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Franklin Buchanan

Fearless Man of Action

Charles Lee Lewis
Associate Professor
United States Naval Academy

The Author and the Book

Charles Lee Lewis was born March 7, 1886 in Doyle, Tennessee. He graduated from Burritt College with a B. S. degree, then from the University of Tennessee in 1906 with a B. A., which he followed up with an M. A. from Columbia University in 1911 (Master's thesis: The early 'Gothic' and evidences of its influences in the poetry of William Collins), then going on to teach briefly in several small colleges in the United States and Europe, before finding his professional home as the professor of English and history at the United States Naval Academy (1917‑1951).

I've been unable to discover the date of his death: despite what one sees in multiple places online, he did not die in 1951, but he lived well after his retirement from the Naval Academy that year, until at least September 1962. His personal papers are preserved at the U. S. Naval Academy and at the University of Tennessee.

He was a prolific writer, almost exclusively on naval topics. His most important published works are naval biographies: the one you are about to read, and

Life of Matthew Fontaine Maury: Pathfinder of the Seas (1927);

The Romantic Decatur (1937)

His other books include:

Famous Old-World Sea Fighters (2 vols., 1929)

Books of the Sea: An Introduction to Nautical Literature (1943)

Admiral DeGrasse and American Independence (1945)

David Glasgow Farragut: Admiral in the Making (1941), a second edition of which seems to have been issued published in 1943 under the title David Glasgow Farragut: Our First Admiral;

Philander P. Claxton: Crusader for Public Education (1951)

Commodore Thomas Macdonough: The Hero of Lake Champlain (unpublished)

John Paul Jones and the Beginning of the Navy (manuscript, apparently not published, maybe not finished).

To these may be added several booklets; those I find traces of online are:

"Alonzo Chappell and His Naval Paintings"

"American Short Stories of the Sea"

"An American Naval Officer in the Mediterranean, 1802-1807".

He also wrote poetry but it seems to have remained unpublished.

Being prolific has its pitfalls. Lewis's books tend to be serviceable, even pretty good, as to the naval careers of his subjects, but give short shrift to the wider, non-professional aspects of their lives. In a review of The Romantic Decatur in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 62:105‑107, Marion Brewington pointed out that Lewis did a good job of accessing convenient major sources and collating them, but missed a whole deeper set of primary sources which time-consuming research would have ferreted out, altering Lewis's conclusions and enriching the book; as I worked on Buchanan (and before seeing that review), I grew very much to suspect something of the kind here, although I'm no naval historian and can't back up my impression.

One thing is quite certain, though: although we have a solid, readable account of Buchanan's naval career, Lewis fails to cover such aspects of his life as the man's character, except here and there in passing — Buchanan seems to have been something of a hothead and a martinet — or his personal relations, his finances, his religion, and in general, what made him tick. So to a reader seeking information on Buchanan's rôle in American history, the book is much more than satisfactory; if we want to learn about the man, the book is something of a failure. (In fairness, there is a mitigating factor. In order to access valuable sources and obtain irreplaceable first-hand oral history, Lewis sought and got the coöperation of many of the Admiral's family members, who are credited in his preface and thruout the book: he must no doubt have felt constrained, maybe even by explicit agreement, as to what he could reveal or how he could evaluate the man.)

[decorative delimiter]


Franklin Buchanan, entering the Navy as a midshipman on January 28, 1815, had thirty years' service and was a prominent officer when he was selected by George Bancroft, then Secretary of the Navy, to be the first Superintendent of the Naval Academy. Bancroft said of him that "Commander Buchanan, to whom the organization of the school was entrusted, has carried his instructions into effect with precision and sound judgment and with a wise adaptation of simple and moderate means to a great and noble end." The foundation so firmly laid has been the base on which all succeeding superintendents have builded. Throughout a long and varied career, Buchanan gave himself freely, completely, and with great ability to the tasks assigned, following fearlessly and with whole-hearted devotion the path which he believed to be right.

S. S. Robison

Rear Admiral, U. S. Navy

Superintendent, U. S. Naval Academy

Annapolis, Maryland

October 17, 1929.


