Simon Bolivar Buckner
Simon Bolivar Buckner (April 1, 1823 – January 8, 1914) fought in the United States Army in the Mexican–American War and in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War. He later served as the 30th Governor of Kentucky.
After graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point, Buckner became an instructor there. He took a hiatus from teaching to serve in the Mexican–American War, participating in many of the major battles of that conflict. He resigned from the army in 1855 to manage his father-in-law's real estate in Chicago, Illinois. He returned to his native state in 1857 and was appointed adjutant general by Governor Beriah Magoffin in 1861. In this position, he tried to enforce Kentucky's neutrality policy in the early days of the Civil War. When the state's neutrality was breached, Buckner accepted a commission in the Confederate Army after declining a similar commission to the Union Army. In 1862, he accepted Ulysses S. Grant's demand for an "unconditional surrender" at the Battle of Fort Donelson. He participated in Braxton Bragg's failed invasion of Kentucky and near the end of the war became chief of staff to Edmund Kirby Smith in the Trans-Mississippi Department. He was both the first and last Confederate general to surrender an army in the war.
In the years following the war, Buckner became active in politics. He was elected governor of Kentucky in 1887. It was his second campaign for that office. His term was plagued by violent feuds in the eastern part of the state, including the Hatfield-McCoy feud and the Rowan County War.
Simon B. Buckner, Sr., was born at Glen Lily, his family's estate near Munfordville, Kentucky. He was the third child and second son of Aylett Hartswell and Elizabeth Ann (Morehead) Buckner. Named after the "South American soldier and statesman, Simón Bolívar, then at the height of his power".
On July 1, 1840, Buckner enrolled at the United States Military Academy. In 1844 he graduated eleventh in his class of 25 and was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Infantry Regiment. He was assigned to garrison duty at Sackett's Harbor on Lake Ontario until August 28, 1845, when he returned to the Academy to serve as an assistant professor of geography, history, and ethics.
In May 1846, Buckner resigned his teaching position to fight in the Mexican–American War, enlisting with the 6th U.S. Infantry Regiment. His early duties included recruiting soldiers and bringing them to the Texas border. In January 1847, Buckner was ordered to Vera Cruz with William J. Worth's division. While Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott besieged Vera Cruz, Buckner's unit engaged a few thousand Mexican cavalry at a nearby town called Amazoque.
On August 8, 1847, Buckner was appointed quartermaster of the 6th Infantry. Shortly thereafter, he participated in battles at San Antonio and Churubusco, being slightly wounded in the latter battle. He was appointed a brevet first lieutenant for gallantry at Churubusco and Contreras, but declined the honor in part because reports of his participation at Contreras were in error—he had been fighting in San Antonio at the time.
Buckner was again cited for gallant conduct at the Battle of Molino del Rey, and was appointed a brevet captain. He participated in the Battle of Chapultepec, the Battle of Belen Gate, and the storming of Mexico City. At the conclusion of the war, American soldiers served as an army of occupation for a time, leaving soldiers time for leisure activities. Buckner joined the Aztec Club, and in April 1848 was a part of the successful expedition of Popocatépetl, a volcano southeast of Mexico City. Buckner was afforded the honor of lowering the American flag over Mexico City for the last time during the occupation.
After the war, Buckner accepted an invitation to return to West Point to teach infantry tactics. Just over a year later, he resigned the post in protest over the academy's compulsory chapel attendance policy. Following his resignation, he was assigned to a recruiting post at Fort Columbus.
Buckner married Mary Jane Kingsbury on May 2, 1850, at her aunt's home in Old Lyme, Connecticut. Shortly after their wedding, he was assigned to Fort Snelling and later to Fort Atkinson on the Arkansas River in present-day Kansas. On December 31, 1851, he was promoted to first lieutenant, and on November 3, 1852, he was elevated to captain of the commissary department of the 6th U.S. Infantry in New York City. Previously, he had attained only a brevet to these ranks. Buckner gained such a reputation for fair dealings with the Indians, that the Oglala Lakota tribe called him Young Chief, and their leader, Yellow Bear, refused to treat with anyone but Buckner.
Before leaving the Army, 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 his passage home. On March 26, 1855, Buckner resigned from the Army to work with his father-in-law, who had extensive real estate holdings in Chicago, Illinois. When his father-in-law died in 1856, Buckner inherited his property and moved to Chicago to manage it.
Still interested in military affairs, Buckner joined the Illinois State Militia of Cook County as a major. On April 3, 1857, he was appointed adjutant general of Illinois by Governor William Henry Bissell. He resigned the post in October of the same year. Following the Mountain Meadows massacre, a regiment of Illinois volunteers organized for potential service in a campaign against the Mormons. Buckner was offered command of the unit and a promotion to the rank of colonel. He accepted the position, but predicted that the unit would not see action. His prediction proved correct, as negotiations between the federal government and Mormon leaders eased tensions between the two.
In late 1857, Buckner and his family returned to his native state and settled in Louisville. Buckner's daughter, Lily, was born there on March 7, 1858. Later that year, a Louisville militia known as the Citizens' Guard was formed, and Buckner was made its captain. He served in this capacity until 1860, when the Guard was incorporated into the Kentucky State Guard's Second Regiment. He was appointed inspector general of Kentucky in 1860.
The state board that controlled the militia considered it to be pro-secessionist and ordered it to store its arms. On July 20, 1861, Buckner resigned from the state militia, declaring that he could no longer perform his duties due to the board's actions. That August he was twice offered a commission as a brigadier general in the Union Army—the first from general in chief Winfield Scott, and the second from Secretary of War Simon Cameron following the personal order of President Abraham Lincoln—but he declined. When his Confederate commission was approved, Union officials in Louisville indicted him for treason and seized his property. (Concerned that a similar action might be taken against his wife's property in Chicago, he had previously deeded it to his brother-in-law.) He became a division commander in the Army of Central Kentucky under Brig. Gen. William J. Hardee and was stationed in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
After Union Brig. Gen. 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 the fort. In overall command was the influential politician and military novice John B. Floyd; Buckner's peers were Gideon J. Pillow and Bushrod Johnson.