Rosecrans Receives Orders to Remove Buell, Who Receives Only Silence

October 24, 1862 (Friday)

The War Department in Washington, as represented by the national symbol of the bald eagle, attempts to rip out the eyes of a poorly-drawn Major-General Don Carlos Buell.

Don Carlos Buell was a man who was struggling. He struggled when Confederates under Braxton Bragg made quick time to Chattanooga in July. He struggled again in August when Bragg and Kirby Smith began their moves into Kentucky. The entire month of September, with Bragg giving him the slip and Smith running rampant across the Blue Grass, he struggled some more. And though he spun it as a victory, Buell’s Army of the Ohio was whipped at Perryville by a much smaller Rebel force.

Since the battle, the greatly outnumbered Rebel army had slipped back towards Cumberland Gap and Tennessee with Buell struggling to put up even nominal resistance. By the middle of October, with Bragg still within striking distance, Buell was convinced he had gotten away. And thus began a baffling dialog between Buell and Washington.

Buell had given General-in-Chief Henry Halleck a long list of reasons why his army couldn’t pursue Bragg. He insisted that the Rebels numbered over 60,000 and were soon to be miraculously bolstered to 80,000. The reality, which was in short supply in Buell’s camp, was that Bragg numbered around 35,000. Buell’s own numbers doubled that.

Buell was convinced that Bragg would move back into Eastern Tennessee and then strike west for Nashville. He wanted to move his command to that city and defend it to the last. Halleck in Washington, however, wanted Buell not to retreat (as he called it) to Nashville, but to move into Eastern Tennessee and drive the Rebel army into Virginia or Georgia, clearing the entire state.

Following his drama with Grant, Rosecrans was all too happy to be leaving for Kentucky.

Halleck, in a letter written on the 22nd, he made the move into Eastern Tennessee an order sanctioned by the President. With no reply coming from Buell, Halleck pegged General William Rosecrans, serving in Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee, to replace him.

The previous day (the 23rd), Halleck had given Grant and Rosecrans a bit of a warning that this would happen, but to Buell he said nothing. On this day, it was all made official.

“You will receive herewith the order of the President placing you in command of the Department of the Cumberland and of the army of operations now under Major-General Buell,” wrote Halleck to Rosecrans. “You will immediately repair to General Buell’s headquarters and relieve him from the command.”

The Department of the Cumberland was a new invention, made official on this date. The land that the department covered itself explained the precise mission of its new commander. It contained “the State of Tennessee east of the Tennessee River and such parts of Northern Alabama and Georgia as may be taken possession of by United States troops.” The army of that department was now called the Army of the Cumberland.

If that wasn’t plain enough, Halleck spelled it out for Rosecrans. His mission was “first, to drive the enemy from Kentucky and Middle Tennessee; second, to take and hold East Tennessee, cutting the line of railroad at Chattanooga, Cleveland, or Athens, so as to destroy the connection of the valley of Virginia with Georgia and the other Southern States.”

Farewell, dear Army of the Ohio, you strange little command.

The departments surrounding Rosecrans’ new stomping grounds were there to help, Halleck explained. To the east, General Jacob Cox was on his way to Western Virginia’s Kanawha Valley with 20,000 troops in hopes that he would draw Rebels from Bragg’s army to stop him. To the west, Grant’s army of 49,000 would stop any reinforcements en route to Bragg from Pemberton’s army in Mississippi. And to the north, the Department of the Ohio, now slightly slimmer and commanded by Horatio Wright, with about 20,000 men, could provide assistance and supplies from his base in Cincinnati.

But no matter what, Rosecrans’ target was General Bragg’s army. If Bragg moved west to join with Pemberton in attacking Grant, Rosecrans was to follow. Halleck, still furious over Buell, in closing vented his frustration: “I need not urge upon you the necessity of giving active employment to your forces. Neither the country nor the Government will much longer put up with the inactivity of some of our armies and generals.”

Buell would not learn of his dismissal for another five days. In that time, he remained the head of the Army of the Ohio, moving best he could towards Nashville, convinced that Bragg was headed in that direction. Meanwhile, Rosecrans assured Halleck that he would leave the next day for Buell’s command.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 2, p638, 640-641; Henry Halleck’s War by Curt Anders; Perryville by Kenneth W. Noe; Days of Glory by Larry J. Daniel. []

More Changes than You Can Count – Buell On His Way Out!

