Historian and Author Tom Perry's thoughts on history and anything that comes to mind.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

One of J. E. B. Stuart's Tarheels: Rufus Barringer

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.”[1]
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…”[2]
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.                     

[1] J. E. B. Stuart to Flora Cooke Stuart, February 8, 1864. J. E. B. Stuart Papers, Virginia Historical Society.
[2] Grant, U. S., Personal Memoirs. New York, 1885.
Below is a blog written by the Sheridan R. Barrigner about the subject of his new biography just released by Savas Beatie www.savasbeatie.com. It is available online from their website and the usual book outlets.
Rufus Barringer, a third generation American of Southern aristocracy, was born on December 2, 1821, in Cabarrus County, North Carolina. 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.
Rufus was graduated from the University of North Carolina (UNC) in 1842, where he was active in the Dialectic Society (Debating Club), and was one of the leaders opposing the establishment of fraternities, which he considered too secretive and because he detested the severe hazing. After graduation, he returned to Concord and read law with his brother, Moreau. In June 1843, he obtained his license to practice law.

Rufus served in the North Carolina House of Delegates in 1848-49 and in the State Senate in 1850. Barringer supported progressive measures during his terms in the North Carolina Legislature, including establishment of a railroad system to serve the western part of the state,”free suffrage,” and judicial reforms.

Just prior to and during his legislative days, he purportedly had an affair with Roxanna Coleman, a mulatto slave of a neighbor in Concord. He fathered two illegitimate sons, Thomas Clay Coleman and Warren Clay Coleman. Warren Coleman is best known for establishing a black owned and operated textile mill in Concord. He became one of the wealthiest black men in the South before he died in 1904.

Also, during this period, Rufus was involved in a bitter political dispute with a prominent political figure of the time, Greene W. Caldwell. During the escalating clash with Caldwell, a duel was narrowly averted, but Caldwell attacked Barringer in the streets of Charlotte. The younger and stronger Barringer grappled with Caldwell and forced his attacker’s arm down so that three shots went through Barringer’s coat while one bullet hit him in the fleshy part of the calf of a leg. Both men were arrested and were fined, ending the dangerous affair.

After one term as a senator, Rufus tired of the legislative morass and returned to Concord, where he became heavily involved in taking care of Moreau’s practice after Moreau was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives, where, Moreau shared a desk with and became friends with another Congressman, Abraham Lincoln. This relationship proved fateful to Rufus Barringer.

In 1854 Rufus, a faithful Presbyterian, became engaged to Eugenia Morrison, fifth child of Robert Hall Morrison and Mary Graham Morrison of Lincoln County. Mr. Morrison was a prominent Presbyterian minister and the founder of Davison College. Rufus and Eugenia were married in May of 1854 and had two children, Anna Barringer and Paul Brandon Barringer. In 1874 Anna Barringer, 17, died of typhoid fever. Paul became a doctor, chairman of the faculty at the University of Virginia, and sixth President of Virginia Tech. Two other Morrison sisters married soon-to-be Confederate generals. Isabella Morrison married Daniel Harvey Hill, and Anna Morrison married Thomas J. Jackson. Thus, Rufus, Jackson, and Hill were brothers-in-law. In 1858, Eugenia died of typhoid fever. Three years later, Rufus married Rosalie A. Chunn, who died of tuberculosis in 1864, after having one child, Rufus Chunn Barringer. In 1870, he married Margaret Taylor Long, and they had one son, Osmond Long Barringer.

Barringer was a Unionist at heart and opposed secession until the failed Peace Conference of February 1861 (Moreau was a North Carolina representative to the conference). Rufus then encouraged secession and preparing the state for the war that he saw as inevitable. He raised a company of cavalry in Concord, and was elected its captain. Barringer’s Company “F” became part of the 1st North Carolina Cavalry Regiment (Ninth State Troops), commanded by Colonel Robert Ransom.

