Buford attended West Point and graduated in 1827. After a stint with the frontier military, he was given leave to study law at Harvard. He taught at West Point before leaving the service to become a businessman. He was an engineer and banker in Illinois during the 1840s and 1850s.
When the Civil War began, the 54-year-old Buford raised his own regiment, the 27th Illinois. He was commissioned as a colonel, and his unit was sent to Cairo, Illinois, and placed in General Ulysses S. Grant’s army. On November 7, 1861, Grant attacked a Confederate camp at Belmont, Missouri, and quickly drove the Rebels away. However, Grant’s men became preoccupied with plundering the area, and a Confederate counterattack nearly turned to disaster for the Yankees. Buford’s regiment was almost cut off from the main Union force. He rallied his men and they fought their way out of the Confederate trap. Buford was commended for his bravery.
After Belmont, Buford participated in the capture of Island No. 10, a Confederate stronghold in the Mississippi River. He was left in command of the island after its capture. Buford and his regiment fought at Corinth, Mississippi, in October 1862, but the colonel fell seriously ill from sunstroke and left field command.
Buford eventually returned to the West and was promoted to brigadier general in charge of the district of Eastern Arkansas. He remained there for the rest of the war, although his main military action came in chasing off Confederate raiders in the area. Buford generated controversy in his dealings with black troops. He had drawn earlier criticism for not helping refugee enslaved people, and now he proclaimed his preference for commanding white troops.He silenced some of the criticism by implementing programs for formerly enslaved people in Arkansas that generally succeeded in taking care of their immediate needs. Poor health forced Buford’s resignation in March 1865, just before the end of the war. He was brevetted to major general following his retirement. He worked in a variety of businesses after the war and died in Chicago in 1883.
Napoleon Bonaparte Buford was the older half-brother of John Buford, a Union General who commanded theYankee force that first engaged the Confederates at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in 1863.