An Eye on the Lower Muskingum: Gen. Buell in the Civil War

After a successful military performance in the Mexican War and subsequent administrative duties, Don Carlos Buell was already known to the nation’s leaders by the time he was picked to deliver the Buell Memorandum. By the end of 1860 he was called to the White House, where he met with President Buchanan. With his West Point training, field experience, and especially his work as assistant adjutant general (whose job was the administration of an army), Buell was a logical choice to command a department, a large area of operation during the Civil War.

Buell was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers on May 17, 1861. From September 15 to November 10, 1861, he was in command of a division of soldiers who were protecting Washington, D. C. On November 9, 1861, General Order No. 97 was issued from the War Department: “The following departments are formed from the Departments of the West, Cumberland, and Ohio . . . The Department of The Ohio to consist of the States of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, that portion of Kentucky east of the Cumberland River, and Tennessee to be commanded by Brig. Gen. D. C. Buell, headquarters at Louisville.” From November 15, 1861, to March 11, 1862, he was in command of the Department of The Ohio. There were many deficiencies in his army of about 40,000 when he took command. The soldiers lacked proper training, supplies and there were entire units without weapons. Buell soon solved these problems.

By the end of November 1861 Buell had presented Gen. George B. McClellan, the General-in-Chief, with plans to secure Union victories in the West. Gen. Halleck, in command of the Department of the West, would move up the Kentucky and Tennessee Rivers, securing western Kentucky and Tennessee. Buell would capture Nashville, securing the Confederate supply line into eastern Tennessee. On January 6, 1862, President Lincoln wrote Buell that he favored an advance into eastern Tennessee, ending his letter, “I do not intend this to be an order in any sense, but merely . . . to show you the grounds of my anxiety.” This became the thorn in Buell’s side until his career was ruined. He wanted to march south and take Nashville first, then using the railroads, secure eastern Tennessee (Chattanooga). Lincoln wanted a direct march into eastern Tennessee. By the end of February 1862, Buell realized his own goal and captured Nashville.

From March 1862, when Buell became a major general, until October 1862, he commanded the Army of Ohio. Buell proved to be an effective organizer and administrator. He transformed about 65,000 men into a well-trained, adequately supplied fighting force. Historians generally agree that Buell’s arrival for the second day of fighting on April 7 at the Battle of Shiloh provided the necessary reinforcements that allowed Gen. Ulysses S. Grant to beat the South after a surprise attack. Buell’s biggest fight was the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky, on October 8, 1862, when he fought Southern General Braxton Bragg to a draw. There had been an attempt by some of Buell’s officers to overthrow him on the eve of the battle. One soldier grabbed Buell’s horse, which reared up, and threw him to the ground, causing him great pain for several days. This probably affected the course of the battle. It was reported that a full two hours passed before he knew his army was fighting. He was strongly criticized for not getting all of his troops into the battle. Lincoln and his top generals accused him of incompetence for not following Bragg’s retreat and giving him a final blow.

Throughout the latter part of 1861 and especially during 1862, Lincoln became disillusioned with Buell because he would not march through eastern Tennessee and capture Chattanooga. Buell knew an advance into the mountains would place his troops at risk because he would not be able to maintain an adequate supply line. He ignored Lincoln’s wishes and marched his men in a different direction. By late 1862 Buell remained a major general without a single soldier under his command. A military commission was established to investigate his conduct during the campaign in Tennessee and Kentucky, but nothing definite ever came of it. He was honorably mustered out of volunteer service on May 23, 1864. He resigned his commission as colonel in the regular army on June 1, 1864. In later years he operated an iron works and coal mine in Kentucky. Buell and his wife are buried in St. Louis, Missouri.

“Phillip L. Crane, a Waterford resident and Marietta history teacher for 32 years, will share stories of historical events that occurred in the Lower Muskingum Valley. His column will appear every other week.