American National Biography Online
Buford, Abraham (18 Jan. 1820-9 June 1884), horseman and soldier,
was born in Woodford County, Kentucky, the son of William Buford,
a stockman, and Frances Walker Kirtley. The youth left Centre
College in 1837 to accept an appointment to West Point, where
he graduated in 1841 next to last in a class of fifty-two. Brevetted
a second lieutenant in the First Dragoons, he received his regular
commission on 12 April 1842. Satisfactory service on the western
frontier brought promotion to first lieutenant on 6 December
1846. The previous year he had married Amanda Harris; they had one child.
Gallantry in action at Buena Vista earned Buford a brevet captaincy
as of 23 February 1847. Promotion to captain came on 15 July
1853. Advancement was slow in the peacetime army, and Buford
resigned on 22 October 1854. His father was a noted breeder of
thoroughbreds and shorthorn cattle, and Buford purchased a large
bluegrass farm, "Bosque Bonita," in Woodford County. He was soon
known for the horses and cattle produced there.
Although Buford was a slaveholder and a staunch believer in
states' rights, he loved the Union and opposed secession during
the 1860-1861 crisis. Well aware of Kentucky's divided sentiment,
he approved the state's neutrality policy. When it ended in September
1861 and Kentucky remained in the Union, Buford chafed under
Federal constraints and regulations. When Braxton Bragg and Edmund
Kirby Smith led a Confederate invasion of the state during the
late summer of 1862, Buford decided to join the Confederate army.
He was commissioned a brigadier general to rank from 2 September
1862. More than six feet tall and weighing in excess of 300 pounds,
he had a powerful physical appearance that was reinforced by
a forceful personality.
During the Stones River (Murfreesboro) campaign in late 1862
and early 1863, Buford commanded three new cavalry regiments.
On 30 January 1863 he was transferred to the Mississippi command
of Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton. No command suitable
to his rank being available, Buford was passed by Pemberton on
to Major General Franklin Gardner at Port Hudson, Louisiana,
who organized an infantry brigade for the Kentuckian. Buford
declined an assignment to the Trans-Mississippi theater, and
he and his brigade joined Major General William W. Loring at
Jackson, Mississippi. Buford was shifted to Meridian to help
check the Union raiders of Colonel Benjamin Grierson, then was
ordered to join the garrison at Vicksburg. At the battle of Champion's
Hill on 16 May 1863, his brigade was among the Confederate units
cut off from Pemberton's army as it retired within its fortifications.
Buford then participated in Joseph E. Johnston's futile efforts
to relieve the Vicksburg siege. After the city fell, Buford and
his brigade served in Mississippi under Lieutenant Generals William
J. Hardee and Leonidas Polk. The most active portion of Buford's
Confederate career came after 2 March 1864, when he was assigned
to Major General Nathan B. Forrest's command. Given a cavalry
division, Buford participated actively in the spring campaign
in West Tennessee and Kentucky. Some of his troops were involved
in the slaughter of black Union soldiers at Fort Pillow on 12
April 1864, but Buford was leading the rest of his command on
a raid into western Kentucky. One of Buford's best performances
was at Brice's Crossroads (Tishomingo Creek) on 10 June 1864,
when Forrest routed a Union force double the size of his own.
"He was prompt in obeying orders and exhibited great energy in
assaulting and pursuing the enemy," Forrest wrote in his battle
report. Buford also displayed initiative, an essential trait
when working with Forrest. Buford often exercised independent
command, as he did on his April 1864 raid against Paducah, Kentucky,
and in his capture of several Union boats on the Tennessee River
near the end of October 1864.
During the Atlanta campaign, as the Army of Tennessee was forced
back toward that city, Buford was almost constantly engaged in
skirmishes and scouting activities as Forrest tried to cut the
Union supply line in northern Alabama and Tennessee. The Kentuckian's
most unusual operation of the war came in October-November 1864,
when Forrest moved to stop Union traffic on the Tennessee River
and to destroy the huge Union supply depot at Jacksonville, Tennessee.
In addition to blocking the river traffic and destroying some
steamers and gunboats, Buford found himself for a few days commanding
a small Confederate naval force on the river. The Jacksonville
supplies that could not be removed were burned.
Buford was actively involved in John B. Hood's ill-advised Nashville
campaign, for Forrest then commanded the army's cavalry. Buford's
dismounted men fought well at Spring Hill on 29 November 1864,
but he missed the disastrous battle of Nashville because he was
helping raid Murfreesboro. When he rejoined the remnants of the
Army of Tennessee, Buford helped cover the retreat. He was seriously
wounded on 24 December at Richland Creek, south of Columbia,
Tennessee, when Forrest made a stand to halt the Federal pursuit.
After his return to duty on 18 February 1865, Buford was given
command of the Confederate cavalry remaining in Alabama. With
dwindling forces he fought in several small engagements, notably
at Selma, which fell to Federal troops on 2 April 1865. Buford
surrendered at Gainesville, Alabama, on 9 May 1865 with what
was left of Forrest's command.
Buford returned to Bosque Bonita and resumed breeding thoroughbreds
and shorthorn cattle. He owned some of the outstanding horses
in the country, such as Leamington, Enquirer, and McWhirter,
in the postwar years, and his home became famous among horsemen
for his lavish hospitality. He accepted the results of the war,
advocated a swift reunification of the nation, and was persuaded
to serve one term (1877-1879) in the state house of representatives.
The deaths of his son in 1872 and his wife in 1879 depressed
Buford, and financial reverses cost him his beloved farm and
horses. "I have no home to go to," he wrote in his suicide note
to a nephew he was visiting in Danville, Indiana, before shooting himself.
Buford has received little biographical treatment. Brief sketches
are found in William C. Davis, ed., The Confederate General,
vol. 1 (6 vols., 1991-1992; J. M. Armstrong, ed., Biographical
Encyclopedia of Kentucky (1878); Marcus Bainbridge Buford, A
Genealogy of the Buford Family in America . . . (1903); and Clement
A. Evans, Confederate Military History, vol. 9 (12 vols., 1899).
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records
of the Union and Confederate Armies (128 vols., 1880-1901) is
essential for the details of his Civil War experiences. All of
the biographies of Forrest make frequent reference to Buford.
See especially Brian Steel Wills, A Battle from the Start: The
Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest (1992), and John Allan Wyeth,
Life of General Nathan Bedford Forrest (1899). An obituary is
in the Louisville Courier-Journal, 10 June 1884.
Lowell H. Harrison
Lowell H. Harrison. "Buford, Abraham";
American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
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