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The renewed bitterness over the slavery question incident to the close of the Mexican War and the addition of new territory suitable for the extension of slavery was for a time composed by the Compromise of 1850. But not for long, as the fugitive slave laws soon came to be nullified either by force or by the passage of "personal liberty laws", and the abolition spirit received a tremendous stimulus through the sympathetic reception of "Uncle Tom's Cabin", which appeared in 1852. The year Buchanan returned from the Expedition to Japan, the people of the two new territories, Kansas and Nebraska, were on the point in engaging in that fratricidal warfare among themselves over the extension of slavery, in which John Brown first gained notoriety. From that time onward, the two sections drew farther apart, and the citizens of the border states were confronted with the question of making a choice in the impending conflict. In this dilemma Buchanan was eventually to find himself.
During the half dozen years preceding the Civil War, he was not given an opportunity to further distinguish himself. Indeed, he was kept on "waiting orders" the greater portion of that time. This probably grew out of the findings of a board on which he was appointed to p152 serve, by the Secretary of the Navy, on June 5, 1855. This was because the famous board provided by the Act of Congress of February 28, 1855, the purpose of which was the promotion of efficiency in the navy. The other members it were Captains William B. Shubrick, Matthew C. Perry, Charles S. McCauley, C. K. Stribling, and Abraham Bigelow; Commanders G. J. Pendergrast, Samuel F. DuPont, Andrew H. Foote, and Samuel S. Barron; and Lieutenants John S. Missroon, Richard L. Page, Sylvanus W. Godon, William L. Maury, and James S. Biddle. It accordingly came to be known as the "Board of Fifteen". This board was to "make a careful examination" of the personnel of the service and determine those considered "incapable of performing promptly and sufficiently all their duty both ashore and afloat".1 Such officers were either to be dropped from the navy, or placed upon a "reserved list" and receive other leave of absence pay or merely furlough pay, according to the degree of their disability.
The board sat from June 20 to July 26, and reported the names of forty-nine to be dropped from the navy, seventy‑one to be placed on the "reserved list" with leave of absence pay, and eighty‑one to be on the "reserved list" with furlough pay. On the 13th of September the board was dissolved, and its findings made public, though it had been instructed to hold its meetings in secret and keep no record of its proceedings. Under the circumstances, it was hardly possible for it to escape hurting the feelings of many officers and their relatives and friends, and of doing injustice in some cases. In a short time, there was a great uproar, particularly in the newspapers, over the results of the board's work. This p153 centered around Lieutenant Matthew Fontaine Maury,2 who was among those placed on the "reserved list". He had been kept at the Naval Observatory for many years, where he had gained for himself a world wide fame as an oceanographer. Maury claimed that he had been retained at this shore station through the choice of the Navy Department and not because of his lameness which had long since ceased to prevent his performing duty at sea. The battle raged on in the press, and then in Congress until eventually it was arranged that cases under dispute might be reviewed by a regular court of inquiry whose findings would be presented to the President for final action. One hundred eight cases were thus examined, and the decision was modified or reversed in the majority of that number, among which was that of Maury.
Buchanan was promoted to the rank of captain on September 14, 1855, but on account of the trouble connected with the work of the "Efficiency Board" his commission was held in abeyance until August 1, 1856 when he was recommissioned. A few days afterwards, he wrote Secretary of the Navy Dobbin, acknowledging the receipt of his commission and declaring, "As my health is perfectly restored, I request to be considered an applicant for active service at sea."
Probably, the fact that Buchanan had had five years and ten months of sea service in the rank of commander (more than that of any other commander, few of which had had as many as five years) may have kept him "waiting orders" at first; but one can hardly understand why he was made to wait for active service until May 26, 1859 unless some consideration is given to the fact p154 that the new administration, because of the furore in the press, sought to revise the work of the "Efficiency Board", and considered it politic to keep the members of the board in the background. Two members, Captain Abraham Bigelow and Lieutenant James S. Biddle, resigned from the service during the bickerings which arose.
