William Parks Rucker

William Parks Rucker was born on November 9, 1831, in Lynchburg, Virginia, to Clifton Hedley Rucker and Mary Jane Staples. Growing up, he studied at Laurel Hill Academy in Amherst County and the Valley Union Seminary in Botetourt County before enrolling at the University of Virginia in 1852. He spent the next year studying medicine, chemistry, surgery, and anatomy. In October 1852, he secured a two-week leave of absence to visit home, “on account of sickness in his family.” While there, he married Margaret Ann Scott in Campbell County on October 28, 1852. They had five children: Hedley, born 1853; William, born 1855; James, born 1856; Mary, born 1858; and Edgar, born 1861.

Rucker left UVA in 1853 and transferred to the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. He graduated in 1855 and established a medical practice in Covington, Virginia. In 1860, served as an assistant elector for the Constitutional Union Party and delivered dozens of speeches for presidential candidate John Bell. Although Rucker owned several slaves, he vehemently opposed the southern Democratic Party, later writing that he “would a thousand times over sooner see Lincoln elected than Breckinridge.” He resisted secession and delivered speeches across the state pleading for the Union’s survival. His convictions earned him the scorn of his neighbors, who denounced him as an abolitionist and a “Lincolnist.”

On July 23, 1861, a pro-Confederate mob approached Rucker outside the Covington post office. After a heated exchange, the crowd’s leader Michael Joyce called Rucker a “God damned traitor” and attacked him with a club. Rucker responded by stabbing and killing Joyce. He spent the next few months in jail, but officials eventually released him after ruling that he acted in self-defense. Rucker tried to flee the state sometime in 1861, but he was unable to find a safe route through Confederate lines. In February 1862, however, he successfully fled to a Union camp in present-day West Virginia.

In May 1862, he guided Union forces into Alleghany County, Virginia, where they captured supplies and arrested Confederate officials. On May 18, they burned the Cow Pasture Bridge, cutting off railroad transportation west of Staunton, Virginia. Confederate soldiers captured Rucker on July 25, 1862, and he remained a prisoner-of-war for over a year. The Circuit Court of Alleghany County indicted him for treason against the state of Virginia. When Confederates threatened to hang him, President Abraham Lincoln placed a Confederate surgeon under close confinement as a hostage. Confederates moved him to ten different prisons to prevent the Union army from freeing him. Nonetheless, he finally escaped on October 18, 1863, and made his way to Union lines.

On March 12, 1864, Rucker received a commission as a major in the 13th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry. On May 9, he took part in the Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain, during which rebel shrapnel wounded him in the leg. A horse later slipped and pinned him to the ground, severely injuring his leg and testicles and causing a scrotal hernia and gangrene. In October 1864, he drunkenly assaulted several enslaved women and threatened to shoot their owner when she tried to intervene. Facing a court martial, Rucker resigned in November and moved to Marietta, Ohio.

After the war, Rucker’s injuries kept him from practicing medicine. He went into the timber, oil, and coal land business and eventually began practice as a lawyer. In 1870, he moved to Lewisburg, West Virginia. He spent the next two years working as a prosecuting attorney for Greenbrier and Pocahontas Counties. He became a Republican after the war, and throughout the 1870s and 1880s he held prominent positions in local Republican meetings. In 1888, the chairman of the Republican State Committee selected Rucker to oversee that year’s contested election cases. The following year, President Benjamin Harrison appointed him postmaster of Lewisburg, West Virginia. Rucker also played a small role in the creation of the Emancipation Memorial in Washington, D.C. After Lincoln’s assassination, Rucker’s former slave Charlotte Scott launched a movement to create a monument to the president’s memory. Rucker helped publicize the project, hoping it would heal the country’s racial and sectional divisions. The country’s African Americans ultimately raised more than $20,000, and the 12-foot-tall “Emancipation” statue was unveiled in 1876.

In 1891, Rucker began receiving an $8-per-month pension. “To be frank,” he confessed, “if it had not been for exposing the injury done my testicles, I should have filed my application in the very state.” In March 1899 his leg developed gangrene, and Rucker needed to have it amputated. That same year, the government increased his pension to $12-per-month. Rucker died at his home in Lewisburg on January 3, 1905, of unknown causes. His widow Margaret secured a pension after her death, and in 1906, a special act of Congress increased the amount to $25-per-month. She passed away on April 26, 1914.

Image: William Parks Rucker (Encyclopedia of Contemporary Biography of West Virginia)


William P. Rucker to Abraham Lincoln (1)

Margaret A. Rucker to Abraham Lincoln

William P. Rucker to Abraham Lincoln (2)

William Rucker Description of Wartime Service, October 11, 1897

Name:Rucker, William Parks
Alternative names:
  • Soldier
  • UVA (Union)
13th Regiment West Virginia Volunteer InfantryF&S
Branch of service:Army
Commission1864-03-12Wheeling, WV32
Muster In1864-03-24
Muster Out1864-11-27Marietta, OHResigned
Residence at UVA:Lynchburg, VA
UVA Begin Year:1852
UVA End Year:1853
Residence at enlistment:Covington, VA
Rank In:Major
Rank Out:Major
Highest rank achieved:
Person 1Person 2NumberRelation Type
Rucker, William ParksRucker, William Parks1034440application-invalid
Rucker, William Parksnoneapplication-minor
Rucker, William Parksnoneapplication-parent
Rucker, William ParksRucker, Margaret Ann826692application-widow
Rucker, William ParksRucker, William Parks992373certificate-invalid
Rucker, William ParksRucker, Margaret Ann598592certificate-widow
Birth date:1831-11-09
Birth date certainty:certain
Birth place:Lynchburg, VA
Death date:1905-01-03
Death place:Lewisburg, WV
Causes of death:
Occupations:Farmer, Doctor, Attorney
Person 1Relation TypePerson 2
Rucker, William Parksparent ofRucker, Hedley Scott
Rucker, William Parksparent ofRucker, William Waller
Rucker, William Parksparent ofRucker, James Thomas
Rucker, William Parksparent ofRucker, Edgar Parks
Rucker, William Parksparent ofRucker, Mary Clifton
Rucker, Margaret Annwife ofRucker, William Parks

Compiled Service Records for William P. Rucker, RG 94, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.; Pension Records for William P. Rucker, RG 15, National Archives and Records Administration; United States Census, 1860, 1870, 1880, and 1900, accessed through Ancestry.com; UVA Student Catalogue, Jefferson's University: Early Life; Congressman Rucker’s Mother Dead, The Baltimore Sun, May 5, 1914; George W. Atkinson and Alvaro F. Gibbens, Prominent Men of West Virginia (1890); Thomas P. Hughes and Frank Munsell, American Ancestry (1890); T.C. Miller, West Virginia and its people (1913); Fred C. Ainsworth, The War of the Rebellion (1899); Edmund Ruffin, The Diary of Edmund Ruffin (1972); Ervin L. Jordan, Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia (1995); Brian Neumann, "The Unconditional Union: UVA Unionists and the Crisis of Decision," unpublished manuscript; Chloe Baker, "'Murderer, Scoundrel, and Renegade': A New Perspective on the Life and Legacy of William P. Rucker," Lynch's Ferry: A Journal of Local History 19 (Spring/Summer 2021), 32-41; "Dr William Parks Rucker," Findagrave.com (https://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?viewrecord=1&r=an&db=FindAGr...).