Margaret Buell

Wife of Union General Don Carlos Buell

General Don Carlos Buell, husband of Margaret Buell
General Don Carlos Buell, husband of Margaret Buell
Don Carlos Buell, named for an uncle, was born on March 23, 1818, near Marietta, Ohio. He was the first son of Salmon D. Buell and Eliza Buell, born on the farm of his grandfather, Judge Salmon Buell. He was named after his uncle, Don Carlos Buell, who was a lawyer in Ithaca, New York. His father died in 1825, and Buell grew up with his uncle in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, where he attended public schools, and proved himself a fair student.

In 1837, Buell received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, and graduated in 1841, ranking 32 in a class of 52 graduates. Buell served in the military, and participated in both the Seminole War and the Mexican War. In the Mexican War, he was wounded at the Battle of Churubusco. Buell moved slowly up the ranks, finally attaining the rank of brevet major.

In 1851 heiress Margaret Hunter Mason married Don Carlos Buell. Buell’s new wife was the widow of Brigadier General Richard B. Mason, the former military governor of California and commander of Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis.

In December, 1860, Secretary of War John Floyd sent Major Buell to visit Robert Anderson, then in command of the US garrison at Charleston, South Carolina. Buell carried a message to Anderson that was too sensitive to go over the telegraph wires: “You may occupy any fort within Charleston Harbor.” Anderson had wired Washington that at Fort Moultrie his position was threatened. With Washington’s approval, Anderson could move to a much more formidable structure, Fort Sumter.

When the American Civil War began, Buell was serving as an assistant adjutant general. With his military experience, he quickly was promoted to brigadier general. Buell reported to Washington, DC, in September 1861, where he served as a division commander in the Army of the Potomac under his friend, General George B. McClellan. In November of that same year, Buell succeeded William Tecumseh Sherman as commander of the Department of the Ohio. He helped organize the thousands of volunteers reporting for duty from Ohio and surrounding states, and prepared Ohio’s defenses for a Confederate attack.

As commander of the Department of the Ohio, Buell was also the leader of the Army of the Ohio. During 1862, Buell played an important role in securing Kentucky and Tennessee for the Union. As General Ulysses S. Grant advanced on Confederate Forts Henry and Donelson in February 1862, the Army of the Ohio moved cautiously from Bowling Green, Kentucky toward Nashville, Tennessee.

Buell’s hesitation gave CSA Generals Albert Sidney Johnston and William Hardee time to remove manufacturing equipment and goods south by train. Buell’s command succeeded in capturing Nashville in central Tennessee, but President Abraham Lincoln and General Henry Halleck had wanted Buell to secure eastern Tennessee for the Union. And instead of pursuing the Rebels, Buell stopped when he ran into CSA General Nathan Bedford Forest’s rearguard forces.

Sidney Johnston left Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on March 5 and arrived at Corinth, Mississippi on March 25. Buell decided to argue with Henry Halleck about his orders, and Halleck appealed to Washington. The next day, Lincoln combined his three Western Armies into the Department of the Mississippi, and put Halleck in command. On March 13, 1862, Buell left Nashville and developed a case of the slows.

Johnston moved a similar size body of troops further in less time to attack Grant at the Battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862. On the first day, the Union soldiers were surprised, outnumbered, and almost defeated. That evening, forward division of the Army of the Ohio under Brigadier General William “Bull” Nelson arrived, and the combined forces of Buell and Grant drove the Confederates from the battlefield the following day.

General Buell praises his army for their victory at Shiloh:

Field of Shiloh, Tenn., April 8, 1862.
The general congratulates the army under his command on the imperishable honor which they won yesterday on the battle-field of Shiloh, near Pittsburg Landing. The alacrity and zeal with which they pressed forward by forced marches to the succor of their comrades of a sister army imperiled by the attack of an overwhelming force; the gallantry with which they assaulted the enemy, and the persevering courage with which they maintained an incessant conflict against superior numbers from 6 o’clock in the morning until evening, when the enemy was driven from the field, are incidents which point to a great service nobly performed.
The general reminds his troops again that such results are not attained by individual prowess alone; that subordination and careful training are essential to the efficiency of every army, and that the success which has given them a brilliant page in history is greatly due to the readiness with which they have seconded the labors of their division, brigade, and regimental commanders, who first disciplined them in camp and then led them judiciously and gallantly in battle.
By command of Major-General Buell:
Assistant Adjutant-General, Chief of Staff.

