The Armies Slip from Buell and Bragg in Kentucky

September 25, 1862 (Thursday)

General Bragg

Confederate General Braxton Bragg was tired. His grand scheme was crumbling. Originally, he wanted Generals Earl Van Dorn and Sterling Price to join him with Kirby Smith’s troops in Middle Tennessee. Somehow or another it had all gotten away from him. Somehow, this grand army had turned into three, maybe four, individual forces separated by hundreds of miles. He was in Kentucky and even the most simple link up – with Smith following his capture of Lexington – had gone awry. The situation had spiraled out of his control.

The late summer and early autumn of 1862 in Kentucky were quite an exciting time. Two major cities, Louisville, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio were the apparent targets of two large Rebel forces under Braxton Bragg and Kirby Smith. While Smith had seriously threatened the Ohio city, he never made an attack. The focus then turned to Lousiville, as the general Federal consensus believed Bragg to be headed there. The Union Army of the Ohio, 50,000-strong under Don Carlos Buell, had made a hellish 110-mile march, arriving in the panicked city on this date.

Bragg, however, was not headed to Louisville. His plan was to link up with Kirby Smith’s command around Bardstown. When Bragg and his 26,000 men arrived, however, he found only a letter from Smith, explaining that he had to remain around Lexington.

Kirby Smith’s force of 13,000 was scattered more or less around Lexington, with another 8,000 men at Cumberland Gap. Linking up would give Bragg’s Army of Mississippi around 47,000 troops. This was a formidable force, as it wasn’t just Buell’s army the Confederates had to reckon with. There were the volunteers in Cincinnati – green to be sure, but also over 50,000 in number. A similar call for volunteers took place in Louisville, where twenty-five regiments had been mustered into service (perhaps 20,000ish men).

Kirby Smith

Kirby Smith had some high hopes. Believing that Buell’s Union Army needed to be stopped from linking up with the force at Louisville, he also expected Bragg to be able to handle that himself. But since Bragg was moving to link up with Smith, Buell’s Federals were easily able to skirt the Confederates.

Buell’s Union Army of the Ohio entered Louisville as a ravenous pack of wolves. The march had been truly backbreaking. They were greeted with cheers and banners, brass bands and flags. City residents brought them pies, cakes, bread and food of all kinds.

They were marched through the city, directly to their camp, where they received new uniforms, shoes, supplies and much needed rest. Soon, however, one-third of the Federal army was absent without leave, taking full advantage of all the amenities the city of Louisville had to offer. Many entire regiments would be drunk for days. Buell did what he could to maintain command, but, like Bragg, he quickly lost control of his own army.

Approximate map is approximate.

This did nothing to help Buell’s standing. He was a Democrat and was used to attacks by the Republican press upon his political leanings. New, however, were the attacks upon his military abilities. In truth, Buell had started his Army of the Ohio in Louisville. Now, roughly a year later, he was back with little to show for it and the enemy believed to be beating down the door.

He was accused by Andrew Johnson of using his army as a body guard. Zachary Chandler, a senator from Michigan who visited the troops, related that many in the army wanted a command change. Some in the ranks were calling him a coward, even a traitor. Others called for his death. This was echoed in the Indianapolis Daily Journal, whose editor mused that Buell “richly deserves to be shot.”

Over the next several days, Governors, Generals, Washington politicians, and the press would all be calling for Buell’s demise in one way or another. While retreat from Alabama, through Tennessee and into Kentucky had taken its toll upon his character, his seeming refusal to fight the Rebels under Bragg was the nail in his coffin.

General Buell

Just as Buell appeared to be less than excited about battling Bragg, Bragg was trying to cope with Smith’s flippant response to the agreed upon meeting. Rather than gathering with Bragg at Bardstown, Smith decided to move his entire command southeast from Lexington to Proctor in hopes of cutting off General George Morgan’s Yankees on their way from Cumberland Gap.

Most disappointing, however, was the lack of support he had received from the people of the Bluegrass State.

“I regret to say we are sadly disappointed at the want of action by our friends in Kentucky,” wrote General Bragg to Richmond. “We have so far received no accession to this army.” While Smith had received about a brigade’s worth of recruits, that was “not half our losses by casualties of different kinds.”

Bragg had brought along a multitude of extra muskets in hopes that the people of Kentucky would flock to the Southern cause. They did not. “We have 15,000 stand of arms and no one to use them. Unless a change occurs soon we must abandon the garden spot of Kentucky to its cupidity.” ((Sources today: Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat, Vol. 1 by Grady McWhiney; Army of the Heartland by Thomas Lawrence Connelly; All for the Regiment by Gerald Prokopowicz; Perryville by Kenneth Noe; Days of Glory by Larry Daniel; War in Kentucky by James Lee McDonough; OR, 16.2, p873,876.

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The Armies Slip from Buell and Bragg in Kentucky by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International