It was certainly not through Buchanan's choice that he was unemployed during that long interval, for he wrote to Secretary of the Navy Toucey, June 21, 1858, "Sir, — As there is a prospect of a rupture between England and the United States,3 I respectfully renew my application, 'made many months since', for active service at sea". But no employment was afforded him until April 6, 1859, when he was made President of a Court of Inquiry, and a member of a board to examine midshipmen at Annapolis, Captain George S. Blake then being Superintendent of the Academy. This temporary duty was followed by Buchanan's being ordered, May 26, 1859, to command the Washington Navy Yard.
The officer in command of the ordnance department of the yard was Commander John A. Dahlgren. Though nothing of very great interest happened at the Washington Navy Yard until near the close of Buchanan's tour of duty there, yet the following entry in Dahlgren's diary for the year 1859 is worthy of note: "October 17. A sudden order for ammunition for marines ordered by railroad to Harper's Ferry to capture old Brown and his party, who had made a foray thither". In December, p155 in obedience to an order from the Navy Department, Buchanan and some other officers took the steam sloop Narragansett for a trial run of six days down the Chesapeake and out to sea. He reported that she could make only six to seven knots in a smooth sea and only four in a tolerably rough one with a fresh breeze, on account of the fact that the propeller was too small for her engine. During his administration of the yard a great deal of attention was devoted to experiments with ordnance. The following improvements were made during the year 1859: "Boiler shop extended, shears removed, reservoir of water completed, gas pipes and fixtures and timber shed", at the total expense of $5,831.74; while in 1860 there was an extension of the navy store, anchor shop, and coal-houses, completed at a cost of $16,963.64.4
The Washington Navy Yard was visited by many distinguished guests who came to see the national capital. On May 14, 1860, Buchanan had the pleasure of entertaining his old friend and comrade, Commodore Tattnall, who had recently returned from the command of the East India Squadron, during which duty he had become famous for his conduct at the mouth of the Peiho River. When the English were engaged here, on June 25, 1859, in a desperate battle with the Chinese forts, Tattnall, though a neutral, exclaimed, "Blood is thicker than water", and calling for his launch, proceeded through the thickest of the fire to the assistance of the British. He was received at the yard with all the honors due one of his rank, escorted through the buildings, and then entertained at dinner where other distinguished guests were present. After the dinner, Buchanan proposed the health of Tattnall, "prefacing p156 the toast with some pertinent and affecting remarks, which caused the silent tear to glisten in the still brilliant eye of the old naval hero".5
On his return home in the Powhatan, Tattnall had conveyed from Japan to San Francisco the first Japanese diplomatic representatives to the United States. There were two commissioners in chief together with complete suites, making in all seventy‑one persons. The Japanese arrived on the steamer Philadelphia from Norfolk on May 14 and were first received at the navy yard by Buchanan. "When at two or three rods distance from the boat, Commodore Buchanan stepped forward and briefly welcomed the embassy in the name of the President of the United States and the people of the country. He said he reciprocated the kind feelings expressed by the Japanese government when the treaty was made by the gallant Commodore Perry and as an humble participant on this other interesting occasion he felt proud of being the medium of reception and welcome on the part of his countrymen".6 Mayor Berret, in the name of the city of Washington, assisted Buchanan in receiving the Japanese. After their reception, they were escorted by a number of military companies to Willard's Hotel. On the afternoon of May 24, they were received again at the Navy Yard. Buchanan welcomed them in a short address which was delivered during a salute of seventeen guns, the marines being drawn up at present arms. The Japanese were shown an anchor-stock being forged, the new machinery for the steamer Pensacola, and in fact everything of interest in the yard. "Commandant Buchanan afterwards entertained them and a p157 large party of ladies and gentlemen with the elegant and bountiful hospitality for which he is distinguished. Among all the pleasant days they have spent in Washington, the Japanese regard this as one of the most agreeable and instructive".7
Courtesy of Navy Department, Naval Records and Library
From a photograph taken at the Washington Navy Yard. Naval officers, from left to right: Lieut. S. Nicholson, Lieut. H. H. Lewis, Lieut. D. D. Porter (workers), Lieut. C. C. Simms, Commander Charles H. McBlair, Capt. S. F. Dupont (top hat), Capt. Franklin Buchanan, Lieut. Wm. L. Maury, Purser R. T. Allison.
