Biographical Sketch of Colonel S.Z. Ruff (1837-1863), 18th Georgia Infantry Regiment by Jerry L. Brimberry


THE TEXAS BRIGADE Hood's famous Texas Brigade (which held the stone wall giving rise to Stonewall (T.J.) Jackson's nickname) was initially comprised of five regiments: the 1st, 4th and 5th Texas Infantry regiments, the 18th Georgia Infantry Regiment (commanded first by then-Colonel, later General, William T. Wofford) and the 3rd Arkansas Infantry Regiment.



Peach Orchard in background where Wofford's Brigade routed the Union forces on the first day of battle at Gettysburg

Wofford was promoted to the rank of General and assumed command of his own brigade consisting of the 16th, 18th (led by Col. Ruff), and 21st Georgia Infantry Regiments, Cobb's Legion, Phillips Legion and the 1st Georgia Sharpshooters. These units performed heroically at many battles including the corn field at Antietam and the peach orchard at Gettysburg.



Georgia Military Institute in Marietta, Georgia where Ruff was a professor & drill instructor and his wife taught music

Wofford was on the Board of Trustees at the Georgia Military Institute located in Marietta before the War Between the States. He served in the War with Mexico and voted against secession at the Georgia convention but was asked by the Governor to take responsibility for setting up the training camp at what became known as Shantytown in present day Kennesaw, Georgia. Wofford selected as his right hand man, 24-year old Lt.-Colonel Solon Zachariah Ruff, a brilliant mathematics and drill instructor at the Georgia Military Institute who was married to Irene Arnold, the daughter of Judge Fielding W. Arnold and his wife Elizabeth W. Brimberry of Madison, GA. Simply put, my great grandfather George A. Brimberry who served in the 28th Texas Cavalry was Ruff’s cousin by marriage.



160 year-old residence of Fielding Arnold & Elizabeth Brimberry (Madison, Georgia)

Judge Arnold’s residence, built over 160-years ago, is located in historic Madison, GA at the end of Kolb Street, a short distance from the Madison City Cemetery where he and his wife Elizabeth W. Brimberry are buried. Irene was born in 1840. Her mother died when she and her sister were very young. Judge Arnold never remarried, and afterwards founded the Methodist Female Seminary in Madison, which Irene attended and became very proficient in music. After marrying Ruff, they returned to GMI in Marietta where he taught mathematics and tactics and she taught music until armed conflict between the North and South.

Historic covered bridge built by Ruff's father

S.Z. Ruff was born in 1837 in present day Smyrna, GA on a family located on Nickajack Creek. The house, barn and a covered bridge built by his father, Martin Ruff, still stands. The scene of a fierce skirmish during the Atlanta Campaign known as the Battle of Ruff's Mill, the family's mill was destroyed and the Georgia Military Institute was burned to the ground. However, the covered bridge pictured here and the Ruff family home still stand.

By this time, Ruff himself was dead and his widow, 23-year old Irene Brimberry/Arnold, who was expecting their second child returned to Madison where she later helped take care of wounded and sick Confederate soldiers housed in the seminary which had been converted to a field hospital. It is interesting to note that Irene's first cousin, Major B.F. Brimberry, was quartermaster of all of the Confederate field hospitals in Georgia. After the war, Major Brimberry was re-elected to the Georgia legislature where he had served before the war, only this time as a republican scalawag. He also served as U.S. Marshal of South Georgia under former Confederate General Longstreet now serving as U.S. Marshal of Georgia.

Longstreet was the first former Confederate general to take an oath of allegiance to the United States and he profited politically --- as did B.F. Brimberry causing a rift with his two brothers who also served in the Confederate army.

COLONEL S.Z. RUFF, HAILED AS A HERO AT THE BATTLE OF GAINES MILL Colonel Ruff assumed command of the 18th Georgia Infantry Regiment after Wofford was promoted to the rank of general and the command of Wofford's Brigade. By this time, Ruff had already gained the attention of General Longstreet and others, and was hailed in the Richmond Whig newspaper as a hero in the engagement at Gaines’ Mill.

