Tuesday, June 29, 2021

John Buford in the Killer Angels

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Killer Angels is a historical fiction book, written by Michael Shaara. The book takes place during the Battle of Gettysburg, during the Civil War. The story is written as a character study, following officers on both sides of the war. One of these officers is John Buford, commander of the cavalry in the Army of the Potomac. Buford is a brave soldier; one who dies shortly after Gettysburg; and the command of his men and the way he could fight just about anyone, with smaller numbers, is overlooked. Buford, had one of the single most important tasks at Gettysburg, he held the good ground.

John Buford, Major General in the union army, was a tall, blond man who held the complete respect of the cavalry division he commanded. When Buford first reaches Gettysburg he first scouts the ground and takes a look from on top of a tall hill, with a cemetery on top."The Union commander, a tall blond, sunburned man, named John Buford, rode up the long slope to the top of the hill, into the cemetery." (Shaara .) He had issued his men repeating carbines, guns, which were perhaps, the most advanced at the time of the battle of Gettysburg. With these guns he held confidence in his men to hold any army, no matter what the size. He proves his theory at places such as Thorofare Gap, where he held James Longstreet's, southern troops for six hours, 500 against 0000. While contemplating whether or not he was going to confront the Southern army Buford dwells on the weapons he had given his men."He had thrown away the silly sabers and the damned dragoon pistols and given [his men] the new repeating carbines, and though there were only 500 of them they could dig in behind a fence and hold anybody for awhile."(Shaara 41)

One of Buford's greatest traits was that he was a man who knew the value of good ground. Being the first into Gettysburg, he recognizes the high hills as the prime ground in the area and he knows he must defend them. Buford surveys the ground with one of his aids, Bill Gamble, "If you want to fight here sir, this sure is lovely ground. We tuck in here behind this stonewall and I'd be proud to defend it. Best damn ground I've seen all day." Buford said, "It is that." But he had only two brigades. He was only scout. The big infantry was a long day's march behind him. But Gamble was right it was lovely ground." (Shaara 4). In Killer Angels, Buford and his men fight off the first waves of rebel infantry, playing the key part in the securing the high ground in Gettysburg, he is never given full credit for his achievements until after his death, the winter after Gettysburg.

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John Buford was born in Kentucky raised fighting in the Indian and Mexican wars in the west. He resents high command because he feels that most officers learned their military tactics from books, they were taught how to fight. Buford had learned how to fight from his own experiences, even though he was cavalry, he made sure his men knew that no horse was going to help them fight.

"The lieutenants admired him greatly, and he could cometimes overhear them quoting his discoveries your great fat horse is transportation, that's all he is, with no more place on a modern battlefield than a great fat elephant. He turned from eager eyes, remembering the cries for help that never came. That time it was General Pope. Now it was General Meade. Make no plans." (Shaara 44)

John Buford had lost all faith in higher command; he loved the cavalry because he was always separated from the higher officers, free to make his own decisions.

After Buford's cavalry holds out against the preliminary attacks from A.P. Hill, long enough to let John Reynolds' Infantry Division arrive, he had a short conversation with Reynolds before the battle. This would be the last conversation that Buford would have with Reynolds; he would die in the moments when he commands his men against the southern waves. While Reynolds' life comes to an end, Buford's career in the military and his level of possible achievement have come to an end.

"And there was no regret. Through most of his life he had resented higher command. Now it had come to save him. A new thing. He did not mind at all. Must be the age. Well, you have gone to the limit, lad. You have reached your own personal end."(Shaara 4)

His losses are great, his forces scattered and after years of resenting leadership, he finally is glad to see it come, when it high command had failed him so much in the past. His use in the battle has come to an end and his boundary to which he could succeed could go no further.

John Buford's role in the battle of Gettysburg was one of the most crucial, yet unappreciated tasks in the entire battle. Had Buford not been able to hold long enough for Reynolds to arrive and the southern army had taken the good ground Buford knew would swing the battle. The entire battle of Gettysburg could have had a completely different conclusion. Buford never receives the recognition he deserves for this part in the battle; he had saved not only the battle of Gettysburg, but perhaps the entire war had swung with his decision to hold the high ground at Gettysburg.

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