Among the other distinguished persons entertained by Buchanan was the Prince de Joinville, who visited the yard at about this time. He was the third son of Louis Philippe, for several years King of the French, and he had made a name for himself in the French Navy. He was naturally greatly interested in the Navy Yard, and was shown through the establishment and permitted to see practice exercises at a battery under Captain Dahlgren. At the close, he expressed himself as exceedingly gratified and complimented by the honors which had been so cheerfully bestowed upon him. Buchanan derived some personal satisfaction out of his entertainment of the Prince, as he was one of the officers who had been entertained at dinner, years before, by King Louis Philippe in Paris.a
Early in the year 1861, when the Civil War seemed imminent, it began to be rumored that an attempt would be made to capture the Washington Navy Yard for the purpose of securing its arms and ammunition in an effort to prevent the inauguration of President-elect Abraham Lincoln. On January 8, therefore, Buchanan drew up confidential instructions to Commander Dahlgren for the defense of the place, which were as follows: "Various rumors are in circulation that a mob will attempt to possess themselves of this yard, between this and the 4th of March next for the purpose of securing the armory and magazine, to be used in preventing the inauguration p158 of Mr. Lincoln, the President-elect. You will therefore prepare for the defense of the yard all the howitzers now available in the Ordnance Department, with as much secrecy as possible. This yard shall not be surrendered to any person or persons, except by an order from the Honorable Secretary of the Navy, and in the event of an attack I shall require all officers and others under my command to defend it to the last extremity, and should we be overpowered by numbers, the armory and magazine must be blown up; you will therefore make all the necessary arrangements for the execution of this order, and submit to me the plan you propose; at the proper time the officers will be designated by me to apply the match. Precautionary arrangements will be made in time to prevent the seizure of the main magazine up the river. You will make to me such suggestions to carry out these arrangements as your judgment may dictate." This communication was marked "strictly confidential". On January 14 and 23, Dahlgren offered suggestions as to the needs for defense and the steps that had been taken; and on February 1, Buchanan drew up a General Order with detailed arrangements for the defense of the yard, which was communicated to the Secretary of the Navy.
This account did not materialize, but other events, momentous in determining the course of Buchanan's life, were soon to happen. Between December 20, 1860, when South Carolina passed her ordnance of secession, to February 1, 1861, the following additional states left the Union: Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. Delegates from these states had immediately met at Montgomery, Alabama, had drawn up a preliminary constitution for "The Confederate p159 States of America", and had elected Jefferson Davis as President and Alexander H. Stephens as Vice President of the Confederacy. A sort of paralysis then seized the country, and no one seemed to do anything to avert catastrophe to the ship of state. Even after Lincoln was inaugurated, a month went by before any definite step was taken. Then he decided to relieve Fort Sumter, and on April 12 the Confederates began the bombardment of that place, — the war had begun. Lincoln at once called on the state governors for 75,000 militia and this led to the immediate secession of Virginia, and the secession in May following of Tennessee, Arkansas, and North Carolina, which soon joined the Confederacy. Meanwhile, the border states, Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland, were left trembling in the balance. The latter, probably, came nearest to joining the Southern states in their new government.
Sentiment throughout the entire state of Maryland was very strong against the aggressive and uncompromising policy of the abolitionists. A "select committee" from the Maryland legislature, to whom was referred the resolutions from South Carolina, which had been received in January, 1860, calling for a general convention of all the Southern states, reported on March 8 in strong terms against the "aggression of the North" and declared, "Maryland will not be precipitate to initiate a system that may begin the destruction of this majestic work of our fathers", adding, however, "We also respectfully but earnestly desire to assure our brethren of South Carolina that, should the hour ever arrive when the Union must be dissolved, Maryland will cast her lot with her sister States of the South, and abide their fortune to the fullest extent".8
p160 On December 6, 1860, even Governor Hicks of Maryland wrote, "After allowing a reasonable time for action on the part of the Northern States (in repeal of the Personal Liberty Laws), if they shall neglect or refuse to observe the plain requirements of the Constitution, then, in my judgment, we shall be fully warranted in demanding a division of the country. . . . When she (Maryland) moves in the matter, I wish to be side by side with Virginia — our nearest neighbor — Kentucky and Tennessee".9 Such sentiment seemed on the point of being crystallized by the secession of Virginia on April 17, and by the riot in Baltimore of April 19. The latter occurred when about 2000 troops, composed of the Sixth Regiment of Massachusetts, six companies of the First and four companies of the Second Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers, and about one half of the "Washington Brigade" of Philadelphia, were set upon by infuriated citizens of Baltimore, as the soldiers attempted to pass through the streets of that city on their way to the defense of Washington. As a result four soldiers and twelve citizens were killed, and many more on both sides were wounded. At 4 o'clock the same afternoon Governor Hicks made a speech at a public meeting in Monument Square, Baltimore, in which he was reported to have said that he was a Marylander and would sooner have his "right arm cut off than raise it against a sister Southern State".10
Reading of this riot in a New Orleans paper, a young journalist, named James Ryder Randall, who was a native of Baltimore, was so moved with indignation and pity that he wrote these famous lines:
p161 "The despot's heel is on thy shore,
His torch is at thy temple door,
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland, my Maryland!