Gaines Mill

Scene at the Battle of Gaines Mill near Richmond (Military Archives)

"Richmond Whig, Friday, 27th June, 1862--- Dispatch twenty five miles from Richmond:

Hood's (Texas) Brigade marched rapidly through the woods and fields, apparently with a view to turn the enemy's extreme right, the whole brigade was halted about 4 o'clock and formed in line of battle in the following order --- 18th Georgia, 1st Texas, 4th Texas, 5th Texas (apparently the 3rd Arkansas was kept in reserve). The position of the 4th Texas was subsequently changed to the right of the 18th Georgia. In this order the brigade advanced through the woods, which being so very thick we soon lost sight of all except our own regiment. Advancing across a deep muddy swamp, and up a steep ascent, they were placed in position to support a battery and ordered to lie down. Here they were just in range of a heavy battery of the enemy, and the missiles fell so thick that our battery soon became disabled and had to with draw. After which the 18th Georgia was ordered to change position moving by the right flank at double quick and marched through a piece of woods and in (the) rear of apple orchard where they formed in line of battle.”

“The 18th Georgia then advanced under a shower of shot and shell down a long slope which was completely commanded by a body of the enemy's infantry on their left, posted on a wooded eminence on the opposite side of the ravine at the foot of the slope. Here, they lost many more men but passed on without returning the fire of the enemy poured into its ranks. Crossing the ravine at the point where the 4th Texas had so gallantly driven the enemy back, the 18th Georgia advanced up the steep hill on the opposite side, and here, for the first time, obtained a view of the terrible work that then remained for them to do. The enemy position is said to have been chosen by McClellan himself, and whose guns, according to the account of numerous prisoners and wounded men, had been directed by him, were still playing with terrible effect. It was supported by a large reserve of infantry in the rear, and a detachment of the 2nd Regular Cavalry on the left, besides the approach to it was completely commanded by two other batteries. So admirable was this disposition of the (Union) forces and the natural conformation of the ground, that McClellan is said to have assured his men that it was impregnable.”

“In front of the 18th Georgia, at the moment it came in sight of the battery, lay a long sloping hill, at the foot of which, some three hundred yards distance, was a deep ditch, then a quick rise, that afforded some protection from the guns above. Preceding regiments had done their work well, and gallantly had they driven the enemy from some of its strongest works and taken several batteries. Some had even advanced on this battery, but found their forces so much scattered, after crossing the ditch, that they became powerless, and could do little else than seek protection under the crest of the hill from the guns above.”

“Down this first slope the 18th advanced in splendid order, at double quick, under a cross fire from two batteries on the right and left and a terrible direct fire from the battery in front. Shot after shot tore through the ranks, leaving wide gaps, which were quickly closed up. The clear, shrill voices of Major Griffis and Adjutant Patton could be distinctly heard amid the bursting of shells and whistling of shots, coolly commanding, “close up,” “dress to the right” or “left," while every other officer exerted himself to preserve the line unbroken. Dead and wounded men fell on every side, while the living pushed on to the work before them.”

“On reaching the ditch, the line was necessarily broken, the men being compelled to get across as best they could. Advancing a short distance, they found themselves under cover of the hill in company with a detachment of various other regiments who were in a broken and disorganized condition. In front of all these the colors of the 18th Georgia was planted, and the men quickly rallied and formed. A short consultation among (Colonel Ruff and other) officers was held to secure concert of action, after which, a small detachment of the 11th Mississippi, formed in support of the right, and another from the 4th Texas, supported the left. Thus supported, at the command “forward,” the 18th Georgia moved steadily up the hill in the very jaws of death itself!”

“As soon as the 18th Georgia were discovered, the enemy’s cavalry made a desperate charge at the right wing, which might have broken and ruined the line. However, the coolness and deliberation of the gallant men composing Companies A, B and C, repulsed the enemy’s cavalry charge. They held their fire until the enemy were within good range, and then poured in a deadly volley, that broke their front, brought down their leader, and so discomforted them that they changed their direction and endeavored to make their escape.”

