|This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.|
The text that follows is reproduced from (the report of the) Thirtieth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 7th, 1899.
Major General Don Carlos Buell died at his home in Kentucky, serene in the consciousness of a long life well spent, in which he had rendered most important services to his country. He was one of the most distinguished of the graduates from our Military Academy at West Point, being appointed from there to the Third Infantry in 1841. Bearing himself gallantly in the Florida war and the war with Mexico, he was twice brevetted and was severely wounded at the battle of Churubusco in the Valley of Mexico. He served during three years, and lived through a fourth to find that nothing in the last, equalled his brilliant victory at Shiloh on the 7th of April, 1862.
It was my good fortune to know General Buell well, at Corpus Christi, 1853‑1855, when he was Adjutant General in the Department of Texas. That department was at that time under the charge of an ease-loving soldier,a and as there were in that command many hostile tribes of Indians and much fighting, Buell's responsibility was great, and in the discharge of his duties he won the respect of all the officers in the army in the department. In the summer of 1854 the yellow fever raged in Corpus Christi (the headquarters), and he and his wife gave themselves to the work of nursing the sick. Their self-sacrificing devotion was the more necessary by the reason of the death of the only army surgeon there, Surgeon George F. Turner, who fell a victim to the epidemic.
In person, General Buell was hardly above the average height, but he possessed great physical vigor and endurance, and looked the perfect soldier that he was, and he added to those characteristics the moral and mental qualities necessary to make a leader of armies. Rigid in the performance of duty, and severe in his expectations as to official obligations in others, p106 when off duty he was full of courtesy and kindness. Studious in his habits, he was even then fitting himself to become the able General who could plan a campaign or fight a battle with confidence in his own knowledge and experience in his profession.
The outbreak of the Civil War found Buell on duty in California, but his known reputation secured for him an early appointment (May 17th, 1861), as Brigadier General of Volunteers, and early in November, 1861, he relieved General Sherman in command of the Department of the Ohio. Troops were rapidly poured into his department, and Buell began to organize his troops into brigades and divisions, posting them in military positions, and ordering what he knew to be of first importance to his army for future use, the inculcation of rigid discipline. Under his supervision his command became an army second only to the Army of the Potomac. The difference between a disciplined and an undisciplined army was strikingly exhibited in the action of the 6th and 7th of April, 1862, on the field of Shiloh. The first day's battle was fought and lost by troops which had been at Donelson through a successful battle and siege, while on the second day a disciplined army, well led, won a brilliant victory in its first battle.
Buell took command at Louisville of a department covering West Virginia and Kentucky to the mouth of the Cumberland River, and the Army of the Ohio covered a line from Somerset on the east to the mouth of the Cumberland River. Opposed to him was General Albert Sidney Johnston, whose lines occupied the country from Mill Springs on the Cumberland River in the east, through Bowling Green, Forts Donelson and Henry on the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, respectively, to Columbus on the Mississippi River. Johnston's front was thus covered by Buell, who held to the mouth of the Cumberland, and by Halleck who controlled that part of Kentucky to the west of Buell. This geographical division was a serious mistake on the part of McClellan, and changed the entire character of the campaign.
p107 The President was extremely anxious that Buell's first efforts should be directed towards a campaign to free Eastern Tennessee from a tyranny exercised over the inhabitants there, who were mostly Union men, and McClellan, almost as sympathetic as Mr. Lincoln, was brought to advocate that campaign. It would have been one begun for a humanitarian idea, and, like most campaigns of that nature, would have contravened many sound principles of the art of war. Against this project Buell set his face, and showed by correspondence what grave errors would be committed. He, however, was willing to go if ordered, and pushed Thomas out with a division towards Somerset, where he threatened Johnston's right, and covered the route through which a campaign to East Tennessee must be taken.
On the 27th of November Buell sent to McClellan three plans for a campaign, all three containing a movement by water up the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, supported by gun boats, with the job of breaking the enemy's center, separating his forces, and perhaps reaching Nashville by that route. The General-in‑Chief adopted Buell's ideas, and promised him gun boats and troops from Halleck's command for the movement against the center. Buell also insisted upon the necessity of giving the signal himself for the forward movement, which included a movement by Halleck's troops against Columbus. On the 10th of December Buell gave full details of his projected move up the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, and ended with this sentence: "It will seem rather wordy for me to say that early action is of the greatest importance when I am myself unable to appoint a day, but not a day should be lost." Of the center of Johnston's line — Forts Henry and Donelson, Buell, on the 29th of December, wrote to McClellan: "I regard it as the most important strategical point in the whole field of operations."
