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Don Carlos Buell
Civil War Encyclopedia >> People - Union Military
Don Carlos Buell
Selected as one of the Worst Generals of the Civil War by the editors of The Blue and Gray Trail.
Don Carlos Buell's father died in 1825 and he grew up with his uncle in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. After graduating from West Point in 1841 (32nd out of 52), he fought in the Second Seminole War and the Mexican American War, where he was wounded at the Battle of Churubusco. Before the start of the Civil War he was brevetted major.
In December, 1860 Secretary of War John Floyd sent Major Buell to visit Robert Anderson, then in command of the U. S. garrison at Charleston, South Carolina. Buell carried a message to Anderson that was too sensitive to go over the telegraph wires. "You may occupy any fort within Charleston Harbor." Anderson had wired Washington that at Fort Moultrie his position was threatened. With Washington's approval, Anderson could move to a much more formidable structure, Fort Sumter
When the war erupted, Buell was promoted to brigadier general and assigned an active duty command in spite of the fact that he was an assistant adjutant-general (an administrative position). He reported to Washington, DC, in September 1861, where he served as a division commander in the Army of the Potomac under his friend, George McClellan. In November of that same year, Buell was chosen to replace Robert Anderson, who had been relieved of duty as commander of the Department of the Ohio the previous month.
With Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Tennessee quickly striking and capturing Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio moved cautiously from Bowling Green, Kentucky toward Nashville, Tennessee. This gave Sidney Johnston and William Hardee plenty of time to remove manufacturing equipment and goods and move them south by train. After capturing Nashville on February 25, Buell stopped when he ran into Nathan Bedford Forrest's rearguard action.
Albert Sidney Johnston left Murfreesboro, Tennessee on March 5, and arrived at Corinth, Mississippi on March 25. Buell decided to argue with Henry Halleck about his orders (he was a separate command). Halleck appealed to Washington and the next day Lincoln combined his three Western Armies into the Department of Mississippi and put Halleck in command. On March 13, 1862 Buell left Nashville and developed a case of the "slows." Johnston would move a similar size body of troops further in less time to attack Grant at Shiloh. On April 6, 1862, with the sounds of battle echoing down the Tennessee River valley to Savannah, Tennessee, Buell's forward division under Brigadier General William 'Bull' Nelson, would not reach Pittsburg Landing until after the end of fighting on the first day.
Buell rode ahead, arriving about 1 pm on the 6th and met with Grant on his command vessel. Grant told Buell that he should be prepared to attack the following morning. Buell's men continued to arrive throughout the night. Grant used Bull Nelson, Alexander McCook, and Thomas Crittenden to form the extreme left of his line, to the south of Pittsburg Landing near the Tennessee River.
Nelson, who came across the Tennessee first, advanced so quickly on the morning of April 7 that Buell twice ordered him to halt to let his right flank catch up. Crittenden chose to regroup as his men came off the ferry and advance as a single unit. By the time his men completed the crossing, Nelson was fully engaged against James Chalmer's Mississippians. McCook, who began arriving after sunrise on April 7, simply sent his troops to the front line as they completed the crossing.
Buell pursued the Rebels to Corinth under command of Henry Halleck. P. G. T. Beauregard withdrew from Corinth to Tupelo before a Union attack, so Halleck ordered Buell to Chattanooga on June 10, 1862. In three weeks Buell had only moved 90 miles towards the Scenic City. On July 8, 1862, Henry Halleck wrote Buell to say "The President says your progress is not satisfactory and you should move more rapidly."
Braxton Bragg, now in command of the Army of Mississippi, was about to completely fool Buell. On July 21 the commander of the Army of Tennessee ordered a 770-mile flanking movement via railroad and ship. A week later Bragg's men began arriving in force at Chattanooga. He had beaten the Union commander to the Scenic City.
As a consolation Buell took the railhead at Stevenson, Alabama and reoccupied Nashville. Buell intended to hold a 400-mile line stretching across the entire state of Tennessee. Nathan Bedford Forrest severed the connection from Stevenson to Nashville with a raid on Murfreesboro. As the railroad was close to being fixed, Forrest again attacked, burning three bridges south of Nashville. Abraham Lincoln had more derisive things to say about the commander of the Army of the Ohio. Then John Hunt Morgan began raids into Kentucky. Morgan sent word to E. Kirby Smith in Knoxville encouraging him to move into Kentucky. As Kirby Smith moved north, Buell (extending a non-existent line another 100 miles) dispatched 'Bull' Nelson to Kentucky to organize the recruits, but kept his division in Murfreesboro.
Smith took Richmond, Lexington and Frankfurt as Bragg screened Buell, who continued to fear an attack on Nashville. Before he knew it, Buell had the Army of Tennessee between himself and Louisville, Kentucky, the major communications and transportation hub for the Union armies in the West. When it finally dawned on Buell that Bragg was not going to attack Nashville but was heading due north towards Louisville, he had to scramble to the west of Bragg to defend his supply line. Buell regrouped when he arrived at Louisville on September 25 and 26.
Buell was so disliked by his senior officers that they petitioned Abraham Lincoln and requested Buell be replaced by George Thomas. With the army in Louisville regrouping, Lincoln offered command to Thomas, who refused. At Perryville, Kentucky, Buell and the Army of the Ohio attacked an army of 16,000 Confederates with almost 60,000 men (although only 30,000 were engaged in combat), and came close to losing, but eked out an "indecisive." Fortunately for Buell, Bragg began to see Unionists under every rock in Kentucky and withdrew his army to the south.
Buell failed to pursue the Rebels as ordered, claiming that he lacked the necessary supplies. Lincoln used this reason to relieve him of command and replace him with William S. Rosecrans, but Buell's command had been doomed since he failed to prevent Bragg's advance into Kentucky.
A military commission chaired by General Lew Wallace investigated Buell's inaction while he remained on inactive duty in Cincinnati. The report of the committee was never released to the public, but Buell was offered new battlefield commands. Buell refused to take these commissions under officers that he once outranked.
He supported George McClellan in the presidential election of 1864, openly attacking the Union high command for its actions and high loss of life. Upon the war's conclusion, Buell entered into a coal and iron ore mining business in Kentucky.
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Don Carlos Buell was last changed on - December 16, 2008
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