Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Rebel Raiders’ Happy (Almost) Birthday to the USNA - & Its Rebel Admiral

Sept 3, 1845 - Buchanan Takes command of the post at old Fort Severn, Annapolis

On this date in 1845 Franklin Buchanan – who later became the first admiral of the Confederate navy – took command of the post at old Fort Severn in Annapolis, with orders to prepare for the opening day of the United States Naval Academy.  That day came five weeks later on October 10, with “Old Buck” as its first superintendent.

Buchanan is represented three ways in Rebel Raiders on the High Seas; first, as a leader counter for the South, and then twice more in the cards – for the two ironclads he commanded during their historic encounters with the Union navy.

As James McPherson notes in his recent book, War Upon the Waters, Buchanan was a veteran of 45 years in the U.S. Navy. In addition to having been the first superintendent of Annapolis, he was also second in command of Commodore Matthew Perry’s expedition that “opened” Japan and was commandant of the Navy Yard in Washington when the Civil War began.   When mobs rioted in Baltimore, the native Marylander tendered his resignation from the service to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles.  Three days later, however, the hot-headed “Old Buck” realized as McPherson puts it that “he had acted rashly” and tried to withdraw the resignation.  Welles, however, explains McPherson “wanted no sunshine patriots in his navy.”  He refused Buchanan’s request, and told him rather “icily” as Mcpherson notes that “by direction of the President, your name has been stricken from the rolls of the Navy.”

Buchanan found a much warmer welcome when he went South – as did 258 other Southern-born naval officers.  In March of 1862 he personally took command of the CSS Virginia  (CSN Card 70 in Rebel Raiders) when it steamed out to attack Union warships in Hampton Roads.  During that action he became so incensed at Union snipers firing from the shore that he climbed OUT of the ironclad to fire a musket at the Yankees.  Wounded by the snipers, Buchanan had to turn over command of the ironclad – and thus missed out on the epic action the following day against the USS Monitor (USN Card 19).

Buchanan was promoted to admiral – the first (and until almost the very end of the war, the only) admiral in the Confederate Navy.   He helped organize the fleet and defenses of Mobile, and when Admiral David Glasgow Farragut (who also appears in Rebel Raiders as a leader and on three cards – USN Cards 1, 33 and 37 – Damn the Torpedoes, the Grand Fleet and USS Hartford)  steamed into the Bay, it was “Old Buck” who went  out to meet him in the ironclad ram CSS Tennessee (CSN Card 86).

That confrontation is dramatized in the classic painting by William Heysham Overrend (see below).

“Old Buck” survived the war – and outlived Farragut, who passed away on August 14, 1870 – by nearly four years. 

Despite having “gone South,” Buchanan has not been forgotten by the Navy or the Academy: three U.S. Navy destroyers were named for him, as is the house that serves as the superintendent’s quarters at Annapolis.

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