previous next

Floyd, John Buchanan 1807-

Statesman; born in Blacksburg, Va., June 1, 1807; was admitted to the bar in 1828; practised law in Helena, Ark.; and in 1839 settled in Washington county, in his native State. He served in the Virginia legislature several terms, and was governor of the State in 1850-53. His father, John, had been governor of Virginia. In 1857 President Buchanan appointed him Secretary of War. While in the cabinet, he was detected, by a committee of the House of Representatives, in the act of stripping the Northern arsenals of arms and ammunition and filling those of the South with those munitions of war. As early as Dec. 29, 1859, a year before, according to the report of the committee, he had ordered the transfer of 65,000 percussion muskets, 40,000 muskets altered to percussion, and 10,000 percussion rifles from the armory at Springfield, Mass., and the arsenals at Watervliet, N. Y., and Watertown, Mass., to the arsenals at Fayetteville, N. C., Charleston, S. C., Augusta, Ga., Mount Vernon, Ala., and Baton Rouge, La.; and these were distributed in the spring of 1860, before the meeting of the Democratic Convention at Charleston. Eleven days after the issuing of the above order by Floyd, Jefferson Davis introduced, Jan. 9, 1860, into the national Senate a bill “to authorize the [398] sale of public arms to the several States and Territories, and to regulate the appointment of superintendents of the national armories.” Davis reported the bill from the military committee of the Senate, and, in calling it up on Feb. 21, said: “I should like the Senate to take up a little bill which I hope will excite no discussion. It is the bill to authorize the States to purchase arms from the

John Buchanan Floyd.

national armories. There are a number of volunteer companies wanting to purchase arms, but the States have not a sufficient supply.” Senator Fessenden, of Maine, asked, Feb. 23, for an explanation of the reasons for such action. Davis replied that the Secretary of War had recommended an increase of appropriations for arming the militia, and as “the militia of the States were not militia of the United States,” he thought it best for the volunteer companies of States to have arms that were uniform in case of war. Fessenden offered an amendment, March 26, that would deprive it of mischief, but it was lost, and the bill was passed by a strict party vote—twenty-nine Democrats against eighteen Republicans. It was smothered in the House of Representatives.

By a stretch of authority under an old act of Congress (1825), Floyd sold to the States and individuals in the South over 31,000 muskets, altered from flint to percussion, for $2.50 each. On Nov. 24, 1860, he sold 10,000 muskets to G. B. Lamar, of Georgia; and on the 16th he had sold 5,000 to Virginia. The Mobile Advertiser said, “During the past year 135,430 muskets have been quietly transferred from the Northern arsenal at Springfield alone to those of the Southern States. We are much obliged to Secretary Floyd for the foresight he has thus displayed in disarming the North and equipping the South for this emergency. There is no telling the quantity of arms and munitions which were sent South from other arsenals. There is no doubt but that every man in the South who can carry a gun can now be supplied from private or public sources.” A Virginia historian of the war (Pollard) said, “It was safely estimated that the South entered upon the war with 150,000 small-arms of the most approved modern pattern and the best in the world.” Only a few days before Floyd left his office as Secretary of War and fled to Virginia he attempted to supply the Southerners with heavy ordnance also. On Dec. 20, 1860, he ordered forty columbiads and four 32-pounders to be sent from the arsenal at Pittsburg to an unfinished fort on Ship Island, in the Gulf of Mexico; and seventy-one columbiads and seven 32-pounders to be sent from the same arsenal to an embryo fort at Galveston, Tex., which would not be ready for armament in five years. When Quartermaster Taliaferro (a Virginian) was about to send off these heavy guns, an immense public meeting of citizens, called by the mayor, was held, and the guns were retained. When Floyd fled from Washington his successor, Joseph Holt, of Kentucky, countermanded the order.

Indicted by the grand jury of the District of Columbia as being privy to the abstracting of $870,000 in bonds from the Department of the Interior, at the close of 1860 he fled to Virginia, when he was commissioned a general in the Confederate army. In that capacity he was driven from West Virginia by General Rosecrans. The night before the surrender of Fort Donelson (q. v.) he stole away in the [399] darkness, and, being censured by the Confederate government, he never served in the army afterwards. He died near Abingdon, Va., Aug. 26, 1863.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: