General John Buford

Links to Related Documents on the GDG Site


Brief Biography of John Buford by Eric Wittenberg
John Imboden v John Buford at Williamsport- by Eric Wittenberg
"John Buford and the Gettysburg Campaign" by Eric Wittenberg. (Reprinted from Gettysburg Magazine No. 11)
The Brandy Station Seminar - Conducted by Eric Wittenberg
Bibliography Gettysburg Campaign Cavalry - By Bill Cameron
Posts to Reynolds- June 30, 1863

Discussions by GDG Members

Reynolds and Buford Meet - When? Where?
Strategic Positions - Lovely Ground
Buford's Positions - July 1
Buford's Bivouac - July 2
Buford's Withdrawal - July 2
Buford and Reynolds The Devil To Pay
Buford's Promotion Deathbed Politics
Buford At Thoroughfare Gap Or Was He?
Buford and Dragoon Tactics Or Were They?


 As promised, here, once again, is the passage from Major Joseph Rosengarten regarding the relationship between Buford and Reynolds. It comes from an article that was originally in The Philadelphia Weekly Times and which was later included in Annals of the War:

 Reynolds knew Buford thoroughly, and knowing him and the value of cavalry under such a leader, sent them through the mountain passes beyond Gettysburg to find and feel the enemy. The old rule would have been to keep them back near the infantry, but Reynolds sent Buford on, and Buford went on, knowing that wherever Reynolds sent him he was sure to be supported, followed, and secure. It was Buford who first attracted Reynolds' attention to the concentration of roads which gave Gettysburg its strategic importance, and it was Reynolds who first appreciated the strength and value of Cemetery Hill, and the plateau between that point and Round Top, as the stronghold to be secured for the concentration of the scattered corps and as the place where Meade could put his army to meet and overthrew the larger body he was pursuing. Together they found Gettysburg and made it the spot upon which the Union forces won a victory that was bought with his among the precious lives lost there. Buford and Reynolds were soldiers of the same order, and each found in the other just the qualities that were most needed to perfect and complete the task entrusted to them. The brilliant achievement of Buford, with his small body of cavalry, up to that time hardly appreciated as the right use to be made of them, is but too little considered in the history of the Battle of Gettysburg. It was his foresight and energy, his pluck and self-reliance, in thrusting forward his forces and pushing the enemy, and thus inviting, almost compelling their return, that brought on the engagement of the first of July.

Also, as promised, here is the stuff from the 1863 army manual on outposting and videtting:

Section II, titled "Marching for his Destination", requires the commanding officer of the army's scouting elements to examine the country and observe the places where he can make a stand in case of an attack, with the principal objective of delaying the advance of the enemy as long as possible, skirmishing constantly. This Buford did that afternoon, when he decided where and how to conduct his defense in depth.

 The manual further requires that vidette posts be established:

By night: it is impossible to lay down any fixed principles on this subject; but the general rule is to advance the [videttes] at least two or three miles in front of the main body; to place it behind a bridge, ravine, wood, or bog, through which the road passes, in order to be enabled to make a stand, immediately on being attacked, and to throw out Videttes in front and on the flanks. Small patrols of two or three men, sent out in front and on both flanks, at half an hour's interval, and constantly kept moving, will give perfect security, particularly should one of the men sometimes dismount and listen with his ear to the ground….If the Enemy be near, no fire is to be lighted, and the position of the [videttes] should be frequently changed. One-half of the Guard ought, in this case, to be mounted one hundred yards in advance; the other half, stand or sit the bridles in their hands.
Further, the manual requires that the videttes be placed on the roads at night, and at the bottom of hills to be able to discern figures against the horizon. "They must be advanced only just so far, as their firing can be distinctly heard by the Guard, even in a stormy night."

Finally, the manual requires that if a vidette post is attacked, the officer in charge of the post is to send word to the rear of the attack, advance with his videttes, and begin skirmishing with the enemy. If forced to retire, the videttes were to do so slowly in order to give the infantry time to come up. As the officers are required to select defensive positions in advance, they knew where these places were, and were prepared to fight from them. In short, the entire object was to delay the enemy's advance as long as possible to buy time for support to arrive.

