Confederate General William Ruffin Cox (1832-1919) was described by a superior officer as “the manly and chivalrous Cox, the accomplished gentleman, splendid soldier and warm friend.” For his command of a North Carolina brigade at the Battle of Spotsylvania, where he directly opposed the 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery and Andover’s Company H, he was personally commended by Robert E. Lee and awarded his Commission as Brigadier General.
Cox was born in North Carolina, but spent much of his childhood in Tennessee, where he also studied the law. In 1857, he ceased his law practice, married and moved back to an Edgecombe County, North Carolina plantation – named Penelo – that had belonged to his wife’s family. Sometime before his move in 1859 to Raleigh to begin a career in politics, he purchased slave Allen Hinton from a neighboring family.
Cox, an enthusiastic secessionist, studied military tactics before the war, and also organized and financed an artillery company. As a high ranking officer of North Carolina troops, he fought in numerous battles and campaigns including Malvern Hill, Antietam, and Chancellorsville before becoming Brigadier General in May 1864. After Spotsylvania, he was involved in the defense of Petersburg and led the last organized attack of Lee’s army in the retreat to Appomattox. Wounded eleven times, Cox emerged from the War a popular North Carolina hero.
Cox served three terms in the United States House of Representative from 1881 to 1887 and was Secretary of the United States Senate from 1893 to 1900. At the time of his death in 1919, he was the last surviving general of the Confederacy.