“Just as this charge was made (on the right wing), the left wing came within range of the guns, when one of them delivered a volley of grape full into the ranks of Co. K. The whole line halted to deliver their fire, which they did so effectually that for a moment the firing of the battery ceased, and the (Union) infantry began to fall back momentarily. Seizing the opportunity, Colonel Ruff ordered the charge, and rushing to the front, hat in hand, he waved the boys onward, and, in less time than it takes to write it, nine pieces of the battery were theirs. At his moment, the scene in front was indescribable. Cavalrymen, artillery limbers and caissons and infantry all rushed away in one wild sea of confusion, running for dear life."

"Corporal Foster, of Co. F, deserves great credit for the gallantry with which he bore the battle flag to the front --- ever foremost. When he reached the battery, he mounted one of the pieces and waved his flag in triumph. At this point, Colonel Ruff, seeing that his regiment had pierced the enemy's lines to a considerable distance, left Major Griffis in command, and stopped to rally stragglers, who were constantly coming up. Ruff turned their fire to the left, where the enemy was pouring a hot fire on the men about the (captured) guns (artillery). The regiment followed (Colonel Ruff) and drove the enemy about four hundred yards into the woods. (At this point the 18th Georgia) had pierced the enemy's lines about a mile, and there was a considerable body of the enemy in the rear, both on the right and left. Fortunately, the men in gray drove these other enemy forces back about night, and the 18th Georgia held its position for the night, sleeping between the pieces and the enemy. The regiment was under fire for about three hours, and lost 148 in killed and wounded, including six officers. The 18th Georgia carried into action 507 men and took about 200 prisoners."

THE CHATTANOOGA AND KNOXVILLE CAMPAIGNS Following Gettysburg, General Lee allowed the Georgia troops under his command in Virginia to return to Georgia to help defend their home state. Following the battle of Chickamauga near Chattanooga, General Longstreet's Corps (which included Wofford's Brigade) was ordered to dislodge the Union forces at Knoxville, then to cut across east Tennessee to rejoin Lee's forces in Virginia.



Scene depicting Colonel S.Z. Ruff as mortally wounded during the ill-fated Confederate assault ordered by Longstreet on Fort Sanders (Knoxville)

General Wofford had returned home to bury a daughter he and his wife lost to diphtheria, and Ruff assumed command of the entire Brigade consisting of 16th, 18th, and 21st Georgia Infantry Regiments, Cobb's Legion, Phillips Legion and the 1st Georgia Sharpshooters; and was entrusted by Longstreet to lead the ill-fated, early dawn assault on Fort Sanders at Knoxville on a cold, misty wintry day (November 29, 1863).

"Fort Sanders and the Civil War in East Tennessee" by D.G. Seymour: "With a rush and a yell the surging gray column (under Ruff's command) advanced up the hill toward Fort Sanders. As they neared the fort the leading lines crashed though the brush barriers and bowled them aside like tenpins, but in the darkness the men tripped and stumbled over the telegraph wires stretched between the stumps. As the lead troops began tearing and kicking at the wires, they were knocked over by the sheer weight of numbers of the rest of the onrushing troops. At the moment of delay and confusion, one cannon 'en barbette' in the fort fired two quick rounds of canister into the storming party, but quickly closing their ranks the Confederates reached the ditch and chased away the gunners exposed on the platform above."

"The rapid advance in almost complete darkness over terrain filled with obstacles and converging furrows brought the attacking force together into a packed mass whose officers could no longer distinguish their own men. Hesitating only momentarily, the men swarmed into the ditch they had been told was no more than four feet deep. They expected to get a toehold on the berme and scale the parapet with one leap. But as they surged into the ditch they discovered to their horror that in places it was more than eleven feet deep, the embankment was slippery and icy, the berme had been cut away, and the parapet had been built up very high with cotton bales."

To the shouts of "Pick the officers, pick the officers" the Union defenders began a murderous fire on the Confederate troops trying to climb the slippery slope.

Eye witness accounts show that "Colonel S.Z. Ruff, commanding Wofford's Brigade, seeing that the men could not pass the ditch, tried to get them to climb out and attack the breastworks leading off from the fort 'which we could easily have done if it had been understood by our men. As Colonel Ruff climbed to the western edge of the ditch to make himself heard, he was cut down immediately by a bullet from the fort."

