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A volunteer for the Union

In popular accounts of the U.S. Civil War, you probably won't come across many-if any-references to U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Edward Hastings Ripley. The Rutland-born veteran became a general at age 25, and along with Gen. George Armstrong Custer, was among the nation's youngest generals appointed during the War Between the States.

In 1862, Ripley responded to President Lincoln's call for 300,000 fresh volunteers to fight in the bloody civil struggle; he doggedly recruited local soldiers under the banner of the Ninth Vermont Volunteers, and became captain to the men when they trained south.

Ripley was born in downtown Rutland in 1839. His father, William Young Ripley, owned a large estate in town-known as "The Center"-and was both founder of the Rutland County National Bank and a Rutland County industrial marble pioneer.

General Ripley's older brother, William Y.W. Ripley, joined the Army as a captain in the opening months of the war. William was with the first Vermont volunteers to head to war under the banner of the Rutland Lightguard-the state's first responders. Young Edward, a medical student at Union College in New York in 1861, couldn't wait to join up despite his mother's protests.

Eventually, the Ripleys supported Edward's call-to-service even after their elder son William was badly wounded at the Battle of Malvern Hill in Virginia.

Between his enlistment in 1862 and his discharge at war's end in 1865, Gen. Ripley narrowly escaped death on several occasions. He endured internal demons while a paroled prisoner at the Union's Camp Douglas in Chicago, Ill., after the unheroic surrender of Harper's Ferry. Oddly, Confederates couldn't handle their Yankee prisoners at Harper's Ferry and were thus paroled to the Union as part of a "prisoner exchange" with federal troops.

Despite the Harper's Ferry debacle, Ripley was quick to gain valor and a brevet-general appointment. He saw fierce combat at the capture of Fort Harrison and at the repulse at Fort Gilmer; he was also among the first Union soldiers to enter the defeated Confederate stronghold of Richmond, Va.

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