John Buford, Jr., was born in Woodford County, Kentucky, March 4, 1826. The Buford family had a long martial tradition, dating back to the family's roots in Ireland. John Buford, Jr., was born the first child of John and Anne Bannister Watson Buford. His father was a state legislator in Kentucky, and was the son of a prominent Virginia veteran of the Revolutionary War, Simeon Buford. His mother was the daughter of Capt. Edward Howe of the United States Navy. Young John had two brothers, Thomas Jefferson Buford and James Monroe Buford, as well as a half brother and a half sister from his father's first marriage.2

The Buford family, like many other American families, was deeply divided by the Civil War. John Buford's older half brother, Napoleon Bonaparte Buford, graduated sixth in his class at West Point in 1827, when he was commissioned into the Regular Army as a brevet second lieutenant of engineers. Napoleon Buford remained in the army until his resignation in 1835, after studying law at Harvard University by permission of the War Department and serving a stint at the academy as an assistant professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy. He then rejoined the army in 1861, when he was elected colonel of the 27th Illinois Volunteers on August 10, 1861. After serving meritoriously in the early western campaigns of the Civil War, Napoleon Buford was commissioned a brigadier general of volunteers on April 15, 1862, immediately after the battle of Shiloh. He was given command of a brigade in Brig. Gen. William S. Rosecrans' Army of the Mississippi, and served in that capacity during the early phases of the Vicksburg campaign. In January 1863, he was given command at Cairo, Illinois, a position he held until September 12, 1863, when he took command of the garrison of Helena, Arkansas, a position he held until the end of the war. On March 13, 1865, he was promoted to brevet major general of volunteers, and was mustered out of the service on August 24, 1865.3

John Buford's first cousin,Abraham Buford, also saw extensive service in the army. Abraham Buford graduated 51st in West Point's class of 1841. From there, Abraham Buford was commissioned into the First Dragoons, where he served for thirteen years. He saw duty in the American West, and also served with distinction during the Mexican War, eventually rising to the rank of captain. After the Mexican War, Abraham Buford served along the Mexican border, attended the Cavalry School for Practice at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and finally resigned his commission in 1854. A man of great physical size and strength, Abraham Buford was a fighter. After much contemplation, he decided to cast his lot with the Confederacy, joining Morgan's Raiders in Kentucky in 1862. He was appointed brigadier general and with a brigade of raw recruits, helped cover Braxton Bragg's retreat from Perryville back into East Tennessee by way of Cumberland Gap. After a dispute with Maj. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, Abraham Buford was transferred south to command a brigade of cavalry. In 1864, he joined Nathan Bedford Forrest's command, and participated in the battles of Fort Pillow, Brice's Cross Roads, and Tupelo. Later, when Forrest's command was attached to the Army of Tennessee during the Nashville Campaign, Buford's command covered the retreat of the army, and while engaged in a fight with a Union major, killed the major with his pistol after the major had struck him in the head with his sword and shouted, "Surrender, you damn big rebel." Abraham Buford reached the rank of brigadier general, commanding a division of Forrest's cavalry.4

Against this martial backdrop, young John Buford was destined also to become a soldier. The family moved to Rock Island, Illinois, during the 1830s. The earliest reference to their residing there is found in the 1840 United States Census, which indicated the John Buford family of six persons resided in the town.5 Young John Jr. would have been fourteen years old at that time. In 1842, his father was elected state senator for Rock Island County, and in 1843 his father was commissioned appraiser of the real estate belonging to the State Bank of Illinois.6 He would remain in public service for the rest of his life.

