William Ruffin Cox Bio-Sketch


Name: William Ruffin Cox
Rank: Brigadier General
Education: Franklin College in Nashville, TN; Lebanon Law School
Birth Date: March 11, 1832
Birth Place: Scotland Neck, NC (Halifax County)
Death Date: December 26, 1919 (age 87)
Death Place: Edgecombe County, NC

William Ruffin Cox was born on March 11, 1831 to an affluent family that had lived in North Carolina since the colonial period. Cox, born in the town of Scotland Neck, NC, moved after his father died when he was four years of age.  His mother settled his family in Nashville, TN where William Ruffin Cox was reared and educated. After attending Franklin College in Franklin, TN, William Ruffin Cox studied at the Lebanon School of Law in Lebanon, TN. Upon passing the bar exam, he became a partner with a successful Nashville attorney and his business thrived.

In 1856, William Ruffin Cox got married to his first wife, Penelope Bradford Battle, of Edgecombe County, NC. They had a child in Nashville, TN that died soon after birth. In 1857, William ceased to practice law. He and Penelope moved to Edgecombe County, NC to his plantation. In 1859, William again took up the practice of law in Raleigh, NC. This tossed him into the tumultuous political life of the State of North Carolina while still managing his plantation.

In the year of 1861, with the impending storms of war on the horizon, William Ruffin Cox raised and equipped a battery later called Ellis Artillery Company with his own finances. He also raised and equipped a company of infantry for the Southern Cause. Governor Ellis of North Carolina appointed him Major of the newly formed 2nd N. C. Infantry Regiment.  William Ruffin Cox and the 2nd N. C. fought in the Battle of Sharpsburg. After the battle, he received a promotion to lieutenant colonel due to the death of the Colonel.  William Ruffin Cox received a promotion to colonel soon thereafter due to the resignation of the newly promoted colonel that Cox would replace. He received his official commission as Colonel in March 1863. In two months, Colonel Cox found himself fighting at Chancellorsville, VA and wounded three times. Colonel Cox stayed with his regiment until late in the battle. He was exhausted and taken to a hospital for treatment of his wounds.

Due to his wounds received in May 1863 at Chancellorsville, he did not participate in the Gettysburg Campaign. He returned in the fall of 1863 to take temporary command of General Stephen D. Ramseur’s Brigade while the General was getting married. On November 7th of 1863, while leading his troops in the Battle of Kelly’s Ford, he suffered shots to the face and shoulder. William Ruffin Cox was out of action for the next forty days in a hospital in Richmond. Upon his return to action, he fought admirably in the Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House. He was personally commended by General Robert E. Lee for his actions on May 12, 1864.

Robert E. Lee recommended Colonel William Ruffin Cox for promotion to command a brigade of boys from the Old North State. He fought in the Cold Harbor Campaign and then became a part of the Second Corps under General Jubal Early for the Shenandoah Campaign.  In the Battle of Monocracy, his brigade held for the days fighting.  After their return to the Army of Northern Virginia, he led his men in the Siege at Petersburg and the attack on Fort Stedman. Promoted to brigadier general, he received appointment to lead a division. He led this division in the final year of the war. He surrendered it with the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House.

After the war, he returned home to his law practice in Raleigh. He became President of the Chatham Railroad. He served as Solicitor General for the City of Raleigh, NC.  He became Chairman of the State Democratic Party and declined a nomination to run for Governor of North Carolina. In 1877, Governor Zebulon B. Vance appointed him Judge of the Sixth Judicial District. He served in this capacity for three years before his election to the U. S. Congress.

In December of 1880, his wife, Penelope, died. William and Penelope had three sons. Two died in youth, and a third died at the age of twenty-five in 1892.

William Ruffin Cox served three two-year terms in Congress before his election as Secretary of the U. S. Senate.

In 1883, he married Frances “Fannie” Augusta Lyman, the daughter of an Episcopal bishop.  They had two sons that survived and lived long lives of service.  In 1886, his wife died of a sudden illness.  In 1900, he retired from the position of Secretary of the U. S. Senate and returned to Edgecombe County, NC and his plantation.

In 1906, he married his third wife, Catherine “Kate” Cabell. She was the widow of another C. S. A. officer, Captain Herbert A. Clairborne. Upon his death in 1919, he was one of the last remaining general officers of the Confederate Army.  He lies next to his first wife in Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, NC.