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John B. Floyd

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Title: John B. Floyd  
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Subject: Battle of Fort Donelson, William Smith (Virginia governor), Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company, Isaac Toucey, John L. Gardner (brigadier general)
Collection: 1806 Births, 1863 Deaths, American People of Welsh Descent, Buchanan Administration Cabinet Members, Confederate States Army Generals, Democratic Party State Governors of the United States, Governors of Virginia, Members of the Virginia House of Delegates, People from Abingdon, Virginia, People from Blacksburg, Virginia, People of the Utah War, People of Virginia in the American Civil War, United States Secretaries of War, Virginia Democrats
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John B. Floyd

John Buchanan Floyd
31st Governor of Virginia
In office
January 1, 1849 – January 16, 1852
Preceded by William Smith
Succeeded by Joseph Johnson
24th United States Secretary of War
In office
March 6, 1857 – December 29, 1860
President James Buchanan
Preceded by Jefferson Davis
Succeeded by Joseph Holt
Personal details
Born (1806-06-01)June 1, 1806
Blacksburg, Virginia, US
Died August 26, 1863(1863-08-26) (aged 57)
Abingdon, Virginia, US
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Sally Buchanan Preston
Alma mater South Carolina College
Profession Lawyer, Politician
Military service
Allegiance  Confederate States of America
Service/branch Provisional Army of Virginia
 Confederate States Army
Years of service 1861 - 1863
Rank Brigadier General (CSA)

American Civil War

John Buchanan Floyd (June 1, 1806 – August 26, 1863) was the 31st Governor of Virginia, U.S. Secretary of War, and the Confederate general in the American Civil War who lost the crucial Battle of Fort Donelson.


  • Early life 1
  • Secretary of War 2
  • Civil War 3
  • In memoriam 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early life

Floyd was born at Smithfield estate, Blacksburg, Virginia. He was the son of John Floyd (1783–1837), who served as a representative in Congress from 1817 to 1829 and governor of Virginia from 1830 to 1834.

After graduating from South Carolina College in 1826 (by some accounts 1829), Floyd practiced law in his native state and at Helena, Arkansas, where he lost a large fortune and his health in a cotton-planting venture. In 1839, he returned to Virginia and settled in Washington County, which he represented in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1847–49 and again in 1853. From 1849 to 1852, he was governor of Virginia.[1] As governor, he recommended to the legislature the enactment of a law laying an import tax on the products of states that refused to surrender fugitive slaves owned by Virginian masters.

Secretary of War

President Buchanan and his Cabinet
From left to right: Jacob Thompson, Lewis Cass, John B. Floyd, James Buchanan, Howell Cobb, Isaac Toucey, Joseph Holt and Jeremiah S. Black, (c. 1859)

In March 1857, Floyd became Secretary of War in the cabinet of President James Buchanan, where his lack of administrative ability was soon apparent, including the poor execution of the Utah Expedition. Floyd is implicated in the scandal of the "Abstracted Indian Bonds" which broke at the end of 1860 as the Buchanan Administration was reaching its end. His wife's nephew Godard Bailey, who worked in the Interior Department and who removed bonds from the Indian Agency safe during 1860, was also implicated.[2] Among the recipients of the money was Russell, Majors & Waddell,[3] a government contractor that held, among its contracts, the pony express. In December 1860, on ascertaining that Floyd had honored heavy drafts made by government contractors in anticipation of their earnings, the president requested his resignation. Several days later Floyd was indicted for malversation in office, although the indictment was overruled in 1861 on technical grounds. There is no proof that he profited by these irregular transactions; in fact, he went out of the office financially embarrassed.

Although he had openly opposed secession before the election of Abraham Lincoln, his conduct after the election, especially after his breach with Buchanan, fell under suspicion, and he was accused in the press of having sent large stores of government arms to Federal arsenals in the South in the anticipation of the Civil War.

Grant in his postwar Personal Memoirs said;

After his resignation, a congressional commission in the summer and fall of 1861 investigated Floyd's actions as Secretary of War. All of his records of orders and shipments of arms from 1859 to 1860 were examined. It is recorded that in response to John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry he bolstered the Federal arsenals in some Southern states by over 115,000 muskets and rifles in late 1859. He also ordered heavy ordnance to be shipped to the Federal forts in Galveston Harbor, Texas, and the new fort on Ship Island off the coast of Mississippi.[4]

In the last days of his term, he apparently had an intention to send these heavy guns, but his orders were revoked by the president.

His resignation as secretary of war, on December 29, 1860, was precipitated by the refusal of Buchanan to order Major Robert Anderson to abandon Fort Sumter, which eventually led to the start of the war. On January 27, 1861, he was indicted by the District of Columbia grand jury for conspiracy and fraud. Floyd appeared in criminal court in Washington, D.C., on March 7, 1861, to answer the charges against him. According to Harper's Weekly, the indictments were thrown out.

