smoke was General Pemberton who immediately mounted his horse and rushed toward the Confederate defenses at the Big Black River. The next day, after suffering a major defeat at the Big Black, Pemberton commented to his chief engineer, Major Samuel Lockett, “Just thirty years ago I began my military career ... and today – the same date – that career ended in disaster and disgrace.”
After hearing of the ill–fated battle, Ridley’s servant went in search of his body. After finding him in the rubble, he buried him near the site where he fell. A few months later, the same faithful servant returned and exhumed the body so Ridley could be re–interred in a cemetery close to the family home in Madison County.
In the years following the war, Ridley’s daughter, Maggie Ridley Gooch wondered as to the role her father had played during the Battle of Champion Hill – a battle that had cost him his life. Seeking information, she joined the United Daughters of the Confederacy. She also wrote letters of inquiry, including one to Stephen D. Lee who had also fought in Stevenson’s Division during the Battle of Champion Hill.
Lee responded kindly to Maggie’s letter and suggested that she read the official report of the battle written by Maj. Gen. Carter Stevenson. Tears filled Maggie’s eyes as she read of her father’s heroism: “Here, too, the gallant Ridley, refusing to leave his guns, single–handed and alone fought until he fell, pierced with six shots, winning even from his enemies the highest tribute of admiration.” For the first time, she realized the true measure of her father’s sacrifice.
Years after the turn of the century Capt. Samuel Jones Ridley was
posthumously awarded the Confederate Medal of Honor signifying that he had
been one of the “Bravest of the Brave” to have fought in the War.
Captain Samuel Jones Ridley
Riding hard to bring the last reserves to
the field after the Confederate line had been broken on the far left,
Captain Ridley personally guided the 42nd Georgia Volunteers and two
guns of his battery to a position where they could enfilade the advance
of the enemy. Although badly outnumbered Captain Ridley directed and
maintained a heavy fire into the attacking enemy line, thwarting the
momentum of the assault that threatened to develop the Confederate left
flank. Seeing all infantry support driven from the field and realizing
that many of his men lay killed or wounded, Captain Ridley nevertheless
joined the survivors of one gun crew to keep the cannon firing. Ignoring
his own safety despite horrific casualties and realizing that his own
position was in danger of being overrun, he continued to serve the gun
until he alone stood at the cannon's mouth. When last seen alive, he was
still at his post, dealing destruction to the enemy and unwilling unto
death to yield his ground.
Historic source: Valor in Gray: The Recipients of the Confederate Medal of Honor by Gregg S. Clemmer, published by Hearthside Publishing Company, 1998; Confederate Veteran, Vol. 2, October 1894.
Charles Pittman, descendant of Samuel Ridley and General with Friends of Raymond, is honoring Captain Ridley on the General's Monument soon to be erected on the Raymond Battlefield. The inscription honoring Ridley will read: “MS Senator Charles & Kathy Pittman. In memory of Captain S. J. Ridley, C.S.A., Medal of Honor, Champion’s Hill.”
| Home | Grant's March | Pemberton's March | Battle of Champion Hill | Order of Battle | Diaries & Accounts | Official Records |
| History | Re-enactments | Book Store | Battlefield Tour | Visitors |
Copyright (c) James and Rebecca Drake, 1998 - 2006. All Rights Reserved.