Augustus Caesar Buell

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Augustus Caesar Buell
Born September 4, 1847
Norwich, New York
Died May 23, 1904
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Spouse(s) Helen Elizabeth Slocum (1843-?) (m. 1864); 2nd Gertrude --- in 1894.

Augustus Caesar Buell (September 4, 1847 – May 23, 1904) was an American author who wrote several biographies of great Americans, following the success of a book about his experiences in the Civil War. Most material in these biographies that was not plagiarized was (as was discovered too late for many subsequent scholars) fabricated.

In 1876 he was briefly arrested following an accusation of libel.[1]

Biography[edit]

Buell's own statements about his life and ancestry are not to be trusted. From his claims to have ancestors who were personally acquainted with the subjects of his biographies, down to the simple thanks he gave to the Library of Congress (which, according to the visitors' log, he never entered) he told the stories his audience wanted to hear.

He was born in 1847, and raised in New York, he is known to have enlisted in Company L of the 20th New York Cavalry, on August 21, 1863. He was promoted to corporal three months later, but demoted again the following April, and he left the service in July 1865. He later claimed to have risen to the rank of colonel.[2] For some years he lived in New York State, but his literary career began some time after he had moved to Philadelphia, to work for the major shipbuilding and engineering firm of William Cramp & Sons.

In his Civil War memoir, "The Cannoneer", published in 1890, he vividly described his experiences at the Battle of Gettysburg, but that battle took place in July 1863, seven weeks before he enlisted, and two essays by Silas Felton reveal much of the hollow truth behind Buell's claims. He later claimed that a visit to St. Petersburg in Russia on behalf of Cramp's, a few years later, enabled him to find important material for his first biographical project, the life of John Paul Jones. The major demolition job on that work we owe to the far superior scholarship of Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison, who devoted an appendix to Buell's lies about Jones in his own Pulitzer-winning biography. The work of scholars like Morison, which should never have been necessary, reveals the full depth of Buell's fraud. Had he simply introduced false stories without citing any source document, there would have been less of a problem, but he went one step further, and invented entire letters and journals, from which he published extracts in the book.

He died in 1904, and is buried at the Mount Moriah Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pa.[2]

Legacy[edit]

Milton Hamilton, editor of the papers of colonial administrator Sir William Johnson, had to do the same sort of research as Morison to uncover the truth behind Buell's 1903 production. Two further biographies, of William Penn and Andrew Jackson, were published in the months following Buell's death, by which time suspicions of his work were already growing rapidly. His last posthumous work may be his most truthful, the memoirs of his boss, Charles H. Cramp. About the same time as this was published, Mrs. Reginald de Koven produced the first detailed analysis of the fraudulent Buell technique, specifically his John Paul Jones biography.

Despite the suspicions, in 1905 a superb quotation from John Paul Jones was copied from Buell's biography for "Reef Points", the handbook of the Brigade of Midshipmen. It was pretty much all Buell's invention, based only loosely on genuine Jones material, as was his explanation of the context of Jones's famous quotation "I have not yet begun to fight", but in both cases the lie achieved immortality because it was superior to the truth (and although Jones's reputation as "Father of the U.S. Navy" is largely based on Buell's fabrications, that does not mean it is entirely undeserved). The list of later biographies that innocently quoted Buell's invented primary source documents would make a substantial Wikipedia article by itself.

Works[edit]

Buell's diary for 1867-68 still survives, in the Davidson Library, University of California, Santa Barbara

Debunking[edit]

  • De Koven, Mrs R. (an early Jones authority), "A Fictitious Paul Jones Masquerading as the Real", New York Times (Sunday magazine), 10 June 1906.
  • Hamilton, Milton W. "Augustus Buell: Fraudulent Historian", Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 80(4):478-492, Oct. 1956.
  • Hart, Albert Bushnell, "American Historical Liars", Harper's Magazine, October, 1915, 726-735.
  • Morison, Samuel E.. John Paul Jones: A Sailor's Biography, Boston, Little Brown & Co., 1959.
  • Felton, Silas. "Pursuing the Elusive 'Cannoneer'", Gettysburg Magazine, issue 9, July 1993.
  • Felton, Silas. "Postscript to: Pursuing the Elusive 'Cannoneer'", Gettysburg Magazine, issue 19, July 1998.
  • Bogle, Lori Lyn and Holwitt, Joel L. "The Best Quote Jones Never Wrote", Naval History, April 2004, 18-23.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Augustus C. Buell (United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit 1876). Text
  2. ^ a b "Col. Augustus C. Buell". New York Times. May 24, 1904. Retrieved 2010-10-24. "Col. Augustus C. Buell, a veteran of the civil war and later widely known as a war correspondent and author of a standard "Life of John Paul ..." 

External links[edit]