Author Interview

                                                 (to be on Savas-Beatie Website)

 

(All copyright laws apply to this interview. However, this interview may be posted digitally on the Internet or printed for use in newspapers, newsletters, magazines, and other similar uses, provided it appears in its entirety and that notice of its use is provided in advance to sarahs@savasbeatie.com. We allow partial edited use, with advance permission. Please inquire. Include our website www.savasbeatie.com and email address sales@savasbeatie.com with use. Thank you.)

 

An Interview with Sheridan R. Barringer, author ofFighting for Lee: Confederate General Rufus Barringerand the North Carolina Cavalry Brigade.

 

SB: Hello Sheridan. Thanks for talking about your book with us today. First off, who was General Rufus Barringer? Please describe his life and military career.

 

SRB: Rufus Barringer was the last commander of the North Carolina Cavalry Brigade in the Civil War. He was born on December 2, 1821, in Mount Pleasant, North Carolina. He, like three of his brothers, served in the North Carolina Legislature. He advocated a progressive awakening of the old North Carolina state, supporting railroad expansion to aid commerce and campaigning for educational, judicial, and other progressive reforms. He supported free suffrage, which would permit citizens to vote for their senators in the legislature, regardless of whether or not they were landowners. He was against succession, but when President Lincoln called for troops from North Carolina to help put down the rebellion, Rufus joined those supporting immediate secession. He raised a company of cavalry, the Cabarrus Rangers, and was elected its captain. The company became part of the famed 1st North Carolina Cavalry Regiment, commanded by West Point graduate Robert Ransom. Rufus was severely wounded at Brandy Station on June 9, 1863.

 

SB: What happened after his wounding?

 

SRB: He missed the Gettysburg campaign due to the seriousness of his wound. He returned to action in October of 1863, having been promoted to major and then lieutenant colonel while on sick leave. After the brigade commander, Brig. Gen. James B. Gordon, was killed on May 12, 1864, Barringer bypassed the rank of colonel and was promoted to brigadier general in command of the North Carolina Cavalry Brigade. He was captured on April 3, 1865 at Namozine Church in Amelia County. He was confined at the dreaded Fort Delaware Prison Camp until late July 1865. Returning home a war hero, he urged acceptance of Reconstruction as a post war Republican. He ran for Lt. Governor in 1880, but lost. He died of stomach cancer in 1895 and was buried in Charlotte.

 

SB: Why did you decide to write a book about him?

SRB: I have always liked history. After watching the Ken Burns series on the Civil War, my enthusiasm increased dramatically. During that period, I was also interested in researching the genealogy of my North Carolina Barringer family. My great-grandfather was named Rufus Barringer—a cousin of General Rufus Barringer. While researching my Rufus Barringer, I kept coming across all sorts of records for General Barringer and became interested in learning all I could about him. A few years later, I met one of the general’s grandsons on a Civil War tour of the Petersburg battlefields. We became fast friends. He was interested in finding someone to write his grandfather’s life story.

 

SB: So you were in the right place at the right time . . .

 

STB: Yes, I was. I had self-published a genealogical study of the general’s grandfather, who was also my direct ancestor. To make a long story short, I became very interested in the idea of writing another book and told the general’s grandson (also named Rufus) I would write the biography. Before long, I had corresponded with two great-grandsons of the general and continued to gather lots of information. I cherished the task. I found out that not only did General Barringer lead a fascinating life, but he knew lots of important figures of the day, contributed significantly to the war effort, and urged the state’s leaders and citizens to support Reconstruction. This put him in special company as one of the post war Republicans supporting Reconstruction with others such as James Longstreet, John S. Mosby, and Williams C. Wickham.

 

SB: What was difficult about the research and writing processes?

SRB: Several things. First, I had to learn how to do the research, to dig for primary sources. Second, writing can be difficult for those with an engineering background like myself. I appreciate constructive criticism and it has made for a much better end product.

 

SB: How were you able to find previously unpublished sources?

SRB: I found them a couple of ways. One was through documents family members have collected over the years. Some are in repositories. Some are not. Next, I took many trips to archives in different places: the National Archives, State Archives of North Carolina, Duke University, University of North Carolina’s Southern Historical Collection, Canon Memorial Library in Concord, North Carolina, Charlotte and Mecklenburg Public Library, Salisbury Public Library, Richmond’s Library of Virginia, Virginia Historical Society, and others. I wrote most of the book before the internet offered so much digital material.

 

SB: Why do you think it is important to tell the general’s story?

