Character Analysis John Buford


Buford is a brilliant cavalry commander, dedicated, with lots of experience. He is a good "gut" commander who can read a situation and act quickly. Years out West dealing with Indians have taught him to "feel" his enemy's presence, sense what his enemy is doing, and use what his enemy has overlooked. This is evident when Buford repels the first Confederate attacks. Buford can feel what Heth is doing and is amused and elated when Heth fails to do the things a good commander should have done. Buford is quick to capitalize on the opportunity.

At least in this book, Buford is seen as a loner, weary of war and bureaucratic leaders. He avoids getting to know young lieutenants because too many of them die quickly. In reality, he was actually very close to his men, knew them all personally, took an interest in their families, and later died in the arms of one of his men.

In this book, Buford's messages to his commanders are brief and to the point. This makes for good dramatic tension. The real Buford was actually very thorough in his reports, sending lengthy messages that included location names, numbers, and as many details as he could learn.

Buford is shown as a creative commander, taking what little he has for men and supplies and making the most of them. His creativity includes using any and all weapons at his disposal. While he did arm his men with breech-loading rifles instead of muskets, the real Buford, unlike the character here, did not consider sabers or dragoon pistols silly if the situation warranted them. Sabers do not run out of bullets, and pistols work best in close-range fighting. Shaara uses his character's disdain of these tools as a dramatic way of reinforcing a distaste for gentlemen.

Like the book character, the real Buford despised the "false flourish," so characteristic of gentility. Colonel Charles Wainwright, a 1st Corps artillery chief, noted at Buford's death that the cavalry commander was similar to Reynolds, "being rough in his exterior, never looking after his own comfort, untiring on the march . . . quiet and unassuming in his manners."