Edmund Ruffin (January 5, 1794 – June 17, 1865) was a wealthy Virginia planter and slaveholder who in the 1850s was a political activist known as one of the Fire-Eaters. He advocated states’ rights and justified slavery, arguing for secession years before the Civil War. Ruffin is credited as “firing the first shot of the Civil War” at the Battle of Fort Sumter, and served as a Confederate soldier despite his advanced age.
He committed suicide later in life thus he is often associated with shooting the first and last shots of the Civil War
On May 22, 1856, the “world’s greatest deliberative body” became a combat zone. In one of the most dramatic and deeply ominous moments in the Senate’s entire history, a member of the House of Representatives entered the Senate chamber and savagely beat a senator into unconsciousness.
The inspiration for this clash came three days earlier when Senator Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts antislavery Republican, addressed the Senate on the explosive issue of whether Kansas should be admitted to the Union as a slave state or a free state. In his “Crime Against Kansas” speech, Sumner identified two Democratic senators as the principal culprits in this crime—Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina. He characterized Douglas to his face as a “noise-some, squat, and nameless animal … not a proper model for an American senator.” Andrew Butler, who was not present, received more elaborate treatment. Mocking the South Carolina senator’s stance as a man of chivalry, the Massachusetts senator charged him with taking “a mistress … who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean,” added Sumner, “the harlot, Slavery.”
Representative Preston Brooks was Butler’s South Carolina kinsman. If he had believed Sumner to be a gentleman, he might have challenged him to a duel. Instead, he chose a light cane of the type used to discipline unruly dogs. Shortly after the Senate had adjourned for the day, Brooks entered the old chamber, where he found Sumner busily attaching his postal frank to copies of his “Crime Against Kansas” speech.
Moving quickly, Brooks slammed his metal-topped cane onto the unsuspecting Sumner’s head. As Brooks struck again and again, Sumner rose and lurched blindly about the chamber, futilely attempting to protect himself. After a very long minute, it ended.
Bleeding profusely, Sumner was carried away. Brooks walked calmly out of the chamber without being detained by the stunned onlookers. Overnight, both men became heroes in their respective regions.
Surviving a House censure resolution, Brooks resigned, was immediately reelected, and soon thereafter died at age 37. Sumner recovered slowly and returned to the Senate, where he remained for another 18 years. The nation, suffering from the breakdown of reasoned discourse that this event symbolized, tumbled onward toward the catastrophe of civil war.
Now on View: Thomas Satterwhite Noble’s The Present, a striking representation of a middle-aged, African-American woman, is one in a series of his paintings that explores the political and individualized implications of the Civil War and abolitionism. In this work, Noble depicts the allegorical figure as a statement on the African-American condition immediately following the end of the war. This work was painted in July of 1865, only three months after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and five months before the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which abolished the institution of slavery. Perhaps most intriguing about this work is that the status of the woman—who also appears as a model in another work by Noble—is left ambiguous for the viewer to ponder. The woman in the painting stares straight at the viewer with tired eyes as she leisurely puffs from a pipe. In the lower left corner, a bountiful, albeit messy, array of produce is strewn across the floor. Her glistening gold ring is also prominently displayed in the center foreground. These factors, in conversation with the ghostly portrait of Abraham Lincoln in the top right corner, indicate that the woman may be newly emancipated. However, the book nestled underneath her foot, which signifies her illiteracy, as well as the dilapidated interior and her shabby clothing may suggest that she is still enslaved.
This work is a recent acquisition for the museum’s collection and is currently on view in Stern Gallery where the entirety of the “Life and Art in Early America” exhibit is being shown through June of 2015.
Image: Thomas Satterwhite Noble (American, 1835–1907) The Present, 1865 Oil on canvas R. T. Miller Jr. Fund and James K. (OC 1946) and Anne Fassett (OC 1947) Sunshine American Art Fund, 2014.30
Known to some as a local hero and to others as a criminal, Henry Berry Lowry and his armed band, consisting of Lumbees, African Americans and one “buckskin” Scot, fought the Home Guard during the Civil War and the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction. The outlaw robbed from planters and redistributed wealth. He mysteriously disappeared after robbing $28,000 from the sheriff’s office in 1872.
One of twelve children, Lowry was born in 1845, a man of mixed Native American, African American and Anglo heritage. He claimed to be Tuscarora. During the Civil War, Confederate armies and the state of North Carolina conscripted Lumbees to build fortifications in Wilmington and elsewhere. Many dodged the conscription agents and hid out in the county. As a result, the Home Guard tracked down dodgers and conflict resulted. The eighteen-year-old Lowry formed a guerrilla band that fought back.
In 1864, Lowry killed two men. One accused him of stealing hogs and the other, a conscription officer, insulted and mistreated women in Lowry’s community. The Home Guard could not find Lowry, but they “tried, convicted, and executed” his brother and father for the crime.
During Reconstruction, Lowry waged war against the Ku Klux Klan and continued raiding plantations and members of what would become the Democratic White Supremacy movement. Republican governor, William Woods Holden, outlawed Lowry in 1869 and the state offered $12,000 for his capture: dead or alive. No bounty hunter ever asked for the amount, but authorities tried various ways to capture Lowry. In one instance, the Police Guard held hostage some wives of the Lowry band. Lowry threatened to implement widespread violence if the women were not released. Knowing Lowry made genuine threats, the Guard colonel released the wives.
Lowry’s activities have become legend. Many consider him a Robin Hood, for he robbed (and killed) the powerful in Robeson County. He was also captured three times and found a way to escape each time—once, filing through jail bars. Legend says he single-handedly routed 18 militiamen in one gunfight near the Lumber River. His last robbery and disappearance contribute greatly to his mystique: In 1872, he mysteriously disappeared after robbing the local sheriff’s office and taking $28,000.
His death is disputed. Some believe he died during or shortly after the heist, but others reported seeing him a few years later sitting quietly at a funeral. In the 1930s, some claimed that he was still alive.
After his 1872 disappearance, the Lowry Band was without its namesake and leader. Their exploits ceased, and in few years, almost every member of the band had been captured or killed.