John Codman Ropes (1836–1899) was an American military historian and lawyer born at St. Petersburg on the 28th of April 1836, the son of a leading merchant of Boston who was engaged in business in Russia. At the age of fourteen, his family having meantime returned to Massachusetts, he developed an infection of the spine which eventually became a permanent deformity. His courage and energy, however, did not allow him to yield to his affliction.
He entered Harvard in 1853, and graduated in 1857. His interests as a young man were chiefly religious, legal and historical, and these remained with him throughout life, his career as a lawyer being conspicuous and successful. But it was the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War in 1861 which fixed his attention principally on military history. He ceaselessly assisted with business and personal help and friendship the officers and men of the 20th Massachusetts regiment, in which his brother, Henry Ropes, was killed in action at Gettysburg, and after the war he devoted himself to the collection and elucidation of all obtainable evidence as to its incidents and events. In 1865, he co-founded the law firm of Ropes and Gray with John Chipman Gray.
In this work his clear and unprejudiced legal mind enabled him to sift the truth from the innumerable public and private controversies, and the ill-informed allotment of praise and blame by the popular historians and biographers. The focus of his work was the Military Historical Society of Massachusetts, which he founded in 1876. The work of this society was the collection and discussion of evidence relating to the great conflict. Although practically every member of his society except himself had fought through the war, and many, such as Hancock and W. F. Smith, were general officers of great distinction, it was from first to last maintained and guided by Ropes, who presented to it his military library and his collection of prints and medals. He died at Boston on the 28th of October 1899.
His principal work is an unfinished Story of the Civil War, to which he devoted most of his later years; this covers the years 1861-62. The Army under Pope is a detailed narration of the Virginia campaign of August-September 1862, which played a great part in reversing contemporary judgment on the events of those operations, notably as regards the unjustly-condemned General Fitz John Porter. Outside America, Ropes is known chiefly as the author of The Campaign of Waterloo, which is one of the standard works on the subject.
The greater part of his studies of the Civil War appears in the Military Historical Society's publications. Papers on the Waterloo campaign appeared in the Atlantic Monthly of June 1881, and in Scribner's Magazine of March and April 1888. Among his miscellaneous works is a paper on The Likenesses of Julius Caesar in Scribner's Magazine (February 1887).
- Ropes & Gray, law firm co-founded by Ropes
- This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.