Edmund Ruffin – A Man Without a Country

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 11.40.04 AMWell, he had one for a while anyway. But things didn’t quite turn out the way he had hoped.

Ruffin was what we could call a fire-eater in every respect of the word. He hated Yankees, supported state rights, and was vehemently pro-slavery.

Before things started heating up that would eventually lead to war, Ruffin made his mark as an agriculturalist – a pretty prominent one, at that. He came from a noted land-owning family, and his talents in the agricultural realm served him well in his pre-war career. In 1833 he founded a journal: The Farmer’s Register, which brought agricultural innovations to a wide range of farmers. He also worked diligently to counter soil exhaustion with great success.

But during these years Ruffin became more and more radicalized. By the 1850s, intent on protecting the right to slave property in the South, he became convinced that the slave-holding states would eventually have to secede to protect their property. John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry just added fuel to Ruffin’s fire. When Brown was hanged, Ruffin made his way to Charles Town, Virginia to witness the execution (he posed as a VMI cadet at the age of 65 – civilians were not permitted to watch the execution). From here he acquired several of Brown’s pikes meant to be used in a slave revolt and sent them to southern governors as a reminder of northern aggression.

But the fun really began for Ruffin in 1861. He somehow found himself in Charleston, South Carolina on April 12 and joined in with the troops as they initiated the firing on Fort Sumter. He claimed to have fired the first shot himself. Well, we can’t really be sure of that, but we do know that he was there when the firing began, so I guess that is close enough.

The collapse of the Confederacy naturally affected Ruffin in profound ways. A man without a country, he committed suicide on June 17, 1865. These days you can hear all kinds of stories about Ruffin – that he stated “I will never live under Yankee rule,” or that he wrapped himself in the Confederate flag before doing the deed. Whether true or not, stories seem to romanticize this wiry gray headed secessionist in ways that turn him into a hero of sorts…at least for neo-Confederates.

We do not hear much else about Ruffin, except that he fired the first and quite possibly the last – self inflicted – shot of the war. He even gets a little placard by his grave. The marker highlights Ruffin’s agricultural work and the first shot story, but curiously omits his suicide. Would such an admission of defeat be too much for the modern tourist to handle? I often wonder why they left that little factoid out. It just seems kind of important to me.

With compliments,


PS – I am kind of featuring his vibe…I aspire to look this cool when I’m in my 60s


Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 12.28.57 PMScreen Shot 2015-12-28 at 11.19.40 AMAs I work on a project today concerning the presidential election of 1868, I am struck by both the Republican and Democratic campaign posters. Both show a strong commitment to American nationalism and virtue and of course, both show dedication to the late Union war effort. This was an easy one for Ulysses S. Grant, who after all, was second only to Lincoln in the Union hero pantheon. But illustrating dedication to cause was a little more touchy for Horatio Seymour, a New York career politician who supported the war effort but was highly critical of Lincoln’s conduct during the war. This, at least partly, explains his vice-presidential choice: Union army veteran Frank P. Blair. I’ll be posting more of these on Twitter as the day goes on so be sure and check them out.

With compliments,


Ticket Coolness

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I wonder what the black market price was for these babies. I mean…can you imagine the DC Craig’s List action…had it existed in 1868? I am posting these tickets because they just look cool – and I wish I had one. Maybe one day I can add a legit impeachment ticket to my collection.  At any rate, I have been asking on the usual social media platforms how people would have voted in Andrew Johnson’s impeachment trial if they had been in the position to do so. And the majority have gone with the historical verdict – acquittal!

If you really stop to think it over, it’s the only way to go. I mean, sure – Andrew Johnson was a real asshat. But he did not break any laws…any real laws that is. That whole tenure of Office Act thing was a sham. Still – I feel the radicals’ pain on this one, I really do.

With compliments,


Should He Stay or Should He Go?

Screen Shot 2015-12-26 at 8.28.34 AMI think that we can all agree that Andrew Johnson was a first-rate dickhead. He certainly ranked among the most egregious offenders when I recently conducted a “who’s the biggest dickhead in US history” survey.  So when it comes to his impeachment trial, given the chance, we would all probably be inclined to convict. But on what grounds…legally? I mean, last I checked, trying to obstruct congressional legislation and an amendment specifically designed to protect freedmen was the monumentally lame move of a king asshat – but not really illegal. And violating the Tenure of Office Act? Hmmmm….

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Front row seat.

So what do you say? Imagine yourself a senator in 1868 faced with the decision to convict (or not) and thus oust the president (…or not). What do you do? Remember…AJ’s lawyer has promised that he would make nice for the rest of his term and radical Benjamin Wade from Ohio is next in line for the job.

With compliments,


PS – I had a group of about 60 students do this exercise once…bonus points if you can guess what the majority decided.