HALF-PLATE AMBROTYPE C.S. GENERAL JOHN B. FLOYD, LATE GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA AND U.S. SECRETARY OF WAR, TAKEN AFTER THE BATTLE OF FORT DONELSON

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There is no escaping a look of depression in the face of Confederate General John Buchanan Floyd in this photograph taken after his defeat at Fort Donelson, the subsequent evacuation of Nashville, and at the time of his removal from command by Jefferson Davis. Nevertheless, he has adopted the pose of a soldier in thrusting one hand into his lapel in the manner of Napoleon for this half-plate ambrotype, presented to his Adjutant General, Clarence Derrick, likely as a parting gift as Floyd made his way home to Virginia.

Floyd appears from the waist up in the double-breasted coat of a brigadier general, his rank in the Confederate army, with the buttons grouped by two. In Napoleonic fashion he has thrust one hand into the lower lapel of his coat, showing a narrow bit of the checkered cuff of his shirt. The photographer has lightly gilt the brass buttons and the narrow gold braid shoulder straps that would have retained his general’s epaulets in full dress. The coat is dark and was likely dark blue in keeping with Virginia’s 1858 decision to follow U.S. uniform regulations. The photographer has delicately tinted Floyd’s cheeks, but could not conceal a look of sadness or despair.

The image bears a great period ink inscription by Derrick in the back of the case giving its history: “Genl. John B. Floyd / Taken at Knoxville / during Civil War / whilst en route from / Nashville & Chattanooga / to / Virginia after / Battle of Fort Donelson / Given to his A..A. Genl. / C. Derrick.” Derrick was a West Point graduate of 1861, ranking fourth his class, and was clearly a valuable asset to Floyd, who owed his rank and command to political rather than military experience.

Born near Blacksburg, Virginia, June 1806, Floyd was the son of later Congressman and Virginia Governor John Floyd (1783-1837.) A graduate of South Carolina College, he had strong political connections through his father, a brother who served in the Virginia General Assembly, a sister married to a U.S. Senator, and a wife (also a cousin) whose father was a congressman and whose brother was a U.S. senator.   Admitted to the Virginia bar in 1828, he practiced law in Abingdon, pursued some unsuccessful business ventures in Arkansas, and then returned to law and politics in Virginia in 1839. He was elected to the Abingdon Town Council in 1843 and twice to the Virginia House of Delegates, which also elected him Governor in 1849. He spearheaded some political reforms giving greater representation to the Virginia’s western counties and removing property qualification for voting. He continued to be unlucky in business, suffering losses in a newspaper venture in the 1850s, but forged ahead in politics, serving as an elector for Buchanan in 1856 and in March 1857 joining Buchanan’s cabinet as Secretary of War, where his performance, to say the least, was controversial and the most charitable assessment might be that he was organizationally-challenged. His handling of the Mormon Expedition was faulted and he was involved in a scandal involving embezzlement of Indian Agency bonds in the custody of the War Department, though it was never proved that he himself had profited. He certainly had too cozy relationships with government contractors, advancing payments and arranging favorable terms. Samuel Colt was one beneficiary. Col. H.K. Craig, Chief of Ordnance, maintained Floyd removed him as part of scheme to allow Colt to continue selling pistols to the U.S. government at twice what he charged Great Britain. Once again, it was not clear if Floyd had profited personally, but Colt thought well enough of him to present an elegantly cased pistol to Floyd and his wife. It did not help appearances, or relations with some future Confederate commanders, that he also promoted a relative, Joseph E. Johnston, to Quartermaster General, a position of great financial responsibility, over the heads of others.

More damning was Floyd’s handling of U.S. arms distributions after the John Brown raid, transfers of weapons from northern to southern arsenals that came to be seen as part of broader plan after the war began. Grant later asserted that Floyd not only had a hand in placing small arms and heavy ordnance within the grasp of Confederate forces in preparation for war, but also widely dispersed Federal troops to make them easier to capture. All of this, and ongoing U.S. congressional investigations, made Floyd more than a little uneasy at the prospect of falling into government hands once the fighting began.

Appointed a Major General in the Virginia state forces when the war commenced, he received a commission as Brigadier General in the Confederate Army and initially served under Lee in the unsuccessful campaign in western Virginia. Floyd routed a smaller Union force at Kessler’s Cross Lanes in August 1861, and was actually wounded in battle in September at Carnifex Ferry, but despite repelling initial Union attacks in that battle, retreated, blaming a lack of cooperation by co-commander Henry A. Wise.

Jefferson Davis thought well enough of Floyd, however, to remove Wise and later send Floyd west in January 1862 to Albert Sidney Johnston, where he was given a division command. With Beauregard sick, Floyd was the senior officer available for command of Fort Donelson, near the Tennessee-Kentucky border, defending the Cumberland River, and covering Nashville and middle Tennessee. Floyd arrived on February 13, two days after Grant had already begun investing the fort, and deferred to Generals Pillow and Buckner in the defense. Pillow postponed a planned breakout for Nashville on April 14 and then vacillated after initial successes on April 15, dooming the fort. With all three generals in that surrender was the only option, Floyd commandeered two steamboats agreement to evacuate himself, staff and many of his Virginia troops to Nashville early the next morning, handing over command to Pillow, who also then left, leaving the surrender to Buckner. The surrender deprived Johnston of some 12,000 troops, led to the evacuation of Nashville in late February, and Columbus, Kentucky, in early March, ceding most of Tennessee and Kentucky to Federal control. Davis dispensed with a court of inquiry and simply removed Floyd from command March 11.    [sr] [ph:M]

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