Robert Buffum MOH

b. 07/07/1828 Salem, Massachusetts. d. 20/07/1871 Auburn, New York.

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 04/1862 Big Shanty, Georgia.

Robert Buffum MOH

Buffum was born on July 7, 1828 in Salem, Massachusetts and enlisted into the 21st Ohio Infantry at Gilead, Ohio on September 2, 1861. He was among a group of Ohio men (19 soldiers and 2 civilians) who volunteered to participate in a secret mission to disrupt Confederate communication. In April the group, led by James J. Andrews, which later came to be called Andrews’ Raiders, boarded a train in Georgia. On April 12th, after the train had stopped in Big Shanty, they commandeered the train’s engine and three boxcars and headed towards Chattanooga, Tennessee. Under pursuit from the Confederates, they destroyed track and telegraph lines along the way. They never made it to Chattanooga but abandoned the engine. They were all captured within a week. Some of the men were hanged. Buffum was taken as a prisoner of war, but was eventually exchanged on 17 March 1863.

The medal was presented to Buffum and five others by President Abraham Lincoln himself on 25 March 1863. Buffum was the third person to receive the Medal of Honor in the entire country. Sadly following the receipt of the Medal of Honor, Buffum’s life took a tragic turn.

Unfortunately Buffum became an uncontrollable alcoholic in the post war period. He also suffered psychological damage as a result of the war and of the time spent as a prisoner in the hands of the Confederates. Buffum spent three years in a mental hospital after he left the Army. A short time after his release from the hospital he began to drink again and, one night following an argument with a man who vilified President Lincoln, he shot and killed the man.

He was indicted for murder and sent to the State Asylum at Auburn as an insane criminal. Sadly, Robert Buffum barricaded himself in his cell on 20 July 1871, and committed suicide by slashing his own throat. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the prison grounds the following day.

In 1994, after a period of lengthy research, the Medal of Honor Society tracked down the whereabouts of the remains of Robert Buffum. During the period between his burial in the State Lot [at Fort Hill Cemetery] and the discovery of his final resting place, Buffum’s corpse had been moved to a new state burial ground three and a half miles away [in an area adjacent to Soule Cemetery in the Town of Sennett] where it rested in an unmarked grave, really a mass grave containing many convict corpses. Regardless of what Buffum may have done after the war, he was a hero who had risked his life during wartime. The society wanted to place a special marker over his gravesite.

On July 29, 1995, members of the Medal of Honor historical society honored the resting place of Lt. Robert Buffum with a marker testifying to his bravery during the Civil War. Many Buffum family members attended the brief but impressive ceremony. Officials from Auburn Correctional Facility also participated in recognizing the veteran. Volunteers have maintained the gravesite ever since. Each year a new American flag is placed on the grave, in memorium.



One of the 19 of 22 men (including 2 civilians) who, by direction of Gen. Mitchell (or Buell), penetrated nearly 200 miles south into enemy territory and captured a railroad train at Big Shanty, Ga., in an attempt to destroy the bridges and track between Chattanooga and Atlanta.