October 24, 1862 (Friday)
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.
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.”
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
- 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. [↩]