Buford's defense in depth was designed precisely in accordance with these instructions. Aware that the Confederates had a camp along the Chambersburg Pike near Cashtownd Buford established vidette posts along the Pike. Elements of Gamble's 8th Illinois were given this assignment, approximately four miles from the center of the town. The videttes scattered themselves at intervals of thirty feet, using fence posts and rail fences as shelter. The typical vidette post consisted of four or five enlisted men with an officer or a non-commissioned officer in charge, with a vidette reserve waiting close behind. Half of all of the command's horses were kept bridled at all times and the men slept in shifts, prepared to go into action on a moment's notice. No more than 200 of Gamble's troopers manned the vidette posts. The rest remained along the main line atop McPherson's Ridge.

I hope that this helps.
Best regards.
Eric Wittenberg

From: Terry Moyer Subject: Re: Buford and Reynolds meet


In _Gettysburg July 1_, (which is an excellent book and which is taking me a millenium to read), David Martin comes down squarely on the side of the meeting in the cupola scenario with Reynolds. (p96 -97, esp 97). Martin describes some of the questions concerning the meeting, but says; "Since both Jerome and Doubleday expressly place Reynolds at the Seminary building, and Veil's accound does not definitely contradict them, the incident is best accepted rather that (sic - LOTS of typos in this book) rejected." The following citation appears in the bibilography section of the book on page 702: Cameron, Bill. "The Signal Corps at Gettysburg." The Gettysburg Magazine, No. 3: 9 - 15. Oh yeah, and the following appears on the acknowledgments page of the book. "I am also grateful to Edward G. Longacre for research help and advice on the role of Buford's cavalry in the battle, and to Benedict Maryniak and Tim Smith for similar help at interpreting the fighting on Oak Hill."

Terry Moyer
From: (Alexander Cameron)

 I decided to use the board to give you the Jerome information you asked about. There are a couple of folks in the group who are interested in this stuff. I'll give you some bio information on Jerome, some suggestions for use of Jerome related material, and some Signal Corps stuff which is related to Buford. I'm going to give you the short version of this stuff. If you get interested in using some of it, let me know and I'll give you the long version. I hope you can use some of it in your Buford book. If you want more details on any of this material, just ask.

 JEROME, A. BRAINARD, 1st Lieut. Died at San Francisco, Cal. (1st Lieut. 1st N.J. Vols.) Detailed; March, 1862, Army of Potomac; Yorktown, Pa.; April, U.S.S. "Aroostook"; Sept., Falls Church, Va.; Dec. 11 Middle Bridge sta, Fredericksburg, Va.; Dec. 14, Corn Bluff sta.; Chancellorville; July 2, 1863, Round Top Mt. Sta.; July, with General Buford, Gettysburg, Pa.; Sept. 18, app. 1st Lieut. S.C., to date march 3, 1863; April, 1864, Act. Ch. Sig. officer, Dept. of Gulf; with Adm. Porter on "Cricket"; Dept. hdqrs., La.; Aug., on U.S.S. "Beinville," Mobile exp; resigned Sept, 20, 1864.
[J. Willard Brown, THE SIGNAL CORPS, U.S.A. IN THE WAR OF THE REBELLION, Boston, U.S. Veteran Signal Corps Association, 1896, p. 804]

 Jerome swam wire across the Rapidan during the Chancellorville campaign. If you want any background stuff on him, I'll dig it out or send you the pages from Brown. I only have a Xerox copy of some of the chapters but I have a reprint coming (thanks to Terry M.). I can copy what you need if you want to use any of this material. All of those pictures of the signal party on the log tower on Elk Mountain show Jerome. He's the one without the Kepi. (see the picture in my article on Luther Furst in Gettysburg Mag 10, p. 51)

 Jerome signaled from the Seminary cupola warning Howard of Ewell's advance. This is the message that I mentioned is listed incorrectly in the O.R. It is listed as having been sent on the 2nd but clearly it was sent on the 1st. To my knowledge, this message has NEVER been used correctly in a published work (except mine of course :). I think it is important. It shows Buford's command warning the field commander of the Confederate advance on the Union right. [O.R. 27, III, p. 488, also see my article "The Signal Corps at Gettysburg, 3, p. 9]

