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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 16

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Admiral Franklin Buchanan

Charles Lee Lewis

published by
The Norman, Remington Company

The text is in the public domain.

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This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.


Chapter XVII

That's for Remembrance

Praise of the dead by neighbors and friends is sometimes cynically regarded as worthless exaggeration. But why should we not, on the contrary, give due consideration to those estimates of a man's character which are written by those who knew him most intimately? They, at least, serve as a worthy supplement to those coldly critical estimates made by men who are far removed either by distance or by time. In Buchanan's case, this intimate praise of neighbors takes on more significance when one remembers that his community was divided in its sympathies for the Union and the Confederacy. But after his death the one who suggested that a public meeting of the citizens of Talbot County be held at the Court House in Easton, to give expression of their sorrow "at the loss of our distinguished and noble fellow citizen, Admiral Buchanan, and testify their respect to his memory", was one of the leading Republicans of the county. This gentleman, in suggesting such a meeting, wrote as follows: "It is believed that men of every political persuasion would be glad to unite in paying tribute to the many virtues, the admirable talents, the public services, and the private worth of the illustrious dead. There could be no more fitting opportunity for the burying of all bitterness and alienation,  p264 engendered by the war, than in the grave of our fellow citizen, who served with equal earnestness and ability under the old and the new flag. In laying a garland upon his tomb we may lay there all the ill feelings of the past, and all of us — those who agreed as well as those who differed from the deceased — may unite in a common homage to talents unquestioned, to bravery undoubted, to courtesy undisputed by friend or foe. Although myself one of the straitest of the sect that was opposed to Admiral Buchanan and those with whom he acted in the conflict, I do not belong to that class which in a too vivid recollection of recent events, is oblivious to those of a more remote date. Gratitude will not allow me to be unmindful of the many meritorious services of the deceased before the sad years of the war; but justice will not permit me to deny him the meed of praise for the gallantry and skill he displayed during those dark years, even though that gallantry and that skill were employed to the great hurt of the cause I loved. As I feel, it is believed most others feel of the same political faith".​1

Such tolerant and fair sentiments, expressed so soon after the close of the Civil War, make appear narrow-minded and bigoted those bitter words, "rebel" and "traitor", which one occasionally hears even today applied to those who fought for the Confederacy. The meeting of the citizens of Talbot County was held eventually on June 2, and after some addresses were delivered, resolutions in memory of Buchanan were read and approved, in the preamble of which was the following: "In him were concentrated the noblest qualities, not alone of the great and brave commander, the hero, and the disciplinarian, but also of the pure and good man,  p265 the chivalric gentleman, and the true and unfaltering friend, combined with a hospitality that knew no limit, a frankness and urbanity of manner which commanded the admiration of all, and a heart unsullied by meanness or by fear".​2

A meeting of the survivors of the Army and Navy of the Confederate States, resident in Talbot County, had already been held at Easton on May 18, at which resolutions were also read and adopted, in part as follows:

"It was his to command and lead where ours was to follow and obey. While younger men went down amid the shock of battle, or sunk amid the dash and roar of angry waves, it was his to ride out the storm of war and Ocean's wrathful strife, until shattered in body by honorable wounds, but unharmed in the great qualities of his soul and unscarred in the integrity of a spotless fame, he found repose in the haven of social retirement and domestic love. In him we mourn the fearless leader, the gallant sailor, the courtly gentleman, the faithful friend, the true and incorruptible man. For more than forty years he served with conspicuous zeal and loyal devotion the country which claimed his allegiance, and when his sword was drawn in the cause which to him was the cause of patriotism, of right, and of truth, he bore the flag which a confiding people intrusted to his gallantry through glorious victory and honorable defeat, untainted by any spot of shame. The tears of a grateful and sympathetic people will freshen the turf upon this brave old sailor's grave, and the name of Franklin Buchanan  p266 will yet assert its right to be engraven high upon the world's historic scroll of honor".​3

Various obituaries intimately sum up his character in glowing terms; for example,

