Reading Matters

He fought for General Robert E. Lee

I knew only a couple of things about the late Rufus Barringer: That the old Barringer Hotel on North Tryon (now the Hall House) was named for Barringer’s younger relative William Rufus Barringer. And that another relative, Osmond Barringer, is said to have owned the first car in Charlotte.

Then one day, Sheridan R. “Butch” Barringer called from Virginia and asked if he could send me his biography of Rufus Barringer, “his cousin five times removed.” I said I was likely the only one in the newsroom who’d ever heard of Rufus, but to send the book on.

“Fighting for General Lee: Confederate General Rufus Barringer and the North Carolina Calvary Brigade” (Savas Beatie) is a rare hybrid: a scholarly book that’s a lively read. Rufus Barringer was born near Concord, in 1821, and studied law at UNC, where he joined The Temperance Society.

Before his marriage to Rev. Robert Hall Morrison’s daughter Eugenia (she would die of typhoid after two children and four years of marriage), Barringer reflected in his journal: “I set out upon my new career with the fixed & firm resolution to make a fortune. I now deeply regret that I had no higher motive ...I came to reflect every day that wealth did not & never could give the bliss, for which we seek.”

An early anti-secessionist, Barringer led the North Carolina Cavalry Brigade in some of the war’s most difficult combats. After the war, he became a champion of the poor, the black and the masses – “a southern gentleman ...decades ahead of his time.”