General Rufus Barringer biography. Here is an article I wrote for Eric Wittenberg's fine Blog (civilwarcavalry.com):
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.
Sheridan R. Barringer
Portrait Photo courtesy
North Carolina Division
of Archives and History