In this month of December the General-in‑Chief fell ill, and was unable to attend to his official duties. The President, exceedingly anxious for many reasons that operations in the west should be commenced, opened correspondence with Buell and p108 Halleck, urging them to agree on joint action, and asking each whether, if Buell moved on Bowling Green, a move on Columbus ought not to be made to keep reinforcements from going there to Bowling Green. Buell answers the question promptly, and on January 1st telegraphs the President that he has already telegraphed to Halleck and is expecting his answer. On the same day Halleck telegraphs the President: "I have never received a word from General Buell. I am not ready to co-operate with him. Hope to be able to in a few weeks. Too much haste will ruin everything." On January the 2d Halleck wrote to Buell: "I have had no instructions respecting co-operation." Halleck, in a letter to the President, January 4th, affected ignorance of Buell's plan, gave an incorrect statement of the force under his command, and closed by a lecture on strategy, misleading to the President, who endorsed on the letter: "It is exceedingly discouraging. Here, as everywhere else, nothing can be done." This information, perhaps seemingly irrelevant to the one idea of this paper, is given to show that Buell, of all those having the question in charge, grasped the whole subject, and developed a campaign on military principles, which, if carried on with the energy of soldiers like Buell, should have entirely broken up the Confederate forces in the State of Kentucky, and south of that in the Mississippi Valley. Other extracts from the official records will be given to show that after Buell's approved plan had been, so to speak, trodden under foot, his spirit of patriotism made him sink the question of the official discourtesies which had been shown to him, and act with energy to rescue an imperilled force, and give success to a movement begun in defiance of military principles, and the known wishes of the President and the General-in‑Chief.
On the 6th of January Halleck wrote to Buell a letter similar to that of January 4th to the President, reiterating his inability at that time to make any co-operative movement, but hoping to be ready in a few weeks, and yet, on that same day, he ordered Grant to move on Murray on the road to, and •about 20 miles from Fort Henry. On the 13th of January the President p109 wrote to Buell, sending a copy to Halleck, in which he said: "My idea is that Halleck shall menace Columbus and down river generally, while you menace Bowling Green and East Tennessee."
reiterated assertions as to inability to co-operate at that time being taken as correct, there was a lull in the movement against the left and center of the Confederate lines, and Buell turned his attention towards East Tennessee and Johnston's right, both of which he threatened by ordering Thomas to unite with the force at Somerset. The roads were so bad that Thomas asked to be allowed to march to Burkesville, where he would be available for ulterior operations against Bowling Green, to which Buell replied: "I have received your letter of the 13th from Webb's Cross Roads. You will before this have received my letter of same date sent with your messenger. I hope the letter will have determined your action. It is not sufficient to hold Zollicoffer in check; he must be captured or dispersed. I think his situation offers the opportunity of effecting the former — take a position in front of the enemy, so as to draw your supplies from Somerset, and be in a position of move down upon him. * * * * You could not march to Burkesville, and it is not desirable that you should be there."
On the morning of the 17th of January, Thomas, at Lafan's Cross Roads, •about 10 miles from Somerset, and not yet in the position Buell's orders required him to take, was attacked by Crittenden. Zollicoffer was killed, and such a rout produced that, a week later, Crittenden dated his report from Gainsborough on the Cumberland, •over seventy miles from the scene of the action. This was the first success of the Union armies; was a victory over a greater number of troops than that obtained a month later at Fort Henry, besides routing the defeated force, which was not the case at the latter place. Its effect upon the northern people was great, and was entirely due to Buell's thorough knowledge of his business — his confidence in himself — his persistence in having his plans carried out, when he could control matters, and in the fighting qualities of Thomas. What a p110 pity that the President could not at that time have realized the differences in the qualities and characters of his western Generals, and have given to Buell the command of all the western troops east of the Mississippi; what a saving such a course would have been to the country in blood, in money, and in time. Buell was, however, yet to go through a test under which most men would have shown weakness; and, later on was given to him to save from destruction the army which had its nucleus under the defences of Fort Henry in February, 1862.
