On Feb. 16, 1862, he ran up the white flag over the Cumberland River bastion near Dover, Tenn. Afterwards, the Hart County, Ky., native asked Yankee Gen. Lew Wallace to breakfast. Twenty-three years later, Buckner was a pallbearer for Ulysses S. Grant, to whom he relinquished the fort.
Gens. Grant and Buckner were old friends. They were together at West Point and fought as comrades-in-arms in the Mexican-American War.
In addition, Buckner helped Grant when he resigned from the army in 1854. Grant ended up in New York, down on his luck and short of cash to pay for a hotel room.
He contacted Buckner, who was also in the city. Buckner agreed to guarantee the bill until Grant's father could send him money.
Apparently, they didn't meet again until the surrender.
The earthen fort Buckner gave up is preserved in the Fort Donelson National Battlefield park. So are Confederate outer trenches and the two-story, wooden Dover Hotel, where Buckner officially capitulated to Grant.
Buckner recalled that after the surrender formalities, Grant pulled him aside and "with that modest manner peculiar to himself...tendered me his purse." Buckner politely refused Grant's offer of money.
Buckner ended up a captive at Fort Warren, Mass. Exchanged for a captured Union general in August, 1862, Buckner got back in Rebel gray. He fought in several more battles.
Before Grant arrived to accept Buckner's surrender, Wallace broke bread with the Kentuckian and his staff. Apparently, Wallace, from Indiana, also knew Buckner from the Mexican-American War.
"He met me with politeness and dignity," Wallace wrote in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War. "Turning to the officers at the table, he remarked: 'General Wallace, it is not necessary to introduce you to these gentlemen; you are acquainted with them all.'"
Wallace shook hands with the Rebel brass. "I was then invited to breakfast, which consisted of corn bread and coffee, the best the gallant officer had in his kitchen," added Wallace, author of Ben Hur. "We sat at the table about an hour and a half."
Grant was elected president in 1868 and served two terms. Buckner was governor of Kentucky in 1887-1891.
In 1885, Buckner and his second wife, Delia, were honeymooning in Saratoga. N.Y. They called on Grant, who was dying of throat cancer at nearby Mt. McGregor, N.Y. Grant died shortly after Buckner's visit and was entombed in New York City. Buckner was one of four pallbearers.
Buckner died in 1914. He was nearly 91 and the last surviving Confederate lieutenant general, according to the Kentucky Encyclopedia.
-- Berry Craig is a professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and is the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, Hidden History of Kentucky in the Civil War, Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers and Hidden History of Western Kentucky. The books are being sold to raise money for scholarships at WKCTC. They are available by contacting Craig by phone at (270) 534-3270 or by email at email@example.com.