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William Buel Franklin

By John T. Marck

William B. Franklin was born in York, Pennsylvania on February 27, 1823. He entered West Point and graduated first in a class of thirty-nine in 1843. As a comparison, Ulysses S. Grant was also a member of this class, graduating twenty-first.

During the Mexican War, Franklin served as an engineer under Colonel Philip Kearney in the South Pass Expedition. It was Franklin who was assigned the job of supervising the construction of the new dome of the Capitol Building in Washington.

When the Civil War began, Franklin was appointed a brigadier general on May 17, 1861. At the Battle of Fredericksburg, he rose in command from a brigade to a division, then a corps, to finally commanding two corps in the Army of the Potomac.

As Fredericksburg was a horrible defeat for the Union, the commander of the Army of the Potomac, Ambrose Burnside, blamed Franklin. In truth, Franklin followed the orders of Burnside exactly. In a hearing by the Committee on the Conduct of the War, Burnside was able to restrict Franklin's activities for more than five months.

Franklin did get a second chance in the summer of 1863 when he was assigned to a corps command in the Department of the Gulf. Taking part in the devastating Red River Campaign, Franklin, be felled with another defeat as well as a severe injury, only further damaged his name and character. Recovering from his injury, but having a disability as a result, combined with being in disfavor, kept him out of further field activities during the last year of the war. Even General Grant, who was a friend of Franklin's since West Point could not get him back in the war.

After the war, Franklin worked as an executive for the Colt Fire Arms Manufacturing Company for the next twenty-two years. During this time his engineering expertise came to light. Although his war record is less than impressive, Franklin was more a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, rather than any lack of ability or competence.

Franklin went on to serve as a Connecticut state elector in the 1876 presidential election and served as commissioner general for the Federal government at the 1888 Paris Expedition.

William Franklin died on March 8, 1903 in Hartford, Connecticut.

Copyright 1993-2022 by John T. Marck. All Rights Reserved. This article and their accompanying pictures, photographs, and line art, may not be resold, reprinted, or redistributed for compensation of any kind without prior written permission from the author.