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Edmund Ruffin, Firebrand of the Confederacy

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Edmund Ruffin

Edmund Ruffin, Fanatical Secessionist

Library of Congress

Edmund Ruffin, Fanatical Symbol of the Confederacy:

Edmund Ruffin was a scientist and editor from Virginia who became a leading voice among the secessionists. A pro-slavery fanatic, Ruffin could be considered the opposite of John Brown, the fanatical abolitionist.

Indeed, Ruffin hated John Brown so much that he arranged to attend his execution. And a year and a half later, according to popular legend, Ruffin fired the first cannon to attack Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, triggering the Civil War.

Ruffin even looked the part of a fanatic, appearing in photographs with piercing eyes and long white hair.

Early Life of Edmund Ruffin:

Edmund Ruffin was born in Prince George County, Virginia, on January 5, 1794. He was educated at home and attended college briefly, and then served in the War of 1812. Following the war he settled into a life as a Virginia planter.

Recognizing that Virginia's agriculture was suffering from generations of poor farming practices, Ruffin began writing about improved farming techniques. He started a publication, The Farmer's Register, which promoted better farming practices. Ruffin was thus responsible for helping to spark an agricultural revival in his home state.

Political Life of Edmund Ruffin:

As he gained a reputation for progressive thinking in agriculture, Ruffin also became a political radical. He was a racist, and he believed in slavery to a fanatical degree.

As the crisis over slavery intensified in the 1850s, with developments such as "Bleeding Kansas" and the beating of a northern senator by a southern congressman in the U.S. Capitol, Ruffin began urging the southern states to leave the Union.

At his own expense, Ruffin published pamphlets expressing his ideas. He began to be denounced by northern newspapers. For his own part, Ruffin regularly denounced "Yankees."

Edmund Ruffin's Role in Historic Events:

When John Brown was sentenced to hang in late 1859, Ruffin made sure to attend his execution. Ruffin managed to obtain some of the pikes with which Brown had intended to arm escaped slaves, and sent them to southern governors with a letter warning them that the "fanatical Northern party" intended great harm to the South.

When the southern states began to secede following the election of Abraham Lincoln, Ruffin became outraged that Virginia was taking too long to leave the Union. So he left his home state for South Carolina, the first state to secede.

When Fort Sumter was fired upon in April 1861, Ruffin was on the scene, and according to a popular legend he was given the honor of firing the first cannon to be aimed at the fort.

Edmund Ruffin and the Civil War:

Though he was 67 years old when the Civil Was began, Ruffin desperately wanted to fight and kill Yankees. He was present at the Battle of Bull Run, the first major engagement of the war. Again he fired a cannon, but for the most part the Confederate soldiers managed to keep him safe and away from the action.

Too old to fight in the war, Ruffin made public appearances to try to maintain southern morale. Some of his relatives died in the war, and when Robert E. Lee finally surrendered in April 1865 Ruffin was crushed.

Two months later, on June 18, 1865, Ruffin wrote a suicide note full of his usual inflammatory rhetoric, wrapped himself in a Confederate flag, and shot himself in the head.

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