General Henry Halleck ordered Buell to proceed to the important railroad center of Chattanooga, Tennessee, on June 10, 1862. In three weeks, Buell had only moved ninety miles toward that city. On July 8, 1862, Henry Halleck wrote Buell: “The President says your progress is not satisfactory and you should move more rapidly.”

Before the Army of the Ohio could capture that city, Buell fell back into Kentucky, because a Confederate army under CSA General Braxton Bragg had invaded the state. Bragg, in command of the Army of Mississippi, was about to completely fool Buell. On July 21, Bragg ordered a 770-mile flanking movement via railroad and ship. A week later, Bragg’s men began arriving in force at Chattanooga. He had beaten the Union commander to that city. As a consolation, Buell took the railhead at Stevenson, Alabama, and reoccupied Nashville.

Buell intended to hold a 400-mile line stretching across the entire state of Tennessee. CSA General Nathan Bedford Forrest severed the connection from Stevenson to Nashville with a raid on Murfreesboro. As the railroad was close to being fixed, Forrest again attacked, burning three bridges south of Nashville.

Abraham Lincoln had more derisive things to say about the commander of the Army of the Ohio. Then CSA General John Hunt Morgan began his raids into Kentucky. Morgan sent word to E. Kirby Smith in Knoxville, encouraging him to move into Kentucky. As Smith moved north, Buell (extending a non-existent line another 100 miles) dispatched ‘Bull’ Nelson to Kentucky to organize the recruits, but kept his division in Murfreesboro.

Smith took Richmond, Lexington, and Frankfurt, Kentucky, as Bragg screened Buell, who continued to fear an attack on Nashville. Before he knew it, Buell had the Army of Tennessee between himself and Louisville, Kentucky, the major communications and transportation hub for the Union armies in the West. When it finally dawned on Buell that Bragg was not going to attack Nashville but was heading due north towards Louisville, he had to scramble to defend his supply line. Buell regrouped when he arrived at Louisville on September 25 and 26.

Meanwhile the exhortations from the administration continued unabated, as the following message to Buell from General Henry Halleckdemonstrates:

It is the wish of the Government that your army proceed to and occupy East Tennessee with all possible dispatch. It leaves to you the selection of the roads upon which to move to that object; but it urges that this selection be so made as to cover Nashville and at the same time prevent the enemy’s return into Kentucky. To now withdraw your army to Nashville would have a most disastrous effect upon the country, already wearied with so many delays in our operations… Neither the Government nor the country can endure these repeated delays. Both require a prompt and immediate movement toward the accomplishment of the great object in view–the holding of East Tennessee.

On October 8, 1862, Braxton Bragg and Don Carlos Buell met at the Battle of Perryville (Kentucky), the largest battle fought on Kentucky soil. Buell attacked an army of 16,000 Confederates with almost 60,000 men (although only 30,000 were engaged in combat), and came close to losing. While Buell claimed victory, the battle is generally regarded as a draw. Buell failed to pursue the retreating Confederates as ordered, claiming that he lacked the necessary supplies to carry out an offensive.

Buell was even so disliked by his senior officers that they had petitioned Abraham Lincoln and requested Buell be replaced. President Lincoln finally bowed to the pressure and relieved Buell of commandon October 24, 1862, and replaced him with William S. Rosecrans.

For the next six months, a military commission, chaired by General Lew Wallace, investigated Buell’s inaction. Buell remained on inactive duty in Cincinnati for the entire time that the committee met. The commission drafted a report of its findings but did not release it to the public. Buell was eventually offered new battlefield commands, but he refused to serve under officers he had once outranked. In his memoirs, General Ulysses S. Grant called this “the worst excuse a soldier can make for declining service. Buell resigned his commission on June 1, 1864, and returned to civilian life.

The fact that Don Carlos was a former slave owner (he had inherited eight slaves when he married the widow of a fellow officer in 1851) left him open to charges that he was a Southern sympathizer. Buell did not help his cause when he strictly enforced a policy of noninterference with Southern civilians while campaigning in Alabama and Tennessee in mid-1862. His own soldiers murmured among themselves that their commanding general was “either a weak imbecile man, or a secession sympathizer.”

Many Northerners have refused to honor Buell for his military service during the Civil War, accusing him of being sympathetic with the Confederates. He also supported George McClellan in the presidential election of 1864 against Abraham Lincoln, openly attacking the Union high command for its actions and high loss of life.

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 to 1889, he was a government pension agent.

Grave of confederate general General Buell and Margaret Buell
Grave of General Buell and Margaret Buell

Don Carlos Buell died on November 19, 1898, at his home in Rockport, Kentucky, at the age of 80, and was buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri

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