Matt W Ransom, Confederate general, was born on October 8, 1826, in Warren County and moved to Northampton County after he was married. He became the youngest North Carolina attorney general, and served as a brigadier general in the Civil War. Ransom was elected to the United States Senator for over twenty years and also served as the Minister to Mexico. A bust of Ransom remains within the rotunda of the State Capitol building in Raleigh, commemorating his lifelong service to the State of North Carolina.
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Ransom excelled academically from a young age. He graduated from the University of North Carolina, having studied law in his final year. Ransom joined bar and returned to his home county to practice law. He married Martha Anne Exum on January 19, 1853, and moved to her home on the Roanoke River in Northampton County. He continued to practice law there until he was elected, at the age of twenty-six, Attorney General, as a representative of the Whig Party. In 1855, when the Whigs aligned with the Know-Nothing Party, Ransom resigned from his post and joined the Democratic Party.
As a Democrat, Ransom served as a representative in the legislature between 1858 and 1861, until the outbreak of the Civil War. At first a fierce Unionist, after Lincoln’s call for troops in 1861, Ransom became a Secessionist. Enlisting as a private in the Confederate Army, Ransom joined the 35th North Carolina Regiment, which he would eventually command. Acting under the command of his brother, Major-General Robert Ransom, Matt Ransom quickly demonstrated bravery in battles at Malvern Hill and Sharpsburg, among other battles. He was wounded multiple times during the war, but was eventually promoted to brigadier general, finally surrendering his command at Appomattox with General Robert E. Lee.
After the Civil War ended, Ransom became a strong supporter of Northern and Southern reconciliation. He ran for United States Senator, and was elected in 1872 after Governor Zebulon B. Vance was forced to resign. Ransom represented North Carolina as Senator from 1872 until 1895, at which time a candidate from a coalition of the Republican and Populist parties defeated him. Ransom, an adamant supporter of President Grover Cleveland, was posted to Mexico as the “Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary.” He acted as Minister to Mexico until 1897, at which time he returned to Northampton County and retired from public service.
Matt W. Ransom, throughout his life, served North Carolina in a variety of ways. He explained, in a speech to Congress in 1875, “ I came from the true State of North Carolina to the Senate of the United States with a sacred purpose to reconcile the once divided people of my country . . . To accomplish it, no sacrifice seemed too dear, except the dishonor of my State.”
Samuel A. Ashe, ed., Biographical History of North Carolina, I (1905)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, IV, 175-176—sketch by John G. Barrett
Weymouth T. Jordan, ed., North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865: A Roster, IX (1983)
Dumas Malone, ed., Dictionary of American Biography, XV (1938)—sketch by J. G. deR. Hamilton