“Yankee Bullets Couldn’t Stop Him.” Joseph D. Smith, in Our Old Town Magazine, v. 5, August 1997, Fayetteville
Felix Grundy Buchanan was born on March 25, 1838 in Lincoln County Tennessee, the sixth child of Andrew and Beth. His great-grandfather, Samuel, immigrated to the British Colonies in America from Northern Ireland in the year, 1702, settling in Pennsylvania and later moving to Virginia where his grandfather was born. In the early 1800’s, his family acquired a tract of land, about three miles northwest of the city of Fayetteville, and established a prosperous plantation.
Felix grew to manhood on this land and was afforded the best education available. In the year 1860, Felix, along with his younger brother Matthew, both unmarried, had established a separate household near the family plantation while yet continuing his education. The Buchanan family had a history of military service where fighting for freedom was concerned. Some ancestors had fought with Washington’s army against the British. Captain Pryor Buchanan, a first cousin of Felix, commanded “The Lincoln Guards” – the only unit from Lincoln County to serve in the Mexican War of 1846. As a part of Col. W.B. Campbell’s First Tennessee Infantry Regiment, USA, they distinguished themselves for gallantry at the battles of Monterey, Vera Cruz, and Cerro Gordo.
Felix began his army career as second lieutenant of Company G (The Fayetteville Guards) First Confederate Infantry regiment, Confederate States of America, which was organized at Winchester, Tennessee in April 1861, three months prior to the secession of Tennessee. This regiment was known as Turney’s First Tennessee (not to be confused with Maney’s First Tennessee) and was organized with five companies of approximately 100 men each, from Lincoln County and five others from the counties of Franklin, Coffee, and Grundy. Many of these men came from the area that is now Moore County but at that time was part of Lincoln County. The Regiment was commanded by Colonel Peter Turney of Franklin County, who would after the war become governor of Tennessee.
The Regiment arrived at Lynchburg, Virginia on the 5th of May 1861 and after a few weeks of basic training in Richmond, was put to work supporting artillery guarding the shoreline of the peninsula between the Potomac and Rappahannock [the were actually assigned to the blockade of the Potomac River near Dumfries, after missing the Battle of First bull Run]. The first year in Virginia was uneventful for Turney’s 1st Tennessee with only movements here and there throughout Virginia. However, things were about to change. After the First Battle of Manassas, all of the Tennessee units except Turney’s 1st, the 7th, and 14th Tennessee Infantry Regiments were transferred to the Army of Tennessee. These three Tennessee regiments remaining in Virginia were organized into a brigade with the 19th Georgia and 13th Alabama Infantry Regiments. The 19th Georgia was eventually replaced by the 5th Alabama Battalion. But the 1st, 7th, and 14th Tennessee would serve together until the end of the war and the brigade would always be known as the Tennessee Brigade- the only Tennesseans in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia until the last days of the war. They would fight under several brigade commanders but would become most famous as brigadier general James J. Archer’s Tennessee Brigade. The Tennessee Brigade would earn great honors as a unit of Major General A.P. Hill’s hard-hitting Light Division of Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s “foot cavalry.” They fought with great distinction at Seven Pines, Mechanicsville, Cold Harbor, Frazier’s Farm, Cedar Run, 2nd Manassas, Ox Hill, Harper’s Ferry, Sharpsburg, Shepherdstown, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Courthouse, Cold Harbor [II], Petersburg, and Appomattox Courthouse- almost every major battle of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. During many of these engagements the 1st Tennessee Regiment was led by Major Felix Buchanan.
In the long list of heroes of the Confederate Army, few if any, equal the record of Major Felix Buchanan in such deeds of valor as made the Army of Northern Virginia famous in American history. At the organization of the Tennessee brigade, Felix was made captain of his company. For gallantry (as stated in his commission) at Seven Pines, Mechanicsville and Gaines’s Mill, he was promoted to major of his regiment. At Gaines’s Mill he received the first of his many wounds. After a short recovery, he was again out in front of the 1st Tennessee with Stonewall Jackson at the Battle of Cedar Mountain and thence on to 2nd Manassas, Harper’s Ferry and the fiercest and bloodiest open field engagement of the war, the Battle of Sharpsburg, Maryland. These campaigns made Lee’s Army famous. In all of these, Archer’s Tennessee Brigade played a conspicuous part although with the loss of many brave men. The Tennesseans were generally in the lead. Although Sharpsburg (Antietam to Northerners) was rather a drawn battle; but Lee retreating leisurely back into Virginia was soon on the offensive again and forced the Battle of Fredericksburg [Lee did not force this battle] which was a complete victory [yet hollow] for the Confederates. Here Major Buchanan was again wounded by the shrapnel from an exploding canon projectile. He received five wounds to the head and was thought to be killed; but soon recovered and commanded the regiment until a short time before the Gettysburg Campaign began. It was at Fredericksburg that Colonel Peter Turney, regimental commander of the 1st Tennessee, received the near fatal wound that ended his military career.
