On 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.