Hark to an exiled son's appeal,
My Mother State, to thee I kneel,
For life and death, for woe and weal,
Thy peerless chivalry reveal,
And gird thy beauteous limbs with steel,
Maryland, my Maryland!
Thou wilt not cower in the dust,
Thy beaming sword shall never rust,
Remember Carroll's sacred trust,
Remember Howard's warlike thrust,
And all thy slumberers with the just,
Maryland, my Maryland!11
It certainly looked as though Maryland would secede, and three days later, on April 22, the same day Governor Hicks convened the Maryland legislature at Frederick, Annapolis by that time being in the hands of General Butler's troops, Franklin Buchanan resigned his commission as a captain in the United States Navy. p162 He carried his resignation12 to the Navy Department himself, and had a talk with the Secretary as to his reasons for so doing. His last official communication to Secretary Welles was sent the same day, and is as follows: "The steamers Baltimore, Mount Vernon, Philadelphia, and Powhatan have been received at this yard, as directed in your letter of the 21st inst. and are moored alongside the wharf. Commander Dahlgren has been directed to have them equipped for war service forthwith". At noon on the following day, Buchanan took formal leave of the employees of the Yard. "The parting scene", according to a Washington paper,13 "was very impressive and affecting. The late commandant briefly addressed the men, counseling them to be loyal to the Government whilst in its service, expressing the unfeigned regret which he experienced in severing the ties which had existed between them, and assuring them the officer (Dahlgren) who had been temporarily assigned to the command, and who was well known to many of them, was eminently worthy of their highest respect and confidence, and would guard the mutual interests of the Government and themselves as anxiously and carefully as he had done. During the delivery of this address tears coursed freely down the bronzed cheeks of the patriotic workmen, and at its close three hearty cheers were given for the retiring commandant. No wonder p163 indeed that there should have been such a heartfelt manifestation of feeling by these honest sons of toil in bidding adieu to Captain Buchanan, for he was truly their friend and their counselor. He had watched over their interests no less faithfully than he had guarded those of the Government. His administration of the affairs of the Yard has rarely, if ever, been equaled, certainly never excelled; and we can truly affirm that a more patriotic heart never throbbed in the breast of an American officer. While in his keeping, the American flag would have been upheld even at the cost of the last drop of his blood; and we have heard him declare that it should never be hauled down while he or one man under his command was left to defend it."