Notwithstanding the urgent pleading of Buell for a movement and co-operation, and the positive promises of McClellan, and notwithstanding McClellan's peremptory orders to furnish information relating to matters connected with this movement, Halleck threatened McClellan with the loss of Missouri, if the detachment of troops was insisted upon at that time, so that McClellan had to write to Buell that no aid could be looked for from Halleck, and Buell was advised to begin the campaign in East Tennessee. The entreating letters of the President do not move Halleck, and the President says: "I am discouraged — here, as elsewhere, nothing can be done." Halleck in fact had a "corner" on the situation, and the President had not enough knowledge of military matters, and the General-in‑Chief had not enough of will, to break the corner. So, though Halleck had suggested 60,000 men as necessary for the attack on the centre by the river, on the 30th of January he telegraphed orders to Grant "to take and hold Fort Henry." On the same day Halleck wrote to Buell "I have ordered an advance of our troops on Fort Henry and Dover. It will be made immediately." Buell, determined to co-operate if possible, replied: "Please let me know your plans, and force, and the time, etc." Halleck replied: "Force about 15,000; will be reinforced as soon as possible; will telegraph the day of investment or attack." Buell wrote to Halleck, January 31st: "Do you consider active co-operation essential of success?" Halleck replied February 1st: "Co-operation at present not essential — write me your plans and I will try and assist you." On the 1st of February Buell wrote p111 a long letter to McClellan full of sound military ideas; he closed by saying: "While you were sick, by direction of the President, I proposed to Halleck some concert of action between us. He answered: I can do nothing; name a day for demonstration. Night before last I received a dispatch from him, saying: I have ordered an advance on Fort Henry and Dover — it will be made immediately. I protest against such prompt proceedings. However, he telegraphed me tonight that: Co-operation is not essential now.
Fort Henry surrendered to the navy on the 6th of February, at 1.45 P.M. On the 5th, the day before Fort Henry was attacked, Halleck telegraphed to Buell: "Our advance is moving up the Tennessee; can't you make a diversion in our favor by threatening Bowling Green?" This was sent one day before the navy attacked Fort Henry, and on that same day, four days after he had said that co-operation was not essential then, he telegraphed to McClellan for troops from Ohio (Buell's). McClellan refuses the Ohio troops, and asks Buell to assist Halleck, and Buell telegraphs Halleck that he will send a brigade if it is absolutely necessary. Buell, on the 5th, writes to Halleck: "There is not in the whole field of operations a point at which every man you can raise can be employed with more effect, or with the prospect of as important results." Of this move Buell said to McClellan, February 6th: "The whole move is right in the strategical bearing, but, commenced by Halleck without appreciation, preparation or concert, has now become one of vast magnitude." Halleck's frantic appeals for help brought McClellan to write Buell, but Buell's own appreciation of the situation caused him to send a brigade followed by eight regiments from Indiana and Ohio. Fort Donelson fell on the 16th of February, and, though Halleck kept telegraphing that Buell's move on Nashville was "bad strategy," Buell himself was not frightened by Halleck's bogies. He entered Nashville with a small force on the 25th of February, and was sufficiently reinforced by the last day of the month to feel that he could cope with the enemy, should they return to attack him.
p112 When McClellan started on his campaign towards Richmond, he was relieved from his duties as General-in‑Chief, which were taken up by the Secretary of War; and on the 11th of March, Halleck, having at last been taken at his own valuation, was placed in command of Buell and his army. A force sent up the Tennessee River to destroy bridges, was ordered to concentrate at Savannah on the right bank of the Tennessee and •about twenty-five miles in an air line from Corinth in Mississippi, a railroad center. This force, however, was moved up the river to Pittsburg Landing, on the left bank on the Tennessee River, and •some fifteen miles from Corinth. On the 16th of March, Buell was ordered by Halleck "to move as rapidly as possible" to Savannah, where he stated that Grant's army was concentrating, and that 60,000 of the enemy are reported at Eastport and Corinth." On that same day Grant was ordered not to advance so as to bring on an engagement, until reinforced. On the 17th, Grant writes to Halleck that he shall order all the forces under his command, except McClernand's division, to Pittsburg, and that force before many days went to the same place. On the 17th Halleck telegraphed to Buell: "Move on as ordered * * * * Savannah is now the strategic point." While troops were being massed at Pittsburg Landing, there was ample evidence that the enemy was in strong force at Corinth. On the 20th Halleck telegraphed to Grant: "By all means keep your forces together" (at Savannah) "until you can connect with Buell", — now at Columbia — "don't let the enemy draw you into an engagement now; wait until you are properly fortified, and receive orders." Buell started his force for the rendezvous on the 15th, sending his cavalry ahead to secure the bridges, and ordering the infantry divisions to move forward as rapidly as it was possible to go without straggling, and to send forward to communicate with the officers in command at Savannah and learn the situation. The information as to the force at Corinth made Buell press forward to Savannah to arrive there before disaster could overthrow the force at Pittsburg Landing, where Grant had written to Buell on the 19th, received by Buell on the p113 23d, that he was massing his command. A detention of several days occurred at Columbia which was ended on the 29th, Nelson's division crossing by a dangerous ford. On April 1st Buell informed both Grant and Halleck that he would concentrate at Savannah on the 6th and 7th. He arrived at that place on the evening of the 5th, having been preceded by Nelson's division. Nelson had seen Grant, who told him that he would not have transportation to take him to Pittsburg Landing before the 8th or 9th, expressing at the same time the opinion that there would be no fighting until they went to meet the enemy at Corinth.
