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First gun at Sumter.

[from the Richmond times, April 5, 1896.] who is entitled to the distinction of firing it. What Edmund Ruffin, who is Accorded the honor by many, wrote the day of the Historical event.

To the Editor of the Times :
Sir,—I enclose you an extract from the Southern Historical Society Papers of 1884, pages 501-504, in regard to ‘Who fired the first gun at Fort Sumter?’

At the time I published this article, the statement made by General S. B. Lee, that Captain George S. James fired the first gun, was the only claim to that distinction that had come to my notice.

Since then several more claim this honor.

Now, inasmuch as you have had an article from my friend and schoolmate, James P. Harrison, of Danville, asking for the facts in regard to the claim that Edmund Ruffin shot the first gun, I hope you will publish what he himself wrote the day of that event, and the clippings from newspapers of that date, which I think will establish the fact beyond a doubt.

Julian M. Ruffin. Old Church, Va., March 30, 1896.

The extract referred to above follows:

Who fired the first gun at Sumter. (letter from General Stephen D. Lee.)

I wish to correct an error which has almost passed into an historical fact. It is this: That Edmund Ruffin, of Virginia, did not [112] fire the first gun at Fort Sumter, but that Captain George S. James, of South Carolina, afterward killed when a lieutenant-colonel at Boonesboro, Md., did fire it.

The writer was a captain of a South Carolina army at the time, and an aide-de-camp on the staff of General Beauregard. He now has before him a diary written at the time, and there can be no mistake as to the fact.

The summon for the surrender or evacuation was carried by Colonel Chestnut, of South Carolina, and Captain S. D. Lee. They arrived at Sumter at 2:20 P. M., April 11th.

Major Anderson declined to surrender, but remarked ‘he would be starved out in a few days if he was not knocked to pieces by General Beauregard's batteries.’ This remark was repeated to General Beauregard, who informed President Davis. The result was, a second message was sent to Major Anderson by the same officers, accompanied by Roger A. Pryor, of Virginia, and Colonel Chisholm, of South Carolina. The messengers arrived at Sumter at 12:25 A. M., April 12th. Major Anderson was informed that if he would say that he would surrender on April 15th, and in the meantime would not fire on General Beauregard's batteries, unless he was fired on, he would be allowed that time; also that he would not be allowed to receive provisions from the United States authorities. The Major declined to accede to this arrangement, saying he would not open fire unless a hostile act was committed against his fort or his flag, but that if he could be supplied with provisions before the 15th of April he would receive them, and in that event he would not surrender. This reply being unsatisfactory, Colonel James Chestnut and Captain S. D. Lee gave the Major a written communication, dated ‘Fort Sumter, S. C., April 12, 1861, 3:20 A. M.,’ informing him, by authority of General Beauregard, that the batteries of General Beauregard would open fire on the fort in one hour from that time.

The party, as designated, then proceeded in their boats to Fort Johnson, on James Island, and delivered the order to Captain George S. James, commanding the mortar battery, to open fire on Fort Sumter. At 4:30 A. M. the first gun was fired at Fort Sumter, and at 4:40 the second gun was fired from the same battery. Captain James offered the honor of firing the first shot to Roger A. Pryor, of Virginia. He declined, saying he could not fire the first gun. Another officer then offered to take Pryor's place. James replied: ‘No! I will fire it myself.’ And he did fire it. At 4:45 [113] A. M., nearly all the batteries in harbor were firing on Sumter. Mr. Edmund Ruffin (who was much beloved and respected) was at the iron battery on Morris Island. I always understood he fired the first gun from the iron battery, but one thing is certain-he never fired the first gun against Fort Sumter. George S. James did. Nor did he fire the second gun. He may have fired the third gun, or first gun from the iron battery on Morris Island.

Yours, respectfully,

Reply of Julian M. Ruffin.

