Fellow Virginia Tech Hokie, Sheridan R. Barringer, recently published a new biography about his relative, Brigadier General Rufus Barringer, who rode with J. E. B. Stuart in the War Between the States. It was my great pleasure to write an introduction for the book shown below.
Rufus Barringer: An Introduction
“ If anyone speaks to you of subjugation, tell them is shows a total ignorance of what constitutes our armies. Long after the inhabitants crouch to the conqueror our armies will tread with the triumph of victorious freemen over the dead bodies of the vainglorious foes. North Carolina has done nobly in this army. Never allow her troops to be abused in your presence.”
James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart wrote these words to his wife, Flora Cooke Stuart, on February 8, 1864, two days after his thirty-first and last birthday. By this time, Stuart knew the value of his cavalrymen from North Carolina and used them as his “shock troops” in many occasions before his death on May 12, 1864.
Stuart knew much about North Carolina being born and raised just over the state line from Mount Airy, Surry County, North Carolina, in Patrick County, Virginia. His family went to the “Old North State” to church, to shop, and pick up their mail. The Stuarts lived there the same time the famous Siamese Twins, Eng and Chang Bunker, lived in the town that later became synonymous with Mayberry on The Andy Griffith Show.
With Stuart’s death and James B. Gordon’s on May 18, command of the 1st North Carolina Cavalry Regiment went to Rufus Barringer. He took command of the North Carolina Cavalry Brigade not quite a month later. Barringer went from Lt. Colonel to Brigadier General jumping over multiple colonels, who outranked him to take this command in what had been Stuart’s Cavalry Corps in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. When Barringer took command of the brigade, the cavalry where under a joint command of Fitzhugh Lee and Wade Hampton. The latter South Carolinian soon took total command as did Barringer of the North Carolina Brigade.
Barringer’s war ended on April 3, 1865, at Namozine Church in Amelia County, Virginia, when Philip Sheridan’s cavalry took him prisoner. As the author of this book is named Sheridan “Butch” Barringer, there is obviously a story there. Barringer went from Amelia County to breakfast with the Union Cavalry General. This show of hospitality led years later to the name of the personage who became the author of this book.
After capture, Barringer went to City Point, Virginia, before going to Fort Delaware Prison in the river of the same name just south of Philadelphia, where he no doubt encountered men from my home of Patrick County, Virginia, in the 50th and 51st Virginia Infantry. Barringer knew Abraham Lincoln before through war his brother, Moreau, who shared a desk with the Illinois Congressman in the U. S. House. Lincoln showing the magnanimous spirit that he was known gave Barringer a letter to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and after meeting with the Cabinet official was given his choice of prisons, which led him to Fort Delaware.
It is easy to put the viewpoint of today’s world on people from the past. Presentism is not something I agree with as a rule, but in the case of Rufus Barringer, I see a man with vision that if all agreed with him, the United States of America would surely have made progress on the racial front faster with less conflict and cost of many lives for the next hundred years.
In a time when many Southerners wanted to keep the newly freed African-American from having the rights that the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the United States Constitution provided, Barringer saw it differently. Just like before the war, he supported public works such as railroads, voting rights for free white men and dabbled with the reform of the judiciary. He showed a pattern for not running with the popular crowd even as war loomed when he opposed secession.
U. S. Grant wrote in his Memoirs of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox and the fight to preserve slavery “… a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. I do not question, however, the sincerity of the great mass of those who were opposed to us…”
Barringer unlike many of his Southern brethren saw the treatment of African-American differently after the end of the War Between the States that was a war between two nations, not a group of competing states. With slavery eradicated, he thought that accepting the freed slaves as citizens as the best approach for moving the now reunited United States forward.
Barringer switched parties multiple times in his life, a rare act of courage in the postwar South, to become a Republican. His former brother-in-law D. H. Hill (Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was another) called Barringer and James Longstreet, who also became a Republican “lepers in their own community.”
Politics then and now makes strange bedfellows. Hill, a Presbyterian Elder refused to serve Barringer communion saying, “Republicans were not fit to sit at the Lord’s Table.” Today, such a statement might describe the opposing party. History can repeat itself in the strangest of ways.
The fact he had children with a former mulatto slave may have influenced Barringer’s thoughts, as his children would suffer under the oppression of the restored Southern hierarchy. His personal interests led him to support voting rights for the former slaves and a failed run for Lieutenant Governor in 1880 was his ultimate attempt to shape the future of his beloved North Carolina. He left politics living another fifteen years seeing the forces he opposed enforcing Jim Crow laws and keeping the entire race of people down as they had when they fought a war to preserve slavery. He did support Grover Cleveland for President in 1888 becoming a Democrat again and restoring his name somewhat in the eyes of his former compatriots.
Rufus Barringer left a legacy far different from most Confederate Generals as his mixed race sons from his liaison with the slave Roxanna Coleman made an imprint on the “Old North State.” One of his sons Warren Coleman became one of the richest African-Americans in the state owning and operating a textile mill in Concord.
Another interesting legacy of Rufus Barringer for this Virginia Tech Hokie is his son Paul Brandon Barringer, who became the sixth President of mine and the author of this book’s alma mater. This man who had D. H. Hill and Thomas J. Jackson as uncles from Barringer’s first wife Eugenia Morrison served in Blacksburg from September 1, 1907, until 1913. Bringing this story full circle, he was one of many men who served with or had a connection to J. E. B. Stuart including a brother William Alexander Stuart, who served on the Board of Visitors at Virginia Tech.
What lessons can we learn from the life of Rufus Barringer? Today, it is easy is to dismiss a man who fought in a war on the side to preserve slavery, but that misses the point. Barringer was not a stereotypical Southerner, but a man with vision. If more Southerners had followed his lead, the racial strife of the twentieth century might have been averted and this nation’s progress at least on racial issues would not have caused so much death and angst in our nation.
Therefore, this book about one of the lesser-known Brigadier Generals of the Army of Northern Virginia, a fact that would please J. E. B. Stuart like many of the men from the “Tarheel” state, Rufus Barringer fought nobly for Stuart and the South in the American Civil War.
 J. E. B. Stuart to Flora Cooke Stuart, February 8, 1864. J. E. B. Stuart Papers, Virginia Historical Society.
 Grant, U. S., Personal Memoirs. New York, 1885.
Rufus Barringer, a third generation American of Southern aristocracy, was born on December 2, 1821, in
His father was Paul Barringer, an influential citizen of the county and officer
in the militia during the War of 1812. His mother was Elizabeth Brandon,
daughter of Matthew Brandon, a veteran of the Revolutionary War. Rufus was the
tenth of eleven children, many of whom went on to achieve prominence. Cabarrus County, North Carolina