COLONEL J. C. MCKIBBIN'S DISPATCHES
The excuses one particular general officer continued to make before the War Department for lack of decisive movements against his opponent General Braxton Bragg, created a temporary stay of beheading by General-In-Chief Henry Halleck for time, until the end of September 1862, when the target Major General Don Carlos Buell could hardly inform the War Department where Braxton Bragg even was let alone march out and fight him.
Finally on the 24th day of September 1862, Major General Halleck succumbed to the President's and Secretary of War's manner of thinking by entrusting to Colonel J. C. McKibbin War Department dispatches addressed to both Major General Don Carlos Buell and Major General George H. Thomas. His mission was secret and not to be discussed with anyone including the recipients of all dispatches, because these messages had a wide variety of stipulations to them.
The First Stipulation and most important was to find Major General Buell engaged with Braxton Bragg in combat. If this was the case upon the colonel's arrival, all dispatches received from the War Department were NOT to be delivered and the courier was to return to Washington City.
The Second Stipulation was that if upon the colonel's arrival, General Buell's army was basically exhausted from already having fought Braxton Bragg's Army, the courier was to telegraph the War Department of the details and await further orders.
The Third Stipulation was that if neither general officer appeared to have been or at presented engaged with the Confederates under Bragg his dispatches were to be immediately delivered to both officers and then return to Washington immediately.
The Fourth Stipulation of course, was in case of capture, destroy your dispatches.
The dispatches were a set of orders giving Major General Don Carlos Buell the guillotine. He was to be relieved of command of Department of Tennessee, reporting back to Indianapolis, Indiana for further orders. Another was placing Major General George H. Thomas in command.
On September 25th, Colonel McKibbin had left Washington enroute on his mission and things out west were beginning to take shape. Two days later, Halleck attempted to telegraph Colonel McKibbin stating: "Dispatches will NOT be delivered until further orders." Why? Buell was in Louisville, Kentucky had Bragg spread out all about the map and making preparations to attack him.
Two more days past and Halleck telegraphed Colonel McKibbin again: "Await further orders before acting."
Colonel McKibbin was prompt in replying to the second message: "The dispatches are delivered. I think that it is fortunate that I obeyed instructions. Much dissatisfaction with General Buell. There is no probability of a fight within a week. I shall await orders before leaving."
As Halleck ordered the colonel to immediately return to Washington, in came the replies from the field:
From Major General Buell: "I have received your orders of the 24th instant, requiring me to turn over my command to Major General G. H. Thomas. I have accordingly turned over the command to him, and in further obedience to your instructions, I shall repair to Indianapolis and await orders."
Then from Major General George Thomas: "Colonel McKibbin handed me your dispatch, placing me in command of the Department of the Tennessee. General Buell's preparations have been completed to move against the enemy, and I therefore respectfully ask that he may be retained in command. My position is very embarrassing, not being as well informed as I should be as the commander of this army and on the assumption of such a responsibility."
The whole secrecy of the colonel's mission now botched, General Halleck, now embarrassed, replied in a way to dust the whole thing over:
"The order relieving General Buell was not made by me nor on my advice and I have no power to change it. It was made before General Buell arrived at Louisville, and Colonel McKibbin was twice telegraphed not to deliver the dispatches till further orders, but he received those telegrams too late. This statement is necessary to explain the telegrams sent by me to General Buell. Please show it to him. You may consider the order as suspended till I can lay your dispatch before the Government and get instructions."
The whole mess was then straightened out by Halleck on Monday September 29th, when he telegraphed both Thomas and Buell the following on behalf of the government:
"General orders changing the command of the Department of the Tennessee and the troops at Louisville, and my instructions based on those orders are, by authority of the President, suspended, and General Buell will act on my telegram of a later date."
© Dan Moran - 2001