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Simon Bolivar Buckner: General and Governor

Simon Bolivar Buckner was born April 1, 1823, near Munfordville, Kentucky. In spring 1839, Buckner finished his studies in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and was given a commission as a clerk at Buckner’s Furnace, an iron furnace located outside of Greenville, Kentucky, and started by his father, Aylette. Young Buckner lived in Muhlenberg County for two years, and he often rode to and from Greenville—at the time, a town with about 300 residents. It was on his visits to Greenville that Buckner met an older gentleman who took a fatherly interest in him and would become a lifelong friend and correspondent—Charles Fox Wing.

After a fellow Muhlenberg Countian, Charles McLean, dropped out of West Point for lack of a desire to be in the military, Simon Bolivar Buckner took McLean’s place at the military academy. This decision would forever alter the course of Buckner’s life. After Buckner graduated from the United States Military Academy, he went on the serve in the Mexican-American War of 1846 to 1848. Buckner fought at the battles of Churubusco (where he was wounded), as well as the battles of Contreas and Molino Del Ray. Even when the Mexican-American War ended in 1848, Buckner continued serving the army in numerous capacities (even teaching at West Point) until his resignation from the United States military in 1855.

When the Civil War erupted on April 12, 1861, Simon Bolivar Buckner tried to build a Kentucky State Guard, in order to keep the Commonwealth neutral. This effort, however, was in vain—the terrible tides of war were already churning, and nothing could be done to ebb the flow. As such, Buckner received offers from both the Union and Confederate Armies to become an officer. Ultimately, Buckner joined the Confederacy and served as brigadier general.

When visiting Muhlenberg County--the home of his friend Charles Fox Wing in September 1861, to see his late friend's remains--flags of both sides were flying over the county seat of Greenville. One of Buckner's soldiers was moving to take down the American flag waving over the house of Edward Rumsey Weir Sr. (father of a Union captain), but Buckner ordered his men to stand guard around the U.S. flag, citing that, "Every man has the right to express himself." Buckner urged his men not to bother Weir's flag, or any other flag, for that matter.

In February 1862, Confederate Fort Henry had been captured by Grant’s Army of the Tennessee. Because of this success, Grant and his troops pushed toward Fort Donelson. Aware that the Confederate soldiers were losing the Battle of Fort Donelson, Confederate generals John Floyd and Gideon Pillow fled to Nashville, Tennessee. Even Confederate cavalry leader, Nathan Bedford Forrest, crossed Lick Creek to avoid the imminent Union capture of Fort Donelson.

This lapse in command, of course, left Simon Bolivar Buckner to deal with the surrender and, in a sense, bear the “shame” of having to surrender to his friend, Ulysses S. Grant. When Buckner asked for the terms of surrender, Brigadier General Grant famously wrote back, “No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted. I propose to move immediately upon your works.” To this, Buckner was forced to, “accept the ungenerous and unchivalrous terms which you [Brigadier General Grant] propose.”

It’s interesting to note the friendship that Buckner and Grant shared. Both Buckner and Grant went to West Point, they went on a hiking expedition up a volcano in Mexico, and—when Grant was stranded in New York City—Buckner loaned Grant money to get home. Even after the war, both generals remained friends. When Grant was on his deathbed in 1885, Simon Bolivar Buckner was one of the last visitors whom Grant met with. When reporters asked Buckner to speak about his visit with Grant, Buckner remarked, “I cannot tell you… The visit was purely personal; and…it was too sacred.” When Ulysses S. Grant passed away in 1885, Buckner acted as a pallbearer at Grant’s funeral.

Regardless of Simon Bolivar Buckner’s friendship with Grant, Buckner was still taken as a prisoner of war until August 15, 1862, when he was exchanged for Union General George McCall. After his release, Buckner went on to serve under Braxton Bragg at the Battle of Perryville, and he also helped fortify Mobile, Alabama, until April 1863. Later, Buckner was transferred and directed an infantry corps at the Battle of Chickamauga, and he also served under James Longstreet at the siege of Knoxville. Additionally, Buckner served as General Kirby Smith’s Chief of Staff. When the Civil War ended, Buckner had attained the rank of lieutenant general.

After the Civil War ended, Simon Bolivar Buckner was not allowed to live in Kentucky again until three years after the war ended. In the meantime, Buckner resided in New Orleans, Louisiana, and—the same year Buckner could come back to Kentucky, in 1868—he did. For a time, Buckner was editor of the Louisville Courier. In the 1880s, Buckner entered politics under the Democratic party. As such, Buckner was elected governor of Kentucky from 1887 to 1891. In 1896, Buckner was a Vice President on John M. Palmer’s presidential ticket. Buckner and Palmer both ran as gold democrats, so they were opposed to the Free Silver Majority.

Simon Bolivar Buckner left a lasting legacy in his only son, Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. Like his father, Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. graduated from the United States Military Academy and rose to the rank of brigadier general. Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. served in World War II and was killed in action at the island of Okinawa.

Simon Bolivar Buckner died January 8, 1914, in Munfordville, Kentucky. Simon Bolivar Buckner is buried at Frankfort Cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky, along with his father, son, and second wife.

Works Cited

Grant, Ulysses S. The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant: The Complete Annotated Edition. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2017.

Rothert, Otto A. A History of Muhlenberg County. John P. Morton & Company,

Incorporated, 1913.

“Simon B. Buckner.” American Battlefield Trust, n.d.,

“Simon Bolivar Buckner.” Britannica, 28 Mar. 2020,

“Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr.” Britannica, 14 Jun. 2020,

“Simon Bolivar Buckner, Sr.” Find A Grave, 15 Apr. 1999,

“The Key Way West Point Prepared Ulysses S. Grant for the Civil War.” History, 5 May 2020,


About the Author: Kass Cobb is a genealogist, history enthusiast, and college sophomore who plans to double-major in history and military history. Kass first became obsessed with history in eighth grade through a unit on the American Civil War. She began researching her family's heritage and discovered that she is a direct descendant of eight Civil War veterans. Since then, Kass has desired to share the stories of United States veterans. One of the ways she does this is by obtaining grave markers for veterans. When Kass isn't busy planning historical events for her community, placing signs at cemeteries, or researching her family's past, you'll find her antique collecting, reading, singing, and enjoying nature with her many pets. 

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Feb 06, 2021

Enjoyed this article very much!

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