SRB: First, North Carolina’s contribution to the war effort has not, in my opinion, received all the attention it deserves. Secondly, General Rufus Barringer was a progressive man in his state and helped awaken North Carolina from its “Rip-Van-Winkle-type” slumber in the mid-1800s. He helped get legislation passed when he served in that body—legislation that provided for the expansion of the railroad system to western North Carolina, thus greatly increasing commerce. He supported other progressive measures, such as judicial reform, free suffrage, educational improvements, and agricultural enhancements. After the war, he became a Republican, urging support for Reconstruction because he saw it as the fastest way to rejoin the Union and move forward. For this, many saw him as a traitor, but he held steadfast to his principles. He, along with other family members, was an important figure in North Carolina history during the 1800s.

 

SB: How did meeting President Lincoln affect Barringer?

SRB: Meeting President Lincoln after being captured April 3, 1865 had a profound effect on him. He realized Lincoln had been grossly misrepresented in the South. His conversation with the president enlightened him as to the man’s genuineness and magnanimity. His meetings with the commandant at City Point, Gen. Charles H. T. Collis and his wife, Fort Delaware commandant Brig. Gen. Albin F. Schoepf, and other northern citizens helped convince Barringer that the Northern people and their leaders were good citizens, and that the people of the South should help heal the nation’s wounds by rejoining the Union as soon as practicable.

 

SB: How did people respond to Barringer’s urging to follow a bolder vision, accept Reconstruction, and work to rejoin the Union?

SRB: The majority of North Carolinians and Southerners fiercely opposed Reconstruction. These people cast Barringer as a radical and traitor to the South. The state democratic press eviscerated him until he switched parties in 1884. Unpopular with many, he was still elected to serve in the 1875 Constitutional Convention in North Carolina. The Republicans nominated him for the office of lieutenant governor for the 1880 election. He lost the race, but received a solid vote, especially from soldiers and even among citizens of his democratic district.

 

SB: How did Barringer try to convince people to accept Reconstruction?

SRB: He widely addressed the public by writing editorial letters in the newspapers. He cajoled governing party leaders and others over the positive side of accepting Reconstruction—the least harmful and most rapid approach to putting the disasters of the war behind them. He urged abandonment of emerging hostile attitudes, speedily petitioning for re-admittance to the Union by approving the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. He advocated passage of suffrage for the recently freed African Americans, a position he adopted at the close of the war.

 

SB: Why is Barringer often overlooked in writings on the Civil War?

SRB: North Carolinian soldiers were not written about nearly as much as the fellow Virginians, even though the state furnished more troops than any other state to the Confederate cause. Perhaps this was because the most important actions of the Eastern Theater took place in Virginia. Barringer was a brigadier general given command of the North Carolina Cavalry Brigade in the spring of 1864, and thus, not as prominent as other North Carolina major generals, such as D. H. Hill (Barringer’s brother-in-law) or John B. Gordon.

 

SB: Did anything about Barringer’s story surprise you?

Answer: Yes, absolutely. Several things. First, his illicit affair with a light-skinned mulatto woman named Roxanna Coleman, which produced two sons. One son, Warren Clay Coleman, became one of the most influential and wealthy black Americans in the South. I was surprised that this liaison was successfully kept secret for so many years, until just after General Barringer’s death in 1895. Secondly, Barringer was so well loved by the soldiers he commanded, and he loved them, too. He was a strict disciplinarian, but still they loved him. Thirdly, discovering the pugnacious side of this persona. Upon meeting General Barringer, people thought he was congenial, scholarly, polite, and well read, which were all true, but just below his surface was a pugnacious side, which was aroused by anyone who attacked his personal code of honor, including his political stances, the honor of his military service, or the honor of North Carolina soldiers.

 

SB: Do you have any plans for additional books?

SRB: Yes, I have authored two additional biographies, both of which are under contract with Savas Beatie. One details the life of Major General Thomas L. Rosser and the other is a biography of Colonel Thomas T. Munford, both of whom were Virginia cavalry commanders. I chose them for several reasons, but primarily because both have an abundance of written material in archives that support real insights as to what made the men do the things they did. Both have substantial war record material available, and both survived the war to lead fascinating post war lives.

 

SB: Thank you for talking with us today, Sheridan.

SRB: You’re welcome.

 

 

(All copyright laws apply to this interview. However, this interview may be posted digitally on the Internet or printed for use in newspapers, newsletters, magazines, and other similar uses, provided it appears in its entirety and that notice of its use is provided in advance to sarahs@savasbeatie.com. We allow partial edited use, with advance permission. Please inquire. Include our website www.savasbeatie.com and email address sales@savasbeatie.com with use. Thank you.)

 

 

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