Courtesy of Mrs. Mary Buchanan Owen
On resigning from the service, Buchanan retired with his family14 to his home, "The Rest", in Maryland, where he spent the next few months looking after his estate and anxiously regarding the course of events in the war which had begun. A short time after he resigned he was advised by those in whom he had confidence that the sectional difficulties would be arranged without further conflict. Furthermore Maryland had not seceded, as was expected, and as the days went by, it became evident that she would not be able to do so. Accordingly, Buchanan wrote on May 4, 1861 to the Secretary of the p164 Navy recalling his resignation15 as he had not at that time been notified that it had been accepted. He also wrote the same day to Captain Engle, Head of the Bureau of Details, "You no doubt are aware that I very hastily, to use no other expression, resigned during the great excitement in Baltimore a few weeks since. I now regret it, as there was no occasion for it, and as my resignation 'is still under consideration', I have this day written to the Secretary and asked to withdraw it. The Secretary no doubt will consult with you on the subject. I wish to say to you that I never was a Secessionist, and all my friends have heard me express my views on that subject, and strongly denouncing the extremists of both sections who have ruined our glorious country. My attachments to the service are too strong to wish to leave it. I shall be miserable out of it; therefore if I am retained in it, my duty shall be performed faithfully, as it always has been. "16
Some of Buchanan's friends and relatives, without his knowledge, made efforts to have his resignation recalled; but without success. Only a few days after he had humbled himself and requested the recall of his resignation, he received from Secretary Welles this curt reply: "By direction of the President your name has been stricken from the rolls of the navy". The effect of p165 this short-sighted action upon Buchanan may be seen from the following letter:17
"I expected to have seen you ere this in Baltimore, but I have been disappointed and know not when I shall be there. I intended thanking you in person for the notice you had placed in the Philadelphia paper. You were right in saying I 'had an abhorrence of this war',18 the most unnatural, useless, fratricidal war ever known. That I made a mistake in resigning when I did, I will admit to you, but I did so in good faith to my state; at the time, the belief was general throughout the state that she was virtually out of the Union and the excitement was so great in consequence of the fight in Baltimore and so much said of the blood of Marylanders flowing in the streets of Baltimore and the report that orders had gone on to 'shell the city' if the troops are not permitted to pass through, etc., etc., that I felt as I told the Secretary that, if such was the case, it was time that every Marylander should be at his post to render all the assistance in his power, that I was a Marylander and a Baltimorean and that I had a sister, nephews and nieces and many other relatives and friends there, and that my property was in Maryland, and under the circumstances I ought to be there to render all the assistance in my power. The sacrifice of my commission and my principal support was made in good faith to the state that does not deserve it. The deed is done and I am made an unhappy man, but I must submit; but I want you to understand my position exactly. I always p166 said I would follow the fortunes of my state. My family and property are there, and as a naval or military man I could not oppose my state as I never could be countenanced in it afterwards. I am as strong a Union man as any in the country, Union under the Constitution and Laws, and as to the Stars and Stripes I have as strong a loyal feeling for them as any man who was ever born; I have fought my country's enemies under those glorious stripes, and will do so again when occasion calls for my services, but as to fighting my own countrymen and relations under it I never can. I am no secessionist, do not admit the right of secession, but at the same time I admit the right of revolution. The revolutionists must have good cause for their acts and take the consequences, of course, but if a state does claim the right to secede for God's sake let her go in peace as nothing can be gained by coercion in this country and every sane man must know that. My whole heart and soul were wrapped up in my profession and the sacrifice to me is very great. At the time I resigned I had the satisfaction to know that the Yard was in as perfect a state of defence as it could be placed, and all my plans, secret instructions to the ordnance officer what guns to prepare, what to blow up if necessary, and under no circumstances was the flag to be struck, etc., etc., and in fact even to the details of stationing the officers at the guns, their names even, all these plans are on record in the Navy Department, and when Mr. Toucey read my report he remarked, 'Captain, I have not a suggestion to make; I am perfectly satisfied with all your arrangements', and since then other arrangements have been made as they suggested themselves, and up to the hour I left I performed faithfully all orders, and some were bitter pills to swallow p167 I assure you, such as equipping vessels to destroy Norfolk, etc., all of which to me was horrible and disgusting; still it was my duty and I performed it promptly and efficiently. After I returned home and found that the whole state of feeling in Baltimore and in the State had completely changed, and that she was tied hand and foot, literally in double irons, I wrote to the Secretary (at that time my resignation had not been accepted) and said that, 'If my resignation has not been accepted by the President, I respectfully recall it; the circumstances which induced me, very reluctantly, to tender it no longer exist, and I cannot voluntarily withdraw from a service in which I have spent nearly forty-seven years of my life in the faithful performance of duty, as the records of the Navy Department will prove'. Some days after that letter I received the Secretary's letter thus, 'By direction of the President your name has been stricken from the rolls of the navy'; this was the course pursued with all officers who resigned under orders or on duty. If my resignation had not been accepted I intended to get orders to a foreign station so as to have kept out of conflict with my Southern friends; I have never written or sent a message South to secure a situation there, but I have been told I could get one without the least difficulty. My intention is to remain neutral if I can do so, but if all law is to be dispensed with, the 'stars and stripes' are to be still more desecrated by the powers that be, than they have been, and a coercive policy continued which would disgust barbarians, and the South literally trampled upon, I may change my mind and join them, and should it so happen that I will be obliged to fire towards that once glorious flag, it will not be at it but at those who disgrace it. Love to all."
