"Where I Now Stand" Discussion Questions
Below are some questions and context which will help a discussion leader move a group through the "Where I Now Stand" reader. They are certainly not the only questions to be raised from this evidence, but are provided as a place to start.
Interested readers and students should explore the "Beyond Buffum" resources elswehere in this exhibit.
Congress Has Never Legislated Our Relief
Sarah Buffum is the first person we see acting in this story? What does that tell you? Where do you think Robert is? Why is he not gathering this evidence for himself?
Do you think that evidence that Sarah Buffum gathered from Colonel Neibling was related to Buffum's petition to Congress?
Total Disability for the Performance of Manual Labor
Looking back to the previous document, whose "relief" do you think Congress had legislated by 1867?
What are some of the reasons that Robert Buffum might not have been able to access some of these benefits?
Pitiless Persecutions in the Prisons
What is significant about the prisoners treatment here? Why are the “negro jail”, the close confinement, and the chains important? Do you think the Confederates went to extra effort to brutalize and humiliate the raiders in ways usually reserved for slaves?
Judge Advocate General Holt opens his narrative with an interesting statement, "They, however, voluntarily engaged in it." What could he be implying about the fact that Buffum and his comrades volunteered for this duty? Does that absolve the government of responsibility to the veterans of the raid?
$35 and a Gold Medal
Comparing the date of this article to Buffum's petition to Congress, why do you think he was in Washington? Why was he wearing this medal that got stolen?
Knowing that this is how the December 1867 trip to Washington ended, what do you think Sarah Buffum said to Robert after he got home?
Medal of Honor
How does knowing that the “gold medal” that was stolen from Buffum in Washington was a Medal of Honor change your thoughts about Buffum?
Does knowing this make you think differently than you did before about Congress’s decision not to award Buffum a pension for his service?
A Pair of Boots
What do you make of Sarah Elizabeth Buffum’s claim that Robert did not steal the boots?
Why do you think she addressed this letter to Secretary of War Stanton? Why do you think Stanton put political pressure on Governor Bramlette to pardon Buffum?
Do you agree with Governor Bramlette’s pardoning statement?
For more on this pardon request and the politics of pardoning a war hero, read all of the Buffum pardon correspondence in CWGK.
That President Lincoln Should be Hanged
In what ways is this incident similar to the one in Louisville? What other elements of Buffum's postwar life do you recognize here?
Have you seen similar patterns in veterans of contemporary wars?
Freedom in Kansas
How do you think this period of Buffum’s life shaped his decision to enlist in the U.S. Army in 1861? How do you think the Kansas border war affected his willingness to volunteer for the Andrews Raid?
How long was Robert Buffum’s Civil War? Was it only a conflict from 1861-1865 or was it longer than that?
Context on "Bleeding Kansas": The 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act abandoned the old Missouri Compromise line which allowed slavery in the southern half of the western United States and outlawed it in the north. The new act legalized the concept of “popular sovereignty” in which the residents of any territory could vote on the legality of slavery before applying for statehood. This created a rush by pro- and anti-slavery settlers to pour into the Kansas territory and win the inevitable vote.
The Buffums and Robert’s brother, David, traveled from their homes in Massachusetts with a wagon train from the New England Emigrant Aid Company, a venture formed to aid free soil and abolitionist settlers in relocating to Kansas. Many, like the Buffums, settled near Lawrence, which became an antislavery stronghold. Charitable organizations, such as the one the Buffums spoke at in New York, supported this work to help prevent slavery from extending into Kansas.
In May 1856, a group of around 800 proslavery settlers attacked Lawrence, eventually driving out the Buffums and the free state forces and burning most of the town. Massachusetts native Charles L. Robinson’s house outside Lawrence was specifically targeted by the southern rights men because he had been elected Territorial Governor in an illegitimate free-state election earlier in the year. Later, when Kansas became a state in 1861, Robinson became its first governor.
Lawrence was the beginning of what came to be known as “Bleeding Kansas.” Violence between the pro- and anti-slavery factions spiked, with individual settlers and their farms falling in their enemies’ crosshairs. David Buffum was a victim of this violence, which spiraled into a cycle of vengeance and retribution that presaged the coming of the Civil War—and its long, violent aftermath during Reconstruction.
Jayhawker, Filibuster and Guerrilla
Did the Governor of Ohio and his fellow officers in the 21st Ohio Infantry Regiment do the right thing in helping Buffum leave the service without facing court martial?
What do you think would have happened if Buffum had been court martialed? How do you think his future could have been different? Is it possible that that could have been an intervention point? Do you think the mental health facilities and support of the 1860s could have intervened effectively in Buffum’s case? Would he have lost eligibility for pensions and benefits if he had been court martialed?
Buffum was clearly devastated by illness and malnutrition during his time in the Confederate prisons—a fate shared by POWs in many conflicts. Doctors in Boston signed certificates to give him time to recover before rejoining his unit. Assuming that these impacts lingered, do you think he had a strong case to receive a pension from the U.S. government on medical grounds as well as on mental health?
Linking Jayhawkers and Filibusters here is interesting because their methods were often similar even if their goals were radically different. What do you think this comparison says about Buffum after his return to the army?
Terminology definition: Guerrillas are a common term for irregular fighters who engage in hit-and-run tactics and live outside of a typical military chain of command and supply. Jayhawker and filibuster are terms more specific to the 1860s.
Jayhawkers were anti-slavery militants who fought against pro-slavery “Border Ruffians” in the “Bleeding Kansas” conflict of the 1850s. John Brown was the most famous Jayhawker during the political and paramilitary struggle to determine whether the Kansas territory would become a state with or without slavery.
During the 1850s, American citizens launched private military expeditions into Latin American and Caribbean countries. These Filibusters intended to overthrow the local governments, install themselves in power, and petition the United States to annex the countries as new territories and states. American filibusters usually hoped to add more slaveholding territory to the United States—as they had successfully done in Texas during the 1830s and 1840s—and increase the political power of slave states and slaveholders in Washington D.C.
Murder at Newburg
How do the three articles characterize Buffum differently? How does the passage of time make the two New York Times articles different? How is Buffum physically described? What differences do you see in the way the Times and the Herald report the same day of courtroom testimony?
What do you make of Dr. Bemis’s testimony? What roles do you think Buffum’s “intemperance,” “domestic trouble,” or “his army experience” might have played in the murder?
How do you interpret Buffum’s suicide attempt? What emotions do you think Buffum felt after his arrest?