Please report any broken links or trouble you might come across to the Webmaster. Please take a moment to let us know so that we can correct any problems and make your visit as enjoyable and as informative as possible.

NavSource Online:
Identification Numbered Ships Photo Archive

USAT Buford
ex-USS Buford (ID 3818)

Navy call sign (1919):
George - Watch - Boy - Nan

Call sign ( Late 1919):
Nan - Able - Dog - Nan

ex-USAT Buford

Civilian call sign (1923):
Mike - Cast - Fox - Nan

Buford served both the U. S. Army and Navy


  • Built in 1890 as Mississippi by Harland and Wolff, Ltd., Belfast, Ireland
  • Acquired by the Army in 1898 and renamed USAT Buford
  • Transferred to the Navy 14 January 1919 at New York
  • Commissioned USS Buford (ID 3818), 15 January 1919
  • The ship was used by the Department of Justice and Department of Labor to carry alleged undesirable Russian aliens back to Russia. For this deployment, the ship was nicknamed ‘Soviet Ark’ by the press
  • Decommissioned 2 September 1919 and returned to the Army Transport Service
  • Registered to John C. Ogden and Fred Linderman of the San Francisco-based Alaskan Siberian Navigation Company as the passenger ship Buford
  • Scrapped in 1929 at Yokohama, Japan.


  • Displacement 8,583 t.
    1923 - 4804 t.
  • Length 371'
    1923 - 370.8'
  • Beam 44' 2"
  • Draft 26'
    1923 - 26.6'
  • Speed 10 kts.
  • Complement 202
    1923 - 300
  • Armament: Two 3" mounts
  • Propulsion: Two double-ended boilers, one 375ihp Harland and Wolff triple expansion steam engine with 3 cylinders of 25 1/2", 42", and 70" diameter respectively; stroke 51", one shaft.
    Click on thumbnail
    for full size image
    Size Image Description Source
    USAT Buford
    Buford 176k

    John Buford, Jr. (March 4, 1826 – December 16, 1863) was a United States Army cavalry officer. He fought for the Union as a brigadier general during the American Civil War. Buford is best known for having played a major role in the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, by identifying, taking, and holding the "high ground" while in command of a division.

    Buford graduated from West Point in 1848. He remained loyal to the United States when the Civil War broke out, despite having been born in the divided border state of Kentucky. During the war he fought against the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia as part of the Army of the Potomac. His first command was a cavalry brigade under Major General John Pope, and he distinguished himself at Second Bull Run in August 1862, where he was wounded, and also saw action at Antietam in September and Stoneman's Raid in spring 1863.

    Buford's cavalry division played a crucial role in the Gettysburg Campaign that summer. Arriving at the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on June 30 before the Confederate troops, Buford set up defensive positions. On the morning of July 1, Buford's division was attacked by a Confederate division under the command of Major General Henry Heth. His men held just long enough for Union reinforcements to arrive. After a massive three day battle, the Union troops emerged victorious. Later, Buford rendered valuable service to the Army, both in the pursuit of Robert E. Lee after the Battle of Gettysburg, and in the Bristoe Campaign that autumn, but his health started to fail, possibly from typhoid. Just before his death at age 37, he received a personal message from President Abraham Lincoln, promoting him to major general of volunteers in recognition of his tactical skill and leadership displayed on the first day of Gettysburg