Barringer, Hill, and Jackson had cordial relations before and during the war, but Barringer and Hill became estranged over Reconstruction politics after the war. In July 1862, Jackson summoned Barringer to his headquarters to discuss Jackson’s proposed controversial “Black Flag” policy as a response to Federal commander John Pope’s threats toward Virginia civilians. Jackson never received approval for his “no quarter” war plan, and Pope’s offensive soon made the subject moot.
At the battle of Brandy Station on June 9, 1863, Captain Barringer, acting as major that day, was seriously wounded while placing some of his troopers in position as sharpshooters to protect the Confederate artillery of Robert F. Beckham. Barringer was shot off his horse, being hit through the right cheek by a Federal sharpshooter. The bullet exited his mouth, causing serious injury that kept him out of service for five months. He was promoted to major on August 26, 1863, and returned to service at the time of the Bristoe Campaign in mid-October. Here, he rallied his troopers at Auburn and led a mounted charge at Buckland. He was promoted to Lt. Colonel on October 17.

During the 1864 spring campaign, North Carolina Brigade commander James B. Gordon was mortally wounded on May 12 at Brook Church, five miles north of Richmond during Sheridan’s attack on Richmond to draw out and fight JEB Stuart. After the death of Gordon and the wounding of Colonel William H. Cheek on May 11, Lt. Colonel Barringer took over temporary command of the 1st North Carolina Cavalry Regiment. Three senior colonels stood ahead of Barringer to be promoted to brigadier general to command the North Carolina Brigade, but Barringer, favored by Gordon and recognized as a sound organizer and disciplinarian, was promoted over the colonels, bypassing the rank of colonel to command the brigade as a brigadier general.

General Barringer performed well during the 1864 campaigns, leading Rooney Lee’s Division due to Lee’s illness during the victorious battle of 2nd Reams’s Station on August 25, 1864. He led his brigade in other fights, including Davis’s Farm, the Wilson-Kautz Raid, and Wade Hampton’s “Beef-Steak” Raid.

At the opening of the 1865 campaign, General Barringer was conspicuous in the Battle of Dinwiddie Court House (Chamberlain’s Bed), Five Forks, and Namozine Church, where a band of Maj. Henry Young’s scouts, disguised as Confederates, captured him on April 3, 1865. He was taken to Phil Sheridan’s headquarters, where he breakfasted with the Union general. He was then sent to Petersburg and to City Point, and was at City Point on April 5, when President Lincoln visited. Barringer was the first Confederate general officer captured and brought to City Point, and Lincoln, hearing the name Barringer of North Carolina, asked that Barringer be brought to see him. Lincoln thought that the prisoner might be his old friend Moreau Barringer. The two men had a congenial conversation for a period of time. Lincoln gave Barringer a note of introduction to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, since Barringer was being sent to the Old Capitol Prison in Washington. Barringer then met with Stanton for short periods over several days. Stanton had to clear out the prison because many prisoners were being received and gave Barringer the choice of prisons to be sent to. The hapless Barringer chose Fort Delaware—the worst choice he could have made.

Barringer arrived at Fort Delaware and stayed there until July 25, 1865, even though he made numerous attempts to obtain a release. After his release, he went to Washington in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain his pardon, and then went home to Concord, North Carolina. Moving to Charlotte during the post war period, he became a “Radical” Republican and strongly supported Reconstruction and was condemned by the Democratic press as a “traitor to his state.” D. H. Hill termed Barringer, and other Republicans, especially James Longstreet, as “lepers in their own community.” Hill, an elder of the First Presbyterian Church of Charlotte, refused to serve Barringer the sacraments at communion, declaring that “Republicans were not fit to sit at the Lord’s Table.” Barringer, angered at such treatment, transferred his membership to the Second Presbyterian Church and became an elder. A fearless politician, Barringer boldly stood his ground and supported black suffrage and other progressive measures to better the lives of the common people.

In 1880, Rufus Barringer was the Republican candidate for Lt. Governor, and was defeated along with Republican gubernatorial candidate Ralph Buxton, even though they nearly carried Barringer’s Democratic district. During the 1888 national election, Barringer switched parties, supporting Democrat Grover Cleveland for president. Suddenly, he was a hero to the Democratic Press, and remained so for the rest of his life. He died of stomach cancer on February 3, 1895 and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Charlotte.


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