Don Carlos Buell

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Don Carlos Buell
Don Carlos Buell.jpg
Born (1818-03-23)March 23, 1818
Lowell, Ohio
Died November 19, 1898(1898-11-19) (aged 80)
Rockport, Kentucky
Buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1841–1864
Rank Union army maj gen rank insignia.jpg Major General
Commands held Army of the Ohio
Battles/wars Seminole War
Mexican-American War
American Civil War
Other work President of the Green River Iron Company, pension agent

Don Carlos Buell (March 23, 1818 – November 19, 1898) was a United States Army officer who fought in the Seminole War, the Mexican-American War, and the American Civil War. Buell led Union armies in two great Civil War battles—Shiloh and Perryville. The nation was angry at his failure to defeat the outnumbered Confederates after Perryville, or to secure East Tennessee. Historians concur that he was brave and industrious, and a master of logistics, but was too cautious and too rigid to meet the great challenges he faced in 1862. Buell was relieved of field command in late 1862 and made no more significant military contributions.[1]

Early life and education

Buell was born in Lowell, Ohio.[2] He was a first cousin of George P. Buell, also a Union general.

He lived in Indiana for a time before the American Civil War. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1841 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Infantry regiment. In the Mexican-American War, he served under both Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott. He was brevetted three times for bravery and was wounded at Churubusco. Between the wars he served in the U.S. Army Adjutant General's office and as an adjutant in California, reaching the rank of captain in 1851.


American Civil War

At the start of the American Civil War, Buell was an early organizer of the Army of the Potomac and briefly commanded one of its divisions. He was promoted to brigadier general, with seniority dating from May 17, 1861.[2] In November 1861, he succeeded Brig. Gen. William T. Sherman in command at Louisville, Kentucky. Buell's command was designated the Department of the Ohio and his troops the Army of the Ohio (later the Army of the Cumberland). Buell's superiors wanted him to operate in eastern Tennessee, an area with Union sympathies and considered important to the political efforts in the war. However, Buell essentially disregarded his orders and moved against Nashville instead, which he captured on February 25, 1862, against little opposition. (The Confederates had abandoned Nashville, and moved south, as Brig. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant had captured Fort Henry on February 6 and Fort Donelson on February 16.) On March 21, Buell was promoted to major general of volunteers, but lost his independent status when his command was incorporated within the new Department of the Mississippi under the command of Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck.


At the Battle of Shiloh, Buell reinforced Grant with three of the five divisions of the Army of the Ohio, about 20,000 men, helping him defeat the Confederates on April 7, 1862. Buell considered that his arrival was the primary reason that Grant avoided a major defeat. But Halleck needed to continually prod Buell to get his army to Pittsburg Landing in order to reinforce Grant, concentrating for a planned attack on the Confederate stronghold at Corinth. Although Buell's army was only 90 miles east at Columbia, it took one month to reach Pittsburg Landing, just in time for Grant to launch a counterattack on the Confederate Army of Mississippi. Buell made excuses that the Army of the Ohio's march overland toward Pittsburg Landing was hindered by "swollen rivers" and rain, and many newspapers and some Federal soldiers credited Buell with "saving" Grant in the battle. Buell considered himself the victor of the battle and denigrated Grant's contribution, writing after the war that he had no "marked influence that he exerted upon the fortune of the day." Contemporary historians, such as Larry Daniels and Kenneth W. Noe, consider that Grant actually saved himself by the conclusion of the first day of battle and that the rivalry between Grant and Buell hampered the conduct of battle on the second day. The commanders operated almost completely independently of each other and Buell "proved slow and hesitant to commit himself."[3]

Following Shiloh, Henry Halleck arrived in person to take command of Grant and Buell's armies. The combined Union force, 100,000 men strong, began an extremely sluggish pursuit against P.G.T. Beauregard's Army of Tennessee, which had retreated into northern Mississippi. Despite a more than 2-1 numerical advantage, Halleck took caution to an extreme and barely advanced a mile a day. The Siege of Corinth ended in the Confederates abandoning the city on May 25. Afterwards, Halleck split up the two armies and sent Buell eastward to capture Chattanooga while Grant remained in the Corinth area. In July, Halleck was summoned back to Washington to replace George McClellan as commander-in-chief of all Union armies, thus effectively returning the two Western armies to independent action. Buell's advance towards Chattanooga nearly rivaled the earlier march on Corinth for sluggishness, with extensive pauses to stop and repair railroad lines. When Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry then ransacked the Army of Ohio's supply lines, Buell all-but terminated the effort to take Chattanooga. Thus after a busy winter and spring, activity in the Western theater during the summer of 1862 almost completely ground to a halt.[4]