On the morning of the 6th, Buell heard firing up the river and made preparation for a division to march to the point opposite the "Landing;" and, as the firing increased, he took a boat and went to the battle field, leaving Nelson to make his march as ordered. Soon after his arrival Buell saw the difficulty Nelson would have in getting through the already blocked road to the Landing, and in his masterful way cleared the block, and also extricated some artillery which played an important part at the close of the day. Nelson's advance under General Jacob Ammen reached the Landing, and marched up the hill through a dense mass of fugitives and took position on the extreme left, protecting that flank and the siege artillery which had been placed in position by Colonel Webster and partially manned by volunteers. General Ammen says that when he went into position there was not a soldier on the left. He repulsed two attacks made by Chalmers, which closed the battle of the 6th.
Buell developed Nelson's division that night in front of the left of the troops under Grant, and gave his orders for Nelson and Crittenden to move at daylight. McCook, who by threat of the use of force, had obtained at Savannah steamers to transport his command to the scene of action, arrived there about 7 A.M. of the 7th, and went into line on Crittenden's right. Towards the close of the battle Buell's army was reinforced by two of the brigades of General T. J. Wood, only one of which, however, participated in the fight. Pressing on continuously p114 with severe fighting, Buell, at about 4 o'clock P.M., had covered all the ground lost the day before, except on the extreme right, where he was in touch with the division of General Lew Wallace, who had been active during the day in that part of the field along Owl Creek. Some of the organizations of Grant's army came to Buell and voluntarily fought with him during the day.
Buell's presence seemed to pervade the whole of his army, and he had an opportunity to show his wonderful administrative power and attention to detail. Did a portion of his line require reinforcements, they were at once forthcoming. Did the ammunition of a regiment run low, its supply was found close in the rear, and the troops were not obliged to fall out of line and march back to the Landing for it.
This victory over an army flushed with great success, which had lain on its arms during the night, looking to "fighting to a finish" on the morrow, was one deserved only by a great General, and it thoroughly established General Buell as in that class. The force at Pittsburg Landing made no effort at pursuit under the General in command, but quietly awaited the arrival of Halleck, who assumed command in person on the 11th of April, and moved forward so cautiously as to reach Corinth — •about fifteen miles away — on the 28th of April. During the month following — before Beauregard fell back unmolested — there was no scope for Buell to show anything but his perfectly soldierly qualities.
In June Buell again resumed command of the Army of the Ohio with orders to march to Chattanooga, and also to repair, and maintain the Memphis and Charleston railroad, conditions which Mr. Ropes says were impossible from the locality of the railroad and the smallness of Buell's force.
Buell was finally compelled to move his line of communication to the road from Nashville to Chattanooga, which Halleck should have foreseen. In the meantime the southern army at Tupelo had reorganized and recuperated, and was again ready for business. Bragg, with about 30,000 men, started for Chattanooga, p115 the infantry via Mobile, and the artillery and cavalry over the mountains of Alabama and Georgia, both columns free from possible interruption by Buell.