p168 For his attempt to withdraw his resignation, Buchanan was afterward criticized, and the following letter which he wrote for the press19 as a defense will serve as a fitting explanation of the motives which led him to cast his fortunes with the South:
I observe in your paper of the 5th inst., handed to me to‑day, an article headed a 'Strange Record'; this unexplained is injurious to me.b I do not deny the authorship of those letters you publish, nor have I ever denied making an application to recall my resignation in the United States Navy at the date mentioned. I am willing that all my acts, private and official relating to my withdrawal from the United States Navy may be known to my countrymen. When I handed my resignation to Mr. Welles, the day after the attack in Baltimore upon the Massachusetts regiment, I remarked that 'it was the most unpleasant duty of my life to be compelled to resign from a navy I had so long faithfully served, but as a Marylander and a slave holder I never could act against the South, and I feel it to be my duty to be at my post to defend my native city, Baltimore, when the blood of Marylanders was running in the streets'. Much more passed between us on the subject. Mr. Chase also being present the same day, after I had been relieved from the command of the Navy Yard, I offered my services to Governor Hicks to drive from the shores of my native state, Maryland, any invasion of her soil by our Northern enemies. That vile traitor20 never replied to my p169 letter. After my return home, and before my resignation had been acted upon, hearing from various sources that the troubles and difficulties in the country would certainly be arranged when Congress met, if not before, and which was the general impression, and that there was not to be any further resistance in Baltimore, I was induced to ask the recall of my resignation, if it had not been acted upon. This, I soon regretted, however, when it became apparent to all that there could be no reconciliation between the North and the South and when influential gentlemen offered their services to obtain my commission for me, I plainly told them that nothing could induce me to remain in that navy. My Southern views were known to Mr. Welles,21 and when I said I was ready for service, he knew that I would not accept service against the South. The officers from the Army and Navy from Maryland resigned from principle; we did not wait until our State seceded, we resigned because the South was oppressed by the North, and because the Constitution and laws under which we were born were violated and trampled upon. When I resigned, I held the desirable and important position of Commandant of the Washington Navy Yard, and did not know at what p170 hour I might be called upon to equip an expedition upon the South or my native State. Those who have never served in the Army or Navy of the United States for forty years and upwards, and have never fought under her flag or witnessed the respect paid to it throughout the world, wherever displayed, cannot know or appreciate the feelings of those who, from principle, were obliged to war against it, until it became the emblem of tyranny and a military despotism. I do not deny that I felt great regret that circumstances made it necessary that I should leave that navy; in this regret I am not alone, for there are thousands, aye, millions, who regretted. Never for one moment have I ever regretted my course I have taken in this Revolution, except to suffer myself to be led into the popular error, for a short time that a reconciliation could be arranged between the North and the South. My acts in the Confederacy speak for themselves. The revolutionary principles of my grandfather Thomas McKean run through my veins, and I trust that such principles, with a conscience of having performed my duty, will govern me through life. My enemies may exercise themselves to injure me, but they never shall have it in their power to say that I shrank from personal responsibilities or duties."
Not long after Buchanan had retired to "The Rest" after resigning his commission, he had a very unpleasant experience, during which he displayed his fearlessness. At the entrance to his estate on the Miles River was a steamboat landing, where there disembarked one day some Northern soldiers who had come to that vicinity to arrest Judge Richard Bennet Carmichael. In the absence of Buchanan, who at the time was in Easton, they trespassed on his property, threatening to arrest p171 him also; some of them took down from the gate posts the shells which he had brought home as well-earned trophies from the Mexican War, and placed them on the steamboat. Hearing of this, upon his return home from town, Buchanan, though his family feared the possible consequences, boarded the boat and boldly faced the soldiers; he told them they might have the might but not the right to take his property and demanded that they not only surrender the shells, but that they replace them on the gateposts exactly as they had found them. After seeing the shells22 replaced by the soldiers, he ordered them from his property under threat of arrest for trespass, whereupon they returned to the boat and left the wharf. He then ordered those on his premises, who were threatening to arrest him, to leave at once if they did not wish to be reported to the government.