In 1842 young John was, at sixteen years old, "a fine promising young man, well grown for his age, and of excellent mind and morals."7 That year he was nominated for an appointment to West Point, but the appointment was denied due to the fact that his half brother Napoleon had attended the Academy. The denial sparked a flurry of letter writing on young John's behalf, including one from Napoleon that stated, "[h]e has all of the qualities for making a good soldier, and is well prepared to enter in the course of studies at the Academy." 8 When admission to West Point was denied, young John enrolled at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, for the 1842-43 academic year.9 After completing one year there, young John moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he resided with his half brother Napoleon and attended college.10 With his half brother Napoleon again leading a vigorous letter writing campaign, John Buford was again nominated for an appointment to West Point in 1843, finally being appointed in 1844. The appointment was accepted on April 20, 1844, and John Buford entered West Point that fall.11 He graduated sixteenth in the class of 1848. Upon graduation, he was commissioned, at his request, into the Second Dragoons as a brevet second lieutenant.12

In the early stages of his career, Buford served along the Mexican border, being promoted to second lieutenant in 1849 and to first lieutenant in 1853. On May 9, 1854, Lieutenant Buford was married to Martha McDowell Duke of Kentucky.13 He served as quarter master for the Second Dragoons from 1855 through the beginning of August 1858, fighting in several Indian uprisings along the way. While serving as quartermaster, the Second Dragoons were stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, where Buford participated in quelling the disturbances in "Bleeding Kansas," in 1856 and 1857.

The Second Dragoons were then sent west under the command of Col. Albert Sidney Johnston to participate in the Utah Expedition against Brigham Young and his Mormon followers during 1857 and 1858. Buford was promoted to captain on March 9, 1859, serving a brief stint of detached service in Washington, D.C., and then being sent to frontier duty, where he was given the task of conducting recruits to Oregon. Buford then served at Fort Crittenden, Utah, with the Second Dragoons until the beginning of the Civil War. 14

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Buford was offered a commission in the Confederate army. This he rejected, proclaiming, "I'll live and die under the Union."15 He and his regiment of Regulars, having been redesignated the 2nd U.S. Cavalry, traveled from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to Washington, D.C., arriving in October 1861. Despite his experience as a cavalry officer, he was assigned to staff duty as an assistant inspector general.16 Buford, by now a major in the Regular Army, languished in this role until discovered there by Maj. Gen. John Pope, with whom Buford had served in the "old" army. Pope, who knew Buford well. was surprised to find Buford desk bound and asked Buford how he could remain in such a position with a war raging and if he had any objection to being assigned to a field command. Buford "seemed hurt" that Pope could doubt Buford's desire to take the field and told Pope "he had tried to get a command, but was without influence enough to accomplish it."17 Pope, in perhaps his best decision as an army commander, rescued Buford from oblivion as a staff officer and ordered him to report for assignment to the Army of Virginia on July 27, 1862.18 Buford was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers and given a major role in the cavalry of the Army of Virginia.

Buford was assigned command of the reserve cavalry brigade attached to Nathaniel P. Banks' corps and served with distinction during the Second Manassas Campaign, engaging in a bold mounted charge, on August 30, driving several regiments of Confederate cavalry before being routed by a counterattack. This was John Buford's first important contribution as a cavalry commander, and it also represented the first time the blue cavalry stood up to Maj. Gen. James E. B. Stuart in a toe-to-toe fight.19 Indeed, troopers from, Buford's command captured Jeb Stuart's plumed hat during a surprise raid on his headquarters in the early phases of the campaign. Buford learned from his experiences at Second Manassas: he had not committed his entire force in the fight and had ultimately lost as a result. He also learned that mounted charges were not always the most effective means of employing cavalry. These lessons stuck with him, and he made good use of them throughout the remainder of his career.

Buford's greatest service during the Second Manassas Campaign went largely unnoticed. On August 29, 1862, he observed the passage of Longstreet's corps through Thoroughfare Gap and reported this fact. The report was forwarded to Pope's second-in-command, Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell, who failed to forward the dispatch on to Pope. This dispatch established, beyond doubt, that Longstreet's corps was on hand at Manassas, prepared to enter the fight. The captured dispatch, if properly interpreted by Pope, could have averted the ensuing disaster. 20 That others chose to ignore Buford's warning was not his fault. Nevertheless, Buford had learned the importance of scouting and of the delaying effect that dismounted cavalry could have upon the advance of infantry. Unfortunately, Buford suffered a severe wound to his knee during the Second Manassas debacle and went on sick leave.21

