Buell Commission
The Opinion
Part 1

     Pursuant to a Congressional Resolution of March 1, 1872 calling for a copy of the proceedings of the Military Commission instituted by the United States War Department in the year 1862, inquiring into the military operations and conduct of Major General Don Carlos Buell; the Secretary of War, William W. Belknap provided what little could be located of the papers, letters, dispatches, opinions and orders on file regarding the Commission's findings or conclusions reached by that board.

     The Commission convened at Cincinnati, Ohio in November 1862; detailed for the panel was Major General Lew Wallace as President, Major General E. O. C. Ord, Brigadier General Albin Schoepf, Brigadier General N. J. T. Dana and Brigadier General Daniel Tyler; established by Department of the Army, Special Orders No. 356 of November 20, 1862.

     It had been found in connection to the invasion of Kentucky, the rebels had concentrated themselves about Chattanooga around the 22nd day of July of that year with the intention of marching north into the Blue Grass State. By order of Major General Henry Halleck, it had been found that Buell had sufficient forces to march against them with the ulterior motive to dislodge Major General Kirby Smith from East Tennessee.

     The delay resulted in the Army of the Ohio not reaching that city in reasonable time; however, in accordance to how its commander perceived the orders from the United States War Department, his elected supply line source, the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, required repairs from his marching point of Corinth, Mississippi to Decatur, Alabama. The work on that line; slowed the forward progress and prevented him from a prompt march against the rebels. It was claimed that the supply lines were harassed by Confederate cavalry sorties that proved so successful, the Army of the Ohio could not be concentrated in sufficient force to capture Chattanooga and drive Kirby Smith from his position.

     In accordance with other instructions, all energy required exertion to prevent the recapture of Nashville and the invasion of Kentucky. This was also hoped for by the army's early concentration at Sparta, McMinnville or Murfreesboro, with an offense plan against General Braxton Bragg once he emerged from the Sequatchie Valley. Instead, the blue columns did not reach Murfreesboro before September 5th, and having chosen not to concentrate, had fallen back on Nashville opening up the Cumberland River for the Confederate army to cross without interruption.

     The Commission could not justify his course of action but felt that General Buell's duty was to have attacked the rebels before it crossed the river. The evidence provided them the conclusion that Bragg ought to have been defeated under this course.
     The subsequent movements of both armies caused Munfordville to be of key importance with its railroad bridge over Green River and a natural strength for giving battle. The rebel army moved upon it from the direction of Glasgow. A reconnaissance in force was first tried against the garrison there; however they were defeated on the 14th of September. Three days later, the entire army of Bragg moved against it and the city was forced to surrender on September 17th.

     Brigadier General Horatio Wright, commanding the Department of the Ohio ordered Munfordville to be held based on the premise that his defending army would reach that place in time; however all that he knew at the time was that both armies, blue and gray, had been advancing toward it.

     The Commission felt that the department commander's orders should have left the officer commanding the garrison the discretion of fighting or retreating as circumstance dictated. Had General Bragg not moved so quickly against the town, Buell would have attacked him at Glasgow, and would have prevented Munfordville's surrender. Buell was not held accountable for any of that with the exception of his failure to attack the Confederates south of the Cumberland River.

     The Army of the Ohio, when it left Louisville on October 1st, had a superior force, in the Commission's judgment, to that of both Bragg and Kirby Smith's combined. If in failure to attack and destroy the rebels, he was still obligated to drive them out of Kentucky.

     When Bragg sullenly retired to Perryville, it appeared by his orders to the corps commanders that Buell intended to attack there on October 9th. The morning of the previous day found the army corps of Charles Champion Gilbert in position at the center of the line; Alexander McDowell McCook, minus Sill's division, pulled in on the left; and George H. Thomas, commanding Crittenden's corps made up the right of the line.

     Roughly five hours later, about the 2 o'clock hour, the rebels attacked in column on the left and turned the right flank of General McCook, driving it back with serious loss concluding about 7 pm. McCook's right flank had not been more than three hundred yards from that of Gilbert's left; none who stood on the panel could understand why Gilbert's troops had not come to their aid when asked for. Nothing could have relieved Gilbert of this responsibility other than perhaps orders not to move, but none had come forth in testimony before the Commission. More over, General Buell's orders for the following day were to attack, and not to be attacked. In the latter case, the exercise of discretion would not have been an improper one had it been reported promptly to army headquarters. General Buell was not on the field at the time for instant consultation, and as it was, assistance had not reached McCook before dark.

     Army of the Ohio Headquarters had been established along the Springfield Road about two and a half miles from the front. The commander received no intelligence of the attack on McCook until about two hours after it began. Listening to a distant cannonade at the 2 o'clock hour, he stepped out of his headquarters tent and said: "There was a great waste of powder going on over there." Having Consulted with General Gilbert, who was with him at the time; the commanding general ordered him to send word to the front to stop the useless waste of powder.

Aldie Daniel Moran
© 2006

Editors Note: Mr.Moran is a feature writer on the US-Civilwar.com writers staff. He may be contacted with your questions, ideas and requests at dmoran@us-civilwars.net