In June of 1863, after recovering from the Battle of Fredericksburg, Robert E. Lee’s 75,000 man army started on a march northward into Pennsylvania. The 85,000 soldiers of the Federal Army pursued on a parallel course to the East. They would meet by chance at the little crossroads town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. On the morning of 1 July, Archer’s Tennessee Brigade was leading the entire Confederate Army [just Heth’s Division] down the Cashtown Road into Gettysburg. The detachment of sharpshooters out in front were led by Major Felix Buchanan.
The first shots of the Battle of Gettysburg were fired by the Tennessee Brigade [that is hotly debated on both sides]. The 5th Alabama Battalion had been deployed in a line of three deep skirmishers and was leading Hill’s Corps [no, just Heath’s Division] down the Cashtown Road toward Gettysburg. Ordered by Division commander, major General Henry Heth, Archer brought up the remainder of the Tennessee Brigade and deployed the 1st Tennessee with the 5th Alabama on the right of the road, and the 13th Alabama, 7th and 14th Tennessee to the left of the road. The skirmishers deployed ahead of the brigade under the command of Lincoln countian Major Felix G. Buchanan. The remainder of the Light Division followed and drove in Buford’s Federal videttes and skirmishers until they hit Willoughby Run just west of Gettysburg. Union cavalryman, General John Buford, informed Major General John Reynolds that Rebel infantry in great numbers was on his front. Buford’s men, armed with breech-loading carbines, kept a steady stream of fire on the advancing Rebels. Reynolds moved forward his I Corps units as they arrived on the field. As Archer’s Tennesseans reached the top of Seminary Ridge they met a volley of fire from the First Brigade, First Division, First Corps of the First Army of the US. When the Tennesseans saw the big black hats of the Federals they knew they were going against the “Iron Brigade,” the finest unit in Meade’s army which the Tennesseans had first encountered at Second Manassas. The Iron Brigade outnumbered Archer’s men two to one. The Tennesseans were soon flanked by two other brigades and forced to flee down the slope and back across the creek where some of them piles up against a fence. Private Patrick Maloney, a union soldier, captured Brigadier General Archer as he waited for some of his men to cross the fence- the first of Lee’s generals to be taken prisoner. Maloney personally delivered Archer to major General Abner Doudleday. Doubleday, an old pre-war army friend of Archer, ran with out-stretched hand to greet his old friend. “Archer, I’m glad to see you!” exclaimed the Union general. “Well, I’m not glad to see you by a damn sight,” grunted Confederate General Archer, refusing to shake his old comrade’s hand. Seventy-five others of the Tennessee Brigade were also taken prisoner. During this opening battle, Union I Corps commander, Major General John Reynolds was killed by one of Major Buchanan’s Tennessee sharpshooters and replaced by third Division commander major General Abner Doubleday.
On the second day at Gettysburg, Major Buchanan was struck on the abdomen, from which resulted excessive nausea and vomiting, but he never left the field. Surviving capture on the first day, Major Buchanan and the 1st Tennessee were to play a conspicuous part on the third day in what has become known as Pickett’s charge up Cemetery Ridge. In truth, Pickett led only about one third of the attacking Confederate troops, most of the troops were from Heath’s Division of A.P. Hill’s Corps. The Tennessee Brigade was placed in the center of the assaulting line as the Brigade of direction with Pickett’s men to their right and the remainder of Heath’s men to their left. The attack was a total disaster. Although the Tennessee Brigade made it to the top of the ridge and into the Federal works they were forced to retreat. Of the 13,000 men storming the ridge, fewer than 7,000 escaped death, wounds, or capture.
