In late March 1885, South Carolinian Munson Monroe Buford wrote to famed Confederate general and now prominent political figure Wade Hampton. Buford had served for the war’s duration in the South Carolina cavalry, and he now required his old commander’s help. “Desirous of obtaining one of the appointments as Deputy Collector from this section of the State,” Munson asked that Hampton speak on his behalf.[i]
(Munson only later would gain public office as sheriff of Newberry County.)
This simple letter and its scant lines are significant on several levels. First, some 20 years after the American Civil War’s end Buford maintained that his wartime service granted certain privileges, allowed for particular compensations. Although Buford had served with Hampton both during the war and after in the Redemption campaign, which restored white home rule in South Carolina, it was his Confederate military service with which he started the letter, for it served as an enduring connection between the two men. Second, wartime connections and friendships were often deployed in the postwar era to advance social, political, and economic ends. Soldiers relied on both informal and formalized networks of support. Finally, a long passed struggle continued to be discussed, recounted, and remembered for the duration of participants’ lives—the war and its legacy cast a long shadow over its survivors.
Dedication to wartime friendships and the Confederate cause defined veterans such as Munson Buford well into the late 19th and early 20th century. Enlisting at age 16 in the South Carolina cavalry, Buford served in the Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida before being transferred to Virginia in 1864. In Virginia the men saw action, notably at the Wilderness and Cold Harbor. Later, during the Carolinas campaign, Buford accompanied Colonel J. Rawlins Lowndes, Hampton’s chief of staff, when he delivered the last dispatches that arranged for the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston to Union forces. After the war Munson continued to fight for the principles that drove him to the front in 1862. He commanded a company of Red Shirts (a paramilitary organization that actively shaped South Carolina politics), was a member of the Ku Klux Klan (becoming the only man who was ever brought to trial for it from Newberry County, South Carolina, in a U. S. Court), and late in life joined the United Confederate Veterans (an organization of former Confederate soldiers).[ii]
For Buford, as with so many veterans, the Confederacy and its causes formed an integral part of postwar self-identity. During their military service soldiers made connections with their fellows as intimate as those fashioned with family. Such affinities were a natural extension of antebellum networks; men from the same communities who had rallied to the Confederate cause together served in the army.[iii] The months and years spent soldiering forged these friendships into indissoluble bonds that continued well past the war’s close sustaining veteran’s emotional lives and creating an unwavering bedrock of support. Although white southerners held Confederate veterans in nearly mystic esteem and the Lost Cause’s thriving rhetoric lauded their military service, this discourse vaulted heroism and valor above all else often transforming men into “living monuments,” to use one scholar’s apt phrase.[iv] To maintain their humanity, to discuss the unspeakable scenes of war, veterans often turned to each other for support.
Through personal correspondence and social activities Buford continued to breath life into the fallen Confederacy. In the final years of the 19th century, for instance, he was excited to receive a letter from “an old dear Army friend,” William G. Austin. Buford eagerly hoped that the two could plan a visit soon to “talk and fight our old Battles over.”[v] Closer to home Munson interacted with old soldiers in a variety of venues. We learn of his activities through a remarkable series of diaries kept from 1865 until his death. During one swatch of time between 1877 and 1881 he attended Masonic meetings, participated in activities related to the Grange, and served in a militia. Although few specific names are mentioned in his notations, we may presume (given the extent of white southern wartime mobilization) that scores of his postwar associates had participated in the Confederate cause in some capacity. More explicit are his references to veteran- and war-related activities and celebrations. For example, on September 4, 1879, he attended a “Survivors reunion and Barbecue of the 3rd S. C. Regiment,” and in June 1880 “Went to Newberry to attend the unveiling of the monument in honor of the dead from Newberry County who was killed & died while in the late Confederate Army.”[vi] Surrounding himself among former Confederates and recounting the deeds of the Civil War, the conflict and its participants held sway over Munson.
Moreover, Buford was deeply concerned over the fate of his fellows. In one of a series of letters to the South Carolina legislature, he asked for the relief of “Confederate Survivors,” a matter about which he felt deeply. At the time of the letter’s composition Munson himself was nearing his 84th birthday and had been “shut in for several years.” Old and infirm, he returned to his youth in striking terms. “My thoughts go back to the days in which I followed Lee, Beauregard, and Hampton, and was with Johnston at Durham North Carolina, when he surrendered to Sherman, and I can’t help urging relief for my old comrades in arms. Many of whom are older than I am.”[vii] The war, its battles and its events, captivated Buford igniting the flames of his youth.
Through a host of activities—militia musters, Masonic rituals, and reunions—and personal correspondence, Confederate veterans forged a sense of self integrally linked to the Civil War but also, and more importantly, fostered a community for emotional support. For Munson Buford and his fellows, the events of their youths, however painful, realigned the course of their lives. Although some veterans certainly chose to put the war behind, others continued to refight old battles with their former comrades in arms and remained tied to the brotherhood forged during Confederate military service. Munson Buford’s Civil War did not end at Durham Station, North Carolina, in the spring of 1865 but instead continued, in varied forms, for the remainder of his life, provoking one 20th-century observer to remember him as the “personification of the Confederacy.”[viii]
James Broomall is an assistant professor in the History Department at the University of North Florida. Deeply interested in the lives and experiences of Confederate veterans, he is the author of a forthcoming essay on this subject in the edited volume, Creating Citizenship in the 19th Century South, part of his broader manuscript-length study in progress currently.
[i] M. M. Buford to Gen Wade Hampton, March 28, 1885, Box 2, Folder 7, Munson Monroe Buford Papers, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; hereinafter, SHC.
[ii] On Buford’s biography, see Confederate Veteran, no. 9, vol. XXXVII (Sept., 1930): 353.
[iii] The volunteers of 1861 who would one-day compose the ranks of the Army of Northern Virginia shared demographic characteristics. As Joseph T. Glatthaar demonstrates in his exhaustive and compelling study of General Lee’s Army, 25 was the average age for volunteers in 1861 and almost three of every four were single. Although these findings are linked only to Lee’s Army, broader generalizations may be drawn. Joseph T. Glatthaar, General Lee’s Army: From Victory to Collapse (2008; repr., New York: Free Press, 2009), 18 and 17-28. See also, Gerald F. Linderman, Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War (New York: The Free Press, 1987), 26-7.
[iv] R. B. Rosenburg, Living Monuments: Confederate Soldiers’ Homes in the New South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993). See also, James Marten, Sing Not War: The Lives of Union and Confederate Veterans in Gilded Age America (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 203.
[v] M. M. Buford to Trick [Wm G. Austin], Nov 22, 1896, Box 2, Folder 7, Buford Papers, SHC.
[vi] Munson Monroe Buford Diary, September 4, 1879, and June 30, 1880, respectively, Box 1, Folder 3, Buford Papers, SHC.