Civil War

General John B. Floyd

After the secession of Virginia, Floyd was commissioned a major general in the Provisional Army of Virginia, but on May 23, 1861, he was appointed a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army (CSA). He was first employed in some unsuccessful operations in the Kanawha Valley of western Virginia under Robert E. Lee, where he was both defeated and wounded in the arm at the Battle of Carnifex Ferry on September 10.

General Floyd blamed Brigadier General Henry A. Wise for the Confederate loss at the Battle of Carnifex Ferry, stating that Wise refused to come to his aid.[5] Virginia Delegate Mason Mathews, whose son Alexander F. Mathews was Wise's aide-de-camp, spent several days in the camps of both Wise and Floyd to seek resolution to an escalating feud between the two generals. Afterward he wrote to President Jefferson Davis urging that both men be removed, stating "I am fully satisfied that each of them would be highly gratified to see the other annihilated." [6][7] Davis subsequently removed Wise from his command of the western Virginia region, leaving Floyd as the region's unquestioned superior officer.[5]

In January 1862, he was dispatched to the Western Theater to report to General Albert Sidney Johnston and was given command of a division. Johnston sent Floyd to reinforce Fort Donelson and assume command of the post there. Floyd assumed command of Fort Donelson on February 13 just two days after the Union army had arrived at that spot, also becoming the third post commander within a week. Fort Donelson protected the crucial Cumberland River and, indirectly, the manufacturing city of Nashville and Confederate control of Middle Tennessee. It was the companion to Fort Henry on the nearby Tennessee River, which, on February 6, 1862, was captured by Union Army Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant and river gunboats. Floyd was not an appropriate choice to defend such a vital point, having political influence, but virtually no military experience. General Johnston had other experienced, more senior, generals (P.G.T. Beauregard and William J. Hardee) available and made a serious error in selecting Floyd. Floyd had little military influence on the Battle of Fort Donelson itself, deferring to his more experienced subordinates, Brigadier Generals Gideon J. Pillow and Simon Bolivar Buckner. As the Union forces surrounded the fort and the town of Dover, the Confederates launched an assault on February 15 in an attempt to open an escape route. Although successful at first, indecision on General Pillow's part left the Confederates in their trenches, facing growing reinforcements for Grant.

Early in the morning of February 16, at a council of war, the generals and field officers decided to surrender their army. Floyd, concerned that he would be arrested for treason if captured by the Union Army, turned his command over to Pillow, who immediately turned it over to Buckner. Colonel N. B. Forrest and his entire Tennessee Cavalry Regiment escaped. Pillow escaped on a small boat across the Cumberland and the next morning Floyd escaped by steamboat with the 20th Mississippi Regiment, the 51st, 56th, 36th, and 50th Virginia regiments, and two Virginia batteries from his old Virginia command, just before Buckner surrendered to Grant, one of the great strategic defeats of the Civil War. A short time before daylight the two steamboats arrived. Without loss of time the general (Floyd) hastened to the river, embarked with his Virginians, and at an early hour cast loose from the shore, and in good time, and safely, he reached Nashville. He never satisfactorily explained upon what principles he appropriated all the transportation on to the use of his particular command".[8] Floyd was relieved of his command by Confederate President Jefferson Davis, without a court of inquiry, on March 11, 1862. He resumed his commission as a major general of Virginia Militia, but his health soon failed and he died a year later at Abingdon, Virginia, where he is buried in Sinking Spring Cemetery.

In memoriam

John Floyd.

Camp Floyd, a U.S. Army post near Fairfield, Utah from July 1858 to July 1861, was originally named after Floyd.


  1. ^ Political Graveyard website
  2. ^;view=1up;seq=9
  3. ^
  4. ^ Official Records, Series III, Vol. I.
  5. ^ a b Civil War Daily Gazette Confederate General Henry Wise Relieved of Duty; "Contraband" Allowed in Navy. Retrieved November 21, 2012.
  6. ^ Rice, Otis K. 1986. A History of Greenbrier County. Greenbrier Historical Society, p. 264
  7. ^ Cowles, Calvin Duvall (1897). "The War of Rebellion: A compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Government Print Office: 1897. Retrieved from
  8. ^ Wallace, Lew, Major-General, USV. The Capture of Fort Donelson. Battles and Leaders of the Civil War 1. p. 426. 


  • Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher. Civil War High Commands. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Gott, Kendall D. Where the South Lost the War: An Analysis of the Fort Henry—Fort Donelson Campaign, February 1862. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2003. ISBN 0-8117-0049-6.
  • U.S. War Department. The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880–1901.
  • Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959. ISBN 0-8071-0823-5.

External links

  • Encyclopedia VirginiaJohn B. Floyd in
  • A Guide to the Executive Papers of Governor John Buchanan Floyd, 1849-1851 at The Library of Virginia
Political offices
Preceded by
William Smith
Governor of Virginia
Succeeded by
Joseph Johnson
Preceded by
Jefferson Davis
U.S. Secretary of War
Served under: James Buchanan

Succeeded by
Joseph Holt
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