William Buel Franklin (February 27, 1823 – March 8, 1903) was a career United States Army officer and a Union Army general in the American Civil War. He rose to the rank of a corps commander in the Army of the Potomac, fighting in several notable early battles in the Eastern Theater.
Future President James Buchanan, then a Senator, appointed Franklin to the United States Military Academy in June 1839. Franklin graduated first in his class in 1843, before joining the Topographical Engineers and being sent to the Rocky Mountains for two years to survey the region. He then was assigned to duty in the administrative offices in Washington, D.C. He served under Philip Kearny during the Mexican-American War and received a brevet promotion to first lieutenant in the Battle of Buena Vista.
Upon his return from Mexico, Franklin served as a professor at West Point for three years before supervising the construction of several lighthouses along the Atlantic Coast in New Hampshire and Maine. He married Anna L. Clarke, a native of Washington, D.C., in 1852. The couple had no children. In March 1857, he was named the supervisor of the Light House Board and oversaw the construction program across the nation.
In November 1859, he replaced Montgomery C. Meigs as the engineer supervising construction of the United States Capitol Dome. In March 1861, just before the outbreak of the Civil War, he was appointed as the supervising architect for the new Treasury Building in Washington.
As political intrigue swept the Union Army after Fredericksburg and the infamous Mud March, Franklin was alleged to be a principal instigator of the "cabal" against Burnside's leadership. Burnside caused considerable political difficulty for Franklin in return, offering damaging testimony before the powerful U.S. Congress Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War and keeping him from field duty for months. During the 1863 Gettysburg Campaign, Franklin was home in York, Pennsylvania, and assisted Maj. Granville Haller in developing plans for the defense of the region versus an expected enemy attack.
Franklin was reassigned to corps command in the Department of the Gulf and participated in the ill-fated 1864 Red River Campaign. He was wounded in the leg at the Battle of Mansfield in Louisiana. Returning from the field with his injury, he was captured by Maj. Harry Gilmor's Confederate partisans in a train near Washington, D.C., in July 1864, but escaped the following day. The remainder of his army career was limited by disability from his wound and marred by his series of political and command misfortunes. He was unable serve in any more senior commands, even with the assistance of his West Point classmate, friend, and future president, Ulysses S. Grant.
In 1872, Franklin was approached by a Pennsylvania and New Jersey faction of the Democratic Party to run against Horace Greeley for the party's nomination as President of the United States, a task he declined, citing a need for party unity. He was vice president of a Hartford area insurance company, and a delegate to the 1876 Democratic National Convention. In June 1888, after his retirement from Colt Firearms, he was named as the U.S. Commissioner-General for the Paris Exposition of 1889.
William Franklin died in Hartford, Connecticut, and is buried near his birthplace in York, Pennsylvania, in Prospect Hill Cemetery. The York Country Heritage Trust preserves many of his papers and personal effects from the Civil War.