The Battle of Gettysburg ended as a complete failure for the Confederates. General Lee placed the blame on non one but himself. The Tennessee Brigade had reported on July 1, 1,048 men fit for duty. After the battle they counted 677 killed, wounded, or captured. The 14th Tennessee suffered the greatest losses of the brigade. It left Tennessee with 916 men at the beginning of the war and had participated in all of the battles of the Tennessee Brigade. On July 1, they had 365 men present for duty. Their fight with the Iron Brigade then reduced them to 60 men. At the wall on Cemetery Ridge, commanded by Captain L.B. Phillips, all except 3 of these men fell. However, the spirit of the Confederate army was not broken. As Lee rode the lines to rally his men, a rebel soldier shouted, “We’ll fight the Yankees sir, till hell freezes over and then we’ll fight them on ice.” They would continue to do this for two more years.
On the retreat from this disastrous battlefield, the Tennessee Brigade was placed as the rear guard of the army to ward off attack s by Federal cavalry. They marched for days in rain and slush [it was summer- what slush]. When they were near the Potomac, where a pontoon bridge had been constructed for passage of the army, many wagons and artillery pieces had become mired in the muddy roads. The bone-tired and sleepy Tennesseans threw themselves to the ground for much needed rest while the roads were being cleared. They were laying around in a loose manner with their guns slacked. Major Buchanan had hitched his horse to a rail fence near the road, placed his saddle on the fence and hung his revolver on the saddle. Here they were sleeping in fancied security under the impression that the rebel cavalry was looking after that of the enemy. But just as dawn broke, a column of Federal cavalry numbering about 250 was making a grand ride for the bridge, to destroy [it] which would have put the greatest part of Lee’s Army, not yet crossed over, at their mercy. They were within a hundred yards of the sleeping Tennessee Brigade before being recognized as the enemy. Quickly Major Buchanan rallied his men and gave the command to fire. Only a very few of the guns would fire, as they were too wet.
On rode the Yankees, trampling some sleeping men, and sobering and shooting others. Some of the Confederates who could not get to their guns unhorsed their assailants with fence rails. Others used the wet guns as clubs, unhorsed the Union soldiers and bayoneted them. Others tripped their horses with fence rails and clubbed or knifed the hapless federals to death. There was no sound of rattling musketry to warn the balance of the army. It was every man for himself.
A Union soldier observing Major Buchanan rushed his horse forward, ordering: “You damned rebel officer, surrender!” But without waiting for his reply began shooting at him with his revolver. Felix Buchanan quickly grabbed the gun and held it to one side until all six shots were expended harmlessly. Then the Yankee resorted to his saber. All the while Major Buchanan had a hold of the bridle of the horse walking backward toward the fence on which were his own saber and revolver. He warded off the saber thrusts with the horse’s head, receiving, however, several cuts in his hat. Finally- it must have seemed an eternity to him- he reached the fence, and seizing his own revolver shot his assailant from his horse. Encouraged by this example, the men continued the fight until the enemy was driven off and the bridge saved. Of the 250 Yankee cavalrymen, only eight escaped. Although over 75,000 Confederate soldiers were involved in the now famous Battle of Gettysburg, the first and last shots were fired by Tennessee Infantry commanded by Major Felix Buchanan [maybe some of the first and last shots].
Major Buchanan was yet to receive several other wounds, but he commanded the regiment more than any other officer. While so unceasingly at his post in time of battle he was wounded more often than almost any other survivor of the war. He was again wounded in the first day’s Battle of the Wilderness, but was at the head of his regiment the next day, and thence until wounded again on the following August. This time it seemed that fate was against him. He was shot in two places- in the right cheek, which knocked out four teeth; and a painful bullet wound to the right hip. He returned to duty by December and commanded the regiment until its surrender at Appomattox.
During the whole four years of the war he never saw his home or his aged parents, nor was absent from his command more than five or six days except for wounds. In a letter to him General Lee stated that he had commanded his regiment more than any other officer had commanded a regiment in the Army of Northern Virginia.
After the war, Major Buchanan returned to Fayetteville where he married Kate McClellan, daughter of Col. Thomas McClellan of Limestone County, Alabama. Until his death on 16 March 1907 he was one of the most respected citizens of Fayetteville. He is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery. His descendants are among us yet.
The above story was taken from Kate Buchanan’s account of her husband’s actions.