Simon Bolivar Buckner, Sr.

Simon Bolivar Buckner, Sr.

Infobox Officeholder
name = Simon Bolivar Buckner, Sr.

caption =

order = 30th
office = Governor of Kentucky
lieutenant = James Bryan
term_start = August 30, 1887
term_end = September 2, 1891
predecessor = J. Proctor Knott
successor = John Y. Brown
office2 =
term_start2 =
term_end2 =
predecessor2 =
successor2 =
constituency2 =
office3 =
term_start3 =
term_end3 =
predecessor3 =
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constituency3 =
majority3 =
birth_date = April 1, 1823
birth_place = Hart County, Kentucky
death_date = death date and age |1914|1|8|1823|04|01
death_place = Hart County, Kentucky
party = Democratic
spouse = Mary Jane Kingsbury Delia Clairborne
religion = Episcopalian
profession = Soldier

Simon Bolivar Buckner (April 1, 1823ndash January 8, 1914) was a career U.S. Army officer and a general in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War, the officer who yielded to Ulysses S. Grant's famous demand for "unconditional surrender" at the Battle of Fort Donelson in 1862. He later served as governor of Kentucky and was an unsuccessful candidate for Vice President of the United States on the National Democratic Party (or "Gold Democrats") ticket in 1896.

Early life and career

Buckner was born at the "Glen Lily" estate in Munfordville, Hart County, Kentucky. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1844 and was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Infantry Regiment. He returned to West Point as an assistant professor of geography, history, and ethics. During the Mexican-American War, he served as the regimental quartermaster. He was wounded at Churubusco, was brevetted to first lieutenant for Contreras and Churubusco, and to captain for Molino del Rey.

After the Mexican War, Buckner was assistant instructor of infantry tactics at West Point (1848–50), then served on the frontier, in recruiting, and in the commissary department. In 1854, he helped an old friend from West Point and Mexico, Captain Ulysses S. Grant, who had resigned from the Army and had no money to travel home. Buckner himself resigned from the Army, in March 1855, and moved to Illinois, where he engaged successfully in managing family properties in Chicago. He served in the Illinois Militia, initially as a major, then as Colonel and Adjutant General in 1857. He moved to Kentucky, in 1858, and accepted the commission of captain in the Kentucky Militia.

Civil War

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Buckner was a major general and commander of the Kentucky Militia. The state was torn between Union and Confederacy, with the legislature supporting the former, the governor the latter. Thus, the state declared it was officially neutral between the warring parties. The state board that controlled the militia considered it to be pro-secessionist and ordered it to store its arms. Buckner resigned on July 20, 1861. After Confederate General Leonidas Polk captured Columbus, Kentucky, effectively violating the state's neutrality, Buckner accepted a commission as a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army on September 14, 1861, and was followed by many of the men he formerly commanded in the state militia. He became a division commander in the Army of Central Kentucky, under William J. Hardee, stationed in Bowling Green.

Fort Donelson

After now-Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant captured Fort Henry on the Tennessee River in February 1862, he turned his sights on nearby Fort Donelson on the Cumberland. Western Theater commander Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston sent Buckner to be one of four brigadier generals defending Fort Donelson. In overall command was the influential politician, but military novice, John B. Floyd; Buckner's peers were Gideon J. Pillow and Bushrod Johnson. Buckner's division defended the right flank of the Confederate line of entrenchments that surrounded the fort and the small town of Dover, Tennessee. On February 14, the Confederate generals decided that they could not successfully hold the fort and planned a breakout attempt, hoping to join with Johnston's army, now in Nashville. At dawn the following morning, Pillow launched a strong assault against the right flank of Grant's army, pushing it back 1 to 2 miles. Buckner, who was not confident of his army's chances, and not on good professional terms with Pillow, held back his supporting attack for over two hours, giving Grant's men time to bring up reinforcements and reform their line. Fortunately, Buckner's delay had not prevented the Confederate attack from opening a corridor for an escape from the besieged fort. At this time, however, Floyd and Pillow combined to undo the day's work by ordering the troops back to their trench positions.

Late that night, the generals held a council of war in which Floyd and Pillow expressed satisfaction with the events of the day, but Buckner convinced them that they had little realistic chance to hold the fort or escape from Grant's army, which was receiving steady reinforcements. His sense of defeatism carried the meeting. General Floyd, who was concerned that he would be tried for treason if captured by the North, sought assurances from Buckner that he would be given time to escape with some of his Virginia regiments before the army surrendered. Buckner agreed and Floyd turned over command to his subordinate, Pillow. Pillow immediately declined and passed command to Buckner, who agreed to stay behind and surrender. Pillow and Floyd were able to escape, as did cavalry commander Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest. That morning, Buckner sent a messenger to the Union Army requesting an armistice and that a meeting of commissioners be set to determine the terms of surrender. He was hoping that Grant would offer generous terms, remembering the kind assistance he gave him when Grant was destitute. However, Grant had no sympathy for his old friend and his reply included the famous quotation, "No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works." Buckner had no choice but to respond:

SIR:—The distribution of the forces under my command, incident to an unexpected change of commanders, and the overwhelming force under your command, compel me, notwithstanding the brilliant success of the Confederate arms yesterday, to accept the ungenerous and unchivalrous terms which you propose.

