Edmund Ruffin (5 January 1794-15 June 1865) was something like a set of human bookends to the Civil War. First, some background.

Born in Virginia, he attended the College of Willliam and Mary for only a little over a year. Despite that, he became a noted agriculturist. His work experimenting with various fertilizers enabled Virginia farmers to maintain better soil (something difficult when the primary crop is tobacco). In his work, he discovered the importance and the efficacy of adding marl (in his case: oyster shells) to the soil. He also pioneered and promoted the use other fertilizers, crop rotation, proper drainage, and good plowing. In 1832, he published his work in "An Essay on Calcareous Manures." His results led him to found and edit the journal Farmer's Register (1833-1842). He also published other work in the area of agriculture, gave lectures, organized groups, was Secretary of the State Board of Agriculture, Agricultural Surveyor of North Carolina, and president of the Virginia State Agricultural Society.

In short, Edmund Ruffin was an important pioneer in agriculture and soil chemistry. Notable, if bland. It is that other side of his life that makes him so historically interesting.

Ruffin, in addition to a farmer-scientist, was also a pro-slavery fire-eater (a Northern derogatory term for Southerners whom they felt were rabidly pro-slavery and secessionist). He was strongly States' Rights and all for secession to maintain slavery and the "Southern way of life." He was a man who felt that the Declaration of Independence was a "dangerous" document (www.globaldialog.com).

Into the 1850s, he became more involved in politics and the "slavery question." He was certain of the "racial inferiority" of blacks and advocated a separate Southern nation in order to maintain these beliefs and "rights." His stance made him popular with other Southern "nationalists" and as the events leading to the point that began the Civil War escalated, he hoped his state of Virginia would depart from the Union.

As the crisis at Fort Sumter grew, Ruffin headed to Charleston, South Carolina. It was there they he reputedly was given the honor of firing that first shot against the Union on 12 April 1861 that set into motion a war that lasted four years and killed over 600,000 men. (There is some question as to whether he actually shot the first shot, though others have corroborated his story. Even if he did not, he was almost certainly involved in the first volley that started the attack.)

Unfortunately for Ruffin, he was too old to fight in the war and had to watch from the sidelines, seeing the tide eventually turn against the South. It was a crushing blow to him, that wasn't helped by health and family problems. He was also reportedly subject to occasional depression. The final straw for Ruffin came with the surrender at Appomattox on 9 April 1865. He became despondent, and with what has been called the "last shot" of the Civil War, committed suicide.

The final entry in his diary:

I here declare my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule—to all political, social and business connection with the Yankees and to the Yankee race. Would that I could impress these sentiments, in their full force, on every living Southerner and bequeath them to every one yet to be born! May such sentiments be held universally in the outraged and down-trodden South, though in silence and stillness, until the now far-distant day shall arrive for just retribution for Yankee usurpation, oppression and atrocious outrages, and for deliverance and vengeance for the now ruined, subjugated and enslaved Southern States!

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

(Sources: http://homeport.tcs.tulane.edu/~latner/Ruffin.html, http://famousamericans.net/edmundruffin, http://hrticket.com/top/1,1419,N-HRTicket-History-X!ArticleDetail-6598,00.html, www.globaldialog.com/~mhbooks/books/slavery_law_intro.html, http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Acropolis/6537/real-q.htm)

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