Just before dawn on April 12, 1861, the shore batteries in Charleston harbor prepared to fire on the Union fort. In one battery Edmund Ruffin was given the honor of firing the first shot, which arched across the water and fell into the fort. The next day the garrison at Sumter ran up a white flag.
The news spread widely across the country that the Civil War had begun with a shot fired by Ruffin, who had worked so tirelessly to bring the war to pass. Thousands of copies of a portrait of the white-haired warrior, with his musket by his side, were circulated across the South.
In July of 1861 Ruffin participated as a member of a South Carolinian regiment in the First Battle of Bull Run, the first large battle of the war, fought in northern Virginia. His comrades let him fire a cannon at retreating Yankees.
After the Battle of Bull Run, Ruffin returned to his plantations in Virginia. He fully expected the war to be over in a few months. One Southern soldier, Ruffin believed, was a match for a dozen Yankees. But as the war continued, and the South lost important battles in the West, Ruffin became depressed.
When the Yankees invaded Tidewater Virginia, Ruffin and his sons and daughters were forced to abandon their plantations. When they returned to their homes, which had been occupied by Yankee soldiers during their absence, Ruffin found senseless wreckage and obscene graffiti scrawled on the walls. His hatred of the Yankees became more intense and more personal.
He was most disturbed by the behavior of his slaves, who had welcomed the Yankee invaders in their master's absence. After his return Ruffin found the slaves surly, impudent, disobedient, and unwilling to work. He was incapable of believing that they really wanted to be free.
Nor could he accept Southern defeat in the war, not even after it became a certainty. Ruffin was seventy-one years old when Lee surrendered to Grant in April of 1865. Hearing news of the surrender, Ruffin ardently wished that he were a young man again, so that he could join other Southern diehards who planned to fight on against the Yankees in Texas.
Several months after the surrender Ruffin made this entry in his diary: "And now, with my latest writing & utterance, & with what will be near to my latest breath, I hereby repeat & would willingly proclaim my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule--to all political, social, & business connection with Yankees, & to the perfidious, malignant, & vile Yankee race."
A few minutes after making his diary entry he sat in a chair with a trunk at his feet. Propping the butt of a silver-trimmed rifle on the trunk, he stuck the end of the barrel in his mouth. Using a forked stick, he pulled the trigger
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