 As you probably know, Jerome is the source of the story of Buford meeting Reynolds at the Seminary. This has been argued back and forth a lot. Coddington didn't believe the story and neither does Richard Sauers in his article "Gettysburg Controversies" in GBM 4. I believe it. Either Terry Moyer or Dave Powell (sorry I can't remember which) told me that Martin, in his new book, bought Jerome's version. (this has to be a good book since my article made the bib :) I can present a good argument for the Jerome version if you want to get into that issue. [see Sauers article and Jerome to Hancock, vol. 1 of the Morningside version of the Bachelder papers. I don't have it handy at the moment, just look up Jerome. It's in there. If you don't have the Bachelder papers, let me know and I'll send you a copy of the letter.]

 Jerome went to Little Round Top when Buford was assigned the screening mission on the Union left. He signaled Berdan's foray ("Enemy Skirmishers are advancing from the west... and The rebels are in force, and our skirmishers give way") These two messages are on page 488 of part III also. An important point here is that Buford had his signal officer performing telescopic reconnaissance during his screening mission.

 The other issue I would recommend is the use of signals to control troop movement by Merritt. Not only did Buford use the Signal Corps to gather information and transmit that intelligence, he used it for command and control and that was not common. See what Ed Bearss wrote about it in the forward of GBM vol 4. Bearss made a point of this when he reviewed my article.

 If any of this stuff interests you, let me know and I'll get the details for you.



Subject: Buford and Reynolds meet

In a message dated 95-12-24 20:43:34 EST, Bill wrote:

One the Jerome issue, I guess I believe Jerome on the issue of Buford being in the cupola when Reynolds rode up. The letter to Hancock was written right after the war (Oct 18, 65) [Bachelder I, p. 200-1]. Sauers questions it primary because he couldn't understand why Buford would be in the cupola but it is not that far from McPhearson Ridge and it is plausible to me that he went up there to see what was going on. Anyway, it is a case where Jerome would have had to just made up the story. Not enough time had gone by for him to get it mixed up. During my research on the Signal Corps, Jerome shows up a lot (he swam wire across the Rapidan, under fire, during Chancellorsville). Buford thought highly of him and he was an aggressive Lieutenant but there is nothing I have read that makes me think that he was prone to engage in hyperbole. He was writing to Hancock on behalf of Buford's role in the battle and I don't think it was particularly self serving. Could be wrong, you can become protective of these guys after you "get to know them".


Have you read "Morning at Willoughby Run," by Richard Shue? (Talk about your micro history here - now we're not only getting major works on single days of the battle, but serious efforts on _parts_ of days.) Shue supports the seminary as the meeting site, for much the same reason - he finds Jerome wholly credible, and besides, there's corroborating evidence from Buford's aide and a civilian, as well.

Shue's book is neat - in the back, he lists about 20 or so "controversies" and analyzes them point by point. His style is more readable than Martin's, as well.

Dave Powell 


On July 5, 1863, Brig. Gen. John Buford and his staff set out for Boonsboro, Maryland, where Judson Kilpatrick’s command was camped. The two generals met to plan their advance on a 17 mile long Confederate wagon train of wounded in Williamsport, Maryland, where the wagons were trapped by the rising waters of the Potomac River. The two generals agreed that Buford’s division would pitch into the Confederate forces guarding the wagon trains on the banks of the swollen river.

On the 6th, Buford’s Division advanced on the river crossing town of Williamsport. A Confederate defensive force, scraped together of a brigade of cavalrymen and the waggoners, was commanded by Brig. Gen. John D. Imboden, a forty year old lawyer from the Shenandoah Valley primarily noted for his partisan activities. The town had become one large field hospital for the stream of Confederate battle casualties, but the Union pursuit soon forced Imboden to battle in its defense. He wrote, “Our situation was frightful. We had probably ten thousand animals and nearly all of the wagons of Gen. Lee’s army under our charge, and all the wounded, to the number of several thousand, that could be brought from Gettysburg.”