    Tommy Trampp
    Buford 257k USAT Buford probably photographed prior to World War I
    National Archives photo from 111-SC-89836 from the Army Signal Corps Collection
    Original photo: Naval Historical Center
    Replacement photo: Robert Hurst
    Buford 176k Colon, Panama David Wright
    Buford 113k c. 1912
    Library of Congress photo LC-USZ62-40635
    Original photo: Mike Green
    Replacement photo: Robert Hurst
    Buford 98k USAT Buford at Manzanillo, Mexico, to embark American refugees, October 1912
    Courtesy of Miss L. Wolford, Historical Section, U.S. Navy, 1926.
    U.S. Navy photo NH 54477
    Naval Historical Center
    Buford 132k USAT Buford at Colon, Panama, with 30th U.S. Infantry on board, 1915.
    Donation of Charles R. Haberlein Jr., 2008
    Naval Historical Center photo NH 105534
    Robert Hurst
    Buford 166k c. 1915
    Galveston, TX
    Courtesy Bain News Service, publisher
    Library of Congress photo ggbain.19849
    Buford 152k Post card dated 1939 showing USAT Buford at Q.M. Dock, Manila, Philippines © Richard Leonhardt
    USS Buford (ID 3818)
    Buford 129k USS Buford in port 1919, while employed bringing American service personnel home from Europe
    Donation of Dr Mark Kulikowski, 2006
    Naval Historical Center photo NH 103454
    Robert Hurst
    Buford 116k Underway in a U.S. East Coast harbor, with her decks crowded with troops, 1919
    Courtesy Charles R. Haberlein Jr., 2008
    Naval History and Heritage Command photo NH 106387
    USAT Buford
    Buford 251k A short history for USAT Buford Gary Priolo
    Buford 54k c. 1919 Tommy Trampp
    Buford 80k 21 December 1919
    New York Harbor
    Photo caption:
    The United States army transport Buford, carrying 249 "Reds" as America's Christmas present to Lenine [Lenin] and Trotzky [Trotsky]
    Press Illustrating Service photo. Courtesy of Baruch College [City University of New York]
    Robert Hurst
    Buford 201k This cartoon celebrates the United States' deportation of 249 (or 250 according to the New York Times) political radicals to Russia. Among those on the passenger list of the USAT Buford were the anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman

    Buford's most notorious incarnation was when she was pressed into service as the "Soviet Ark" (or "Red Ark"). On December 21, 1919, she was used to deport 249 political radicals and other "undesirable" aliens, mostly members of the Union of Russian Workers, to the Russian SFSR. Also swept up were the fiery anarchists Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman. This occurred between the first and second Palmer Raids of the first "Red Scare" period in the U.S. After delivering her charges, the Buford returned to New York on February 22, 1920.

    During the First Red Scare in 1919-20 following the Russian Revolution, anti-Bolshevik sentiment quickly replaced the anti-German sentiment of the World War I years. Many politicians and government officials, along with a large part of the press and the public, feared an imminent attempt to overthrow the government of the United States and the creation of a new regime modeled on that of the Soviets. In that atmosphere of public hysteria, radical views as well as moderate dissents were often characterized as un-American or subversive, including the advocacy of labor rights and any less than complementary discussion of American society and its system of government. Close ties between recent European immigrants and radical political ideas and organizations fed those anxieties as well.

    The Espionage Act of 1917 made it a crime to interfere with the operation or success of the armed forces of the United States. It effectively criminalized any act or speech that discouraged full compliance with the military draft. Convicted under this law, Eugene V. Debs, a five-time presidential candidate, served 3 years of a 10-year sentence before President Warren G. Harding commuted his sentence on Christmas Day, 1921. Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were likewise convicted under the Espionage Act and eventually deported. The Immigration Act of 1918 denied entry into the U.S. and permitted the deportation of non-citizens "who disbelieve in or are opposed to all organized government."

    Leading Personages on the Buford's Passenger-List were Emma Goldman, Ethel Bernstein, Peter Bianki, Alexander Berkman.

    The Buford steamed out of New York harbor at 6 A. M. on Sunday, December 21, 1919, with 249 "undesirables" on board. Of those, 199 had been seized in the November 7 Palmer Raids. Some were leftists or anarchists, though perhaps as many as 180 were deported because of their membership in the Union of Russian Workers, an anarchist organization which served social and educational functions for many Russian immigrants, had been the principal target of the raids. Other deportees, including the well-known radical leaders Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, had been detained earlier. All, by act or speech or membership in an organization, fell within the legal definition of anarchist under the Immigration Act of 1918, which did not distinguish between "malignant conspirators and destructive revolutionists" on the one hand or "apostles of peace, preachers of the principle of non-resistance" on the other. All met the law's requirement in that they "believed that no government would be better for human society than any kind of government." Goldman had been convicted in 1893 of "inciting to riot" and in 1917 for interfering with military recruitment. She had been arrested on many other occasions. Berkman had served 14 years in prison for the attempted assassination of industrialist Henry Clay Frick after the Homestead Steel Strike in 1892. In 1917 he had been convicted alongside Goldman for the same anti-draft activities. The notoriety of Goldman and Berkman as convicted agitators allowed the press and public to imagine that all the deportees had similar backgrounds. The New York Times called them all "Russian Reds."