"Admiral Buchanan had passed that good old age of the patriarch — three score and ten — but to the last moment when we saw him (slightly lame it is true from the bullets that shattered his limbs upon the Merrimac and the Tennessee, in the gallant defense of the cause which a sense of duty led him to espouse) he was buoyant and youthful in his spirits, kind and genial in his manners, and drew around him, as he walked our streets or entered our houses, the warmth of every good man's heart and the respect, regard, and love of all who met him. . . . If we could lift the inner veil of home life we should tell the world of the devoted husband, the kind and loving father, the dear old hero of numberless battles playing with the precious little grandchildren on his knees, or mayhap on the parlor floor or lawn; and the warm, warm, true friend who never faltered or failed in his attachments — but that record is written in the heart circle of those who knew him best. . . . Whilst there beats a heart that knew the gallant 'old Roman', or there remains the footprint of one of his children or children's children, there will ever be cherished in this, the county of his honored home, a reverence and regard for his memory, and a fervent admiration for his truth and purity and honor".​4

Discount such eulogistic statements as you may, you will still be forced to conclude that Buchanan  p267 must have been a man of a very unusually high character to excite such paragraphs of praise.

Mrs. Franklin Buchanan survived her husband many years, continuing to live at "The Rest" until her death on January 7, 1892. Having been born January 14, 1808, she was nearly eighty-four years old at the time of her death. She, like the Admiral, was loved for her open-handed and lavish hospitality and her readiness to help the poor and friendless, no one in need ever applying to her in vain. She was always a devoted wife and a real mother to her large family, and succeeded in making her home a most charming and attractive place, as far as possible the abode of happiness and pleasure. Mrs. Buchanan lived to be the last of the Lloyds of "Wye House" of her generation. She was survived by her eight daughters,​5 her only son Franklin, Junior having died on the fifth of September, 1891.

There have been a considerable number of memorials  p268 to Admiral Buchanan, which have borne his name. During the Civil War, one of the defenses of the city of Mobile was named in his honor and also a battery at Fort Fisher in North Carolina, named Battery Buchanan on October 29, 1864 just before the Federal attack on that place. After the war, there was organized in Baltimore the Franklin Buchanan Camp (Number 747) of the Confederate Veterans, and in Norfolk the Pickett-Buchanan Camp of Confederate Veterans with Chapter, Number 21, United Daughters of the Confederacy and a camp of Sons of Confederate Veterans, all bearing the same name. It was organized first in December, 1884 as a charitable association for the relief of Confederate soldiers, and given the name of George E. Pickett, but Buchanan's name was added on January 25, 1885. The Society of the Army and Navy of the Confederate States in the State of Maryland was founded on June 2, 1874, and adopted as a heading for its diploma a design which had at the top a likeness of Buchanan, while below at the left was one of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Lee and on the right General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class."Stonewall" Jackson. At the United States Naval Academy, there is Buchanan Road, which leads past the Administration Building, the Chapel, and the Superintendent's Quarters. In April, 1898, the Confederate Relief Bazaar of Maryland was held in the Fifth Regiment Armory of Baltimore, and the Franklin Buchanan booth was a prominent feature. The name of Buchanan appeared in large letters in an arch over the front, with a model of the Merrimac over the center and with anchors, chains, a steering wheel, and other nautical devices constituting the decorations. In the Peace Jubilee held in Washington in celebration of victories in the Spanish-American War, float number 9, "The North  p269 and the South", represented General Robert E. Lee, General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.U. S. Grant, Admiral Buchanan, and Admiral Porter as its leading figures. On January 19, 1919, a destroyer was named in honor of Buchanan, at Bath, Maine where it was launched from the ways of the Bath Iron Works. "The launching of the destroyer Buchanan", declared the New York Times editorially, "marks a new page in history for she is the first destroyer named in memory of a Confederate officer. . . . It is believed by Secretary Daniels that it is such acts as this that will bring the North and South nearer together. The craft will be commanded by a Southerner; so the launching today must have particular interest among the people of the South". A great granddaughter of Buchanan, Miss Hildreth Meiere, an artist in New York, painted a copy of the Admiral's portrait by Rembrandt Peale​6 and presented it to the destroyer in the name of Buchanan's three surviving daughters. When the destroyer went out of commission after the World War,​a this portrait was given to the United States Naval Academy, and it now hangs in the Superintendent's Office in that institution, of which Buchanan was the first Superintendent.

