General Simon Bolivar Buckner Part 2

The Civil War (continued)

General Simon Buckner, CSA

General Simon Buckner, CSA

Following the fall of Forts Heiman and Henry, Buckner received orders to march with two of his brigades to defend Fort Donelson where he arrived on February 11th.    Pillow, then commanding, ordered Buckner’s division to defend the right flank of the Confederate line of entrenchments.

By February 14th, with Floyd now in command, the four Confederate general officers present determined that Donelson could not be held.  They reached this decision based on a mis-estimation of the number of troops available to Grant.   Accordingly, they elected to attack on the morning of February 15th to open a route of escape to Nashville.  This is the attack described in Harper’s Donelson.

The attack had initial success and drove the Federal right wing far enough away from the road to Nashville that an escape attempt became feasible.  But by noon, Pillow believed that the Federal army had been crushed.  He ceased his attacks and began a withdraw back into the fortress lines to feed his men and prepare to march away.  Perhaps based on his experience in Mexico, Pillow was convinced that the Federal army had been routed.

However, Grant’s aggressiveness allowed the Federals not only to recover all of the ground lost during the morning’s battle on the right, but to push through the Rebel lines on the left and gain ground beyond the Rebel field works.  From the captured terrain, Federal artillery would be able to bombard the Donelson River Battery.

Late that night the Confederate generals held a council of war where Buckner convinced the others that they had little realistic chance to hold the fort or escape from Grant’s army. Floyd and Pillow departed Donelson as discussed in prior blog posts, leaving Buckner in command.  The next morning, Buckner sent a messenger to the Union Army requesting an armistice and a meeting of commissioners to work out surrender terms.

Post-Donelson 

The United States interred Buckner at Fort Warren in Boston as a prisoner-of-war, which status protected him from charges of treason.  In August 1862 he was exchanged for Federal General George McCall.  Upon his return, the Confederate government promoted Buckner to major general and ordered him to report to General Braxton Bragg in Chattanooga.  Days later, two Confederate armies attacked into Kentucky, hoping to establish a new Confederate state.  Bragg assigned Buckner to command a division in Hardee’s Corps.  His men participated in battles at Munfordville (Buckner’s home town) and Perryville where his division was praised by Bragg, Hardee, and Polk.  Following Perryville, the Federal armies outmaneuvered Bragg who withdrew into Tennessee, ending the invasion.

Following the Battle of Perryville, the government reassigned Buckner to command the District of the Gulf, fortifying the defenses of Mobile, Alabama, until April 1863 when he took command of the Department of East Tennessee at Knoxville.  Shortly afterwards, Buckner’s army became the Third Corps of Bragg’s Army of Tennessee but remained at Knoxville..

In late August, Buckner’s Corps withdrew before the advance of Federal forces under General Ambrose Burnside after being unsuccessful at seeking reinforcements from Bragg.  Buckner’s Corps joined the main body of the Army of Tennessee at Chickamauga Station.  His corps formed the left wing at the subsequent Confederate victory at the battle of Chickamauga

After Chickamauga, Bragg surrounded the city of Chattanooga but could not establish effective siege operations.  Buckner joined with other senior officers in a letter to President Davis complaining against Bragg’s ability to command the army; Buckner may have actually drafted the letter.  However, Davis rejected the request and notified Bragg of his officer’s complaints.  Buckner was reduced back to division command and his corps disestablished.

Following Chickamauga and his demotion, Buckner went to Virginia on medical leave where he performed routine administrative duties, including serving on the court-martial of Major General Lafayette McLaws.  In March 1864, he returned to Knoxville to command the reduced Department of East Tennessee.  Lack of troops and supplies meant that he was not able to provide any meaningful help to the war and on April 28th, he received orders to join Edmund Kirby Smith’s army across the Mississippi.

Because of travel difficulties, Buckner did not assume command of the Department of West Louisiana until August 1864.  Through Kirby Smith’s advocacy, Buckner was promoted to Lieutenant General on September 20th, 1864.  Buckner’s duties included selling and moving the economic products of the department through enemy lines and the blockade.

When news of the surrender at Appomattox arrived across the Mississippi, Smith consolidated the Departments of West Louisiana and Arkansas and ordered Buckner, now chief-of-staff.  Smith ordered Buckner to move the desertion-riddled forces remaining in the department into Texas with the intention of continuing the war from that state or from Mexico. Instead, while Smith went ahead to Texas, Buckner ordered the forces still available to march to New Orleans where he surrendered the army on May 26th.   By doing so, he became the first Confederate general to surrender an entire army (Fort Donelson) and the last one to do so (New Orleans).

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