October 23, 1862 (Wednesday)

Ulysses S. Grant had recently learned that he was now in command of a department that included all of Western Tennessee, parts of Northern Mississippi, some of Kentucky, and Cairo, Illinois. To cover this ground, Grant was also a man with hardly an army. His Army of the Tennessee was stretched from 7,000 at Memphis, to 4,800 around Illinois and Kentucky, to 19,000 spread through Western Tennessee, and 17,500 at Corinth, Mississippi. These 49,000 troops had been tasked with keeping the two Confederate commands under Sterling Price and Earl Van Dorn from marching through Tennessee to join Braxton Bragg and Kirby Smith in their invasion of Kentucky.

But that invasion had been repulsed by the Union Army of the Ohio under Don Carlos Buell. Bragg and Smith were retreating back into Eastern Tennessee. Buell seemed unconcerned about following and so they were now quite possibly Grant’s problem.

Grant’s men had successfully defended Iuka and Corinth from Price and Van Dorn, but, like Buell, had failed to follow up the victories with a crushing blow. Grant now believed his plate would soon become too full.

“It is now certain that the rebels have been largely re-enforced at Holly Springs and are strongly fortifying,” wrote Grant to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck on the morning of this day. “Pemberton in command.” The forces under Price and Van Dorn had been consolidated into one force with John C. Pemberton at its head. To make matters worse, Grant had understood that they had been “reinforced by conscripts, Alabama and Texas troops.” In closing the short message, Grant wondered: “Is it not probable that Bragg will come this way?”

This was a very good question. Bragg was currently in Cumberland Gap, but nobody expected him to stay there. Buell believed that Bragg’s Rebel Army of Mississippi would turn upon Nashville. Grant, along with one of his corps commanders, William Rosecrans, believed it possible Bragg would end up on their doorstep.

“Beware of Bragg,” warned Rosecrans at Corinth in a short dispatch to Grant, “it is nearly time for a few car-loads of his troops to arrive. Depend upon it unless Buell is sharper than heretofore we shall have the devil to pay here.”

Rosecrans may have shared Grant’s views on Bragg’s possible destination, but he was not exactly in Grant’s good graces. Quite the opposite.

Following the battle of Corinth, Rosecrans was elated that he had actually whipped the enemy. The battle, however, had been horribly mismanaged. Though he was in command, he blamed the miscues on others. The Second Division under Thomas Davies, said Rosecrans, was a “set of cowards” who “had disgraced themselves” on the field of battle. Davies was livid and demanded an apology. Rosecrans sort of gave one, but it amounted to little more than “I’m sorry you were so upset when I insulted you.” [Obviously not a direct quote.]

And though Grenville Dodge replaced Davies (who was actually promoted), Rosecrans still had a lot to answer for. There had been articles in the press containing information clearly leaked from Rosecrans’ headquarters, possibly with Rosecrans’ knowledge. These clippings extolled the virtues of Rosecrans, while defaming General Grant.

When Grant confronted Rosecrans about this, the victor of Corinth threw a fit. “There are no headquarters in these United States less responsible for what newspaper correspondents and paragraphists say of operations than mine,” broiled Rosecrans. “After this declaration I am free to say that if you do not meet me frankly with a declaration that you are satisfied, I shall consider my power to be useful in this Department ended.”

So be it. If Rosecrans wanted to leave the Department, he could leave. Grant was more than ready to fire him when a very timely message came through from General-in-Chief Henry Halleck in Washington: “You will direct Major-General Rosecrans to immediately repair to Cincinnati, where he will receive orders.”

Approximate map showing Grant’s scattered command and his department highlighted in yellow.

Over the past week, Rosecrans had been in direct communication with Halleck and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Much of the correspondence was about Bragg and his Rebels retreating into Eastern Tennessee. Apparently Rosecrans impressed them in ways that Buell could not (hardly an unbelievable feat). Orders to repair to Cincinnati meant simply that Don Carlos Buell was out and William Starke Rosecrans was in.