In the Library of the Naval Academy is a crayon portrait of Buchanan, the artist of which is not known. There are in existence many photographs taken of him during his middle and later years, which give one some conception as to appearance of this famous naval officer. They might well be supplemented, however, by the following description, written by a nephew:

"In appearance, Admiral Buchanan was slightly below middle  p270 stature, bald on the top of his head with iron gray hair on the sides brushed upward; his face cleanly shaven, indicated great strength of character. He moved with much grace and had an affable, courteous bearing. He possessed that indescribable magnetism that attracted and interested others in anything he said or did. He was compactly built, and the movement of his arms and legs gave evidence of great physical strength; his brother McKean has stated that, when in his prime, he was considered the third strongest man in the navy".​7

There are a number of interesting souvenirs of the Merrimac in various places. Out of some wood from this vessel, a cane was made by some of the crew and presented to Admiral Buchanan. From this a gavel was afterwards constructed and given by the family on March 8, 1898 to the Franklin Buchanan Camp of the Confederate Veterans of Baltimore. The gavel is nearly a foot long, and has a silver band round it, which bears this inscription: "Presented to the Franklin Buchanan Camp by the Daughters of Admiral Buchanan". Other interesting relics or souvenirs of the Merrimac in Baltimore are as follows: a wooden goblet hewn out of one of the beams of the ship by a member of the crew and presented to Buchanan many years ago, which now belongs to the Meiere Family of Baltimore, a piece of the armor plate of the vessel in the Maryland Historical Society museum, and the iron prow of the ram, broken off in the Battle of Hampton Roads, which was brought to Baltimore and sold as junk several years ago and has lain unregarded on a footway in the 1000 block of Ashland Avenue of that city; while Mr. James G. Kane of  p271 Gittings, Maryland has in his possession the brass bell of the famous vessel. Other relics of the Merrimac are to be found in Virginia. In Richmond, a section of the propeller shafting, removed from the wreckage of the ironclad when the channel approaches to Norfolk were being deepened, has been raised in front of the Jefferson Davis Building (The Confederate Museum). It was identified by Mr. Virginius Newton of Richmond and Colonel H. Ashton Ramsay of Baltimore, the former a midshipman and the latter Acting Chief Engineer on that Confederate vessel, put in place by private subscription, and presented to the Confederate Memorial Society on November 6, 1899, Colonel Ramsay making the presentation address. On the shaft, which is fourteen and a half inches in diameter and twenty-seven and one half feet high, it was planned to place a bronze statue of Admiral Buchanan, but this has not yet materialized. At its base is an interesting bronze tablet, twelve by eighteen inches in size, presented by the Franklin Buchanan Camp of Confederate Veterans of Baltimore, with the following inscription:

"Section of the famous (Merrimac) ironclad Virginia's propeller shaft; an essential portion of the machinery furnishing motive power to the ship in her engagements in Hampton Roads, when she, understood Admiral Franklin Buchanan, in company with her tenders, the Beaufort, Raleigh, Patrick Henry, Jamestown, and Teaser, destroyed the U. S. frigates Congress and Cumberland and crippled and scattered the remainder of the fleet, March 8, 1862. And on the following day, after Buchanan was wounded, defeated the ironclad Monitor after several hours' engagement, while under command of Lieutenant Catesby ap Roger Jones. And again,  p272 April 11 and May 8, 1862, under command of Commodore Josiah Tattnall, forced the entire blockading fleet, including the Monitor, two other ironclads, and several rams, to leave the Roads. Tablet contributed by the Franklin Buchanan Camp, U. C. V., No. 747, Baltimore, Maryland".

At Norfolk, in the grounds of the Navy Yard are some pieces of the Merrimac's armor plate.

In the case of the Tennessee, there are also several mementos of equal interest, perhaps. In the Maryland Line Confederate Soldiers' Home at Pikesville (near Baltimore) there were, until recently, the Confederate uniform and the heavy gray overcoat which once were worn by Admiral Buchanan, also a splint made of strong wire, which was placed on the Admiral's leg after it had been shattered in the Battle of Mobile Bay. The uniform and overcoat are now preserved in the Maryland Historical Society building in Baltimore. These were presented to the Soldiers' Home by Buchanan's daughters, according to his wish, a year or so after the death of Mrs. Buchanan, their mother. At the United States Naval Academy is to be seen the sword of Buchanan, which he surrendered to Farragut after the Battle of Mobile Bay. This was returned to Mrs. Buchanan by Loyall Farragut, son of the Union Admiral, on February 15, 1886. It was then given to Franklin Buchanan Sullivan, the only member of Admiral Buchanan's family to enter the United States Navy, who distinguished himself for bravery in the Spanish-American War. He in turn presented the sword to the Naval Academy in May, 1924. In acknowledging the gift, Admiral Henry B. Wilson, the Superintendent, wrote,​8 "We prize this gift not only because of its association with the first Superintendent  p273 of the Naval Academy, and with Admiral Farragut, but also because you, the donor, are the grandson and namesake of Captain Buchanan, and yourself a graduate of the Academy in the Class of '90. No doubt if Captain Buchanan were here today, he would be the first to applaud the generous spirit that prompts you to give his sword to the Academy in which he took so deep an interest, and where it will always be a memorial of a brave officer".