After the end of the Second Manassas Campaign, Buford was one of the few of Pope's senior commanders to remain in good standing, after Pope's downfall, although Buford's connection to the short-lived Army of Virginia probably prevented him from attaining the high rank he deserved. Likely as a result of his connection with Pope, Buford was passed over for permanent command. Less than a month after being wounded at Second Manassas, Buford was appointed chief of cavalry of the Army of the Potomac and commanded the army's cavalry during the Antietam Campaign. He was then assigned to Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's staff until McClellan was relieved in favor of Buford's friend, Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside. 22 Buford again served briefly as chief of cavalry from December 1862 until February 28, 1863. Buford retained this position while the army was in winter camp at Falmouth, Virginia, after the disastrous Fredericksburg Campaign. 23 When the cavalry corps was reorganized during the tenure of Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker, leadership of the Cavalry Corps was given first to Buford's long-time, close friend Maj. Gen. George Stoneman, who was relieved after his unsuccessful April 29-May 7 raid on Confederate railroads linking Richmond with Gen. Robert E. Lee's army. Stoneman was succeeded in command by Brig. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, and Buford was given command of the First Division during May 1863, in the aftermath of Hooker's defeat at Chancellorsville.24

Thus, by the end of May 1863, John Buford stood poised to play a major role in the coming Gettysburg Campaign. By the time of the great battle he was thirty- seven years old and one of the best cavalry officers the Union had. He was a man of few words, full of energy, and as Col. Charles S. Wainwright later wrote, he was 11 never looking after his own comfort, untiring on the march and in the supervision of his command, quiet and unassuming in his manners."25 Col. Theodore Lyman, who met Buford during the Gettysburg Campaign, gave the following description of Buford: He is one of the best officers of [the Union cavalry] and is a singular-looking party ... a compactly built man of middle height, with a tawny mustache and a little triangular gray eye, whose expression is determined, not to say sinister. His ancient corduroys are tucked into a pair of ordinary cowhide boots and his blue blouse is ornamented with holes; from one pocket thereof peeps a huge pipe, while the other is fat with a tobacco pouch. Notwithstanding this get-up, he is a very soldierly looking man. He is of a good natured disposition but not to be trifled with. Caught a notorious spy last winter and hung him to the next tree, with this inscription: "This man is to hang three days; he who cuts him down before shall hang the remaining time."26 Another of his soldiers said Buford was 'straight forward, honest, conscientious, full of good common sense, and always to be relied upon in any emergency ... decidedly the best cavalry officer" in the Army of the Potomac."27 While no match for his rival Jeb Stuart in flair, Buford, in his tattered old hunting shirt and worn corduroys, was popular with his men, who believed him to be the Union's best cavalry officer. 28

Perhaps most tellingly, Buford was known to his comrades as "Old Steadfast."29 As demonstrated amply throughout the Gettysburg Campaign, his command was prepared to follow him anywhere and to do his bidding to the best of their ability. Few Union officers of the Civil War were blessed with better commands or with better subordinates to carry out their orders. Therein lies much of Buford's success.

General Buford and Staff

The First Division, Cavalry Corps, Army of the Potomac

Buford's division consisted of three cavalry brigades. The First Brigade, under Col. William Gamble, numbered some of the best cavalrymen in the Union army. Gamble's brigade included the 8th Illinois, four companies of the 12th Illinois, six companies of the 3rd Indiana, and the 8th New York.30Colonel Gamble, of Ireland, emigrated to the United States at the age of twenty, after a stint as an enlisted dragoon in the British army. By 1863 he was forty-five years old, and had spent much of his adult life in the cavalry or dragoons. Early in the war he enlisted in the 8th Illinois Cavalry, first as drill sergeant, eventually rising to colonel, after his recovery from a severe wound suffered during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign.31 In an order to his regiment, the 8th Illinois, Gamble clearly stated his own philosophy as a leader of men. "[T]he first duty of a soldier is a prompt and cheerful obedience to all lawful orders, and no one is fit to command, in any capacity, that is not himself willing to obey."32 His men made their mark on many fields throughout the war but made few contributions more important than those during the Gettysburg Campaign.