Preface vii
What's in a Name? 1
The Call of the Seven Seas 8
Schoolboy Midshipman 16
The Blue Mediterranean 24
Sing Johnny Off to China 38
Where the Pirates Prowled 47
The Fair Constellation 60
Of Shoes — and Ships — and Sealingwax 74
This is the Middies' School 92
Remember the Alamo 114
The Fire-Vessels of the Western Barbarians 126
Maryland, My Maryland 151
When the Merrimac Fought in Hampton Roads 174
Hope Deferred 200
Through Fire in Mobile Bay 219
Sunset and Evening Star 246
That's for Remembrance 263

List of Illustrations

Lieutenant Franklin Buchanan


"Auchentorlie," Estate of Buchanan Family, Baltimore


Dr. George Buchanan


Mrs. Laetitia McKean Buchanan


East View of Baltimore about 1802


U. S. Ship of the Line "Franklin"


U. S. Frigate "Constellation"


U. S. Ship of the Line "Delaware"


Mrs. Anne Catherine Lloyd Buchanan


Franklin Buchanan's Commission as Commander, U. S. Navy


A View of Annapolis about 1845


The Superintendent's Quarters at the Naval Academy, 1845‑1883


Invitation to Naval Ball at Annapolis in 1847


U. S. Naval Expedition Ascending the Tuspan River, Mexico


Crossing the Bar at the Mouth of the Tobasco River, Mexico


The Landing of the Naval Expedition against Tobasco


U. S. Steam Frigate "Susquehanna"


Fire-Vessel of the Western Barbarians


The American Expedition under Commodore Perry Landing in Japan


 p. xvi  First Japanese Treaty Commission Sent to the United States


Captain Franklin Buchanan, U. S. Navy


The Sinking of the "Cumberland" by the Ironclad "Virginia" ("Merrimac")


The Burning of the "Congress"


Admiral Franklin Buchanan, C. S. Navy


The "Tennessee" at Bay, in the Battle of Mobile Bay


"The Rest", Admiral Buchanan's Home near Easton, Maryland


Miles River, from "The Rest"


Admiral Buchanan's Grave


U. S. Destroyer "Buchanan"


Admiral Buchanan's Last Photograph


Map: The First Fight of Iron-Clads

Map: The Battle of Mobile Bay

Technical Details

Edition Used

These webpages transcribe my copy of the original 1929 edition, bearing the notice "Copyright 1929, The Norman Remington Co."; but the work is now in the public domain because the copyright was not renewed in 1956 or 1957 as then required by law: details here on the copyright law involved.


The printed edition includes 32 illustrations: engravings, lithographs, a few photographs, all black-and‑white except for the frontispiece; the others are tipped in on glossy paper next to the relevant text. In this Web transcription, not being constrained by print limitations, I've moved a few of the illustrations by a page or two to what I felt were more suitable places. I colorized almost all of them to navy blue, as I've done with almost all the illustrations in my Naval History site: the exceptions are the photograph of Adm. Buchanan in his Confederate grey uniform (facing p198), where it seemed inappropriate; and the pair of maps found on the pastedowns, in two identical copies, on the front and back covers, which I colorized for readability according to my usual scheme.

The table of illustrations above is from the printed edition. It did not include the maps. I added them to the table.

For citation and indexing purposes, the pagination is shown in the right margin of the text at the page turns (like at the end of this line); p57  these are also local anchors. Sticklers for total accuracy will of course find the anchor at its exact place in the sourcecode.

In addition, I've inserted a number of other local anchors: whatever links might be required to accommodate the author's own cross-references, as well as a few others for my own purposes. If in turn you have a website and would like to target a link to some specific passage of the text, please let me know: I'll be glad to insert a local anchor there as well.


As almost always, I retyped the text by hand rather than scanning it — not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise which I heartily recommend: Qui scribit, bis legit. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if success­ful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

My transcription has been minutely proofread. In the table of contents below, the sections are shown on blue backgrounds, indicating that I believe the text of them to be completely errorfree; a red background would mean that the page had not been proofread. As elsewhere onsite, the header bar at the top of each chapter's webpage will remind you with the same color scheme.

The printed book was remarkably well proofread. The inevitable typographical errors were very few, and all trivial: I marked them with a dotted underscore like this: as elsewhere on my site, glide your cursor over the underscored words to read what was actually printed. Where a correction didn't lend itself to that treatment because it conflicted with HTML, it is marked with a bullet like this.º Similarly, glide your cursor over bullets before measurements: they provide conversions to metric, e.g., 10 miles.

A number of odd spellings, curious turns of phrase, etc. have been marked <!‑‑ sic  in the sourcecode, just to confirm that they were checked. They are also few.

Any over­looked mistakes, please drop me a line, of course: especially if you have a copy of the printed book in front of you.

[image ALT: A small photograph of the head of a young man in a naval uniform. He is Lieutenant (later Admiral) Franklin Buchanan, U. S. Navy; the image serves as the icon on this site for the biography of him by Charles Lee Lewis.]

The icon I use to indicate this subsite is a cropped detail of the frontispiece.

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Site updated: 2 Oct 21