There are other miscellaneous articles connected with the life and career of Buchanan. To Memorial Hall of the Louisiana Historical Association of New Orleans, there were presented in October, 1899 an autographed photograph of the Admiral, some pieces of gold braid and buttons from his uniform, and a leather sword belt worn by him in both the U. S. Navy and the Confederate Navy. In the Library of the Naval Academy at Annapolis are several of Buchanan's ships' journals, letter‑books, and other original manuscripts; while various members of the Buchanan Family have similar souvenirs, consisting of rare old prints and paintings, letters, diaries, and notebooks, letter-books, ship's chests, furniture. bric-à‑brac, etc., etc.

No sculptured monument to Buchanan, in the form of a statue, has yet been erected in his honor, though many years ago the Confederate Veterans of Baltimore made some efforts to do so in that city. At Easton, Maryland, on the pedestal of the Confederate monument in the grounds of the Court House, Buchanan's name, like that of the good Abou Ben Adhem, leads all the rest. A bronze statue of Buchanan was to surmount the shaft of this monument, according to early plans; but this was not carried out, the statue eventually taking  p274 the form of a Confederate private soldier. The Confederate Monument in Baltimore was unveiled May 2, 1903 by two little girls, Margaret Lloyd Trimble and Nannie Hardcastle, the latter being the great granddaughter of Admiral Buchanan, whom the orator of the occasion, Captain McHenry Howard, eulogized as follows: "There was Admiral Franklin Buchanan, the first Commander of the Naval School at Annapolis, at the head of the Confederate Navy, under whom the Virginia, or Merrimac, a new and untried engine of war, with greater audacity than Nelson's at Copenhagen, attacked a fleet in Hampton Roads and in a day revolutionized the navies of the world; and who, in the later desperate fortunes of the Confederacy, engaged, almost with a single vessel, a powerful fleet in Mobile Bay, while the world wondered. His name will live forever among the heroes of naval history".

Whether Admiral Buchanan is honored, at some future date, with bronze or marble statue by the citizens of his native city or state is immaterial so far as the perpetuation of his name is concerned. He has left behind him other kinds of monuments of an enduring nature. As organizer and first Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy, he will always have his name associated with that famous institution of learning, to which he gave even in its infancy traditions of Spartan discipline and manliness. Having been the first man to land officially on the soil of Japan in that memorable expedition so ably commanded by Matthew Calbraith Perry, Buchanan gained a unique distinction in that extremely important international incident, and also in the expedition he rendered great assistance of a very practical nature to Commodore Perry as the  p275 commanding officer of the latter's flagship. Then, in the War between the States, Buchanan won imperishable fame, both at Hampton Roads and in Mobile Bay. In the former battle he commanded the first ironclad that ever fought a naval engagement, the results of which placed the navies of the world on the scrap heap and brought about a complete change in shipbuilding and naval tactics. At the Battle of Mobile Bay, he displayed a desperate courage and a loyalty to duty in leading a forlorn hope, which will always stir the hearts of those who truly appreciate honest devotion to a cause, even though it may be to a losing one. Buchanan was indeed moved by those high and chivalrous principles which Wordsworth sets forth so eloquently in these last lines of his "Character of the Happy Warrior":

"'Tis, finally, the Man, who, lifted high

Conspicuous object in a Nation's eye,

Or left unthought‑of in obscurity, —

Who, with a toward or untoward lot,

Prosperous or adverse, to his wish or not,

Plays, in the many games of life, that one

Where what he most doth value must be won:

Whom neither shape of danger can dismay,

Nor thought of tender happiness betray;

Who, not content that former worth stand fast,

Looks forward, persevering to the last,

From well to better, daily self-surpast:

Who, whether praise of him must walk the earth

Forever, and to noble deeds give birth,

Or he must fall to sleep without his fame,

And leave a dead unprofitable name,

Finds comfort in himself and in his cause;

 p276  And, while the mortal mist is gathering, draws

His breath in confidence of Heaven's applause:

This is the happy Warrior; this is He

Whom every Man in arms would wish to be."

