Skip to comments.HISTORY: Forgotten Kentucky soldier was 'best cavalry general' in Civil War
Posted on 09/23/2004 11:55:07 AM PDT by stainlessbanner
GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- Gen. John Buford's bravery at the battle of Gettysburg was little noted nor long remembered in his native Kentucky.
"He is one of those all but forgotten heroes," said John Trowbridge, director of the Kentucky Military Museum in Frankfort. "But we would never have won the battle without Buford's quick thinking and quick action on the first day."
Rebel infantry outnumbered and outgunned Buford's Yankee cavalry. Even so, the horsemen in blue stalled the Confederates long enough for Gen. George G. Meade's Union Army of the Potomac to organize a defense and ultimately to win the Civil War's bloodiest battle.
A bronze statue at Gettysburg National Military Park commemorates Buford's stand. "There are no monuments to John Buford in Kentucky that I know of," Trowbridge said.
Buford was born near Versailles, Ky., the Woodford County seat, in 1826. A state historic marker in Versailles names Buford and five other county natives who were Civil War generals. "It is amazing that six could come from one small county," Trowbridge said.
A pair of generals on the marker were Buford kin. His half brother, Gen. Napoleon Bonaparte Buford, also fought for the Union. Their cousin, Gen. Abraham Buford, donned Rebel gray.
John Buford moved with his parents to Rock Island, Ill., in the 1840s. He graduated from West Point in 1848.
The mustachioed, pipe-puffing Buford had little use for fancy uniforms and military spit and polish. "He don't put on so much style as most officers," one of his men said.
Though popular with his own troops, Buford was tough on the enemy. He hanged a Confederate guerrilla to a tree with a sign that warned, "This man to hang three days; he who cuts him down before shall hang the remaining time."
At Gettysburg, Buford's 2,700 horse soldiers were the first Yankees to make contact with Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. They galloped into town on the evening of June 30 in time to skirmish with some of Lee's advance units. Buford correctly figured the whole Southern army would attack the next day.
On the morning of July 1, Buford deployed his men on high ground west of Gettysburg. More than 7,000 Rebels assaulted Buford's dismounted troopers around 9 a.m. "The two lines became hotly engaged, we having the advantage of position, he of numbers," the general reported.
His soldiers held on until Gen. John F. Reynolds' infantry arrived around midmorning. The Union troops fell back through Gettysburg to higher ground, including Cemetery Ridge, where the Yankees stopped Gen. George Pickett's storied charge on July 3 and won the battle.
Buford, who was badly wounded and left for dead after the 1862 battle of Second Bull Run, Va., did not survive the Civil War. The general succumbed to typhoid fever on December 16, 1863, and was buried at West Point.
Buford, described by a Yankee colonel as "decidedly the best cavalry general" in the Army of the Potomac, was featured in "Gettysburg," the 1994 movie and TV miniseries. Sam Elliott sported a Buford-style mustache in portraying the Kentucky general who, according to the colonel, could "always be relied on in any emergency."
Nathan Bedford Forrest and James Ewell Brown Stuart win by a mile.
Forrest was outstanding ...
Buford was probably the best at dragoon/mounted infantry tactics of all of the cavalrymen.
Perhaps he was the best Union cavalry general, but I agree with you that several Confederates were better overall.
Although Grierson and Sheridan could have given him a run even in the Union.
Buford and Forrest were both all business.
General Stuart went missing precisely when he was needed most.
Just a note about the present . . . . General Buford's great-great-nephew is a State Senator in Kentucky and is running for Congress in the 6th District this fall as the Republican nominee.
Col. Theodore Lyman
Don't forget Mosby
...and for Kentuckians, how about John Hunt Morgan?
Nathan Bedford Forrest founded WHAT famous Reconstruction fraternal lodge?
You have six seconds... begin!
Too Bad ole' Jeb wasn't there the first day to prove your thought huh?
Forrest was probably too busy out west murdering POW's at the time.
Tis' a Shame...
Oooh, THERE'S a good thing to know!
The same one he disavowed a year and a half later after it became racist and violent.
Just before the 2nd Battle of Bull Run Buford was ordered to make a reconnaissance across the Rapidan in force. He sent two of his regiments, the 1st Michigan and the 5th New York. The next day, they captured JEB Stuart's adjutant-general, who was carrying valuable dispatches from Lee.
Pressing on, they surprised Stuart himself while he was relaxing at a farmhouse with his staff.
Stuart narrowly got away, but not without leaving his famous plumed cavalier's hat and scarlet cloak - those fell into the regiments' hands as war prizes.
Doubtless, but that is a far cry from having been the best cavalry commander on either side, during The Recent Unpleasantness.
And Grierson and Little Phil Sheridan for the Yanks ...
The Graybacks had better true cavalrymen of the hussar heritage ... pistols and sabres.
The Yanks were better with the wave of the future .. mounted infantry/dismounted cavalry with the repeating rifles.
However, he was a cavalry colonel, not a general.
And, unlike Buford or Forrest, he cannot be credited with a decisive role in the outcome of a major battle.
"Forrest must be hunted down and killed even if it costs 10 thousand lives and bankrupts that Federal Treasury."
Their performance got the attention of the Administration, and Lincoln subsequently pushed procurement of the Spencers for all the Federal troops. Our people called those weapons the "Yankee Seven Devils" because of their multi-shot capability. (Actually, they held 8 rounds; don't know the reason behind the "seven" unless it's a Biblical reference.)
J.E.B.Stuart was off joyriding when the Battle of Gettysburg started -- deprived Gen. Lee of critical intelligence information when it mattered most.
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