Monday, November 8, 2010

Ruffin Predicted an Abolitionist Invasion of happen in 1868!

When reading about the leading proponents of Southern secession during the antebellum era, one is struck by the uniqueness that is Edmund Ruffin. Ruffin was of course known as a leading agricultural reformer in the South and that fact was largely due to his writing. Along with his path-breaking Essay on Calcerous Manuers, Ruffin also edited the Farmer's Register, an agricultural journal, and Essays and Notes on Agriculture, which was a description of farming methods on his own Marlbourne plantation. Ruffin's writing before the Civil War was not limited to advice on planting though. Ruffin also examined race and slavery issues. He wrote a number of articles for DeBow's Review, including "The Effects of High Prices of Slaves," and "Equality of the Races-Haytien and British Experiments." In addition, he also composed works that sought to bring to fruition his greatest dream; Southern independence. In 1860 Ruffin turned futuristic novelist in effort to advance his primary goal.

In late February of that year Ruffin started writing Anticipations of the Future to Serve as Lessons for the Present Time. Ruffin got the idea for writing the book after reading a recently published novel that forecast the results of secession. Ruffin privately admitted in his diary that it was a "very foolish book" but thought that "the subject promised something, & the idea might be carried out to good purpose."

Ruffin's novel began four years in the future (1864), and took the form of news reports sent back to England from a British correspondent. The book boldly, but incorrectly predicted that William H. Seward would replace Abraham Lincoln in 1864 as president after Lincoln had served one term. After a significant number of outrages by the Black Republican government during Seward's first term, including the blockade of Southern harbors, civil war broke out in the spring of 1868. While Ruffin's timing for the war was off a few years, he did focus on Charleston as would actually be the case in 1861. He also presciently pointed out the importance of the upper-South states to the Southern cause, as well as the importance of the western rivers.

But, the event I found most interesting and relevant to my current research was Ruffin's prediction that a white and African American abolitionist army would invade Kentucky in the summer of 1868. Leading this invasion was none other than Owen Brown, son on John Brown. Owen was the only surviving son of Brown that participated in the Harpers Ferry raid. Ruffin wrote, "The associated northern abolitionists, having abiding and strong faith in the name and blood of the martyr John Brown, had sought out his son to command the strong force designed to excite the work of insurrection in Kentucky." Ruffin forecast that General Brown would bring 3500 abolitionists, of which 2700 were black, to invade the Bluegrass state. In Ruffin's novel, Kentucky had seceded prior to this invasion, but had initially only 1000 men to guard the border of the Ohio River. Ruffin identified Kentucky abolitionist John G. Fee in the story as aiding and abetting the invading abolitionists with important information. Also brought into the story was that Owen Brown and his men carried 10,000 muskets and pikes to give to any slaves who would join their effort.

Ruffin had the invaders laying waste to the land and slaughtering men, women and children as they moved into the Commonwealth. Quickly though, things started to turn against the marauders. Ruffin's story explains that Brown's invading force started to melt away as the blacks that joined him began to desert. The reason they had joined in the first place according to Ruffin was to "escape their miserable condition [in the North]-and in the hope of thus being enabled to get to the southern state whence they had formerly absconded, to flee to the North-and when there, to return to their former respective homes and servitude. Or, if not, then to slavery to any southern master, rather than continue free and starving with cold and hunger at the North." Ruffin explained that some slaves ran off to join the invading army as it moved into Kentucky but the vast majority, "seemed to be as much alarmed as their masters, and fully as anxious to get out of the way of the invaders."

Ruffin declared that General Brown was disappointed in the few number of black recruits in Kentucky, and explained that was because, "they [slaves] will rarely incur risk of personal danger to join new and doubtful allies-and never sustain a weak and losing cause." Obviously, Ruffin used his observation skills from the Harpers Ferry raid to make this statement. According to Ruffin, Brown's misjudgment could be blamed on his (and all other Northerners) ignorance of blacks and their character.

