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Civil War Encyclopedia >> People - Confederate Military
Cousin of Joseph E. Johnston
Distant cousin of John Breckinridge
Often called John Buchanan Floyd or John B. Floyd to differentiate him from his father, who also was governor of Virginia and his grandfather, a hero of the Revolutionary War and the Indian Wars. During the period of the Civil War he was known as John Floyd and would commonly sign communiques "Floyd".
By the start of The Civil War the Floyd family had been involved in American history for nearly a century. The eldest John Floyd was a surveyor who freed Daniel Boone's daughters when they were kidnapped by Indians. Returning east for the Revolution, the eldest Floyd spent time a prisoner in the Tower of London before escaping and heading back to America with money loaned him by Marie Antoinette. He journeyed west again to fight in the Indian Wars. His son, John Floyd, was a doctor before becoming governor of Virginia in 1829.
John Buchanan Floyd began his political career in the Virgina State House in 1847. In the days before the popular election of government officials, Floyd was selected by the Virginia General Assembly to become governor of Virginia in 1849. After another term in the state house, Buchanan tapped the relative unknown to be his Secretary of War.
Floyd was likable and well-liked, with a jovial attitude and gregarious, all desirable traits in a politician. A State's Rights Democrat, he supported slavery as strongly as he opposed secession, believing the South would be able to receive redress for its issues with the North. Floyd's mishandling of his duties as Secretary of War centered on his administrative duties and his faults had been pointed out to James Buchanan on many occasions.
On October 17, 1859, word had reached Floyd of an insurrection at Harper's Ferry. Floyd ordered Edward O. C. Ord to advance from Fort Monroe with a company of infantry to quell the uprising. As he was leaving the fort, Ord indicated it would take two days for him to arrive at Harper's Ferry. In Floyd's mind, this was too long. He found Jeb Stuart in the War Department and ordered him to get Robert E. Lee.
Stuart arrived at the Arlington home of Colonel Lee with a sealed note from the chief clerk of the War Department. The message was a brief order for Lee to report to the Secretary of War immediately. Details of the events at Harper's Ferry were sketchy, but Floyd, Lee and Stuart went to the White House and met with President Buchanan.
Floyd ordered Lee to advance to Harper's Ferry with a squad of Marines from the shipyard in Washington. Additionally, a small group of Maryland militia was assigned to Lee by Secretary Floyd. Within 12 hours of his arrival, Lee had successfully dealt with the situation and telegraphed Ord to report to Fort McHenry (Baltimore, Maryland) on October 18, 1859.
In July, 1860, Floyd dealt with the resignation of longtime quartermaster general Thomas Jesup. From a list of four officers (Joseph E. Johnston, Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, and Charles F. Smith) Floyd chose his cousin, Joe Johnston to fill the position.
Starting in 1858 he advanced unusual sums to contractors in anticipation of future work and his office was under investigation for those payments early in 1860. About this time the United States Army was refitting its armories, replacing muskets with much more accurate rifles. He tried, unsuccessfully, to sell the 250,000 muskets and flintlocks to the states. To clear his arsenals, Floyd ordered the arms shipped south, where they could be stored, at least until they were sold. One of the shipments during this time period (requested on August 17, 1860) was to William Tecumseh Sherman, who had contacted Floyd while organizing the Louisiana Seminary of Learning and Military Academy.
It seems that Floyd had also been contacted by Thomas Drayton of South Carolina, who wanted 10,000 smoothbore muskets. Floyd was fully aware that Drayton wanted them for the South Carolina militia to arm in case of Abraham Lincoln's election. Floyd ordered armaments delivered to the South in October, with the bill going to a South Carolina banker in New York City to hide the transaction. In all fairness to Floyd, when the South Carolina militia tried to buy additional armaments he turned them down.
Floyd was one of only a few Southern politicians who realized that creation of an independent Southern nation was a risky idea, but he admitted as early as November 7, 1860 that disunion was likely. Realizing the toll a war would have on the economy and population, John Floyd repeatedly rejected secessionism.