Rosecrans replied to Halleck that his order would be “promptly obeyed,” but then asked for one of his friends to be placed upon his staff. This request was answered by Stanton, telling Rosecrans that it was “needless to determine the question of your staff until you receive instructions.” It was a mild rebuke, but a foreshadowing of things to come.

Charles Smith Hamilton

General Charles S. Hamilton would soon be called upon to replace Rosecrans in Grant’s army. Hamilton had commanded a division under Samuel Heintzelman at Yorktown, Virginia. His camp had been in a swamp and he had heard that his men, digging entrenchments in the foul muck, were suffering, with many near death. He sent repeated complaints to Heintzelman, who passed them along to General George McClellan, commanding the Army of the Potomac. Finally, Hamilton was in direct communication with McClellan, who took grave offense at Hamilton’s frank language and relieved him of duty. Hamilton had been “sent West.”

And so General Grant’s Army of the Tennessee was spread thin, less than 50,000-strong, and newly-reorganized. He continued to work on a plan to fall upon the Rebels under Pemberton and proceed to Vicksburg.1

  1. Sources: Nothing But Victory by Steven E. Woodworth; Grant Rises in the West by Kenneth P. Williams; Vicksburg by Michael Ballard; New York Times, June 1, 1862; Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 17, Part 2, p283, 290-291. []

Washington Strongly Urges Buell to Follow Bragg as John Hunt Morgan Continues

October 19, 1862 (Sunday)

Don Carlos Buell, commanding the now stagnant Union Army of the Ohio, had done little more than watch the Confederate Army of Mississippi retreat from Kentucky. While his force had defended the state against the Rebel invaders, the general line of thought was that he let them return to Eastern Tennessee.

The disembodied head of General Buell wants to move his army to Nashville.

On the 18th, after congratulating Buell for winning the battle of Perryville (an untruth, but one that Buell also believed), General-in-Chief Henry Halleck explained to him that the object was “to drive the enemy from Kentucky and East Tennessee.” Buell had accomplished the Kentucky part and now it was time to follow it up.

Halleck had a long list of questions for his General. Acknowledging Buell’s claims that the Confederates under Braxton Bragg could not be followed, he wondered if there wasn’t another road that would bring his army between Bragg’s army and Nashville. From there, they could force the Rebels into the Shenandoah Valley or Georgia.

Buell had wanted to move his entire command to Nashville, but Halleck saw that as retreating. “To fall back to Nashville,” he explained, “is to give up East Tennessee to be plundered.”

On this day, Halleck continued the thought. “The capture of East Tennessee should be the main object of your campaign,” he reiterated. “You say it is the heart of the enemy’s resources; make it the heart of yours. Your army can live there if the enemy’s can.”

The disembodied head of General Halleck, however, wants him to take Eastern Tennessee.

Halleck said that he had conferred with Lincoln on the matter and this showed it. It clearly echoed Lincoln’s words to General George McClellan, commanding the Army of the Potomac. After being urged to move on Winchester, Virginia, McClellan complained that he could not support an army there due to a lack of railroad to the town. Countering that idea, Lincoln suggested that “the enemy does now subsist his army at Winchester at a distance nearly twice as great from railroad transportation as you would have to do without the railroad last named.”

And just as Lincoln was ordering McClellan to move in the near future, he, through Henry Halleck, ordered Buell. “I am directed by the President to say to you that your army must enter East Tennessee this fall, and that it ought to move there while the roads are passable.”

As with McClellan, Lincoln could not understand “why we cannot march as the enemy marches, live as he lives, and fight as he fights, unless we admit the inferiority of our troops and of our generals.”

Buell would make his reply the following day, but it would consist mostly of musings about the best places to feed the army. Through it all, he tried to defend his decision to take the army to Nashville. Rebels, said Buell, were threatening it. He could give no specifics, but did allow that it wasn’t Bragg’s force.

All of this, Buell insisted, was impossible to convey via the telegraph, but it could be cleared up in an hour’s face-to-face conversation if only Washington would allow the Army of the Ohio to move to Nashville. After some complaining about how the Rebel army was more disciplined that his own Union army, Buell ended the strange reply.