The above abstract having come to my notice, I desire to give the facts as to the part that Edmund Ruffin, of Virginia, took in the firing on Fort Sumter. I have before me his journal, written at that time, and will copy what bears upon the subject:

‘April 12, (1861).—Before 4 A. M. the drums beat for parade, and our company was speedily on the march to the batteries which they were to man. At 4:30 a signal shell was thrown from a mortar battery at Fort Johnson, which had been before ordered to be taken as the command for immediate attack, and firing from all the batteries bearing on Fort Sumpter, next began in the order arranged, which was that the discharges should be two minutes apart, and the round of all the pieces and batteries to be completed in thirty-two minutes, and then to begin again. The night before, when expecting to engage, Captain Cuthbert had notified me that his company requested of me to discharge the first cannon to be fired, which was their 64-pound Columbiad, loaded with shell. Of course I was highly gratified by the compliment, and delighted to perform the service—which I did, The shell struck the fort at the northeast angle of the parapet. By order of General Beauregard, made known the afternoon of the 11th, the attack was to be commenced by the first shot at the fort being fired by the Palmetto Guard, and from the iron battery. In accepting and acting upon this highly appreciated compliment, that compamy had made me its instrument,’ &c.

The above, as written at that very time, would fully establish the fact that the first shot was fired by Edmund Ruffin, and it will be observed that the signal shot which he refers to at Fort Johnson, at 4:30 A. M., is the same that S. D. Lee claims as the first shot at Fort Sumter at the same time (4:30 A. M.). Now, he too, might [114] easily be confounded, and to prove that the one from the iron battery, fired by Edmund Ruffin, was actually the first gun on Fort Sumter, I will give comments of the press of that date.

The Charleston Courier said: ‘The venerable Edmund Ruffin, who as soon as it was known a battle was inevitable, hastened over to Morris Island, and was elected a member of the Palmetto Guard, fired the first gun from Steven's iron battery. All honor to the chivalric Virginian! May he live many years to wear the fadeless wreath that honor placed upon his brow on our glorious Friday!’

From the Charleston correspondent of the New York Tribune.

‘The first shot from Stevens' battery, was fired by the venerable Edmund Ruffin, of Virginia. The ball will do more for the cause of secession in the Old Dominion than volumes of stump speeches.’

The Charleston Mercury says, the first gun fired from the iron battery off Cummings Point, was discharged by the venerable Edmund Ruffin. He subsequently shot from all the guns and mortars used during the action.

A Mobile paper had the following:

‘A sublime spectacle.—The mother of the Gracchi, when asked for her jewels, pointed to her children and said: There they are. “ With the same propriety can the ” Mother of States' point to her children as the brighest jewels she possesses. At the call of patriotism they are not laggard in responding to it, and Virginia blood has enriched every battle-field upon American soil. And we thank God the spirit has not departed from her, but burns as brightly in the breasts of her children as in the days of her Washington and her Henry. But of the many bright examples that she has furnished of patriotism the most sublime is the conduct of the venerable Edmund Ruffin, whose head is silvered over by more than eighty winters, who, when the war-cloud lowered over the gallant city of Charleston volunteered as a private, and with his knapsack on his back and musket on his shoulder, tended his services to South Carolina to fight against the aggression upon her rights. It was his hand that pointed and fired the first gun at Fort Sumter. The world has pointed to the conduct of Cincinnatus, who, when his country was invaded by a hostile foe, left his plow in the furrow to take command of her forces, and after he had driven out the invader and restored his country to peace and prosperity, resigned his position and returned to his plow. By this one act he embalmed his memory in the breasts of his countrymen and of all patriots throughout the [115] world. The conduct of Cincinnatus was not more patriotic than that of Edmund Ruffin, and side by side in the niche of fame will their names be recorded by every patriotic heart.’

From the New York Post :

‘shot and Hemp.—A Charleston Dispatch states that the “first shot from Stevens' battery was fired by the venerable Edmund Ruffin, of Virginia.” A piece of the first hemp that is stretched in South Carolina should be kept for the neck of this venerable and bloodthirsty Ruffian.’

From the above quoted expressions it would indeed be impossible to conclude otherwise than that the first gun on Fort Sumter was shot by Edmund Ruffin, and that such should be recorded as an historical fact. In fact, the above from S. D. Lee is the first intimation of a doubt on this subject that has ever been brought to the notice of any of the descendants of Edmund Ruffin. To all who knew Edmund Ruffin it would have been useless to say more than that throughout his manuscript he speaks of it as a fact. To those to whom he was a stranger I would say that many more comments of the press of that date establish the same fact; those of the South being loud in his praise, and those of the North being still more vindictive.

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