A Father’s Legacy: Simon Bolivar Buckner Sr. and Jr.

220px-Simon_Bolivar_Buckner_SrOn January 8, 1914, Simon Bolivar Buckner died. He was the last surviving Confederate lieutenant general, and was buried in Frankfort, Kentucky’s cemetery with considerable ceremony. Born in 1823, in Munfordville, Kentucky, he was named in honor of Simon Bolivar, the famous South American revolutionary. 

Buckner’s Civil War career is well-known, chiefly for his involvement in the Battles of Fort Donelson, Perryville, Chickamauga, and the last surrender of a major Confederate force in North America in May 1865. Less well-known is his prewar service in the Illinois State Guard, his extensive investments in and around Chicago, or his long association with U.S. Grant. After the war he was editor of a Louisville newspaper, was a pall-bearer at Grant’s funeral, and served as Governor of Kentucky from 1887-1891. In 1896 he was vice presidential nominee for the Gold Democrats on a ticket headed by former Union Major General John M. Palmer. The ticket finished third behind William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan.

General Buckner left a legacy through his son, Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr., or “Bolivar” as he was known in the family. A product of General Buckner’s second marriage, Bolivar was born in 1886 during the gubernatorial campaign. At age 10 he accompanied his father on the campaign trail and to the nominating convention.  After Bolivar spent two years at VMI, in 1904 General Buckner persuaded Theodore Roosevelt to appoint his son to West Point, where he graduated in 1908 and joined the infantry.

Bolivar missed World War I, instead training Air Corps cadets in Texas. For the next 17 years, he was a teacher at West Point, the Command & General Staff School, and again at West Point as Commandant of Cadets 1933-36. Among the cadets he instructed were future Generals William Westmoreland and Creighton Abrams.

After a succession of troop commands, Bolivar came to the attention of the Army’s senior leadership for his energy and personal leadership skills. He commanded Alaska’s defenses 1940-43, where he helped plan and execute the Aleutian Islands campaign. In 1944 he took command of Tenth Army in Hawaii and led it to Okinawa on April 1, 1945. The resulting Battle of Okinawa was the bloodiest battle of the Pacific War, and one of the most terrible in U.S. military history. 

Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr. was killed on Okinawa by Japanese artillery on June 18, 1945. He is the senior U.S. officer killed by enemy fire in both World War II and the 20th Century. Today he lies buried in Frankfort next to his father.

Top: Simon Bolivar Buckner during the Civil War.

Bottom: Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr. as Tenth Army commander, 1944. 

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13 Responses to A Father’s Legacy: Simon Bolivar Buckner Sr. and Jr.

  1. Bob Sorrell says:

    General Buckner came to the front lines on Okinawa to observe Marine operations. He was in a full uniform, had on his general’s helmet complete with stars and he had a full entourage of personnel with him.The marines warned him that they were under Japanese observation and warned him to get down which he didn’t heed. A Japanese mortar round came in and a fragment mortally wounded the General. As he lay dying, a marine held him and told him not to worry,that he was going home.

  2. Chris Mackowski says:

    I always liked Buckner because of his relationship with Grant. They had a great final meeting on the porch at Grant Cottage during Grant’s last days there–one of my favorite stories from the Cottage.

  3. Rob wilson says:

    RIP, Buckners Sr. & Jr. Thanks for the interesting read. I’m fascinated by Confederate veterans who were allies and friends with Union veterans. Could you recommend some sources for more information on that.?
    The Aleutian Campaign that Buckner Jr. helped lead is one of those WWII fronts that, while limited in scope, was as horrific as the much larger Battle of the Bulge and fighting in Korea. I read that the U.S. troops did not have cold weather gear, part of the reason more died from disease than were killed during fighting on Attu Island.

    • Rob wilson says:

      The above got sent sooner than planned. Anyway, thanks for the story of the Buckners and for presenting some forgotten WWII history.

      • Chris Kolakowski says:

        Thanks Rob! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I’d recommend the scholarship of Chris Mackowski on and Brian M Jordan on the subject of Union and Confederate relationships after the war.

        The Aleutians were a unique battlefield for Americans in WWII. Brian Garfield’s THE THOUSAND MILE WAR is probably the standard history on it. The US troops did have cold weather gear, but were not prepared for multi-week exposure to the weather on Attu.

    • John Foskett says:

      Rob: The Aleutians Campaign is indeed interesting for the difficulties it imposed on troops which were unique in WII. And, of course, it was significant for a minor incident which had a great impact – the crash of a Japanese Zero which killed the pilot but in the soft tundra left the plane virtually intact. Once found it was brought back to the States, repaired, and test flown, helping engineers to design the F6F Hellcat (IIRC), which gave a big edge to USN aviators once it went into service.

  4. Rob wilson says:

    Thanks Chris.

  5. Sam Hood says:

    March 30, 1937
    My Dear Gen. Connor, [Maj. General William D. Connor]
    Your letter requesting my formula for mixing mint juleps leaves me in the same position in which Capt. Barber found himself when asked how he was able to carve the image of an elephant from a block of wood. He said that it was a simple process consisting merely of whittling off the part that did not look like an elephant.
    The preparation of the quintessence of gentlemanly beverages can be described only in like terms. A mint julep is not a product of a formula. It is a ceremony and must be performed by a gentleman possessing a true sense of the artistic, a deep reverence for the ingredients, and a proper appreciation of the location. It is a rite that must not be entrusted to a novice, a statistician, nor a Yankee. It is a heritage of the Old South, an emblem of hospitality, and a vehicle in which noble minds can travel together upon the flower strewn paths of happy and congenial thought.
    So far as the mere mechanics of the operation are concerned, the procedure, stripped to its ceremonial embellishments, can be described as follows.
    Go to a spring were cool, crystal clear water bubbles from under a bank of dew-washed ferns. In a consecrated vessel, dip up a little water at the source. Follow the stream through its banks of green moss and wildflowers until it broadens and trickles through beds of mint growing in aromatic profusion and waving softly in the summer breeze. Gather the sweetest and tenderest shoots and gently carry them home. Go to the sideboard and select a decanter of Kentucky bourbon distilled by a master hand, mellowed with age, yet still vigorous and inspiring. An ancestral sugar bowl, a row of silver goblets, some spoons, and some ice, and you are ready to start.
    Into a canvas bag pound twice as much ice as you think you will need. Make it as fine as snow, keep it dry and do not allow it to degenerate into slush. Into each goblet put a slightly heaping teaspoon full of granulated sugar, barely cover this with spring water, and slightly bruise one mint leaf into this, leaving the spoon in the goblet. Then pour elixir from the decanter until the goblets are about one-fourth full. Fill the goblets with snowy ice, sprinkling in a small amount of sugar as you fill. Wipe the outside of the goblets dry, and embellish copiously with mint.
    Then comes the delicate and important operation of frosting. By proper manipulation of the spoon, the ingredients are circulated and blended until nature, wishing to take a further hand and add another of its beautiful phenomena, encrusts the whole in a glistening coat of white frost.
    Thus, harmoniously blended by the deft touches of a skilled hand, you have a beverage eminently appropriate for honorable man and beautiful women.
    When all is ready, assemble your guests on the porch or in the garden where the aroma of the juleps will rise heavenward and make the birds sing. Propose a worthy toast, raise the goblets to your lips, bury your nose in the mint, inhale a deep breath of its fragrance and sip the nectar of the gods.
    Being overcome with thirst, I can write no further.
    Sincerely,
    Lieut. Gen. S.B. Buckner, Jr.
    VMI Class of 1906

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