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John Buchanan Floyd


In office
March 6, 1857 – December 29, 1860
President James Buchanan
Preceded by Jefferson Davis
Succeeded by Joseph Holt

Born June 1, 1806(1806-06-01)
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.
Died August 26, 1863 (aged 57)
Abingdon, Virginia, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Alma mater South Carolina College
Profession Lawyer, Politician
Military service
Service/branch Provisional Army of Virginia
Confederate States Army
Rank Major General
Brigadier General
Battles/wars American Civil War

John Buchanan Floyd (June 1, 1806 – August 26, 1863) was a Virginia politician (legislator and governor), U.S. Secretary of War, and the Confederate general in the American Civil War who lost the crucial Battle of Fort Donelson.

Contents

Early life

Floyd was born at "Smithfield" estate, Blacksburg, Virginia. He was the son of John Floyd (1783–1837), who served as a representative in Congress from 1817 to 1829 and Governor of Virginia from 1830 to 1834.

After graduating from South Carolina College in 1826 (by some accounts 1829), Floyd practiced law in his native state and at Helena, Arkansas, where he lost a large fortune and his health in a cotton-planting venture. In 1839, he returned to Virginia and settled in Washington County, which he represented in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1847–49 and again in 1853. From 1849 to 1852, he was Governor of Virginia.[1] As Governor, he recommended to the legislature the enactment of a law laying an import tax on the products of states that refused to surrender fugitive slaves owned by Virginia masters.

Secretary of War

In March 1857, Floyd became Secretary of War in the cabinet of President James Buchanan, where his lack of administrative ability was soon apparent, including the poor execution of the Utah Expedition. In December 1860, on ascertaining that Floyd had honored heavy drafts made by government contractors in anticipation of their earnings, the president requested his resignation. Several days later Floyd was indicted for malversation in office, although the indictment was overruled in 1861 on technical grounds. There is no proof that he profited by these irregular transactions; in fact, he went out of the office financially embarrassed.

President Buchanan and his Cabinet
From left to right: Jacob Thompson, Lewis Cass, John B. Floyd, James Buchanan, Howell Cobb, Isaac Toucey, Joseph Holt and Jeremiah S. Black, (c. 1859)

Although he had openly opposed secession before the election of Abraham Lincoln, his conduct after the election, especially after his breach with Buchanan, fell under suspicion, and he was accused in the press of having sent large stores of government arms to Federal arsenals in the South in the anticipation of the Civil War.

After his resignation, a congressional commission in the summer and fall of 1861 investigated Floyd's actions as Secretary of War. All of his records of orders and shipments of arms from 1859 to 1860 were examined. It is recorded that in response to John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry he bolstered the Federal arsenals in some Southern states by over 115,000 muskets and rifles in late 1859. He also ordered heavy ordnance to be shipped to the Federal forts in Galveston Harbor, Texas, and the new fort on Ship Island off the coast of Mississippi.[2]

In the last days of his term, he apparently had an intention to send these heavy guns, but his orders were revoked by the president. During the year 1860, the Southern states actually received less than their full quota of arms and the heavy guns were a normal shipment required to complete the construction of Federal forts.

His resignation as Secretary of War, on December 29, 1860, was precipitated by the refusal of Buchanan to order Major Robert Anderson to abandon Fort Sumter, which eventually led to the start of the war. On January 27, 1861, he was indicted by the District of Columbia grand jury for conspiracy and fraud. Floyd appeared in criminal court in Washington, D.C., on March 7, 1861, to answer the charges against him. According to Harper's Weekly, the indictments were thrown out.

THE INDICTMENTS AGAINST FLOYD QUASHED. The indictments against Ex-Secretary Floyd have been quashed in the Court at Washington, on the ground—first, that there was no evidence of fraud on his part; and second, that the charge of malfeasance in the matter of the Indian bonds was precluded from trial by the act of 1857, which forbids a prosecution when the party implicated has testified before a Committee of Congress touching the matter.

Harper's Weekly, March 30, 1861

Civil War

General John B. Floyd

After the secession of Virginia, Floyd was commissioned a major general in the Provisional Army of Virginia, but on May 23, 1861, he was appointed a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army. He was first employed in some unsuccessful operations in the Kanawha Valley of western Virginia under Robert E. Lee, where he was wounded in the arm at the Battle of Carnifex Ferry on September 10. In January 1862, he was dispatched to the Western Theater to report to General Albert Sidney Johnston and was given command of a brigade. Johnston sent Floyd to reinforce Fort Donelson and assume command of the post there. Floyd assumed command of Fort Donelson on February 13 just two days after the Union army had arrived at that spot, also becoming the third post commander within a week.

Fort Donelson protected the crucial Cumberland River and, indirectly, the manufacturing city of Nashville and Confederate control of Middle Tennessee. It was the companion to Fort Henry on the nearby Tennessee River, which, on February 6, 1862, was captured by Union Army Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and river gunboats. Floyd was not an appropriate choice to defend such a vital point, having political influence, but virtually no military experience. General Johnston had other experienced, more senior, generals (P.G.T. Beauregard and William J. Hardee) available and made a serious error in selecting Floyd. Floyd had little military influence on the Battle of Fort Donelson itself, deferring to his more experienced subordinates, Brig. Gens. Gideon J. Pillow and Simon Bolivar Buckner. As the Union forces surrounded the fort and the town of Dover, the Confederates launched an assault on February 15 in an attempt to open an escape route. Although successful at first, indecision on General Pillow's part left the Confederates in their trenches, facing growing reinforcements for Grant.

Early in the morning of February 16, at a council of war, the generals decided to surrender their army. Floyd, concerned that he would be arrested for treason if captured by the North, turned his command over to Gideon Pillow, who immediately turned it over to Buckner. Pillow escaped on a small boat across the Cumberland and the next morning Floyd escaped by steamboat with two regiments from his old Virginia command, just before Buckner surrendered to Grant, one of the great strategic defeats of the Civil War. Floyd was relieved of his command by Confederate President Jefferson Davis, without a court of inquiry, on March 11, 1862. He resumed his commission as a major general of Virginia Militia, but his health soon failed and he died a year later at Abingdon, Virginia, where he is buried in Sinking Spring Cemetery.

In memoriam

Floyd County in northwest Georgia, home to the cities of Rome and Cave Spring, is named for his ancestor, United States Congressman John Floyd.

Camp Floyd, a U.S. Army post near Fairfield, Utah from July 1858 to July 1861, was originally named after Floyd.

References

  • Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Gott, Kendall D., Where the South Lost the War: An Analysis of the Fort Henry—Fort Donelson Campaign, February 1862, Stackpole books, 2003, ISBN 0-8117-0049-6.
  • U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880–1901.
  • Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders, Louisiana State University Press, 1959, ISBN 0-8071-0823-5.
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

Notes

Political offices
Preceded by
William "Extra Billy" Smith
Governor of Virginia
1849–1852
Succeeded by
Joseph Johnson
Preceded by
Jefferson Davis
United States Secretary of War
1857–1860
Succeeded by
Joseph Holt
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