A resolution will be introduced Monday at the Charleston City Council calling for the bronze tablet listing members of the Confederate-aligned Kanawha Riflemen, removed from the city’s Ruffner Memorial Park last Monday, to be loaned or donated to a museum or other interpretive venue for public display.
A crew of city public works staffers, acting on orders from Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin, unbolted and removed the tablet from the small East End park at about 8 a.m. June 29, following complaints about the Confederate monument on city property.
The tablet lists the names of the 92 men who belonged to the unit, followed by the name of a “colored cook, faithful during the war.” It also carried a dedication honoring “those who served in the Confederate Army,” and was engraved with a Confederate shield.
The tablet, the white marble monument that supported it, and two adjacent benches were dedicated at Ruffner Memorial Park in 1922 as a gift to the city from the Kanawha Riflemen Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The gift came at a time when Jim Crow laws, which were put in place and enforced racial segregation, were in effect.
At that time, Ruffner Memorial Park was just two years old. The land it occupies previously served as a Ruffner family burial plot, but was donated to the city by the Ruffners in 1831 to serve as its first public cemetery.
Development of the new city-owned Spring Hill Cemetery in the closing years of the 19th Century made it possible to convert the small graveyard along Kanawha Boulevard into a public playground and park in 1920. While survivors had the remains of some of those buried in the Ruffner tract moved to the new cemetery or other graveyards, the majority of burials, totaling about 135, remained where they were. To expedite a speedy conversion from cemetery to park, gravestones were laid flat over the burial sites they marked and covered with earth.
The 1-acre, tree-shaded park, located in the 1500 block of Kanawha Boulevard East, was once part of a pasture owned by the Ruffner family, pioneers in Kanawha County’s salt industry. Between 1795 and 1800, the Ruffners bought more than 800 acres of land stretching from the Elk River to what is now the state Capitol from the Clendenin family. The pasture was used as a drill area for the Kanawha Riflemen from 1856 until the start of the Civil War five years later.
“The Kanawha Riflemen was a home guard unit similar to others that were formed in many Southern states as tensions heated up before the war,” said Billy Joe Peyton, chairman of the Charleston Historical Landmark Commission and a history professor at West Virginia State University.
Among those who belonged to the private militia unit were seven Ruffner men, including David L. Ruffner, who was appointed head of the Kanawha Riflemen in 1858. In the opening months of the Civil War, the Kanawha Riflemen joined forces with several Confederate army units in attacking and turning back a Union force from Ohio as it moved up the Kanawha River and approached the mouth of Scary Creek, in Putnam County.
Commanding the Kanawha Riflemen at the time of that action, known as the Battle of Scary Creek, was Charleston lawyer George S. Patton, grandfather of the legendary World War II U.S. Army general of the same name. Soon after the engagement at Scary Creek, the Kanawha Riflemen became a part of the 22nd Virginia Infantry Regiment and fought for the Confederate cause in numerous campaigns through the end of the war.
Peyton said city officials had sought his opinion last weekend on whether the bronze tablet should be removed from the park.
“At first, I had reservations,” Peyton said. “But the more I thought about it, the more I felt it was time for it to come down, especially if it’s put in a museum setting with material that helps explain its history.”
Peyton mentioned that the Craik-Patton House — the restored former home of Kanawha Riflemen leader George S. Patton and his family — as an appropriate new setting for the monument’s display and interpretation.
“A lot of internal consultations were made, and a lot of books, documents and historical papers were read” to determine ownership of the monument and the park on which it was placed, Charleston City Attorney Kevin Baker said.
No records were found indicating that the long-defunct Kanawha Riflemen Chapter of the UDC owned the monument or contributed to its upkeep, Baker said, while the city has maintained the monument, including having its brass tablet removed for cleaning on several occasions.
None of the Kanawha Riflemen named on the tablet have been buried in the cemetery that underlies the park, he said. Most burials in the public cemetery took place long before the start of the Civil War, according to newspaper accounts.
The park does contain marked graves denoting the final resting places of family patriarch Joseph Ruffner and Thomas Bullitt, an even earlier Charleston landowner who served as a colonel in the Virginia Militia during the Revolutionary War.
A second portion of the resolution to be introduced Monday calls for the Charleston Landmark Commission to recommend what signs, displays or exhibits are needed to accurately tell the story of Ruffner Memorial Park.
The information would include the park’s past life as a pasture, a family plot for the Ruffners, Charleston’s first public cemetery, a training ground for the Kanawha Riflemen and the site of a city park.
A number of requests for the tablet’s removal had been made by members of the public before the city took action, Baker said. Public response to the removal, he said, has generally been favorable, although there has been feedback from a smaller group “that is very upset with the removal.
Among the latter group is Ernest Blevins, commander of Charleston-based Robert S. Garnett Camp 14707 of Sons of Confederate Veterans, who issued a statement voicing his displeasure over the city’s “unilateral action done without consultation of the public or organizations who enjoy the monument.”
Also on Monday’s council agenda is a resolution “declaring unequivocally that Black lives matter” and reaffirming city policies and ordinances that prohibit discrimination.
A meeting at 1 p.m. on Monday of Charleston’s Historic Landmarks Commission also will address the removal of the Kanawha Riflemen monument’s bronze tablet. Instructions for participating in the online session are available on the meetings and agendas page from the city of Charleston’s website.
Monday’s City Council meeting is being conducted online, accessible through Zoom or CivicClerk, at charlestonwv.civicclerk.com, or by calling 312-626-6799 or 929-436-28665 and entering ID number 838 6167 8813.
Interested public speakers must register with the City Clerk’s Office on Monday between 3 and 6 p.m. by calling 304-348-8179.