    Not all the deportees were unhappy to be leaving the United States. Most were single, few were being separated from their families, and some anticipated a brighter future in the new Soviet Russia.

    Twenty-four hours after its departure, the Buford's captain opened sealed orders to learn his projected destination. The captain only learned his final destination while in Kiel harbor while awaiting repairs and taking on a German pilot to guide the ship through the North Sea minefields, uncleared despite Germany's surrender a year earlier. The State Department had found it difficult to make arrangements to land in Latvia as originally planned. Though finally chosen, Finland was not an obvious choice, since Finland and Russia were then at war.

    F.W. Berkshire, Supervising Inspector of Immigration, made the journey to oversee the enterprise and, in contrast to his two most famous charges, reported little conflict. A "strong detachment of marines" numbering 58 enlisted men and four officers also made the journey and pistols had been distributed to the crew.

    In "My Disillusionment in Russia," Emma Goldman wrote of the Buford voyage:

    For twenty-eight days we were prisoners. Sentries at our cabin doors day and night, sentries on deck during the hour we were daily permitted to breathe the fresh air. Our men comrades were cooped up in dark, damp quarters, wretchedly fed, all of us in complete ignorance of the direction we were to take. Alexander Berkman, in "The Russian Tragedy," added, We were prisoners, treated with military severity, and the Buford a leaky old tub repeatedly endangering our lives during the month's Odyssey... Long, long was the voyage, shameful the conditions we were forced to endure: crowded below deck, living in constant wetness and foul air, fed on the poorest rations. On the evening of 9 January 1920, she arrived at Kiel and was docked for repairs. “It was not known how long the vessel will remain there, but her ultimate destination was reported to be either Libau or Riga.”

    The Buford reached Hanko, Finland at 4:25 pm on Friday, January 16, 1920. The prisoners were kept between decks until they were landed the next day, Saturday, January 17, 1920, at 2 pm. They were taken off the transport and marched between a cordon of American marines and Finnish White Guards to a special train that was to take them to Terijoki, Finland, about two miles from the frontier. The 249 "undesirable aliens" were placed, 30 to a car, in [unheated] box cars fitted up with plank benches, tables and beds. Each car contained seven boxes of army rations. The supplies include bully-beef, sugar and hard bread.

    Finnish White Guards were stationed on each car platform. The party was to be completely isolated until it reached its destination. Once loaded, the train was then held overnight while rumors of the party being killed as they crossed the border caused a diplomatic flurry.

    The journey began the next day, January 18, but the exiles were sidetracked at Viborg, Finland, remaining confined in their cars, while awaiting the British Prisoners' Relief Mission, which was to cross the Russian frontier at the same time. Delayed by storms, the Buford began her return voyage that same day.

    On January 19, the trek continued to Terijoki. Once the deportees had arrived, and after trudging through a heavy snowstorm, a parlay was conducted under white flags of truce between Berkman, guarded by the Finns, and the Russians, out on the ice of the frozen Systerbak River, which separated the Finnish and Bolshevist lines. Things being settled, the "undesirables" then crossed over into Russia at 2 pm, Berkman and Goldman waiting until everyone else had safely crossed. All were enthusiastically received with cheers and a band playing the Russian national anthem. In the war-wrecked town of Bielo-Ostrov, which overlooked the stream, they boarded a waiting train which took them to Petrograd.

    Most of the press approved enthusiastically of the Buford experiment. The Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote: "It is hoped and expected that other vessels, larger, more commodious, carrying similar cargoes, will follow in her wake."

    Tommy Trampp

    View the Buford (ID 3818)
    DANFS history entry located on the Haze Gray & Underway website
    Back to the Main Photo Index Back to the Identification Numbered Ships (ID) Photo Index Back to the U.S. Army Transport Photo Index

    Comments, Suggestions, E-mail Webmaster

    This page created by Joseph M. Radigan and maintained by David Wright
    All pages copyright NavSource Naval History