In November, 1860, John Floyd put Robert Anderson in charge of the small federal garrison in Charleston Harbor. One of Anderson''s continuing problems was the safety of his men at Fort Moultrie. Floyd sent his assistant adjutant-general Major Don Carlos Buell to Charleston to access the situation first hand. Buell carried a document signed by Floyd that gave Anderson permission to occupy any federal fort in Charleston Harbor at Anderson's discretion.
In an unusually long Cabinet meeting on December 13. President Buchanan startled the Secretary of War. "Mr. Floyd, are you going to send recruits to Charleston to strengthen the forts? Don't you intend to strengthen the forts at Charleston?" Floyd replied promptly that he did not. "Mr. Floyd," continued Mr. Buchanan, "I would rather be in the bottom of the Potomac tomorrow than that these forts in Charleston should fall into the hands of those who intend to take them. It will destroy me, sir, and, Mr. Floyd, if that thing occurs it will cover your name with an infamy that all time can never efface, because it is in vain that you will attempt to show that you have not some complicity in handing over those forts to those who take them."
Late in December, 1860, John Floyd shipped cannon to two forts in the Deep South. The forts, not yet finished, were not in need of the cannon, which would be easy targets for secessionists. When the shipments were discovered, newspapers quickly uncovered the earlier shipments South and revisited the murky details of his earlier advances to contractors. Floyd was later indicted for the role he played in the payments to the contractors but not for the mishandling of the weapons.
Resignation from the Cabinet
There are three commonly given reasons for John B. Floyd's departure from Buchanan's Cabinet. First, the Republicans were preparing a Senate committee to review handling of some Indian Trust Bonds (Department of the Interior bonds, held in trust for Indian tribes) in which Floyd was involved. The second reason frequently given are the problems he was having with the arms shipments to the South. Finally, some claim he resigned over Robert Anderson's move from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter.
With the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States changes started taking place in the Buchanan cabinet. Lewis Cass and Howell Cobb had resigned. Floyd continued to serve Buchanan in hopes of working out a compromise, similar to the ones hammered out in 1820 and 1850.
As winter set in, President Buchanan was tipped to the cannon shipments to the unfinished forts in the South. On December 23, 1860, Buchanan requested Floyd's resignation. Four days later,
On December 27, the day after Anderson's move, John Floyd read a statement in the Cabinet meeting.
...that the solemn pledges of this government have been violated by the action of Major Anderson. In my judgment, but one remedy is now left us by which to vindicate our honour and prevent civil war...that is to withdraw the garrison from the harbour of Charleston altogether.
Buchanan had no intention of withdrawing the men from Fort Sumter. The President had drawn a "line in the sand" and felt he could not back down. Floyd resigned and on December 31, 1860, Buchanan accepted the resignation. Floyd returned home to Virginia.
"It was generally understood by the country," according to Georgia Governor Joe Brown, "that .. the resignation of Governor Floyd was therefore looked upon as a signal given to the South that reinforcements were to be sent to Charleston and that the coercive policy had been adopted by the Federal Government." Indeed, Floyd's resignation was determined to be a call to arms throughout the Deep South.
The Civil War
Jefferson Davis called on Floyd to raise a brigade of "your mountain rifle-men with their own tried weapons." Floyd immediately set about raising an army, even sending an agent south in search of weapons, as if he were raising an independent command. This caused Robert E. Lee, technically in charge of Virginia forces great consternation. General Floyd was put in charge of Henry Wise's forces operating in the Kanawha Valley and participated in the Operations in Western Virginia. Wise protested Floyd's command to Jefferson Davis, but like Lee, Davis agreed that Wise had to obey the legitimate orders of his superior officers.