In his dispatch from the 18th, Halleck wondered if Buell’s plan to move to Nashville would facilitate another Confederate raid into Kentucky. What he didn’t know was that one was already happening.

Today’s map is, again, rather large and rather approximate.

John Hunt Morgan was, like the Confederate army, retreating into Tennessee. He wished, however, that he might ride a ring around Buell’s Army of the Ohio. The previous day, he and his men captured the small Union garrison in Lexington before moving east to the Kentucky River. They rested on her banks until they were alerted by Union artillery that Union infantry were on their way. Making a hasty escape, Morgan and his 1,800 rangers crossed the river and slipped through Lawrenceville not too long before Federal infantry entered the town.

By noon, they were in Bloomfield, roughly thirty miles west. There, they were greeted by friends and well wishers who provided all the supplies and provisions that they could gather. After about an hour rest, Morgan moved out, headed southwest towards Bardstown.

Along the way, Morgan caught wind of a Federal force in the town that was large enough to cause his column more problems than they needed. There was nothing in the town, aside from hospitals and wounded. Morgan decided to leave well enough alone and skirt the town. Coming within a mile of its streets, he threw out skirmishers who drove in the Union pickets. The Rebels then bypassed the town unmolested.

Basil Duke, just one of the good ol’ boys.

Six miles later, they made their camp. That night, Company E of the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry (CS) was sent towards Louisville to see what they could find. What they found was a wonderful bounty. They captured 150 wagons laden with supplies for Buell’s Federal army. Along with the goods, they captured the cavalry escort and rounded up some enemy stragglers.

Unable to carry much, all but two of the wagons were burned on the spot. The two salvaged wagons were of the large sutler variety and “contained everything to gladden a rebel’s heart, from cavalry boots to ginger-bread,” described Confederate cavalry officer Basil Duke after the war.

At dawn the next day, the crew of 1,800, plus the Federal prisoners, continued on their way.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 2, p623, 626-627, 636-637, 638; History of Morgan’s Cavalry by William Basil Duke; Rebel Raider by James Ramage. []

John Hunt Morgan Rides Again – Captures Yankees Occupying his Hometown

October 18, 1862 (Saturday)

The Confederate attempt to seize Kentucky was at an end. General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Mississippi was in full retreat towards Cumberland Pass and Tennessee. That did not mean, however, that Colonel John Hunt Morgan’s Rebel cavalry was going gentle into that good night.

John Hunt Morgan

Quite the opposite. Morgan had been ordered to cover the retreat of Kirby Smith’s wing of the army. It was his duty, but it was the job he liked least. The cavalier felt best at the head of an independent command. Acting as a rear guard was not his forte.

To add to the tedium, General Smith’s column was not followed (and perhaps not even noticed) by the Federals. On the 15th, correctly gathering that Smith was out of danger, Morgan asked to be allowed to find his own line of retreat of Kentucky. It wasn’t just retreat that Morgan was after, of course. He laid out a plan, rather similar to one dreamed up by a certain Eastern Theater cavalry commander in a plumed hat, in which he would ride around the entire Union Army of the Ohio. Smith agreed to the scheme without consulting Braxton Bragg. By the 17th, Morgan and 1,800 rangers were riding – not south to Tennessee, but north towards Lexington, Kentucky.

Morgan was very familiar with the town. He had been raised there all the way through to his college years. After fighting in the Mexican War, he opened a handful of businesses, married, and finally gained some success in manufacturing hemp and wool. He employed several free blacks, but owned thirty slaves, and made money on the side renting them out and selling them. By the time the war rolled around, he was turning quite a profit in wool and slaves. And while his business took him to St. Louis, Cincinnati, Louisville and even New York, home was always found in Lexington.

Today’s map is, once again, approximate.

And home was where he was headed. This part of the state had a very Unionist lean to it, so procuring a guide might prove difficult. Brash and bold as he was, Morgan decided to give it a try anyway. Stopping at a nearby house, the Confederate Colonel rapped upon the door and roused the head of the house from his bed. Morgan introduced himself as Union Colonel Frank Woolford. The man at the door, a Unionist, was overjoyed to see this Woolford fellow and happily accepted the honor of leading him and his men into Lexington.

