Category Archives: Civil War

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,

Keith

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

Flags…Blowin’ in the Wind

I spend a lot of time scouring the Internet looking for interesting things to discuss. For example, Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, writes on reflections of the South, memory, and the racial legacies of yes, you guessed it, the Civil War. You can expect a post about her work coming up in the near future…just as soon as I have had a closer look at her poetry.

But my point today is meant to be a service for all of those in cyberspace who identify the various Confederate flags incorrectly. Many refer to the “Stars and Bars” when they actually mean something else, and this practice is something of a pet peeve of mine…I know, it’s the little things. But anyway, in an altruistic spirit of education, I offer the flags…and their proper names. (PS – the title of this post is an obscure reference that has nothing to do with Confederate flags but everything to do with an 80s pop band from Santa Barbara – guess who they are and get a shout out).

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First Confederate National Flag aka “The Stars and Bars”

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Army of Northern Virginia Battle Flag
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Second National Confederate Flag aka “The Stainless Banner”

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Third National Confederate Flag (note stain)

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Confederate Navy Jack

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Confederate flag of significance from Appomattox (sorry…I just couldn’t help myself.

 

 

So there you are – a test will commence shortly.

With compliments,

Keith

Gary W. Gallagher and the Battlefield as a Classroom

In this brief video, my colleague and mentor, Gary W. Gallagher, discusses the importance of the battlefield as a classroom. I have toured many such battlefields with Gary and can attest to the benefits of teaching on the very spots where individuals made history. The Civil War Trust, an organization of many virtues, is engaged not only in battlefield preservation, but organizes student “field trips” with education in mind. You can donate to the CWT Field Trip fund HERE.

With compliments,
Keith

The Americanist Independent

What to do at a Civil War Battlefield

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 12.38.40 PMMost people (read: tourists) tend to stay on the marked paths, follow the pre-programmed audio tours, or drive by, stop, read the signage, and move on. Want to have some fun? Seek out someone who knows the field (the NPS can most certainly arrange something for you) and ask to go off the beaten path. Seek out the rarely seen, the unusual, the forgotten. Visit the field during off hours or during the non-tourist seasons. I’ve done this all of these things myself and I have had quite the time. I have had the Shiloh and Perryville battlefields to myself, I have been to places at Gettysburg that only experts on the battle could ever hope to find. Do it. It will be worth the extra effort. And if all else fails, you can just stand by a cannon and point. This has been a battlefield tradition for over a century.

With compliments,

Keith

One of the Best Independence Days Ever

Screen Shot 2014-07-04 at 8.35.24 AMGood morning friends and a Happy Independence Day to you all! Today I would like to take a moment to commemorate the fall of the Rebel stronghold at Vicksburg – July 4, 1863. I am quite certain that the loyal citizens of the United States appreciated the significance of such a victory on such a day. Huzzah!

With compliments,

Keith

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The Americanist Independent: A Monthly Journal of United States History