John Buchanan Floyd (1807-1863)

John Buchanan Floyd (1807-1863) was born in Blacksburg, Virginia, on June 1, 1807. He was the son of John Floyd (1770-1837), a representative in Congress from 1817 to 1829 and governor of Virginia from 1830 to 1834. He graduated from the College of South Carolina in 1826, removed to Arkansas in 1836, and resided there three years, when he returned to Virginia and practiced law in Washington County and practiced farming.

He served in the state legislature in 1847-49 and 1853, and was governor of Virginia from 1849 to 1852, in which position he recommended to the legislature the enactment of a law laying an import tax on the products of such states as refused to surrender fugitive slaves owned by Virginia masters.

He was a member of the Electoral College in 1856, and a supporter of James Buchanan for the presidency, who appointed him secretary of war. His lack of administrative ability was soon apparent. He held this office from 1857 till the autumn of 1860, when, having declared for secession, he resigned, and returned to his home in Abingdon, Virginia. In December 1860, on ascertaining that Floyd had honored heavy drafts made by government contractors in anticipation of their earnings, the President Buchanan requested his resignation.

In the winter of 1861 he was indicted in Washington, on the charge of having secretly, during the latter portion of his administration of the war department, prepared the means to aid secession leaders, dispersed the army into remote parts of the country, where the troops could not readily be conveyed to the Atlantic coast, and transferred from northern to southern arsenals 113,000 muskets; and that he was privy to the abstraction of $870,000 in bonds from the department of the interior during the latter part of 1860. Immediately on learning of these charges, Mr. Floyd went to Washington, appeared before the court, gave bail, and demanded trial.

In January 1861, a committee of the House of Representatives made an investigation, and completely exonerated Mr. Floyd from each charge of the indictment. There is no proof that he profited by any of the allegedly irregular transactions; in fact he went out of the office financially embarrassed. Though accused of having sent large stores of government arms to Southern arsenals in anticipation of the Civil War, and though he apparently did have such an intention in the last days of his office, during the year 1860 the Southern States actually received less than their full quota of arms.

After returning to western Virginia to recruit mountaineers, he was appointed a Confederate brigadier on May 23, 1861. He took part in small battles at Cross Lanes, Carnifix Ferry (September 10, 1861), and Gauley Bridge. In December of 1861, his brigade was sent to join Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston's army in Tennessee. Floyd's brigade took part in the defense of Fort Donelson in February 1862. At the battle of Fort Donelson, February 16, 1862, he reached the field when the engagement had begun, and found the position untenable and the Confederate army in a cul de sac from which nothing but the hardest fighting could extricate it. He gave orders to that effect, and, after two days' heavy fighting, succeeded in opening a way for the extrication of his troops by a movement to his left. Afterward General Pillow ordered back the main body of the Confederate army that was under his command to its original position, leaving General Floyd's troops without support on the ground they had gained, whereupon he retreated, with little comparative loss to his own command. Two weeks afterward General Floyd was censured by Mr. Davis for this act, and relieved from command.

On March 11, 1862, he was removed from his position for deserting his command. Despite his dishonor, he took an active part in the war effort in southwestern Virginia, and was commissioned a major general in the militia. He raised a band of "partisans," which attacked Union troops and antagonized Confederates by interfering with their recruitment of Regulars.

Floyd's health deteriorated, and he died near Abingdon, Virginia, on August 26, 1863.