Buell got himself into more political difficulties during this period. Some Unionists suspected that Buell was a Confederate sympathizer because he was one of the few U.S. Army officers who was a slaveholder, although he inherited the slaves from his wife's family. Suspicions continued as Buell enforced a strict policy of non-interference with Southern civilians during his operations in Tennessee and Alabama. A serious incident occurred on May 2, 1862 when the town of Athens, Alabama, was pillaged by Union soldiers. Buell, noted for his iron discipline, was infuriated and brought charges against his subordinate on the scene, John B. Turchin. President Abraham Lincoln succumbed to pressure from Tennessee politicians and ordered Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas to replace Buell on September 30, 1862. However, Thomas refused the command and Lincoln relented, leaving Buell in command. Turchin was court-martialled but not cashiered from service as Buell wanted, and was in fact promoted to brigadier general.[5]

Grant, despite his professional rivalry following Shiloh, addressed these charges against Buell in his memoirs, writing:

General Buell was a brave, intelligent officer, with as much professional pride and ambition of a commendable sort as I ever knew. ... [He] became an object of harsh criticism later, some going so far as to challenge his loyalty. No one who knew him ever believed him capable of a dishonorable act, and nothing could be more dishonorable than to accept high rank and command in war and then betray the trust. When I came into command of the army in 1864, I requested the Secretary of War to restore General Buell to duty. ... The opportunity frequently occurred for me to defend General Buell against what I believed to be most unjust charges. On one occasion a correspondent put in my mouth the very charge I had so often refuted—of disloyalty. This brought from General Buell a very severe retort, which I saw in the New York World some time before I received the letter itself. I could very well understand his grievance at seeing untrue and disgraceful charges apparently sustained by an officer who, at the time, was at the head of the army. I replied to him, but not through the press. I kept no copy of my letter, nor did I ever see it in print; neither did I receive an answer.[6]


In the fall of 1862, Confederate General Braxton Bragg invaded Kentucky and Buell was forced to pursue him to defend Louisville, Kentucky, and the Ohio River. A single corps of Buell's army was attacked by Bragg at the Battle of Perryville on October 8, 1862, while Buell, a couple of miles behind the action, was not aware that a battle was taking place until late in the day and thus did not effectively engage the full strength of his army to defeat the smaller enemy force. Although Perryville was tactically indecisive, it halted the Confederate invasion of Kentucky and forced their withdrawal back into Tennessee. When he failed to pursue Bragg's withdrawal, Buell was relieved of command on October 24, replaced by Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans.[7] Buell spent the next year and a half in Indianapolis, in military limbo, hoping that a military commission would exonerate him of blame; he claimed he had not pursued Bragg because he lacked supplies. Exoneration never came, and he left military service on May 23, 1864. Although he had been offered a command at the express recommendation of Grant, Buell declined it, saying that it would be degradation to serve under either Sherman or Edward Canby because he outranked them both. In his memoirs, Grant called this "the worst excuse a soldier can make for declining service."[8]

Later life and death

Following the war Buell lived again in Indiana, and then in Kentucky, employed in the iron and coal industry as president of the Green River Iron Company. From 1885-89, he was a government pension agent. He died at his home in Rockport, Kentucky in 1898, and is buried in St. Louis, Missouri, at Bellefontaine Cemetery.


Buell Armory on the University of Kentucky campus in Lexington, Kentucky, is named after Buell.

See also


  1. Allan Nevins, War for the Union (1960) vol 2 pp 288-89, citing also Lew Wallace.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Eicher, p. 152.
  3. Buell, Shiloh Reviewed, p. 536; Daniel, pp. 265-66, 293-94, 306; Noe, p. 20.
  4. Emerson, pp. 121-31.
  5. Grimsley, p. 85.
  6. Grant, vol. 1, pp. 295-96.
  7. Noe, pp. 339-43.
  8. Grant, vol. 2, p. 121.


Further reading

  • Engle, Stephen Douglas. Don Carlos Buell: Most Promising of All. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8078-2512-3.

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Commander of the Army of the Ohio
November 9, 1861 – October 24, 1862
Succeeded by
William S. Rosecrans (renamed Army of the Cumberland)