www.creativecockades.com Fire-Eater: Ruffin's Cockade It is said he fired the first shot of the war. When Lee surrendered, his last shot ended his

          Web Version   Forward   Unsubscribe  
banner png
Cole House

The plantation Ruffin inherited


Ruffin's Cockade

It is said he fired the first shot of the war. When Lee surrendered, his last shot ended his own life. But in between those shots, he left an imprint on American history that would never be forgotten.

As a teenager, Edmund Ruffin was an orphan and an unlikely candidate for an influential secessionist. Sickly in his youth, he was tutored at home and became an avid reader. By age 19, with both parents dead and his grandfather dead as well, and he was left with a "wasted and barren" Virginia plantation. And he knew nothing about farming.

But the indomitable will that would make him a "fire-eater" decades later moved him now. He determined to understand why the soil was depleted - and fix it.

Thus, his first national reputation was born: as an agriculturist!

Farmer s Register cover

The Farmer's Register, by Edmund Ruffin

Agriculturist, Reformer... and Secessionist

As Ruffin extensively studied southern soil (and hunted a few alligators along the way!), he became an expert on soil preservation and conservation. Constant use of the soil for tobacco had left many southern plantations depleted. Ruffin began a "Farmer's Register" in 1838 with essays on how to correct soil problems. Eventually, he even published a book on the subject. Today, he is known as the Father of Soil Science.

But Ruffin wasn't just interested in reforming soil. He saw cultural problems all around and spoke out against them - vehemently.

He was for equal pay for women in the workplace, against paper currency, for raising college professors' salaries, against bank speculations, for states' rights and - violently - against "yankee" abolitionists. One thing was for sure - you always knew where Ruffin stood on an issue!


Ruffin with his hat - and secession cockade

Secession and Cockades

As tensions rose between North and South, Ruffin's writings about slavery and the southern economy became even more famous than his writings on soil conservation. Believing there could be no reconciliation between the Northern and Southern viewpoints, Ruffin began to push for secession long before many others were interested.

After casting his vote in the pivotal 1860 election, he immediately headed for South Carolina and joined the state "Minute Men." He noted the following in his diary two days later:

I had before seen Mr. Bachman, the son of my old friend Dr. B., who informed me that his sister Catherine was at his house. I sent her a request to make a cockade for me, & meeting the family afterwards, she sewed it on my hat.

Ruffin was apparently so proud of the cockade that he had himself photographed with it. The photo is labeled on the side, "Hat with secession cockade."

As Ruffin labored throughout November and December to convince South Carolinians to secede, he and his cockade became well-known. The New York Times reprinted an item from a South Carolina paper on November 16:

The character second in note to the Governor appears to of the venerable EDMUND RUFFIN, of Virginia, who, with his long flowing white locks and his blue cockade, is the observed of all observers. As soon as he had cast his vote in Virginia for President, Mr. RUFFIN came on here. He has the privilege of the floor in both Houses, and appears to be incessant in his labors for secession.

battle of fort sumter

The First Shot

Ruffin always claimed that he fired the first shot against Fort Sumter. Though his claim was later debated, accounts at the time agreed with him. The Charleston Courier said, "The venerable Edmund Ruffin, who as soon as it was known a battle was inevitable, hastened over to Morris Island, and was elected a member of the Palmetto Guard, fired the first gun from Steven's battery. All honor to the chivalric Virginian! May he live many years to wear the fadeless wreath that honor placed upon his brow on our glorious Friday!"

He was to live only four more years.


The Last Shot

After having labored for years for the separation and establishment of the Southern nation, Ruffin was heartbroken over the end of the war. He felt that life was no longer worth living and the New York Times carried the notice of his suicide on June 19.


THE SUICIDE OF RUFFIN.; The Man who Fired the First Gun on Fort Sumter Blows His Brains Out He Prefers Death to Living Under the Government of the United States.

EDMUND RUFFIN, whose name is familiar with every one as a distinguished agriculturalist, and latterly as a politician, committed suicide on Saturday last in Amelia county, near Mattoox station. The sad act had been duly considered by him, as his diary is said to show....He has been so closely identified with the struggle of the south as an active participant and a warm and earnest vindicator of her claims for a separate nationality, that he seems to have been considered rather as a citizen of the South than as belonging to any one particular locality. He had lost his property by the war....The result of the war is said to have been the cause....

Ruffin png

The passionate fire-eater left a final entry in his diary, his last words still breathing out implacable, fire-eating fervor.

And now with my latest writing and utterance, and with what will [be] near to my latest breath, I here repeat, & would willingly proclaim, my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule—to all political, social and business connections with Yankees, & to the perfidious, malignant, & vile Yankee race.

Let us hope he found the peace in meeting his Maker that he never found in this life.

Heather Sheen

Some of my cockades!

Looking for your own "fire-eating cockade"? I carry both Union and Secession cockades in my shop. Check out the designs listed or contact me directly for a custom design! You can purchase a "Ruffin Cockade" by clicking here.

Back issues of the Cockade Column are available on my Pinterest site. Enjoy reading the ones you missed! If you are reading this online and want it to come right to your inbox, you can sign up HERE.

Thanks for reading... see you next week!

~Heather Sheen
Owner, Creative Cockades

Every Cockade Has A Story To Tell!

Click on the icons below to connect with me via your favorite social media!

blogger facebook instagram linkedin pinterest