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Bill Thayer

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The text that follows is reproduced from (the report of the) Tenth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 12th, 1879.

 p47  Robert C. Buchanan
No. 617. Class of 1830.
Died, Nov. 29th, 1878, at Washington, D. C., aged 67.

Robert C. Buchanan, Colonel on the retired list and Brevet Major-General U. S. A., died at Washington, D. C., November 29th, 1878, aged 67. He was a distinguished officer of high character, and it is proper that some record should be made in these pages of his career.

He graduated at West Point 1st July, 1830, appointed Brevet Second Lieutenant in 4th Infantry, in which regiment he happened to remain until promoted through all the grades to Colonel of 1st Infantry, 8th February, 1864. He was First Lieutenant, March 16th, 1836; Captain 4th Infantry, November 1st, 1838; Major 4th Infantry, February 3rd, 1855; Lieut.‑Colonel 4th Infantry, September 9th, 1861.

In Indian wars he commanded the gunboats on the Wisconsin  p48 river, in the Black Hawk war, during the battle of Bad Axe river, August 2d, 1832. In the Florida war he was in the skirmishes at Camp Izard in Feb., 1836 (Adjt. 4th Infantry); at the combat at Oloklikaha, March 31st, 1836; at battle of Okeechobee, Dec. 25th, 1838. He commanded in several scouts against the Rogue River Indians, in Southern Oregon, in 1856, which terminated in their successful removal to northern reservations west of the Willamette valley.

His brevet commissions, all for gallant and meritorious services, were as follows: Brevet Major, May 9th, 1846, for battle of Palo Alto and Resaca-de‑la‑Palma; Brevet Lieut.‑Col., Sept. 8th, 1847, for Molino-del‑Rey; Brevet Colonel, June 27th, 1862, for battle of Gaines' Mill, Va.; Brevet Brig.‑General, March 13th, 1865, for battle of Malvern Hill; and Brevet Maj.‑Gen., for battles of Manassas and Fredericksburg. This last brevet was for gallant and distinguished services.

His volunteer commissions were as follows: After the battle of Monterey, in which he was engaged with the 4th Infantry, he was made Lieut.‑Colonel Battalion of D. C. Volunteers, Nov., 1846, Major W. H. Watson, the former commander, having been killed in that battle; Brig.‑General United States Volunteers, November 29th, 1862.

He was with the Army of the Potomac throughout the peninsular campaign; was in the battles of second Manassas and Antietam. He never failed in any battle in which he was engaged; and was ever distinguished for his coolness, skill, and gallantry.

General Buchanan had a very important command in New Orleans, from the 2d of March, 1868, to the 31st March, 1869. He was relieved Sept. 15th, 1868, by General Rousseau, as Commanding General of the Fifth Military District, he returning to the command of the District of Louisiana.

He was in command there in very troublous times, when it was extremely difficult, during the period of reconstruction, to preserve the peace. Even after it was supposed that reconstruction was entirely accomplished, the antagonistic and tangled elements of discord and disaffection have often placed the military commander in New Orleans in a very trying position.

Prior to the election of April 17th, 1868, threats of violence and bloodshed were rife in New Orleans, and General Buchanan  p49 issued his orders of April 14th (see Appleton's Annual for 1868, page 433), stating that the sheriffs "are armed with ample authority for the preservation of good order at the polls, and it is expected that they will exercise it fully but kindly, and thus secure a quiet election."

Fortunately the precautions taken were successful, and the election passed off without any serious disturbance. But on the convening of the Legislature, on 1st July, a new complication arose on the question of who should be admitted to seats, and the whole community was convulsed and bloodshed threatened.

But, after the admission of the Democratic members (whom it had been attempted to exclude by requiring a test oath), the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was adopted, which paved the way, under the Act of Congress of June 25th, 1868, for the restoration of Louisiana to her place in the Union.

On the 13th of July, General Buchanan had the agreeable duty to perform of announcing "to the people of the State and to the troops under his command, that the provisions of the reconstruction acts of Congress cease to operate in Louisiana from this date. Military authority will no longer be exercised under the reconstruction acts in said State, and all officers commanding posts or detachments are forbidden to interfere in civil affairs, unless upon a proper application by the civil authorities to preserve the peace, or under instructions duly received from the commanding general of the district. Military law no longer exists, the civil law is supreme."

Those who have known General Buchanan can well imagine the great satisfaction with which he published this order. His first station on graduating in 1830, at West Point, was at Baton Rouge, La., and he was stationed in or near Louisiana for nearly eighteen years. During the Florida and Mexican wars he was often brought in contact with New Orleans, and had an intimate knowledge of the people and of their wants.