Along the way, the Unionist cursed that devil John Hunt Morgan. As they rode, the false Col. Woolford encouraged the Unionist, prodding him to tell him just how much he disdained the Rebel marauder.

By midnight, they were within ten miles of the town. Two hours later, Lexington was a mere three miles away. Even closer, however, was the camp of the 4th Ohio Cavalry, who had been detached to guard the town.

The column halted and began to make preparations for a dawn attack. This was were the Unionist guide finally discovered that Col. Frank Woolford wad really the devil John Hunt Morgan. The Unionist was sure that Morgan was about to have him killed. He was soon assured that he wouldn’t be harmed and was allowed to ride back to his house, now many dark miles away. Before they parted, Morgan warned him to be careful of how he confided in soldiers in the future.

The Ohio cavalry had split up their regiment. Some were encamped outside of town, while others were near the courthouse. At dawn, Morgan’s men encircled and fell upon the camp. It was not a clean fight. As one of Morgan’s regiments closed in on the camp, another, approaching from the opposite direction, fired over the heads of the Union soldiers and sent bullets into the ranks of their comrades.

After all that was sorted out, Morgan’s artillery, ordered to fire only if things looked bad, opened fire anyway, sending both Union and Confederates running. And when that was dealt with and the Federals fully began to realize their fate as prisoners, a Texas regiment burst onto the scene, wildly firing at captors and captured, alike.

Having had a plateful of this, Morgan ran between the prisoners and the Texans, waved his armed and ordered them to cease firing. It was miraculous that he was not shot. His coat, however, was not so fortunate – after the battle, Morgan found several holes piercing the garment. In the weird fray, a prisoner was also shot.

As for the two Union companies in the town, they put up a defiant front of resistance, but were soon convinced that it was ridiculous to do so. In all, Morgan and his men captured 500 to 600 Yankees.

The people of Lexington had no idea what to think of all this. The previous day, with the 4th Ohio Cavalry protecting the town, the Unionists flew their Stars and Stripes. But when Morgan’s men arrived, their ornamentation was happily replaced by the town’s secessionists.

The dedication ceremony for the John Hunt Morgan statue on Oct. 18, 1911 (exactly 49 years after this date), filled the courthouse square with more than 10,000 people.

By 1pm, Morgan’s men were gone, on their way to encircle the Federal Army. They would pass through Versailles before encamping. That night, the Union commander at Frankfort, just ten miles north of the Confederate camp along the Kentucky River, learned of Morgan’s raid. He dispatched cavalry and infantry to fall upon the Rebel front, near Lawrenceville, and rear, following their line of march from Versailles.

The Federals coming from the rear tipped off Morgan by blindingly firing artillery towards the Rebel camp. Realizing what was happening, Morgan quickly crossed the river, and entered Lawrenceville before the Yankees coming from Frankford could occupy the town. Supposedly, Morgan had given the Union troops the slip by about thirty minutes.

He and his men would seldom stop over the next six days as they circumnavigated General Buell’s Army (giving it a very wide berth), before entering Tennessee.1

  1. Sources: History of Morgan’s Cavalry by William Basil Duke; Rebel Raider by James Ramage; OR, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 2. []

General Buell: “It has Not Accomplished All that I had Hoped”

October 16, 1862 (Thursday)

That’s my Buell!

Don Carlos Buell had been given the slip in Kentucky. Two Confederate armies under Braxton Bragg and Kirby Smith, had invaded the state, moving more or less at their own will. While neither had been able to cross, or even approach, the Ohio River, when Buell and his Army of the Ohio left the defenses of Louisville to chase them down, the Rebels surprised and defeated them at Perryville.

Greatly outnumbered, the Rebel armies attempted to combine and retreat back to Tennessee. Had Buell moved with more swiftness, he was in a fine position to cut off the Confederate line of retreat. Instead, he waited a few days too long and misjudged their intended route. On this date, most of his army was at Crab Orchard, while a brigade or so attempted to follow the Rebels as they picked their way south along the narrow Wilderness Road towards Cumberland Gap.

