Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, May 29, 2011 pg. 6
Be sure and attend the Memorial Day parade and service on Monday. This month has an extra Sunday in it, leaving me room to squeeze in an extra article. When the Civil War began, local resident Phineas Graves raised a company of men in the Albion area to fight in the Union Army. Graves served as a professor at Ira Mayhew’s Commercial College here, and later in 1867 was one of the organizers of the Albion Public Schools. The group of men joined the 12th Michigan Infantry at Niles on March 5, 1862, and was designated as Company D. Graves was named Captain of the unit, and his men went right into battle the following month. The company gained the nickname "The Union Clinchers of Albion." Under his command, the scouts of Captain Graves fired the first Union skirmish shots in the historic Battle of Shiloh very early on Sunday, April 6, 1862.
One of our local soldiers under Grave’s command was Joseph Ruff (1841-1921). A native of Germany, he came to America as a child in 1851. Ruff served as a sergeant, and later lieutenant in the 12th Michigan Infantry. Ruff volunteered to be part of the three squads which were sent out at 3 o’clock in the morning on that fateful day to scout out the enemy.
Before he died in 1921, Ruff compiled his memoirs of that terrible battle. These memoirs, entitled "Skirmishing at Shiloh," were published in Michigan History Magazine years later in 1943. They were later reprinted in the 1999 book by the Michigan Historical Center entitled "Michigan and the Civil War, An Anthology," pages 35-38. This book is still readily available today. Joseph also wrote an article for Michigan History Magazine in 1920 about German immigrants.
Recalling the scouting expedition, Ruff writes: "When we halted, the first streak of daylight had appeared and we noticed at a short distance a rise of ground which seemed to be covered with thick underbrush. As we watched we noticed something while moving through the brush and in another moment we spied a horseman whose movements we made out to be those of an enemy. Our Captain at once ordered our counter march to the rear, but we had no sooner got well started than the crack of several muskets was heard and bullets were soon whizzing after us. I feel queer yet when I think what the result would have been had we walked unawares straight into the battle lines of 42,000 of the enemy! We soon were forming with the other squads in skirmish lines, advancing, firing, taking cover wherever we could. The enemy was as yet out of sight, hidden in the timber and brush and we could only direct our fire toward the flash from their guns." Thus began the Battle of Shiloh, and Albion was well represented there.
Later Ruff writes, "The day closed with the Union army still holding sufficient ground to stand. I stayed in the line until I lost every comrade of my company. I was in the last effort we made to repel the Confederate army. Exhausted at length, I lay down on the bare ground that Sunday night under one of the large siege guns up on the bluff above the river and went to sleep. This cannon was covered with a canvas. I looked out and saw the stars shining."
Following the War, Ruff returned to Albion. He became active in the local E. W. Hollingsworth Post No. 210 of the Grand Army of the Republic, and even served as its commander. At the time of his death his obituary stated he was survived by: "Mrs. Otis [Viola] H. Kingsnorth of Albion; Mrs. Walter Dodes of Concord; Mrs. Luella Adams of Marshall; Lewis and Bert Ruff of Marshall; Alva Ruff of Lansing; and Lorenzo Ruff of Eckford Township." He was interred in Riverside Cemetery, just west of the cemetery office. His first wife Catherine (Bugbee) passed away in 1913, and second wife Mary (Aiken) Simmons died in 1933.
From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photo of Joseph Ruff. The badge he is wearing states "Company D 12 Michigan." I encourage our readers to read the entire account written by Ruff. Oh, if you’re wondering, Joseph was a great-uncle of the Ruff’s living in Albion today who are descended from Joseph’s brother Augustus.
Joseph Ruff (1841-1921), "Company D 12 Michigan"
All text copyright, 2019 © all rights reserved Frank Passic