north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

     William Ruffin Cox (1832-1919), soldier and politician, was one of the last surviving general officers of the Confederacy upon his death. Born in Scotland Neck on March 11, 1832, Cox graduated from Franklin College in 1851 and from Lebanon College Law School in 1853. He was admitted to the bar the same year, and practiced law in Nashville, Tennessee, until 1857, when he returned to North Carolina. Cox moved to Raleigh in 1859. At the outbreak of the Civil War he was appointed major of the 2nd North Carolina Infantry. He spent the next four years in command of Confederate troops in Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

     Having been wounded severely at Malvern Hill during the Peninsula Campaign, Cox rejoined the army during the Maryland Campaign (Lee’s first invasion of the North). Cox took command of the regiment after the Battle of Fredericksburg, and was officially promoted to colonel in April 1863. At Chancellorsville, Cox continued to lead his men in battle despite having suffered “five bleeding wounds.” His service brought high praise and commendation from his superior officers, and Cox was promoted to the rank of brigadier general on May 31, 1864. In April 1865, Cox’s Brigade had the distinction of serving in the last infantry action of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse.

     After the war, Cox returned to Raleigh and enjoyed a long career in public service. Over the next decade, he served a variety of local duties including solicitor, judge of Superior Court, and chairman of the Democratic Party in North Carolina. Cox was then elected to the U.S. Congress and served three terms between March 1881 and March 1887. From 1893 to 1900 he served as Secretary of the U.S. Senate. Cox retired to his plantation at Penelo in Edgecombe County in 1900. He was a grand master in the Masonic Order and served on councils of the Protestant Episcopal Church, the executive committee of the State Agricultural Society, and as chairman of the committee printing the North Carolina Journal of Education. Cox died at the age of 88, at the Westbrook Sanatorium in Richmond, Virginia, on December 26, 1919. He is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh.

Biographical Dictionary of the American Congress, 1774-1974 (1974) Rocky Mount Telegram, November 16, 1958
Weymouth T. Jordan, Jr., ed., North Carolina Troops: A Roster, 1861-1865, III
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north carolina highway historical marker program

William R. Cox

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources