Researcher: Sarah D’Ambrisi
Ransom Tift was born in March of 1813 to farmer James Tift and his wife Joanna Ballou in Smithfield, Providence, Rhode Island. Tift had 3 siblings, Mary, Otis, and Eunice. Tift became a scythe grinder (one who grinds the scythe blade to make it sharp enough for cutting) by trade. On April 2, 1837, he married Lucy A. Beckwith in Mendon, Worcester, Massachusetts. They had at least one child, born around 1845. Tift returned to died February 19, 1870, seven years after he was honorably discharged from the army.
Tift enlisted in the army in May 1861 (since Tift would have been 48 at the time, it is easy to assume he lied about his age like many others in order to enlist), and he signed up for 3 years with the 18th Massachusetts Infantry, Company I. As part of the 18th, Tift participated in Peninsular Campaign, which was focused on capturing Richmond and breaking the Confederates’ hold on the lower Potomac. The regiment served under Col. James Barnes, and they crossed the Potomac in early fall of 1861, becoming part of George McClellan’s Potomac Army. The 18th served outpost duties with Fitz John Porter’s division near Washington D. C. until March of 1862.
On March 21, the regiment left for the Peninsula and arrived in time to take part in the siege of Yorktown. At Yorktown, the troops mostly worked on ditches and building stone walls for a month until the Confederates vanished from the site in May. Yorktown was the first real fighting of the Potomac Army and allowed the regiments to press on to Richmond. During Yorktown, the 18th was detached most of the time with General Stoneman’s command.
Tift’s first combat service was in August 1862 at the Second Battle of Bull Run, serving with the Porter’s Corps’; the regiments under Fitz John Porter’s command were initially order to attack Jackson’s flank, but Porter failed to carry out the orders. One the third day of the battle, the regiment met James Longstreet’s troops and were forced to retreat. The whipped army, along with Tift and the 18th regiment then traveled to Antietam, but never participated in the actual battle. Tift’s regiment ignored orders from McClellan, took an offensive course of action, and pursued the retreating Confederates over the Potomac on September 20th. Though a draw, the battle weakened the Confederates hold on the Potomac and convinced Robert E. Lee to stay away from invading the North.
Following Antietam, Tift was honorably discharged, and it could be assumed that he was wounded along with thousands of others during the Civil War’s bloodiest battle. Tift never reenlisted, and he returned home to Providence, Rhode Island until he died in 1870.