That morning Imboden learned that Buford’s and Kilpatrick’s divisions were closing in. Recognizing that he had a difficult task, the Confederate genera armed as many of the wounded as were able to fight and arrayed his troops on the high ground surrounding the town. Imboden had a number of batteries of horse artillery with him, so his force had firepower to oppose the strong Union force bearing down on him. At about 1:30 p.m., Kilpatrick’s men attacked.

It was about 5:30, before Buford’s division, then located near St. James College, four miles from Williamsport, encountered one of Imboden’s advanced detachments. As Buford’s command advanced, it came under both artillery and small arms fire. The Confederate gunners briefly compelled Buford to fall back until Calef’s battery could be brought up. Calef unlimbered and engaged the Confederate artillerists in a counter-battery duel, which was won by the Confederates. Calef’s men were briefly driven from their guns, thus leaving them vulnerable to capture. In response, Buford ordered Gamble’s brigade to support Calef, and a sharp fight broke out along the Boonsboro Road, where Gamble’s troopers attempted to outflank the enemy defenses in an effort to get between the Confederates and the river. Gamble dismounted his command and ordered it forward. Federal carbine fire drove the Confederates all the way back to Imboden’s main line of defense at Williamsport, a distance of several miles. In this attack, Maj. William J. Medill, the diminutive but pugnacious second in command of the 8th Illinois, remarked to regimental commander Maj. John Beveridge “A field officer should command the battalion, and if you have no objection, I will go.” Medill grabbed a carbine, caught up to the advancing skirmish line, and joined in the attack. When the Illinois men were halfway across the field, Medill ordered a volley and raised his own carbine to fire a shot when he was severely wounded. The brave, popular little major was taken to Frederick, he died several days later.

Gamble’s men held their positions until dark, frustrated by their inability to get to the Confederate wagon train they could see just behind Imboden’s line. Lt. John Blue, a wounded officer of Grumble Jones’s brigade, who was waiting to cross the Potomac at Williamsport, noted, “The lines of blue could be plainly seen on the high grounds not far away. General Imboden’s command, reinforced by several hundred teamsters, seemed to be patiently awaiting the attack.” But Gamble’s carbines took a heavy toll among the Confederate defenders. Maj. Harry Gilmor of the 2nd Maryland Cavalry commanded the Southern troops in the northern sector of Gamble’s attack. Realizing that his position was vulnerable to Buford’s artillery fire, Gilmor sent back to Imboden for reinforcements, but Imboden had none to spare. Ordering his troopers and convalescents into line of battle, the dashing Gilmor led a small force of 180 Confederates towards a large building occupied by Gamble’s troopers. The Yankees were driven out by this attack, but Gilmor’s command suffered 34 casualties.

Harry Gilmor had scarcely taken possession of the building when Calef’s artillery opened on him, followed by a dismounted assault. Gilmor’s men repulsed this attack, and another, then counterattacked in an effort to reach Calef’s guns atop the nearby ridge. Gilmor was knocked senseless by the concussion of a shell fired by one of the guns and fell into Federal hands, although he later escaped.

Gilmor was soon reinforced by Brig. Gen. Fitzhugh Lee’s Cavalry Brigade, who, along with the brigade of Brig. Gen. Wade Hampton, brought up the rear of Imboden’s wagon train, as well as Confederate foot soldiers and artillery which arrived to stem the blue tide. The 54th North Carolina Infantry, part of the Army of Northern Virginia’s rear guard, took on Gamble’s men, suffering fairly heavy casualties in the fighting. Outgunning Buford’s artillery, the Gray cannoneers continued to get the better of the exchange.