Admiral Buchanan had other characteristics than indomitable courage and unwavering devotion to duty. To his family, he was the faithful husband and indulgent father, always cheerful and hopeful, and ever ready to enter into the enjoyments of the family circle. To his friends he was so "cordial in feeling, kindly in speech, courteous in manners" that they forgot that they "were looking upon a man of heroic mould".​9

This was the heritage that Buchanan left to his children and his children's children to be handed down from generation to generation, — not wealth, for Fate prevented him from leaving much of this world's goods behind him when he died; but merely a good name. And yet, did not the wise Solomon declare, "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches"? This, then, was the simple answer of Buchanan's life to the query with which this biography began, "What's in a name?" Would that the names of more Americans had as much in them as that of Admiral Franklin Buchanan, Fearless Man of Action!

The Author's Notes:

1 Easton Journal of May 21, 1874.

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2 The committee which drew up the resolutions were I. C. W. Powell, Samuel A. Harrison, Edmund L. F. Hardcastle, Henry H. Goldsborough, and Charles H. Gibson. Samuel Hambleton presided over the meeting, and J. Frank Turner was the secretary.

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3 Prepared by a committee composed of the Reverend Robert Wilson, John W. Scott, and Henry Hollyday. James P. Hambleton and Oswald Tilghman were the president and secretary, respectively, of the meeting.

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4 Easton Journal of May 14, 1874.

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5 Sallie Lloyd Buchanan, born in Annapolis, December 18, 1835; married Thomas F. Screven, October 30, 1866; no children; died September 30, 1919.

Letitia McKean Buchanan, born in Annapolis, February 27, 1837; died September 30, 1917.

Alice Lloyd Buchanan, born in Annapolis, December 28, 1838; died April 22, 1915.

Nannie Buchanan, born in Annapolis, September 25, 1841; married Lieutenant Julius Ernest Meiere, U. S. Marine Corps, April 3, 1861; four children; now living in Baltimore.

Ellen Buchanan, born in Annapolis, September 25, 1841; married George P. Screven, June 5, 1861; six children; died May 22, 1922.

Elizabeth Tayloe Buchanan, born at "The Rest," July 1, 1845; married Felix R. Sullivan, November 17, 1868; four children; now living in Baltimore.

Franklin Buchanan, Jr., born in Annapolis, January 16, 1847; died September 5, 1891.

Rosa Buchanan, born at "The Rest," August 23, 1850; married Charles Goldsborough, November 15, 1882; no children; died September 5, 1893.

Mary Tilghman Buchanan, born at "The Rest," November 29, 1852; married William Tilghman Owen, June 10, 1873; three children; now living in Baltimore.

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6 The original portrait of Buchanan is now owned by Franklin Buchanan Screven of Savannah, Georgia.

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7 The Genealogy of the McKean Family by Roberdeau Buchanan, p182.

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8 Letter of May 14, 1924.

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9 The History of Talbot County by Oswald Tilghman, I.592.

Thayer's Note:

a An awkward and confusing sentence. "The World War" — this book was published in 1929 — can only refer to World War I, which was over before the ship was commissioned. The statement then became misleading thru no fault of the author, since the USS Buchanan was put in service again in 1930, the year after his book was published, and would only be finally decommissioned in 1940, after World War II had started. Transferred to the British in that year, she performed a further honorable and important war service as the HMS Campbeltown. The ship's history is summarized in "USS Buchanan" (Photographic History of the United States Navy); the story of Campbeltown at St. Nazaire is told in detail by H. St. G. Saunders in Combined Operations • The Official Story of the Commandos, pp72‑98.

Since the U. S. Navy decommissioning of that ship, two other United States Navy ships have borne the admiral's name: a destroyer commissioned in 1942 under Roosevelt, and a guided missile destroyer commissioned in 1962 under Kennedy.

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