During that summer of 1861, the North and the South girded themselves for the struggle, which many foolishly thought would be a brief one. Events of great moment soon began to happen. On July 21, the Union forces were defeated at Bull Run, where Thomas J. Jackson and his Virginians stood "like a stone wall". On the sea, President Lincoln had, on April 19, proclaimed a blockade of all Southern ports. On the Potomac, Commander J. H. Ward, who had been an instructor at the Naval School with Buchanan, organized a flotilla and on May 31 bombarded the Confederate fortifications near Aquia Creek; this was the first naval engagement of the war. It was followed on August 26 p172 by the capture of Hatteras Inlet, key to Pamlico Sound, by an expedition of fourteen vessels commanded by Flag Officer Silas H. Stringham.
Inaction at such a time was unbearable to a man like Buchanan who had spent so many years of active service in the navy. Like an old war horse who smelled the smoke of battle from afar and champed at the bits, he walked restlessly about his estate, anxious to be at the seat of war, on the side of those with whom he sympathized in the fratricidal strife. Finally, he could endure the situation no longer and left his home for Virginia, on or about the 31st of August.23 Proceeding to southern Maryland, he crossed the Chesapeake and made his way to Richmond, where he joined the Confederate Navy with the rank of Captain on September 5, 1861.
However impulsive Buchanan's resignation from navy may have been, his decision to join the Confederacy was not made without long and careful consideration. He understood thoroughly the magnitude of the Southern undertaking. No one know better than he the power of the Federal government and its prestige abroad, for he had helped to make it powerful and had contributed to increasing its prestige. Though he was devoted to his home and his family, being a master of the art of hospitality, p173 though he was entitled by past services to his country to spend the remainder of his life in quiet and ease, still the active old Commodore could not enjoy his dolce far niente under the shady trees of "The Rest" when there was a war raging just across the Chesapeake. He felt that he must fight, and that he must make a choice between the two sections of a country for whose honor and glory he had already risked his life in battle. If Maryland had seceded, as Virginia had done, he like General Lee would have felt that his choice was made for him. But Maryland remained in the Union and Buchanan had to make the decision for himself. His pride had been wounded by the inconsiderate treatment of the recall of his resignation; all his sympathies were with the South, and eventually he came to recognize it as his duty to fight with the Confederacy. He was then an old man nearly sixty‑one years of age, but he could not bear to "rust unburnished, not to shine in use". Like Tennyson's Ulysses, Buchanan in embarking on this hazardous enterprise might have declared,
"There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled and wrought, and thought with me —
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads — you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done."
1 Language of the Act.
2 See "Matthew Fontaine Maury: Pathfinder of the Seas" by Charles Lee Lewis, pp107‑117.
3 A railroad across the Isthmus of Panama, built by American capital, was opened for business in 1858; but plans for a canal hung fire, and a violent dispute took place between the United States and England over the interpretation of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty. Eventually, in 1860, England gave up all claim to a protectorate over territory near the Nicaragua route.
4 History of the Washington Navy Yard, Henry B. Hibben, p95.
5 From the Washington Constitution, May 15, 1860.
6 From the Daily National Intelligencer, May 15, 1860.
7 The Washington Constitution, May 25, 1860.
11 From the manuscript copy of the poem by the author in the State House at Annapolis. There are six other stanzas.
12 This consisted of but few words, as follows:
"Navy Yard, Washington, April 22d, '61. His Excellency, The President, Sir, — I respectfully resign my commission as a Captain in the U. S. Navy. Respectfully, Sir, Yr. Obt. Servt., Franklin Buchanan".
This day, Buchanan received the following reply from Secretary of the Navy Welles:
You are hereby detached from the command of the Navy Yard at Washington, and will transfer it to Commander J. H. Dahlgren, who has been ordered there on temporary duty. Your resignation is yet under consideration."
13 National Intelligencer, April 25, 1861.
14 His daughter Nannie was married at the Washington Navy Yard on April 3, 1861, to Lieutenant Julius Ernest Meiere of the Marine Corps. President Lincoln was present together with the principal officers of both army and navy. Mrs. Lincoln was prevented from attending because one of her children had measles. Buchanan's daughter, Elizabeth Tayloe, then fifteen years old, refused to shake hands with Mr. Lincoln at first, who called her a "Little Rebel" and finally won her over with bonbons and the charm of his personality. (Related by Mrs. Elizabeth Tayloe Sullivan to the author, when she was eighty-three years old.)