It is easy to conceive the great satisfaction with which he added to this order of July 13th, 1868, the following words: "Peace and quiet marked the late election, showing the softening influences of mutual forbearance. Should such forbearance animate the councils of the State, the era of kind feeling will return, and the highest prosperity of the people will be attained.

 p50  "That this may be the result under the guidance of a merciful Providence, is his devout and earnest prayer. May her restoration to the benefits of our beloved Union mark the commencement of a new era of prosperity and happiness for her people."

General Buchanan had also the gratification of seeing the Presidential election in November pass at New Orleans without any disturbance. General Rousseau had, by that date, relieved him in command of the Fifth Military District (including the States of Louisiana and Texas), leaving him in command of the District of Louisiana. General Rousseau, in his official reports, highly commended the prudent and firm manner in which General Buchanan had performed his duties. And a telegram was received by him from the Headquarters of the Army, stating that his "action had been entirely approved and was satisfactory." This last fact is communicated to me in a letter from Brevet Brig.‑Gen. Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.T. H. Neill, of May 6th, 1879, who was an officer on General Buchanan's staff during his command in New Orleans.

Any impression of disapproval at Washington may have been due to the fact of General Rousseau's being sent to command the Fifth Military District. But this doubtless grew out of the necessity of giving Rousseau (a newly-appointed Brigadier-General) some command suitable to his rank, and not from any disapproval of the management of his predecessor.

General Neill uses very decided language of commendation of the conduct of affairs in Louisiana by General Buchanan. We quote the following from his letter:

"As Asst. Adjutant-General of the Department, it was my good fortune to be closely associated with General Buchanan during the whole of the time he was in command at New Orleans, La. His course was strongly characterized by wisdom, firmness, and moderation under the most trying and difficult circumstances in which a Department Commander has ever been placed since the war.

"On the meeting of the Legislature, anticipating trouble and bloodshed, by his strong and manly and prompt action I believe he saved the city of New Orleans from a massacre.

"I do not know any officer of the army whose personal and official integrity, whose impartial discharge of the very delicate and highly responsible duties of his post, stands higher than that of  p51 Robert C. Buchanan. He was the very soul of honor, and one of the first soldiers under whom I served.

"I cannot find words to express my admiration of Buchanan, on account of the remarkable coolness, good sense, and sound judgment which he always displayed under the most exciting scenes when grave issues were at stake.

"Our country has never given him the credit which he deserves for the great success which he achieved in the prevention of bloodshed and preserving the peace, whilst the city of New Orleans was seething with disloyalty, riot, and threatened bloodshed."

General Buchanan was strong in his religious convictions, and was a devout communicant of the Episcopal Church, attending the Church of the Incarnation, where the funeral services were conducted, and the remains were laid by the side of his mother at the beautiful Rock Creek Cemetery. His mother was a Miss Johnson, of Maryland, a sister of Mrs. John Quincy Adams.

The following are the tributes of the press to his character a few days after his death. They are quoted as being just and pertinent, and are the impartial verdict of his contemporaries. The last extract is from the Army and Navy Journal:

"General Buchanan was an officer of great ability and inflexible integrity of character; just, dignified, and courteous in his demeanor, and proverbially chivalrous in all his dealings with mankind. General Buchanan was born in Maryland, of the distinguished family of that name, which has been so prominently identified with the military and naval service of the country.

"He has been in active continuous service, with great credit to himself and honor to the country, from the time of graduating from the Military Academy to the time of his retirement. General Buchanan was a model of the stern, incorruptible, just soldier, whose whole life was bound up in the requirements of his duty to his country and his fellowman. The news of his death is heard with universal regret." — Washington Post, Nov. 30, 1878.]

"Thus has passed away one more of the old army, who had no superior for personal gallantry, courtly bearing, and perfect integrity. His service in the army was long and honorable. He was a strict disciplinarian, but always just. During the Mexican war he was considered as among the most prominent of those of his grade.

 p52  Soon after the close of the Mexican war, and while General Buchanan was still a Captain, a vacancy occurred in the Inspector-General's Department. It was hard to decide between Buchanan and Col. Duncan as to who should get what was then considered the best appointment in the army, but the latter carried off the prize. Job Duncan, as he was familiarly called, had no superior either in his own or any other grade in the army, and the friends of both the competitors were satisfied. Duncan lived but a few months after his promotion, while nearly thirty years more were allotted to his friendly rival."

(Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Benj. Alvord.)

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