LEE'S COLONELS & OFFICIAL RECORDS The assault failed with a tremendous loss of life, including 26-year old Colonel Ruff whom Longstreet described as a "young officer with great promise and courage". He was also described in the official records as "commanding in appearance, a fine tactician and strict disciplinarian."

It should also be noted that Ruff had been severely wounded at the second Battle of Manassas and had been recuperating from an unspecified illness at a field hospital located near GMI and his home when he received word of the death of Wofford's daughters from diphtheria and that Longstreet's Corps was going to attempt to dislodge Union forces in East Tennessee.

For many years this writer thought Ruff had been buried in a common grave, however, “Lee's Colonels” states that he was buried in the Gibson family cemetery near Knoxville. There is also this fascinating item from the Atlanta Constitution, Oct. 5, 1913 provided to me by the archivist at the Kennesaw National Battlefield:

FIFTY YEARS LATER (1913) "Several days ago a communication addressed to The Constitution was received from Dr. W.L. Brown, of Lebanon, Ohio, asking, if, through its extensive circulation it could assist him in locating any relative or friend of the late Colonel S.Z. Ruff, Confederate States Army, killed at Knoxville, Tenn. in November, 1863. If you can give me this information, I can tell them where Colonel Ruff's pocketbook and private papers, found on his body upon his death of the battlefield, can be recovered."

"Immediately upon receipt of the letter, The Constitution contacted Colonel Ruff's daughter, Ida Ruff Hardwick, who was born after her father was killed on the field of battle and was married to a prominent Atlanta businessman. (Colonel Ruff's son, S.Z. Ruff, Jr. had also become a well known landscape architect who had studied under the man who designed New York's Central Park and Atlanta's Piedmont Park. S.Z. Ruff, Jr. designed Atlanta's still very prestigious, upscale Ansley Park neighborhood. Anyhow, Colonel Ruff's widow, Irene Brimberry/Arnold, never remarried and had died several years before the letter was received and contact was made with) the gentleman in Ohio who replied that he, Dr. Brown, had just returned home from the Grand Army of the Republic reunion at Chattanooga, Tenn., and that while there he had met an old comrade by the name of Thomas Everly of Holmesville, Ohio, who had told him about the Ruff papers, and had asked him to assist him in returning the papers to those who would be most interested in them."

(Ruff's children wrote Mr. Everly, who replied:) "Found on the battlefield. Dear friends -- it gives me great pleasure to write you at this time about a matter of long standing, and one which would have been attended to long before this had I known where to address the persons interested. In planning my trip to Chattanooga this month I determined to take the pocketbook and papers with me, thinking I might in some way be successful in finding persons who would like to have them, and I am very glad to have met Dr. W.L. Brown of Lebanon, Ohio, who took interest in helping me find the persons I desired to find."

COLONEL RUFF'S 'SAD COUNTENANCE' AND PAPERS "Almost fifty years have passed since the battle of Knoxville, Tenn. I may have forgotten some little events that happened at this time, but I am certain of what I am going to say here. The assault on Ft. Saunders was on Sunday morning, about November 29, 1863. My company, B. McLauglin's squadron, Ohio cavalry, was on duty at General Hartsrauft's headquarters, commanding the 23rd Army Corps, Army of the Ohio. We were camped just in the rear of Fort Saunders, everything was excitement the night before the attack, every man in his saddle, regiments in line and battery in position."

"After the battle, which was short but fearful in the loss of life, was over, three or four of us asked permission to visit Fort Saunders which was granted. By this time, General Burnside, commander-in-chief, sent a dispatch with a flag of truce to General Longstreet to come and bury his dead. We took a stroll over the ground which was covered with dead and dying. During this stroll, my attention was attracted to a man dead, his hat had fallen from his head, his coat was unbuttoned and his countenance showed sadness. I looked at the corpse a moment, then caught the corners of his coat and threw it over his body. In doing this his pocketbook slipped from his pocket. I picked it up, af first not knowing just what to do with it, but after reading the papers, which made mention of his sickness and at once answered for his saddened countenance, then, too, I knew he soon would be hauled away to be buried with the unknown, and that he was a man held in great esteem by his superior officers as the order from General McLaws will carry out, I concluded to keep the pocketbook and papers, thinking that perhaps some day I might be able to find some one, a wife, son, daughter or brother or sister, who would receive it as a keep-sake to a dear one's memory."

