Wednesday, September 2, 2015
The Ubiquitous Edmund Ruffin
On our trip Isle of Wight County, and while driving down Highway 10 through Prince George County, I spotted a sign indicating the birthplace of Edmund Ruffin. In my latest post on Ruffin, I mentioned that he seemed to be present a many historic events, such as John Brown's hanging and Fort Sumter. After doing a little more reading, I was reminded that the old "hot spur" was at the Battle of First Manassas, too.
Ruffin wrote about his experience in the war's first big battle in his extensive diary: "I was overtaken by one of Kemper's field pieces, which I was sure was on the route to the battle-field, or to wherever it could do the best service. . . . The officer in command, Sergeant Stewart, knew me, & as passing, invited me to take a seat, the only one vacant, on the cannon, which invitation I gladly accepted." After traveling a short distance on the cannon, the crew stopped. "I most gladly took the opportunity to dismount from my very uneasy & also precarious seat on the cannon & with leave, asked & was granted, seated myself on the gun carriage. My previous ride had been disagreeable to me, as my position must have been ludicrous to anyone enough unoccupied to be an observer." A bumpy ride across a cornfield brought the gun to a halt and Ruffin observed the Union army retreating and the Confederates cheering. Ruffin later learned that Kemper's artillery had been ordered out of the battle due to it hard service during the fight.
However, with the Yankees on the run, the Confederate artillerymen thought it a perfect chance to cause some additional pandemonium. "By order two of Kemper's guns were unlimbered, & quickly ready for firing. I, having before obtained the captain's permission, fired the first of these guns--either 10 or 12 being thus directed, & rapidly fired off. We could not see the effect from our position--but soon some of the enemy were seen escaping by a lateral road to our left, from the first position fired at." Ruffin later learned from battle reports that the shot he fired hit on a stone bridge over Cub Run and forced a wagon to overturn, which clogged the route of Union retreat.
I'm sure the old man couldn't have been happier to see the Yankees fleeing back toward Centreville and Washington D.C. beyond. Ruffin went on to see the fighting at Seven Pines, but he probably never felt quite the same exhilaration as that day at Manassas.