General Simon Bolivar Buckner Part 1

Been away for a while on vacation and completing the manuscript for Harper’s Donelson.  This week, I continue the series on generals at Fort Donelson with the story of Confederate Brigadier General Simon B. Buckner, the man upon whom Floyd and Pillow dumped the responsibility for the decision to surrender Fort Donelson.

 

General Simon Buckner, CSA

General Simon Buckner, CSA

Antebellum

Simon B. Buckner was born at his family’s estate, Glen Lily, near Munfordville, Kentucky on April 1, 1823.  He was named for the famous South American liberator.  Buckner began his formal education in a private school at the age of nine.  His closest friend at the Munfordville school was Thomas J. Wood, who would become a general in the Union Army.

Buckner is a member of the U.S. Military Academy Class of 1844, graduating 11th in a class of 25.  His service prior to the war with Mexico included a tour of duty with the US garrison at Sackett’s Harber, NY, and as an assistant professor at USMA.

Buckner served in the Sixth U.S. Infantry Regiment during the Mexican War, operating with Wool’s expedition in northern Mexico.  In January 1847, the regiment, now part of Worth’s division, was ordered to join Scott’s army besieging Vera Cruz.  Thereafter remaining with Worth’s division for the duration of the war.  During subsequent battles, he received brevet appointments to First Lieutenant and to Captain.    After the capture of Mexico City, Sixth U.S. became part of the garrison of the city and Buckner was given the honor of lowering the United States flag for the final time at the end of the occupation.

Buckner remained in the Army after the war and  taught infantry tactics at USMA for a year but resigned in protest of the academy’s compulsory chapel attendance policy.  He was reassigned to Fort Columbus on Governor’s Island, NY.  Afterwards he served in the Indian Territories in present-day Minnesota and Kansas.  During this time, his promotions to first lieutenant and captain were confirmed by congress.  Before leaving the Army in 1855, Buckner helped an old friend from West Point and the Mexican–American War, Captain Ulysses S. Grant, by covering his expenses at a New York hotel until money arrived from Ohio to pay for Grant’s passage home.

After marrying and leaving the army Buckner worked for his father-in-law in Chicago managing real estate until the death of that gentleman, upon which he inherited the holdings through his wife.

On April 3, 1857, he was appointed adjutant general of Illinois by Governor William Henry Bissell, but resigned the post in October of the same year in preparation for returning  to his native state of Kentucky.  In 1858, he accepted a posting as the captain of the Citizens’ Guard in Lousiville, KY where he served for two years until the Guard was incorporated into the Kentucky State Guard’s Second Regiment.  Buckner was appointed inspector general of Kentucky immediately thereafter.

 

The Civil War

When the Union began to dismember in 1861, the Kentucky governor appointed Buckner adjutant general, promoted him to major general of Kentucky troops, and charged him with revising the state’s militia laws. During this period, Buckner assembled 61 companies to defend Kentucky’s neutrality.  However, the pro-Union legislature feared the militia favored the Confederacy and ordered that they store their arms.  In July, Buckner resigned rather than execute the order.

In August, he was twice offered a commission as a brigadier general in the Union Army but declined.  Buckner accepted a commission as a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army on September 14, 1861, eleven days after  Confederate Maj. Gen. Leonidas Polk occupied Columbus, Kentucky, violating the state’s neutrality.

He immediately took command of the Kentucky militia companies, now organized into Confederate infantry regiments  and occupied Bowing Green on September 18th, 1861, threatening Louisville. Union officials in Louisville indicted him for treason and seized his property.  More Confederate forces joined his men at Bowling Green and Buckner became a division commander in the corps of William J. Hardee, in charge of regiments from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

 

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