Grant was courteous to Buckner following the surrender, and offered to loan him money to see him through his impending imprisonment, but Buckner declined. The surrender was a humiliation for Buckner personally, but also a strategic defeat for the Confederacy, losing over 12,000 men and equipment, as well as control of the Cumberland River, which caused the evacuation of Nashville. Buckner was a Union prisoner of war at Fort Warren in Boston until August 15, 1862, when he was exchanged for General George A. McCall. The following day he was promoted to major general.

Perryville to the Trans-Mississippi

Buckner joined Braxton Bragg's 1862 invasion of Kentucky, fighting as a division commander in the Army of Tennessee at the Battle of Perryville. He was reassigned to command the District of the Gulf, fortifying the defenses of Mobile, Alabama, until April 1863. Returning to the Army of Tennessee, he fought as a corps commander at the Battle of Chickamauga, and then as a division commander under James Longstreet in the Siege of Knoxville. In the spring of 1864, he commanded the Department of East Tennessee, but spent considerable time in Richmond, Virginia, where he became known as "Simon the Poet" for his hobby of writing poetry.

In August 1864, Buckner was transferred to the Trans-Mississippi Army as a corps commander. He was promoted to lieutenant general on September 20 and became chief of staff to Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith.

Journalist, governor of Kentucky, and defender of the gold standard

After his army surrendered, Buckner was paroled in Shreveport, Louisiana, on June 9 1865. The terms of his parole prevented his return to Kentucky for three years, so he lived in New Orleans, where he worked on the staff of the "Daily Crescent" newspaper. He returned to Kentucky when he was eligible in 1868 and became editor of the Louisville "Courier" until 1887. During this time he, like most former Confederate officers, petitioned the United States Congress for the restoration of his civil rights as was provided for under the terms of the 14th Amendment.

In 1887, Buckner was elected governor of Kentucky as a Democrat, serving until 1891.

Buckner was the vice presidential candidate for the National Democratic Party (or "Gold Democrats") in the 1896 elections. His presidential running mate was John M. Palmer, who had been a Union general.

The Democratic Party was split, due to the economic depression that occurred under Democratic President Grover Cleveland, and nominated William Jennings Bryan for the presidency.

Buckner opposed Bryan's call for "free silver", which was a plan to place the value of silver to gold at a 16-to-1 ratio, and then to tie the U.S. dollar to that value. This plan ran contrary to the world market value of silver and gold, which was then about 32 to 1. Buckner believed that Bryan's plan would have ruined the American economy. In waging this quixotic campaign, he was present at the "last stand" of classical liberalism as a political movement in the 19th century.

Buckner and the other founders of the National Democrats were disenchanted Democrats who viewed the party as a means to preserve the small-government ideals of Thomas Jefferson and Grover Cleveland, which they believed had been betrayed by Bryan. In its first official statement, the executive committee of the party declared, the Democrats had believed “in the ability of every individual, unassisted, if unfettered by law, to achieve his own happiness” and had upheld his “right and opportunity peaceably to pursue whatever course of conduct he would, provided such conduct deprived no other individual of the equal enjoyment of the same right and opportunity. [They] stood for freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of trade, and freedom of contract, all of which are implied by the century-old battle-cry of the Democratic party, ‘Individual Liberty’.” The party criticized both the inflationist policies of the Democrats and the protectionism of the Republicans.

Palmer and Buckner received just over 1 percent of the vote in the election. Apparently many supporters of the ideals of the National Democratic Party voted for McKinley because of his support of the gold standard and the fact that he was perceived as having a good chance to win the election.

At the time of his death, Buckner was the only surviving Confederate officer over the rank of brigadier general. He died in Munfordville, Kentucky, and is buried at Frankfort Cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky.

His son, Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. (1886ndash 1945), was a lieutenant general in the U.S. Army who was killed at the Battle of Okinawa during World War II.


* Beito, David T., and Beito, Linda Royster, [ "Gold Democrats and the Decline of Classical Liberalism, 1896-1900,"] Independent Review 4 (Spring 2000), 555-75.
* Eicher, John H., & Eicher, David J., "Civil War High Commands", Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
* Gott, Kendall D., "Where the South Lost the War: An Analysis of the Fort Henry—Fort Donelson Campaign, February 1862", Stackpole books, 2003, ISBN 0-8117-0049-6.
* Grant, Ulysses S., [ "Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant"] , Charles L. Webster & Company, 1885–86, ISBN 0-914427-67-9.
* Warner, Ezra J., "Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders", Louisiana State University Press, 1959, ISBN 0-8071-0823-5.
* [ Civil War Home biography]

External links

* [ Interview with Buckner]
* [ "Simon Bolivar Buckner: A Skillful and Judicious General"] ndash Article by Civil War historian/author Bryan S. Bush

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