Slowly the Kentucky militia forces formed and were provided with ammunition and arms. It is another point of interest that Ruffin notes Kentucky's lack of military preparedness, and shows how well read he was on the issues of the day. In the wake of Harpers Ferry, Kentuckians of all stations declared emphatically the impotence of the state militia and the need for its reorganization.

On the fifth day of the invasion the raiders finally met Kentucky resistance. The white leaders of the invaders were placed in advanced positions to act as examples for their remaining black troops and necessarily took high casualties. When night fell the Kentuckians made an attack on Brown's troops causing more casualties to the invaders. The following morning Brown noticed that more of his troops had deserted, but he decided to keep advancing and as he did he lost more men. Ruffin described that the Kentuckians particularly despised the whites in the raiding force. "To these [whites] so violent was the hatred of the Kentuckians, and their thirst for vengeance, that it was obvious that they reserved their shots for the whites, and deemed them throw away on the negro soldiers, whom they had learned to hold in contempt."

A general was named for the established Kentucky forces and reinforcements poured in, swelling their numbers to 1500 to give battle the abolitionists. The Kentucky general (called General A) had retreated before the advancing invaders, but finally selected ground of his choosing to stop and battle. "General Brown's white followers, and a few of the negroes, fought bravely and desperately. But the negroes generally showed no ardor or disposition for fighting." The Kentuckians advanced and broke the invaders ranks and "the negroes threw away their arms, which nearly all had ceased to use, and which impeded their flight." All the blacks that surrendered begged for mercy and were spared. "But the whites, whether surrendering or continuing to resist, were put to death, either instantly, or later, when it was known that they were whites, and the leaders and deceivers of the misguided negroes." The Kentuckians lost only 100 men while the invaders lost ten times that amount, mostly in captured African Americans.

After the battle yet more reinforcements arrived for the Kentucky army which brought their numbers to 2500. The Kentuckians set out to capture all of the invaders that they could catch. Among those caught was General Owen Brown, whose leg had been shattered by a bullet. Brown demanded to be treated as a military prisoner who had been commissioned by the president. General A informed him his rank would certainly be respected by hanging him higher than his subordinates. In lieu of unavailable hemp ropes, the Kentuckians used grapevines to hang their enemies. Brown and twenty-seven of his officers were hanged and later devoured by vultures.

Efforts were continued to round up the invaders. "It was thought that not one escaped death in the field, or capture, of the 3500 men who entered Kentucky, or of the 400 slaves who soon afterward joined them. Of the 800 whites, every one was killed, or, if captured, was afterward hung. Of the negroes, nearly 300 had voluntarily deserted, and had surrendered themselves, separately, or in small parties, before the battle-and 1200 of them had been made prisoners." And, "nearly 1900 negroes were either restored to their former masters or sold."

Anticipations of the Future covered events up to 1870 (ten year in the future from when it was written) when the South won its independence. The last sentence of the 416 page book clearly explains Ruffin's and many other Southern secessionists' stance in 1860. "If these [Southern] states are to be successfully defended in the possession of their property, their political rights, and everything dear to freemen, or if they are to be preserved as a future antegral portion, and the border bulwark of a southern confederacy, it must be secured by the more southern [Gulf coast] states, seceding first, and speedily."

If you are interested in reading Anticipations of the Future, you can easily find it on Google Books in full.


  1. Fascinating. It sounds like he predicted the results of Bragg's Confederate Invasion of Kentucky just from the opposite side (at least in the lack of new recruits.)

    His comments on the treatment of white leaders of black troops and of the troops themselves was pretty accurate to what Confederate threatened to do when the Union started adding African-American troops as well. Of course, by 1860 that type of reaction may not have been hard to predict.

    I just found your blog recently, but enjoy it, especially posts about Kentucky.


  2. Hi Richard,
    Thanks for the kind comments.