"You will find the paper containing General McLaws’ complements pasted on heavier paper, which was done for the reason that it was written on very thin paper and with lead pencil and was to preserve it in its originality."

"You will find two other papers pasted together, which was done so I could better keep them together from getting lost. You will see in one, a piece torn out; this was done by one of my children -- then I put the papers away where children could not find them... Yours very truly, Thomas Everly, Holmesville, Ohio, September 20, 1913."

"Contents of the Pocketbook: With this letter Mr. Everly returns the large leather pocketbook referred to. This was taken from the dead body of Colonel Ruff, on the Knoxville battlefield, and in the pocketbook was an original letter written to Colonel Ruff two days before his death. In which, after praising him for his "success," which General McLaws said "very much pleased General Longstreet" he proceed to give formal, orders (of battle) to Colonel Ruff to prepare the very onslaught which cost him his life." McLaws' letter to Ruff stated:

"Headquarters Division, Nov. 22, 1863, Colonel Ruff', I am gratified at your success. I have your note. (Per) Longstreet, who is very much pleased at the result, if your left (flank) is not supported, make a trench or trenches in the rear of it in which you can station whatever separate force you may think proper, and protect your left effectually by echelon trenches as follows: (diagram of pits and trenches)." "Impress upon the officers and men the necessity of opening these pits to the rear, so that the men can escape easily from them. Either open them entirely or dig a small ditch to the rear. Very respectfully, L. McLaws."

"Among the other papers found in the pocketbook was Provost Marshal Penden' pass for Colonel Ruff Atlanta to Charleston, Tenn., this pass being dated -- Atlanta, November 9, 1863."

"Another paper was a 30-day leave of absence for Colonel Ruff, of the 18th Georgia regiment, upon surgeons' certificates, this being signed by General Pegram, at Richmond, September 16, 1863. Colonel Ruff was evidently in general hospital No. 4, at that time, and upon the receipt of his leave of absence he returned to his home at Marietta, Ga., leaving to join his command in Tennessee on November 9, and being killed about two weeks later in battle of Knoxville. The physician's certificate accompanying his leave, declared him to be in exceedingly bad health, and 'in my opinion, physically unfit for duty'." (It's interesting to note that all of the Confederate hospitals in Georgia at this time including No. 4 in Marietta were established and maintained by Col. Ruff's wife's cousin, Major B.F. Brimberry who himself was graduated from Tenn. college in 1858.)

"Undoubtedly Colonel Ruff, restless in his desire to join his command despite his physical condition and on the news of General Wofford's family plight, left before he was really able to return, this probably accounting for his 'sad countenance' when found on the battlefield by Mr. Everly, of the Union arm."

MORTALLY WOUNDED COLONEL RUFF DEPICTED IN PAINTING OF THE ASSAULT ON FORT SANDERS The above lithiograph depicting the Assault on Fort Sanders was printed in 1891 by Kurz and Allison in Chicago. It depicted the assault on Ft. Sanders from eye-witness accounts and showed Col. Ruff clutching his chest and being aided by his men in the midst of the battle. Several soldiers reported that he was struck by enemy fire after climbing on a stump, and started waving his hat and pointing to the right in an effort to try to redirect his forces that were being slaughtered in the water filled trenches beneath the Federal forces' elevated position.

Of Col. Ruff, it was written, "his personality and qualities of leadership (in the wheat fields at Antietam, at the famous stone wall with the Texas Brigade, and in the peach orchard at Gettysburg) carried him high in rank despite his youth -- certainly he commanded many officers who far outranked him in age. In his fall, and tha of men like him, lay the greatest loss of the South. No age nor time can afford to lose its leaders -- and certainly if Colonely Ruff had survived the War, the same traits of learning and leadership that had carried him so far, would carried him further."

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