Thomas Ransom was born on Nov. 29, 1834, in Norwich, Vt., the son of Col. Truman B. Ransom, who, for a time, was president of Norwich University, a liberal arts college with instruction in civil engineering and military science.
Col. Ransom was killed at the Battle of Chapultepec during the Mexican-American War, when Thomas was 14 years old. Soon after the death of his father, Thomas entered Norwich University, where he studied for three years. Following graduation, he moved to Peru, LaSalle County, Ill., to live with his uncle, George Gilson, the town’s mayor.
He continued to study civil engineering and engaged in real estate speculation. While living in LaSalle County, he was known as the “boy surveyor.”
By 1860, Thomas was working for the Illinois Central Railroad, and had relocated to the village of LaClede in southeastern Fayette County. In the 1860 census, he, with a younger brother, F.E., lodged at the Gibson boarding house. Thomas’ occupation was listed as “merchant.”
When President Abraham Lincoln made a call for troops in 1861, Thomas raised a body of soldiers that became Company E of the 11th Illinois Infantry, and was elected captain on April 6, 1861. Three months later, he was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the regiment, making full colonel in February 1862.
In November 1862, Ransom was commissioned brigadier general, and in January 1863, he took command of a brigade of Gen. McArthur’s Sixth Division of McPherson’s XVII Corps.
Brigadier Ransom earned a place in the "History of Fayette County," published in 1878, where it told that in August 1861, he led his men against a large force of the enemy under Maj. Hunter, concentrated at Charlestown, Mo. Here he received the first of numerous wounds.
“At Fort Donelson, his horse was killed under him, himself severely wounded in his shoulder, and his clothes pierced with no less that six or eight bullets. He, however, kept gallantly with his men and refused to leave the field until the fight was ended. For his bravery, he was promoted to the colonelcy of his regiment.
“At Shiloh, he was the bravest of the brave and, although severely wounded in the head, led his men through the thickest of the fight. After this terrible engagement, not 100 men were left of the Eleventh, but rallying the few that remained and forming them on the left of the 70th Ohio Regiment, he again led them to the charge.
“In the spring of 1863, he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general for distinguished service in the field at Shiloh and the siege of Corinth.
”Gen. Ransom was four times wounded. At Charlestown, Mo., on Aug. 19, 1861; at Fort Donelson on Feb. 15, 1862, when he received a wound in the head; at Shiloh, on April 6, 1862; and at Pleasant Hill, La., on April 8, 1864.”
His wounds in Louisiana were so severe that he was evacuated to Chicago for treatment.
Feeling his presence was needed in Georgia for Sherman’s March to the Sea, Gen. Ransom again returned to the field of battle in October 1861, moving to the front. He was taken severely ill with typhoid and dysentery, but remained in command and on the field until too weak to go further. When told that he had but a few hours to live, he answered, “I am not afraid to die; I have met death too often to be afraid of it now.”
Gen. Ransom died on Oct. 29, 1864, in Rome, Floyd County, Ga. His body was transported to Chicago for burial in Rosehill Cemetery there.
Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman remarked to an aide, “Do you know that young man? That is Gen. Ransom, rising man, rising man; one of the best officers in the service; been shot all to pieces, but it doesn’t hurt him.”
Sherman is also quoted as saying, “I saw Ransom during the assault of the 22nd on May 1863…I then marked him as of the kind of whom heroes are made.”
Brig. Gen. Thomas Edwin Greenfield Ransom was known was the "phantom general" because he had been presumed dead so many times. Ransom, Ill., in LaSalle County, was named in his honor.