Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Confederate Admiral: The Life and Wars of Franklin Buchanan

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Confederate Admiral: The Life and Wars of Franklin Buchanan

Article excerpt

Confederate Admiral: The Life and Wars of Franklin Buchanan. By Craig L. Symonds. Library of Naval Biography. (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, c. 1999. Pp. xviii, 274. $32.95, ISBN 1-55750-844-5.)

Franklin Buchanan joined the U.S. Navy at age fourteen and seems to have been involved in almost every significant naval action and development during his fifty-year-long career. He went to sea on board several of the Navy's earliest steam-driven warships, was the first to charge ashore at Tuxpan during the war with Mexico, became the first American official to set foot in Japan, was the first officer to pilot a U.S. warship up the Yangtze River, and served as the first superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy. Confederate Admiral proves that Craig Symonds, an award-winning scholar who has written seven other books and has taught naval and Civil War history at the Naval Academy since 1976, has also mastered the art of biography. The book is beautifully written, demonstrates a firm grasp of the subject, remains both sympathetic and objective, and uses just the right quote or anecdote to illustrate a point. Particularly intriguing is Symonds's explanation of how Buchanan, an avowed Unionist, reached the decision to fight against his former flag.

April 1861 found Buchanan in command of the Washington Navy Yard. Certain that his native Maryland would secede, he resigned his commission; but when Maryland remained in the Union, Buchanan desperately tried to withdraw his resignation. The Secretary of the Navy replied with a curt note of dismissal. Buchanan joined the Confederate navy, became its only full admiral, helped shape southern naval strategy, and commanded ironclads in two of the Confederacy's three most famous saltwater battles, the Virginia in Hampton Roads and the Tennessee in Mobile Bay. He was a man of prompt decision who had a stern and uncompromising sense of right and wrong. …

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