Sheridan “Butch” Barringer won the 2016 Douglas Southall Freeman History Award for his first book, “Fighting for General Lee.” Staff writer Alexandra Blazevich spoke with him about his journey as an author writing this story.
Daily Tar Heel: What inspired you to write this book? Do you have any personal ties to the Civil War?
Sheridan “Butch” Barringer: Actually, many years ago, I was doing (genealogical) research, looking for my great-grandfather — who was Rufus Barringer — and I kept coming across a lot of information about this General Rufus Barringer, who turns out to be a first cousin of my ancestor. So that’s how I got started. I said, "Well, I’m just going to start collecting all this information on him." I started getting interested in Civil War battlefields and touring them, and I ran into the generals’ grandsons and we toured together some battlefields. Then I met his great-grandsons, two of them. They wanted a book about their ancestor and I said, "I want to do it!" So that’s how that started many years ago.
DTH: Can you tell me more about Rufus Barringer?
SB: I will say he was a progressive man both before and after the war, and that’s one of the things I loved about him. He helped expand the North Carolina railroad. This book delves into all of his relationships with, it turns out, Abraham Lincoln, all the cavalry commanders and the state politicians. He was one of not too many Civil War commanders turned Republican after the war. He was almost murdered in 1848 by a political opponent there, on the streets of Charlotte, so he almost didn’t come back to fight the war. It was fascinating. And it’s amazing, the battlefields, I visited Brandy Station and I went down to the spot where he was shot off his horse and out of action for four months before he returned. He served in the House of Commons and Senate from 1848 to 1850. He stood up for the masses and supported black suffrage as early as 1866. He ran for lieutenant governor as a Progressive Republican and lost.
DTH: Can you tell me about the context of the book?
SB: The book is a full biography, not just a war story. It’s a full biography of General Rufus Barringer. He commanded the North Carolina cavalry brigade during the last year of the war. And he was from a very influential family. His older brother — who was an ambassador to Spain under two presidents — his name was Moreau Barringer, and his younger brother Victor, who was actually the state attorney general for a short period of time during a vacancy. All three of these brothers went to UNC. General Rufus was in the class of 1842. He was in one of the two debating clubs at the time. He fought against the establishment of fraternities. He thought they were too secretive, and the grueling hazing that was going on was just too much for him. He later knew that maybe perhaps he overreacted to that.
DTH: Who did you hope to reach in writing this book?
SB: Anybody interested in North Carolina history, in Civil War history or cavalry commanders. It’s being well-received. I got a prestigious award recently, the Douglas Southall Freeman History Award for 2016, so that was a surprise to me — I’m extremely pleased.
DTH: What does this award mean for the rest of your writing career?
SB: Well, this is my first book so this is certainly going to boost my name recognition when the second one comes out next year and the third one the year after.
DTH: What inspired your second and third books? Are they similar or different to your first?
SB: They are all about Civil War cavalry commanders — confederate — and I like the full biographies, digging into the diaries and letters, because you get to know the man from the inside out. That’s really what I’m interested in.
DTH: What legacy would you like to leave behind with your books?
SB: That Civil War history is still important. A lot of young people today — maybe I’m wrong — are not that interested in history. I’m hoping that some of them will read some of these books and become interested as they get a little older. I want to contribute to the literature of North Carolinians and Virginians that fought in the war.
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