Operations in Western Virginia
After winning the Battle of Cross Lanes, Floyd wanted to advance from western Virginia into the Ohio Valley. That hope ended when the command of Jacob Cox [US] was reinforced and General William S. Rosecrans attacked Floyd at Carnifax Ferry. During the battle, Floyd was hit in the arm with a Minié ball. When Confederate forces withdrew from western Virginia, Floyd's brigade was assigned to General Albert Sidney Johnston.
John Floyd reported to General Johnston in Bowling Green, Kentucky in early January, 1862. In late January he penned a letter to a friend that read in part, "...the war is about to become fearful in its proportions." In early February both Ulysses S. Grant and the Department of Missouri and Don Carlos Buell (now an active duty commander of the Army of the Ohio) began an advance on Johnston's Army of Mississippi.
One of Grant's hallmarks in his campaigns was effectively combining naval forces with his army. Johnston knew Grant was advancing with a fleet in support, so he ordered Floyd to scout the Cumberland River for possible defenses against Admiral Andrew Foote's gunboats. Johnston tried to contact Floyd twice on February 11 and once on February 12 to order him to advance on Fort Donelson. Word reach Floyd in Cumberland City, Tennessee that Grant was moving on Fort Donelson on the 12th. He responded:
CUMBERLAND CITY, February 13, 1862—1:30 p. m.
Although this communication is dated February 13 in the Official Records, it was sent on February 12, 1862. He advanced 18 miles to Donelson after receiving Johnston's orders, arriving on February 13 in the morning. According to Floyd's dairy, notes from Buckner and other diaries, Floyd arrived at Donelson on the morning of February 13. In fact, Floyd sent this telegram from Donelson:
FORT DONELSON, February 13, 1862—9:50 a. m.
Although Floyd assumed command, he decided to leave tactical decisions to Gideon Pillow and Simon Bolivar Buckner because they were more acquainted with the situation.
Reports came into Johnston about the action at Fort Donelson over the next 2 days. Johnston wired back to Floyd on the 14th, "If you lose the fort, bring your troops to Nashville, if possible." General Floyd approved a plan to breakout of Fort Donelson on the 14th, but Pillow called off the attack at the last minute. A second breakout planned for February 15 sent most of the Confederates in the fort against a one and one-half mile stretch of the Union line. Pillow succeeded in opening a hole in the Union line and actually capturing part of the road to Nashville, but Pillow chose to retire into the fort following the thrust. Grant ordered a counterattack, driving the Rebels behind their previous line.
That evening, Floyd, Pillow, Buckner and Forrest met in a final council of war. Floyd disregarded Nathan Bedford Forrest's plea not to surrender. Forrest took his entire cavalry force and some infantry through the enemy line that evening. Floyd's fear of being charged with treason played a major role in his decision to abandon the Rebels at Fort Donelson. At the end of the council of war, Floyd turned command of Fort Donelson over to Simon Bolivar Buckner. Both he and Pillow intended to make separate attempts to leave the fort. Floyd commandeered the only remaining steamboats for his journey to Nashville, leaving the fort about 5:00 am on February 16, 1862.
Floyd arrived in Nashville on February 18 and was given command of the evacuation of the city. After his arrival in Murphreesboro, Floyd was given a brigade and ordered to Chattanooga. While commander of the garrison of that city he received orders from the Confederate government relieving him of command on March 11, 1862.
Returning to his home in Virginia, Floyd found himself the scapegoat in a tough situation. Richmond was trying to blame him for the failure at Fort Donelson. The Virginia Legislature voted him a major general commission and sent him west to his home to organize a militia division to protect the Virginia State Line. He recruited some 2,000 more troops and initiated training, but he was becoming ill. Still, he oversaw the troops until a few weeks before his death from cancer of the stomach on August 26, 1863. A friend declared in a eulogy that as Secretary of War John B. Floyd had "thwarted, objected, resisted, and forbade" the efforts of General Winfield Scott.
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John Floyd was last changed on - April 18, 2007
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