Franklin Buchanan was an American naval officer, serving the United States Navy from 1815 to 1861, and then the navy of the Confederate States of America until the surrender in 1865. He is notable as being the commanding officer of the ironclad CSS Virginia just before that vessel's engagement in the first battle in history between iron-armored warships.
Franklin Buchanan was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on 13 September 1800. He became a midshipman in the U.S. Navy in 1815, was promoted to Lieutenant in 1825, to Commander in 1841 and to Captain in 1855. Over the four and a half decades of his U.S. Navy service, Buchanan had extensive and worldwide sea duty. He commanded the sloops of war Vincennes and Germantown during the 1840s and the steam frigate Susquehanna in the Matthew Perry expedition to Japan during the 1850s. In 1845-47, he served as the first Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy, followed by notable Mexican War service. In 1859-61, Captain Buchanan was the Commandant of the Washington Navy Yard.
Believing that his native state would soon leave the Union, Buchanan resigned his commission in April 1862. When Maryland did not secede, he tried to withdraw the resignation. Rebuffed by the Navy Department, which dismissed him from the service in May, he joined the Confederate States Navy, receiving a Captain's commission in September 1861. After heading the CSN's Office of Orders and Detail, Buchanan was placed in command of the defenses of the James River, Virginia. He led the pioneer ironclad Virginia, a casemated vessel salvaged from the wreck of USS Merrimack, in her successful attack on the Federal warships Cumberland and Congress in the Battle of Hampton Roads on 8 March 1862, but was wounded in the action and had to leave the ship before her battle with USS Monitor on the following day.
In August 1862, Buchanan was promoted to the rank of Admiral and sent to command Confederate Navy forces on Mobile Bay, Alabama. He oversaw the construction of the ironclad CSS Tennessee and was on board her during her gallant battle with Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut's Union fleet on 5 August 1864. Wounded and taken prisoner, Admiral Buchanan was not exchanged until February 1865. He was on convalescent leave until the Civil War ended a few months later. Following the conflict, Buchanan lived in Maryland, then was a businessman in Mobile until 1870, when he again took up residence in Maryland. He died there on 11 May 1874.