The interruption of his communications at Murfreesboro and Gallatin on the Louisville, Nashville and Chattanooga railroad, delayed Buell until he found that an invasion was imminent in his own territory, and his plans were all changed. The want of cavalry, which he had forcibly represented to Washington, made it difficult for him to learn the movements of Bragg. Nashville, the secondary base of Buell's army, had to be protected, and Buell covered it by his position at Murfreesboro, where he remained long enough to get his reinforcements, and to make Nashville secure, when he started for Louisville, reaching Bowling Green on the 14th of September. Bragg, however, who had nothing to do but to march towards abundant supplies, and get into touch with Kirby Smith and his 20,000 men, then at Lexington, Kentucky, had forestalled Buell by reaching Glasgow, •thirty miles east of Bowling Green, on the 13th, from which place he marched and attacked Munfordville, a strong post with a large garrison, which surrendered on the 17th while Buell was marching to attack Bragg at Glasgow. This left Bragg between Buell and Louisville. Here Bragg stopped for three or four days, offering battle, which Buell for obvious reasons declined. Bragg's want of supplies made him move, and on the 21st he marched for Bardstown to get nearer to Kirby Smith. Buell entered Louisville unopposed on the 25th; there he reorganized and increased his army, and moved out to meet Bragg on the 1st of October. Two divisions under Sill and Dumont marched in the direction of Frankfort, while Buell with his main army moved on Bardstown. Buell reached Perryville on the 7th, while Bragg arrived on the 8th with about 17,000 men. Buell's troops were much separated by the scarcity of water, and his line of battle was not formed by noon. About 2 o'clock P.M. the Confederates attacked the Union left fiercely, and drove back McCook after a gallant resistance, capturing fifteen guns. The troops on McCook's right did not render p116 efficient assistance until the close of the action, when Sheridan attacked and drove the enemy through the town of Perryville. The misfortune to the Union cause and to Buell in this affair was, that, with his army well in hand, largely superior in force, seeking a battle, Buell did not hear the guns and had no intelligence from the field of battle. Thomas, also, commanding the right wing, knew nothing of the fight. Bragg fell back that night and was joined by Smith.
As soon as Buell had gotten Sill's division back to his army he marched on camp Dick Robinson, but Bragg, finding the campaign fruitless in results, moved back and avoided battle. Buell pursued as far as Loudon, •about sixty miles from Perryville, and there desisted, not desiring to move further at this time into the inhospitable country leading into East Tennessee. Thereafter a correspondence ensued with Halleck, who stated that the President said that "the army must enter East Tennessee this fall." Buell gave many cogent reasons against such a movement, which Ropes says are unanswerable. The hostility evinced by the Western Governors, who, knowing nothing about military matters, insisted upon a battle and a victory every day, and who could not appreciate Buell's knowledge and skill, and "called him slow," together with the continually expressed desire of the President to succor East Tennessee caused the removal of Buell and the inauguration of Rosecrans in command of the army. Rosecrans did what Buell intended to do; that is, after saying that the East Tennessee campaign from Kentucky was impracticable, stated that he should move rapidly towards Nashville, Bragg being already on the march towards Murfreesboro.
The malignant hostility towards Buell caused a Court of Inquiry to be called on the conduct of his campaign in Kentucky. The Court acquitted him, but no command was given to him, and on the 1st of June, 1864, he severed his connection with the regular army, and spent the rest of his days in private life.
In October, 1865, a committee of citizens of Lexington, Ky., p117 in view "of his unsullied personal character and eminent public services," gave him a public reception. In 1865 he was elected President of the "Airdrie Coal and Iron Company" of Kentucky, which position he held until his death.
In 1879 General Buell was appointed by the Governor of Kentucky a member of the "College Board" — assisted in the organization of the "Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky," in which he became much interested, and of which he was a Trustee at the time of his death. In 1894 he was appointed by the President a member of the National Shiloh Park Commission, and the following extract is made from a very eloquent address made by him at a reunion of veterans on that battle field on the anniversary of the battle in April, 1895: "What then is the meaning of this joyous assemblage * * * ? It means that one flag, with cordial acclaim, floats over our re-united country, and that peace has taken the place of fratricidal war, which has this merit — that from its ashes has sprung, I fervently believe, a broader patriotism than our country ever knew before."
The object of the re-union was "incidentally to outline, in a manner, the Memorial Park which Congress has established to perpetuate heroic action, and remind future generations continually of the throes in which the unity of our country was more firmly cemented, and perhaps the substance as well as the name of civil liberty preserved."
I have seen much of General Buell's correspondence since his retirement, and his letters have shown a patriotism, a philosophy and a moderation that have delighted all who have read them. Of him Mr. Ropes says in his second volume of "The Story of the Civil War": "It cannot be doubted that the cause of the Union was seriously injured by withdrawing Buell from the command of this army. Buell was as able a general as any in the service. Had he at first, that is, on November 1, 1861, been placed in chief command in the west, it is not too much to say that the Confederate army of the west would have ceased to exist before June 1, 1862, and that thereafter a regiment p118 of Union troops could have marched without opposition from Nashville to Chattanooga and Knoxville."
God rest the soul of a brave, patriotic and just man.
a Gen. Persifor Smith was the commander.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
History of West Point
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 16 Oct 13