15 This request was expressed as follows:
" 'The Rest'. May 4, 1861. Sir: If his Excellency, the President, has not accepted my resignation as a Captain in the Navy of the U. S., I respectfully ask to recall it. The circumstances which induced me, very reluctantly, to tender my resignation, no longer exist, and I cannot voluntarily withdraw from a service in which I have passed near 47 years of my life, in the faithful performance of duty — as the records of the Navy Department will prove. Respectfully, Sir, Your obedient servant, Franklin Buchanan."
16 Copied from a letter as printed in a newspaper clipping without name and date in Mrs. Francis T. Redwood's papers.
17 To his nephew George Buchanan Coale of Baltimore, May 29, 1861.
18 On June 26, 1861, Buchanan wrote to James Alfred Pearce, Senator from Maryland, a letter explaining the reasons for this resignation, in which he said, "I have a horror of fighting against the 'stars and stripes', that flag I have served under faithfully and fought under". (See Maryland Historical Magazine, XIX.23.)º
19 The Richmond Examiner, May 18, 1862.
20 Attention has already been called to speech on the day of the Baltimore riot and other pro‑Southern sentiments expressed previously by him. Buchanan, being first of all a man of action, could have only contempt for a man who said such things, and then temporized in such a way as to keep Maryland in the Union by force of circumstances, General Butler having entered Baltimore on May 14 and occupied Federal Hill, thus placing the city at his mercy.
"Barron, Buchanan, Maury, Porter (D. D.), and Magruder were in Washington, and each and all were, during that unhappy winter, courted and caressed by the Secessionists, who desired to win them to their cause. I was by reliable friends put on my guard as respected each of them." (The Diary of Gideon Welles, I.19.)
"I was in Washington and know that my uncle had a conversation with the Secretary previous to the excitement in Baltimore, in which he told him he 'was a Marylander and a Southerner, although not for one moment upholding the right of secession or the course of the cotton states; but that he equally disapproved of the coercive measures of the Republican party and could not conscientiously engage in a Civil War; therefore as his position was a trying one he wished to be relieved from his command in case of his resignation becoming necessary." (Letter from Laetitia Buchanan, daughter of General George Buchanan, to Captain Du Pont, "Friday, May, 1861,"º in Department of War Records and Library, Navy Department.)
22 They remained in place at "The Rest" until after Mrs. Buchanan's death when two of them were taken to "Wye House" to Admiral Buchanan's grave, and the other two — for there were two entrances to "The Rest" — to "Sunny Side", the home of Dr. Charles Lowndes, •about two miles from "The Rest", where they still remain on the gateposts of the front gate.
23 On August 31 he appeared before a Justice of the Peace in Easton to acknowledge legally bills of sale of all his personal property to three of his daughters and his son. To Sallie Lloyd Buchanan were assigned three slaves: "Negro woman, Mamie, about 62 years old, and her daughter, Mary, about 35 years old; boy, John, son of Mary, about 11 years old." To Franklin Buchanan, Jr., was given two horses and "Negro boys, Joe, Charles, and Harrison," 27, 11, and 9 years old respectively. To Letitia and Alice Buchanan he assigned the remainder of his personal property, consisting of household silver, furniture, china, linen, pictures and engravings, etc., etc., and carriages and horses. The real estate was in the name of Mrs. Buchanan. These arrangements were made to protect the property while Buchanan was away from home.
b So the printed text. The New York Times, June 21, 1863, quotes Buchanan's letter as follows:
In the Richmond Examiner of the 18th ult. we find a letter from Franklin Buchanan, in which he admits that the reports in circulation regarding his having resigned his commission in the National navy, and subsequently having withdrawn the resignation, are true.
Mobile, May 9, 1863.
To the Editor of the Examiner:
I observe in your paper of the 5th instant, handed to me to‑day, an article headed a "Strange Record." This, unexplained, is injurious to me.
Alternatively, there may be an entire word missing; an error possibly due to the Examiner (and fixed in the Times by the insertion of those commas).
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