The Second Brigade was led by Col. Thomas Casimir Devin, formerly colonel of the 6th New York Cavalry. At the outbreak of the war, Devin was a house painter and a lieutenant in the 1st New York Militia Cavalry for many years. Along with one company of this unit, Devin enlisted in the 6th New York and became its colonel, November 18, 186 1. By 1862 the 6th New York was one of the best drilled regiments in the Union army, prompting one old dragoon to say, "I can't teach Col. Devin anything about cavalry; he knows more about tactics than I do." Devin was eventually given command of a brigade of cavalry in the Army of the Potomac, which was employed piecemeal in support of different corps on the march to and at Chancellorsville. By the time of the Gettysburg Campaign, Devin was known as either "Old War Horse" or "Buford's Hard Hitter," high praise for someone fighting under John Buford."33

Devin's command consisted of the 6th New York, the 9th New York (also known as the Ira Harris Guards for the New York politician responsible for raising and funding the command), two companies of the 3rd West Virginia, all veteran commands that had seen service throughout most of the war, and the 17th Pennsylvania, an inexperienced regiment, made up of "country boys," who had been mustered into service at the beginning of 1863.34 Devin's brigade had earned its reputation for being hard-fighting and hard-hitting. Being the experienced cavalryman he was, Devin knew how to fight and usually got good results.

The Third Brigade, or Reserve Brigade, was commanded by twenty-three-year-old Brig. Gen. Wesley Merritt. Merritt had graduated from West Point in 1860 and had been commissioned into the 2nd U.S. Cavalry. Merritt had the reputation of being one of the toughest disciplinarians in the army. Because of his talent and his ability to command in battle, Merritt advanced through the ranks rapidly, being promoted from captain to brigadier general on June 29 while the Gettysburg Campaign was under way." 35 Merritt would achieve fame and success in the later stages of the Civil War and in the post-war army.

The Reserve Brigade, previously under Buford's command, was an interesting blend. The core consisted of the remaining elements of the Regular Cavalry in the East, badly depleted by the mismanagement of its commanders during the early phases of the war. They numbered the 1st U.S. (Buford's old command), 2nd U.S., 5th U.S., and 6th U.S. These small regiments, while maintaining their professional core, were shadows of what they once had been. The other regiment in Merritt's brigade was the 6th Pennsylvania, formerly known as Rush's Lancers. The 6th had been raised in Philadelphia by Col. Richard Rush and was made up of the social elite of Philadelphia's first families. The 6th was known as the Lancers because in November 1861, Maj. Gen. George McClellan, then commanding the Army of the Potomac and enamored of Napoleonic tactics, ordered the 6th be armed exclusively with nine foot lances tipped with eleven-inch blades.36

The realities of modern warfare quickly led its commander to realize that modern weapons were needed, and the lances were retired along with Colonel Rush, who was replaced by Robert Morris, Jr.37 By the time of the Gettysburg the 6th Pennsylvania had adopted modern weapons and tactics, and had become an effective fighting force, well integrated into the Army of Potomac's cavalry.

Captain John C. Tidball, second from left with beard.

Attached to Buford's division were three units from the Second Brigade of the Horse Artillery, also known as Tidball's Horse Artillery, consisting of Regular artillery commands under Capt. John C. Tidball. The batteries attached to Buford's division were the 1st U.S., Companies E and G (Capt. Alanson M. Randol), Company K (Capt. William M. Graham), and the 2nd U.S., Company A. Each battery was armed with two sections of three-inch ordnance rifles with an effective range of 3,000 yards. Lt. John H. Calef's Company A, 2nd U.S., on July 1, helped Buford's division buy time on McPherson's Ridge in its duel with the Confederate batteries of Henry Heth's division.

Buford's division rode into the Gettysburg Campaign with some of the best cavalrymen in either army and with solid subordinate commanders. Their mettle would be tested during the campaign, and each time it passed muster. That it would do so in nearly two months of constant fighting speaks well for both its leaders and the rank and file.

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