Biography of Charles J. Buchanan

Last Updated on July 11, 2011 by


AN industrious and accomplished Albany lawyer, who has already gained no little distinction in the legal profession, and whose record in our civil war was most honorable, is Charles J. Buchanan, now of the well-known firm of Moak & Buchanan.

Of Scotch-Irish ancestry – an ancestry noted for its strong mental and physical powers – he was born at New Berlin, Chenango County, N. Y., on the 27th of December, 1843. In the common schools of his native town, and in the New Berlin academy, amidst the richness and quietude of rural life, his school-boy days were pleasantly and profitably passed. A studious youth, he was ambitious to lay a substantial foundation on which he might build some useful intellectual superstructure. But when he left the academy in the hope of continuing his studies at college the civil war had broken out and the young student was fired with patriotic zeal in a loyal cause.

In the fall of 1861 he enlisted in the First regiment of United States sharpshooters (Berdan’s) and went immediately to the front, his regiment being at once assigned to the army of the Potomac. He was then about eighteen years of age, vigorous in body, unfailing in courage and eager to engage in the deadly conflicts for loyalty whenever they should come. He served three years in Col. Berdan’s regiment, rising to the rank of first lieutenant and acting adjutant of that organization. This famous regiment of brave men, armed with Sharp’s breech-loading rifles, served always in the army of the Potomac, participating in all its campaigns and battles and rendering valuable service to the Union cause, especially in the fierce struggle at Chancellorsville and in the decisive battle of Gettysburg, where, by its bold and memorable reconnaissance on the morning of July 2, 1863, the rebel attack upon the Union left was unmasked and the Round Tops – the key of the battlefield – were saved from capture by the enemy.

To follow young Buchanan through all the long and tedious marches and the many engagements in which he took part, would greatly exceed the limits of this sketch. We would merely say, that his regiment was engaged in upward of forty-three battles and skirmishes, from Yorktown, in 1862, to Appomattox, in 1865. He was never away from his regiment until his final discharge, and was never sick nor wounded whilst in the service. Some of the most important and memorable conflicts in which he participated, were those at Yorktown, Hanover Court House, the Seven Days’ battles before Richmond, Antietam, Wapping Heights, Fredericksburgh, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court-House, Cold Harbor, Deep Bottom, the mine explosion at Petersburg, Weldon railroad, and the siege of Petersburg.

At the close of the war, with a military experience so remarkable, Mr. Buchanan sought to further develop his mental resources by a course of close, scientific study. For this purpose he wished to become a cadet, and through the influence of Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, Michael C. Kerr and others, he received an appointment to the United States military academy at West Point. There he remained about three years, making excellent use, especially, of the severe, mathematical discipline afforded in that institution – instructions which have been of the greatest utility to him in his subsequent career.

Contemplating the law as his life-long profession, Mr. Buchanan resigned his cadetship in the academy and began his studies with the firm of Smith, Bancroft & Moak in 1870. It was a most fortunate step for a young student of legal aspirations. Mr. Buchanan was afforded every facility by that noted firm for carrying his studies rapidly forward, besides receiving the most generous personal treatment by its individual members. In January, 1874, he was admitted to the bar at the general term in Albany, and soon afterward became a member of the firm with which he had studied. Mr. Bancroft died in January, 1880, and Mr. Smith in December, 1884, when the present firm of Moak & Buchanan was formed. This is now one of the largest and most successful law firms in this city or state. Its practice embraces often very important and intricate cases in all the higher courts; and its members are noted, especially, for their careful and deep researches into all legal questions affecting the interests of their numerous clients.

Besides his absorbing law practice Mr. Buchanan takes great interest in the military affairs of the country and is a fast friend of the veterans of the late war. On the 2d of July, 1889, he delivered an oration at Gettysburg on the dedication of the monument to the First regiment of United States sharpshooters – a monument dedicated to the men of Berdan’s regiment, who fell on that great battlefield. It was a proud day in the history of Mr. Buchanan, who, twenty-six years before, had, himself, with his brave comrades met and fought a portion of the Confederate army on that ever-memorable and decisive field. With all the thrilling associations of the past crowding upon his mind, Mr. Buchanan spoke with great earnestness and deep emotion, and his address was received with applause by the large audience composed of old soldiers and citizens. It has since been issued in a pamphlet form, and is replete with interesting historical facts.

Mr. Buchanan is a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Fort Orange club, the Buchanan society of Scotland, the St. Andrew’s society, and of the board of trustees of the Albany law school, of which he is secretary, and is also a trustee of the National Savings bank of Albany. He has been for some years chairman of the examining committee of the third judicial department for the examination of law students. He has always taken great interest in the Young Men’s association, has been first vice-president thereof, and has been several years a member of its board of managers. He has also declined frequent requests to become a candidate for president of the association. He was prominent in raising the Harmanus Bleecker Hall fund, and he is now one of the commissioners of Washington Park, and also its treasurer. In politics Mr. Buchanan has always been a republican.

In October, 1875, he married Miss Caroline Van Valkenberg, daughter of the late Isaac Van Valkenberg, of Northville, Fulton Co., N. Y.

Mr. Buchanan is an able lawyer, a popular, progressive citizen, but at the same time very unpretending in all the public and private acts of his life. His great modesty appears in his seldom alluding to his war record, and in his not boasting of any personal services rendered on the field of strife. But truth compels us to say, that among the noble defenders of a loyal government, whose names will always be enshrined in the hearts of the lovers of our glorious Union, will stand conspicuously in the bright, worthy list the name of Charles J. Buchanan.


Noted living Albanians and state officials , A series of biographical sketches. 1891.

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