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2nd Vermont Infantry

Prison Memoirs


As experienced by one who spent thirteen
months in Richmond "black hole," Charleston
jail, Castle Pinckney, Columbia jail,
Richmond hospital, Salisbury prison, Bell
Island, and a few other holes.

By Capt. J. T. DREW



What Edmund Ruffin thinks

Extract from the prison journal: Edmund Ruffin a venerable clergyman of Virginia, who fired the first shot at Fort Sumter, gave us his views today, (Aug. 10, 1861) on the cause of the war. As near as I can recollect, and as near as Col. Wilcox could revise, it was this:

People of the North seem to know very little about the causes that led to this war. Many of them think it has been the agitation of the slave question, others that it was caused by "fire-eaters" of the South. But it is neither, the cause is in Southern ambition --- in the desire of the people to expand into a vast empire. We at the South are divided into two classes --- "the thinkers" and the "thought-for." About 300,000 do all the thinking. The rest are led wherever we choose to go. To bring about this thing, we formed an association with a vast number of rich, powerful and all controlling --- the wonders of the world culminated in this society. Genius, transcendent intellect, great practical powers and almost unbounded ambition were the characteristics of it. I refer to the "Knights of the Golden Circle." The foolish talk about slaves in the North was made to move the people --- to convince them that slavery was the greatest blessing to the world to the South, and that the North wished to destroy it was our plan. This succeeded. Many a man who never really knew what "abolition" meant, went into a passion over the mere sound of the name. After getting the hatred of the North awake, it was easy to add to it. The North was a great help itself by getting angry at us. Our design was to get rid of the New England States and New York. We knew them to ne mercenary, to lack ambition. We hoped to have taken the West with us and had it not been for the frank-open-hearted nature of the people we should have succeeded. It was for their interest. The new England States will make money out of this war --- they will out of anything --- but the West will lose. Had they gone with us they would have supplied us with the necessaries of life and got our cotton to have sent by way of Canada to Europe.

Col. Wilcox: --- Do you mean by the West, all that is termed in our Geographies?

Edmund Ruffin: --- No, was only thinking of Kentucky, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois, and some of the territories. We counted on those States for making our plan successful. Some of the leading men were for us.

Col. Corcoran: --- Did you think Stephen A. Douglas a friend to your cause, ever?

Edmund Ruffin: --- No! Whatever I may have thought of him politically I must say he was one of our bitterest opponents --- and consciously so, I think. Had he joined the order of the "Knights of the Golden Circle" this war would never have been.

Col. C. --- Why so, sir?

E.R.: --- Because we could have peacefully done what we have done.

Col. Woodruff, Ky. --- Do you regard the people of the North as a burden to any ambitious design?

E.R.:---Yes, sir, they are a white-livered race --- you will see, they will desire to compromise by the time they have fought two years. The fact is as soon as the war begins to touch their pockets --- to interfere with their personal comfort, then they will cry picare! (sic)

I know they said they would fight for us for years, but they will not --- they cannot stand defeats Besides we have many among you who are our friends, some favor us from interested motives, some for natural affinities, others from a cynical hate of all that is around them, thus making it necessary for them to favor something remote, as all man-kind will have some party to favor---there never was an honest nutral in the world, no human-being remains unbiased--he will favor secretly if not openly, one side or the other.

Col Wilcox: --- Do you expect any service from these men?

E.R.: --- Yes sir, indirectly much. We expect them to harass your Government, bring a desire for peace, prevent you from drafting, and, finally, do more to defeat you than southern bravery and skill in arms. You think this will never happen, but it will. I know your people, they have had too much liberty--- they think "liberty of speech" means say what you please no matter what hurt it will do. They call "equal rights" the right to do as one pleases no matter what injury it will bring on others. They will abuse the Government and say things that will injure it and yet, if anyone tries the law on them they really feel persecuted! Now we know these fellows, we know they are miserable curs, we despise them, and yet they aid us greatly. But when we first thought about making a great nation, an empire with slavery, as the foundation, we felt that both the Abolition party and these white-livered fellows, would equally hinder; --- the one from principle perhaps, the other from cowardice. We learned this when the plan was formed to capture Cuba, during Buchannan's term we made both public and secret attempts to buy or capture it. In the first we were defeated by the workings of the Abolitionists, in the second by the holding back of what we had thought our Northern support. It became a fixed thing from that time; that in order to make a great nation and extend our conquests and carry slavery into Central America, Mexico, and the West India Islands we must get rid of the North and so the long matured plan was resolved to be carried into effect as soon as Buchannan left the Presidential chair.

These are the views of a great leader in the Rebellion --- a man of powerful intellect and great frankness --- he speaks from what he knew of both North and South.

These ideas seemed to us strange then, they appear differently now. There can be no doubt but that his views of the "causes" of the war were correct --- but there is a fault beyond which he did not reach --- the great antagonism of humanity against the oppression of ambition.

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Transcribed by Deanna French.