Early Life and Career
Ambrose Ransom “Ranse” Wright was born in Louisville to Sarah Hammond and Ambrose Wright on April 26, 1826. At around age fourteen he began to read law in the office of Herschel Johnson, and at around age seventeen he married Mary Savage, the half-sister of Johnson’s wife, Anne Polk. Wright farmed while he continued his law studies and opened a legal practice in Dooly County, but within a short time he returned to Jefferson County, where his practice flourished in Louisville.
Thus established, Wright entered politics. He ran for the state legislature as a Democrat in 1851 but was defeated by a narrow margin. In the mid-1850s he was a member of the American party the “Know-Nothings.” As an elector for U.S. president Millard Fillmore in 1856, he stumped the state for his candidate, earning a reputation as an eloquent speaker. Widowed in 1854, Wright married Carrie Hazlehurst in 1857, and two years later he ran for U.S. Congress as an independent Democrat in the special election of 1859, losing out to the official Democratic Party candidate. During the presidential campaign of 1860, Wright supported Constitutional Union candidate John Bell. That same year, he moved to Augusta and entered a law partnership with William Gibson.
Civil War Years
Wright threw himself behind the secession movement in 1861. After Georgia joined the Confederacy in January, he was appointed commissioner to Maryland to encourage that state to secede. Unsuccessful in that endeavor, he returned to Augusta to enlist in the Confederate army as a private in April 1861. After his company was assigned to the Third Georgia Volunteers, Wright was elected colonel.
Wright took his regiment to Virginia and in minor operations demonstrated leadership skills that won him promotion to brigadier general in June 1862. He commanded his brigade through 1862 and 1863 and suffered minor wounds at Antietam, Maryland, and Chancellorsville, Virginia. On July 2, 1863, Wright led an attack at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, that may have penetrated deeper into Union lines than any other that day. In his official report, Wright attributed his lack of greater success to other commanders not giving him better support. He was court-martialed for his injudicious comments after Gettysburg, and his wartime commander, General Richard H. Anderson, is alleged to have said that Wright had “too much dash,” adding that “a little more coolness would bring better results.”
In the fall of 1863 Wright was elected to the Georgia senate and during the session was elected president of that body. He returned to Virginia in February 1864 and remained at the front until summer. Wright was promoted to major general in November 1864, when he was ordered to take command at Augusta in anticipation of Union general William T. Sherman’s approach. During Sherman’s march to the sea in 1864, Georgia governor Joseph E. Brown was forced to evacuate the state capital at Milledgeville. On November 21, Wright notified Brown that, using his continuing authority as president of the senate, he had changed an order of the governor and taken command of the militia east of the Oconee River. Brown swiftly repudiated Wright’s order as an unconstitutional usurpation of gubernatorial authority.
In the last stages of the war, Wright commanded Georgia troops around Savannah and in the Carolinas. On May 1, 1865, he helped to stop mobs of paroled Confederate soldiers, angry over not being paid, from looting shops in Augusta.
In the spring of 1866 Wright reopened his law practice with William Gibson and became part owner and editor of the Augusta Chronicle and Sentinel newspaper. Wright’s Chronicle supported the liberal reconstruction policies of U.S. president Andrew Johnson but took the forefront in denouncing the radical program introduced by the Republican Congress in 1867. The program was implemented in Augusta by its Republican adherents, some of whom were Wright’s personal enemies. Wright was known to be impetuous and combative in his personal decisions, once publicly whipping another Augusta editor who had insulted him. Wright was also accused of supporting the Ku Klux Klan, which he did initially, though there is no evidence that he ever became a member.
Wright’s newspaper was instrumental in reestablishing Democratic rule in Georgia in 1872. Wright was elected to Congress as a “New Departure” Democrat that year, but he fell sick after the election and died on December 21, at age forty-six, without taking his seat. He was buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Augusta.