Edmund Ruffin is known to most Civil War enthusiasts as the man who allegedly pulled the lanyard that fired the first shot at Fort Sumter that early morning on April 12, 1861. What many people don't know is that Ruffin lived a long and full life before that fateful day.
Edmund Ruffin was born in 1794 in Prince George County, Virginia. Ruffin received a varied education that included private instruction and even some time at William and Mary College. He used his education, practical experience, and good common sense to help develop innovative means for agricultural reform when he took over his father's tobacco plantation. In fact, Ruffin is often recognized as the "Father of Agricultural Chemistry."
Ruffin's main means of restoring fertility to exhausted soil was the use of "calcareous manures." What were calcareous manures you ask? In a word, marl. Marl is a layer of earth that is clay-like but consists largely of dead shell-life. Marl helped to greatly reduce the acidity of the exhausted soil in eastern Virginia. Ruffin found that marling, along with fertilization, a proper system of crop rotation, field drainage, and creative plowing, produced significantly larger crop yields. Ruffin quickly gained a noted reputation for innovative farming and was hired as a consultant to a number of Southern planters. Ruffin used his new found fame to start an agricultural journal called the Farmer's Register that he edited for a number of years.
Whereas most Virginians were late coming to the idea of secession. Ruffin had long proclaimed, both publicly and privately, his desire for an independent Southern nation. Ruffin was also a staunch defender of slavery and its necessity for not only continued economic prosperity, but also for social control of the large black population in Virginia, going so far as to publish a book on the subject; The Political Economy of Slavery.
As noted above Ruffin wanted to be at the forefront in forming the Confederacy, and traveled to Charleston, where he was made an honorary member of the South Carolina Palmetto Guards. He received his opportunity to strike a blow for Southern independence when General P.G. T. Beauregard ordered Fort Sumter to be fired upon.
Ruffin suffered dearly for his Southern allegiance during the Civil War. At least one of his plantations were burned during the war, and he also lost a son to the cause. When at last the South was defeated, it was more than Ruffin could take. On June 18, 1865 at his Amelia County, Virginia home he penned his last lines in a life-long diary and then committed suicide. He was venomous to the end. His last words were...
"here declare my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule -- to all political, social and business connection with the Yankees and to the Yankee race. Would that I could impress these sentiments, in their full force, on every living Southerner and bequeath them to every one yet to be born! May such sentiments be held universally in the outraged and down-trodden South, though in silence and stillness, until the now far-distant day shall arrive for just retribution for Yankee usurpation, oppression and atrocious outrages, and for deliverance and vengeance for the now ruined, subjugated and enslaved Southern States!
...And now with my latest writing and utterance, and with what will be near my latest breath, I here repeat and would willingly proclaim my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule--to all political, social and business connections with Yankees, and the perfidious, malignant and vile Yankee race."