The Buford Expedition, Part Eight: A Parade

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Walter Lynwood Fleming

Fleming’s paper is available here (PDF) or in Transactions of the Alabama Historical Society, Volume IV (huge PDF).

Previous Parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

 

Jefferson Buford and his men reached Montgomery, where the town held a reception for him. In light of Franklin Pierce’s proclamation for law and order in Kansas, Buford decided that his “regiment” would not go armed to Kansas. He would bring able-bodied fighting men, but no guns. That should keep him right by the president, though it might disappoint his men. They had abolitionists to kill along with land to claim and making the former harder might very well have dampened their ardor for the latter some. Others had suffered such cruel disappointments.

Maybe Buford meant his decision. Maybe he just put it out for public consumption. Either way, the day after the Montgomery reception he tread his men to festivities that may have done something to reassure them that they had joined a proper filibustering outfit and not some weak-kneed emigration business:

Major Buford formed his party in line in front of the Madison House on Market street, and addressed them, urging that they abstain from intoxicating liquors and conduct themselves as gentlemen and good citizens. In the afternoon, they were marched to the agricultural fair grounds, where they were divided into companies and temporary officers were elected. Buford was made General

Civil War volunteers originally came by their units much the same way. Someone, usually wealthy and prominent or with friends of that sort, would ask a commission of the state government. With that commission in hand, or in anticipation of it, they would put the word out and collect the bands of young men keen on adventure and manly glory. They would have set mustering place, where their leader might have some words with them about proper soldierly deportment. Then they would elect officers to serve under their distinguished founder. Buford’s participants might have laughed at the idea that they would keep sober and had their own ideas about right conduct, but they would have understood this all as very properly military.

The night after the marching and subdivision, the people of Montgomery held a mass meeting to endorse Buford’s effort. The man himself took to the stage and promised

No force, fraud, or lawlessness was intended or would be tolerated. But if the hired minions of Northern free-soilism and fanaticism brought on a conflict by interfering with their rights, the Southerners would defend themselves and their institutions.

Just what antislavery Kansans could do that Buford and company wouldn’t take as interfering with their rights, I don’t know. Possessing antislavery beliefs in itself probably sufficed to justify force. If Buford really intended any kind of peaceable emigration, the military trappings and his insistence on only men of fighting age coming along seem entirely misplaced. More likely, everyone understood this as the necessary fig leaf. They weren’t going to Kansas to kill abolitionists, exactly, but if they found some -as they fully expected to do- then they might just have a fatal allergic reaction to bullets.

Fairness, however, demands we admit one thing. If the antislavery Kansans abandoned their government, their newspapers, their activism, their leaders, and all their beliefs to go all in for slavery, Buford’s people wouldn’t have any cause to treat them poorly. Civilized men could disagree about weighty matters without recourse to arms, so long as those matters didn’t include slavery.

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