There was really no hope that his men could catch up to the retreating Confederates. And if they did, there simply wasn’t enough of them giving chase to make any difference. For all realistic purposes, the Kentucky Campaign had come to an end. It was time to let Washington know what happened.

“You are aware that between Crab Orchard and Cumberland Gap the country is almost a desert,” explained Buell to General-in-Chief Henry Halleck. “The limited supply of forage which the country affords is consumed by the enemy as he passes.” In the short time that the Army of the Ohio had been at Crab Orchard, on the cusp of this Kentucky desert, the animals had already begun to suffer.

“The enemy has been driven into the heart of this desert and must go on,” Buell continued, “for he cannot exist in it. For the same reason we cannot pursue in it with any hope of overtaking him, for while he is moving back on his supplies and as he goes consuming what the country affords we must bring ours forward.”

The Wilderness Road through the great Kentucky desert.

This actually made some sense. The closer the Rebels got to their home, the quicker supplies could reach them. The farther the Federals got from their supply depots at Louisville, the harder it would be. Things like planning, preparedness, and organization would have to be utilized and those simply weren’t Buell’s strong points.

Buell’s next reason seemed like more of an excuse: “There is but one road and that a bad one. The route abounds in difficult defiles, in which a small force can retard the progress of a large one for a considerable time, and in that time the enemy could gain material advantage in a move upon other points.”

Wilderness Road was indeed a notoriously nasty stretch. It was also true that it afforded many opportunities for ambush. Rocks could be (and would be) rolled onto the pathway to hold up any pursuers. But if there was only one road, Buell never explained how the enemy could move upon other points.

“For these reasons, which I do not think it necessary to elaborate,” wrote Buell, expecting his lack of elaboration to be greeted in Washington with shrugs and casual nods, “I deem it useless and inexpedient to continue the pursuit, but propose to direct the main force under my command rapidly upon Nashville….”

Again with Nashville. Buell supposed that since the Rebels weren’t retreating towards Nashville that they must actually be retreating towards Nashville anyway. While the railroads were being rebuilt, Buell continued, “I shall throw myself on my wagon transportation, which, fortunately, is ample.”

A more cynical reader might suggest that Buell could have used these ample wagons laden with supplies to cross the great Kentucky desert.

Today’s approximate map is approximate.

Buell may not have been a true Napoleon, but he wasn’t bereft of all intelligence. He realized that allowing the Confederates to slip away yet again might just signal the end of his career.

“While I shall proceed with these dispositions, deeming them to be proper for the public interest, it is but meet that I should say that the present time is perhaps as convenient as any for making any changes that may be thought proper in the command, of this army. It has not accomplished all that I had hoped or all that faction might demand.”

And just in case anyone in Washington hadn’t stopped reading to immediately file the paperwork for Buell’s prompt dismissal, he tried to shine a better light on things. Though many of his troops were green and untried, his little army “defeated a powerful and thoroughly disciplined army in one battle and has driven it away baffled and dispirited at least, and as much demoralized as an army can be under such discipline as Bragg maintains over all troops that he commands.”

With that, Buell was finished, basically admitting that Braxton Bragg was the better general, in command of a better army. The Rebels might have been dispirited, but only because they were in retreat.

Cumberland Gap

As for Buell’s description of the battle of Perryville, where his army “defeated a powerful and thoroughly disciplined army,” the line of logic is a bit fuzzier. Buell’s army was clearly defeated during the battle – they were pushed back nearly a mile by a much smaller force. But a victorious leader such as Buell doesn’t consider what happened during a battle when talking about the outcome of the battle. What must be considered is what happened the day after the battle. No matter how badly your larger army was beaten by a smaller army, a commander need only wait until the enemy leaves the field to claim victory. And that is what Buell did.

This laundry list of excuses wouldn’t reach Washington until the next day. In the meantime, Buell’s pursuing force tangled almost constantly with the Rebel rear guard. They would tangle on and off (mostly on) for several more days, but it was more harassment than anything else. Soon, Buell would begin to move his base back to Nashville.1

  1. Sources: OR, Series 1, Vol. 16, Part 2, p619; Perryville by Kenneth W. Noe. []