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Napoleon Buford

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The problem with Colonel Napoleon Buonaparte Buford of Rock Island was that he was both an officer and a gentleman. ''A kindly old gentleman who means well," is the best opinion his Civil War superiors could muster.

The gentleman is Napoleon Buford came by virtue of his growing up in a family of horse-raising Kentuckians, the officer part by virtue of his graduation from West Point in 1827. In 1829 the new engineer officer was ordered to make the first military survey of the Mississippi River rapids above Keokuk and the even more dangerous rapids at Rock Island.

After studying law at Harvard, Buford returned to West Point as a professor in 1833, but he never forgot the beauty and the potential of the Rock Island area. In 1843, he returned to Rock Island, bringing along father, brothers, and uncles. Buford soon became prominent as a manufacturer, banker, and railroad tycoon.

In August of 1861, in response to Lincoln's call for 300,000 additional volunteers, Buford offered his services to Governor Yates of Illinois, who placed him in command of the 27th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, an outfit of untested men. He was ordered to turn them into a fighting unit.

Colonel Buford's approach to his to his task was more that of a gentleman than of an officer. He tried kindness rather than fear. Long after the war, his men remembered his habit of inviting them up to his quarters to sing hymns and folk song for his wife late into the evening.

His lack of military manners did not sit well with General Ulysses S. Grant. Although Colonel Buford's unit performed well and even heroically at the Battle of Belmont, Grant protested to President Lincoln when Buford was nominated for promotion to Major General. He is a dead weight, wrote Grant. "He would scarcely make a respectable hospital nurse if put in petticoats."

Lincoln ignored this and similar letters from other officers. Perhaps his own earlier experience in the Black Hawk War at Rock Island had shown him that "officer" and "gentleman" are not necessarily a contradiction in terms.

Colonel Buford received his promotion and returned to Rock Island a hero.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.