Buffum, Robert

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Robert Buffum (1828-1871) was born in Salem. His family were active abolitionists. They were also Quakers. The family patriach, the first Robert Buffum came from either Yorkshire or Devonshire in England and settled in Salem, in 1638.

Robert, later given the Congressional Medal of Honor, enlisted in 1861, in the Union Army's 21st Ohio Regiment. According to the book, Legendary locals of Salem, he "volunteered to join a raid led by Andrews, a civilian scout. The 22 volunteers were to command a train and drive between Chattanooga and Atlanta while cutting telegram lines, burning bridges and disrupting train travel. the risk of the daring raid was that, if captured, the men would be tried and executed as spies. Shortly after the raid began, the Confederate army learned of it and a chase and running gun battle ensued that would later be called the Great Locomotive Chase. This raid was immortalized in the 1956 Disney film The Great Locomotive Chase, in which the Robert Buffum character is highlighted. Of the volunteers, eight were tried and hanged as spies, another eight managed to escape back to Union lines, and the remaining six were spared from hanging through a prisoner exchange. Robert Buffum was among the group captured and exchanged in 1863. He was the third man to receive the Medal of Honor in the first Congressional Medal of Honor ceremony. After his release from the Army, he had a difficult time and ended up spending three years in a mental hospital. His ailments were probably a result of his treatment while a prisoner. The seeds of tragedy were planted in his heroism. Following his release from the hospital, Buffum suffered from alcoholism. In New York, he shot and killed a man who was vilifying Lincoln. Buffum was convicted and sentenced to the Asylum for the Criminally Insane at Auburn, N.Y. In 1871, while still incarcerated, he committed suicide and was buried in an unmarked grave on the property. In 1995, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society placed a plaque on his grave."

As to the question about whether Buffum Street in Salem is named after Robert Buffum, the answer is negative. The street in Salem was laid out in 1841, twenty-two years before Robert received his Medal of Honor.


See Also

Vertical File in Salem Collection - Buffum, Robert

Legendary locals of Salem ed. Curley, Malcolm, Dionne, p. 74

Searching for Robert Buffum: Robert Buffum 1828-1871 A. R. Miller