Note: There are many references to Thomas McKean and Evan Buchanan in the military records, newspapers and war histories, but some of the information does not match up. In those events that did not line up precisely, I deferred to The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies or Genealogy of the McKean Family of Pennsylvania (Buchanan). Thomas McKean Buchanan is recorded as Thomas in the family history, but in many of the military resources, he is referred to as T. McKean – I will be using T. McKean in this article.
I had stopped at Bellefonte’s historic Union Cemetery to visit the grave of George Harris, a Medal of Honor recipient who rests not too far from Howard Street – the street passing the northern edge of the cemetery. Leaving Harris’ burial spot, I made my way up the hillside, scanning the hillside for two brothers who I knew rested nearby. Note: More about George Harris can be found here: George Harris.
The design on an old, weathered stone caught my attention and I carefully made my way toward it. As I approached, I could see the stone displayed an anchor with a rope, but the majority of the words on the stone had disappeared over the years. Two stones away from the anchor decorated stone was similar stone, but this one had a shield on it.
Studying the stones, I could make out the weathered names that had been engraved on them and knew these were the brothers I had come to remember. The stone with the anchor marks the grave of T. McKean (Thomas) Buchanan and his brother Evan has a stone marked with a shield. The two brothers would serve during the U. S. Civil War and in the duty of their service, they would give their lives.
T. McKean and Evan were the sons of George and Sarah Buchanan. The brothers were descended from Pennsylvania Governor Thomas McKean. Captain Evan Buchanan was born April 14, 1834 at Auchentorlie, his father’s farm in Centre County. Note: The farm was located near Penn Hall, east of Spring Mills.
Evan trained to be a civil engineer and was employed as one until 1860, when he was offered a position as a captain’s clerk on the steam frigate Niagara. While serving as the captain’s clerk, he traveled across the Atlantic to ports in the Mediterranean and East Indies.
When the Niagara returned stateside in the spring of 1861, Evan was appointed to General McClellan as his Military Secretary. Evan would hold that position until March 1862, when he was appointed a captain and commissary of subsistence in the United States Army.
After the Battle of Gettysburg, Evan was transferred to the Sixth Corps. On September 27, 1863, Captain Buchanan left Harper’s Ferry with a supply train of supplies. That evening Evan and his orderly were captured by Confederate guerillas. Roughly a week later, the two men were discovered dead, having been shot in the head. Captain Buchanan and his orderly were believed to have been murdered by members of the Mosbly’s Rangers at Brook’s Furnace on the Shenandoah River near Winchester. His killers were identified as Charles McDonough and Wirt Asby, described as ambushers and murderers by the Union army.
Captain Evan Buchanan’s body was returned to Bellefonte and buried in the grounds of Union Cemetery. Captain Buchanan was just thirty years old at the time of his death.
Two stones away – on the downhill side of Evan’s resting place – lies his brother Thomas McKean. Described as a brilliant young man with a lot of potential, T. McKean Buchanan was born September 18, 1837 in Bellefonte and in 1851 he entered the U. S. Naval Academy. McKean graduated in 1855 and was appointed midshipman. In November 1858, he was appointed Master and joined the steam frigate Merrimac, the first of a number of ships before being appointed to the steam frigate Mississippi in April 1861. In December of that year, while the Mississippi was at Ship Island, Mississippi, Lieutenant Buchanan went ashore with a detachment of men to garrison and command the fort which the Confederates had abandoned.
On December 26, 1861, Ship Island was turned over to General Phelps and Lieutenant Buchanan was given command of the Lewis, a captured steamer. On July 16, 1862, Buchanan was promoted to Lieutenant Commander. Buchanan would be given command of four ships: Cotton – his flagship – Estrella, Kinsman, and Diana. With these four ships, Buchanan’s presence was dreaded by Confederate forces.
In late 1862, the Confederate steamer Calhoun was a part of the actions in Berwick Bay, Louisiana. The Calhoun chased the Cotton up Bayou Teche, but gave up chase due to obstructions roughly fourteen miles upriver from the mouth of the bayou.
In January 1863, the group of ships led by Buchanan entered the Bayou Teche and began to make their way upriver. On January 13, Union forces were placed on both sides of the river and they were to march upriver on both sides of the gunships under the command of Lieutenant Commander Buchanan.
In the mist of the conflict, on January 14, the Kinsman was crippled when a torpedo exploded beneath it. Lieutenant Buchanan pushed the Calhoun past the Kinsman. As Buchanan came on deck to encourage his men, he was instantly killed by a bullet fired from one of the many entrenchments along the river. The actions in the Bayou Teche, which ended the career of a promising young officer, resulted in the destruction of the Cotton, which was abandoned, turned sideways in the river and set on fire.
Lieutenant T. McKean Buchanan was just twenty-six at the time of his death. His body was returned to Bellefonte and buried a short distance from the place where his brother Evan was buried.
I solemnly stood at the graves of the two brothers who had given their lives during the U. S. Civil War. Two promising careers that were cut short, but lives whose dedication to preserving the Union will never be forgotten. With that thought in mind, I left the brothers Buchanan to rest on the hillside.
Note: The uncle of T. McKean and Evan Buchanan was Admiral Franklin Buchanan of the Confederate Navy. Admiral Buchanan was noted for two things in history: 1) he was the first superintendent of the United States Naval Academy and 2) he was the only person to rise to the rank of Admiral in the Confederacy.