By the time Devin’s brigade arrived, Gamble was already heavily engaged, as was part of Merritt’s brigade. The Confederates tried to outflank Merritt’s position with a brigade of infantry, which, according to Buford’s report, “was most admirably foiled by General Merritt.” While no direct attacks were made on Merritt’s front, the Confederates there “were so obstinate that General Merritt could not dislodge them without too much sacrifice.” The 6th Pennsylvania held the center of Merritt’s line, supported by the Regular battery of Capt. William K. Graham. There Rush’s Lancers held their position for four hours under heavy fire knowing that “[m]ore than one determined charge of the rebels would have broken our line but for the timely use of canister by Graham’s guns.” Devin was ordered to mass in the woods to the rear of the Union position and await further orders. At 7 p.m., he was sent to relieve Gamble’s men on the left front, with instructions to disengage and fall back to the woods after dark. Meanwhile, Imboden received word from Fitz Lee that if he could hang on for another half hour, Lee’s strong brigade would come to his aid. Resolved to hold his ground, Imboden gamely resisted until Lee’s troopers reached the field. Thanks to those reinforcments, the Confederates began pushing back the Union forces.

Devin held the woods until morning, allowing the rest of Buford’s command to withdraw. Devin’s troopers then conducted a fighting retreat, covering the main line with skirmishers as they retired. Devin had heavily picketed the roads in his rear, since members of the 6th New York had detected approaching Confederate infantry and artillery seeking to cut off the Union troopers. Around midnight, the Confederates advanced skirmishers and encountered Devin’s picket lines. After a brief firefight, the Rebels withdrew. Devin took some casualties in this clash, mostly from the 17th Pennsylvania, which was covering the retreat.

Around 7 p.m., the vanguard of Kilpatrick’s division came down the Hagerstown Road, deployed, and opened fire. Hearing this, Buford sent word to Kilpatrick “to connect with my right for mutual support. The connection was made, Buford reported, “but was of no consequence to either one of us.” The regimental historian of the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry, of Kilpatrick’s division, noted,

…the whole train would have [been burned] had it not been for the rebel infantry and cavalry, which now came up, and furiously attacked, in flank and rear…Long and desperately did [Kilpatrick’s troopers] contend with the overwhelming forces opposed to them— in fact, too long, for they were at one time completely enveloped…As it was, however, they successfully extricated themselves from their perilous position, [and] recrossed the Antietam in safety…

Unfortunately, Fitz Lee’s brigade arrived about the same time, and supported by strong and effective artillery fire, succeeded in driving off Kilpatrick’s division. Buford noted, “Just before dark, Kilpatrick’s troops gave way, passing to my rear by the right, and were closely followed by the enemy.” The firing ended at about 8 p.m., which probably was a good thing for the Federals. The regimental historian of the 6th Pennsylvania believed, “Had the daylight lasted another hour, we would have suffered the most disastrous defeat.”

Exasperated, the Federals drew off. After removing his wounded, Buford retired to a position along the Sharpsburg and Hagerstown Turnpike, where he threw out strong picket lines. Properly protected, his division bivouacked for the night, cold, wet and tired. The torrential rains continued to fall, and they wallowed in a sea of mud. The regimental historian of the 6th New York observed, “The men passed a wearisome, sleepless night, mounted, in line, or standing to horse.”

July 6th had not been a good day for Buford. Frustrated by his inability to capture the great prize that awaited at the ford at Williamsport, he had tried to drive off Imboden’s scratch force and failed. A member of the 8th Illinois wrote home, “Although the rebels were too many for us, yet they lost the most men; they charged us but we beat them back; but we could not get possession of the town, and so withdrew after dark…” Imboden had done a masterful job of shifting his makeshift force to meet threats, and had repulsed both Buford and Kilpatrick in some sharp fighting. Imboden proudly wrote years later, “My whole force engaged, wagoners included, did not exceed three thousand men. The ruse practiced by showing a formidable line on the left, then withdrawing it to the right, together with our numerous artillery…led to the belief that our force was much greater….A bold charge at any time before sunset would have broken our feeble lines, and then we should all have fallen an easy prey to the Federals.” This ruse was not evident to either Buford or Kilpatrick. Buford noted in his report of the campaign, “The expedition had for its object the destruction of the enemy’s trains…This, I regret to say, was not accomplished. The enemy was too strong for me, but he was severely punished for his obstinacy. His casualties were more than quadruple mine.” It was one of Old Steadfast’s worst showings as a commander.