Better Know a Civil War General: Major General Don Carlos Buell

The story begins at the battle of Shiloh, which took place in southeastern Tennessee in the spring of 1862. One of the strategic goals of the Union army at this stage of the war was to gain control of the Mississippi river system, which includes the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers (both of these flow north through Tennessee and feed into the Ohio which joins the Mississippi). They also aimed to sever the Confederacy’s rail system: only one rail line reached all the way through the South from the river to the east coast. A key junction of this railroad was in Corinth, Mississippi, near the Mississippi/Tennessee border. The Union army had been moving south through Tennessee, capturing key points on the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers in January and Nashville in February. By April, Grant was headed south via water along the Tennessee for Pittsburgh Landing, where the Union army would leave the river and march overland toward Corinth. Grant was expecting reinforcements from General Buell, who had been the one to capture Nashville and was supposed to be on his way to join Grant. The Confederates aimed to get Grant before he reached Corinth and definitely before Buell showed up. Grant camped at Pittsburgh Landing, north of a place called Shiloh, unaware that the Confederates under Albert Sidney Johnston were just to his south. The Confederates attacked early in the morning on April 6, and by nightfall it seemed they had won. But Grant counter-attacked the next day – and during the night, Buell and his reinforcements had arrived. The Union won.1

But never mind about that, because the Major General in charge of the Army of the Ohio was named Don Carlos Buell. This struck me as a matter worth investigating. James McPherson’s magisterial account of the war, from which the above is drawn, is a general survey and as such contains limited information about Buell. But a walk to the library turned up a biography of Buell, by Stephen D. Engle. Buell’s roots lay in New England. His family had immigrated to Massachusetts in the 1630s: the first traceable New England Buell was by all indications a head-banging Puritan. But by the early nineteenth century the family had moved west, and a few pages later I got to the exciting bit, where Salmon Buell, Jr. met his cousin Eliza. They married; Don Carlos was born in 1818. According to Engle, “the baby was named after his uncle Don Carlos,” which seems to me an evasion of the question. Engle does not elaborate, though he does say in the footnotes that the uncle was “the first appearance of the name Don Carlos in the Buell lineage.” Also, Salmon Buell’s younger brother was named Perez.2

Did you know that one of Philip II’s secretaries was a man named Antonio Perez, and that Perez and the Princess of Eboli were political allies in the 1570s?

But anyway, I couldn’t find out why exactly this otherwise not particularly Spanish northern family contained not one but two men named Don Carlos – unfortunately, we do not own any of the more detailed family papers that might explain it.


1. James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 392-417.

2. Stephen D. Engle, Don Carlos Buell: Most Promising of All (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 1-3 and n. 5

9 thoughts on “Better Know a Civil War General: Major General Don Carlos Buell

          1. You know I’m holding out for an encounter in the territories with a bunch of itinerant theatricals circa 1817.


                1. It’s not outside the realm of possibility. DC was pretty popular in Britain before 1800, ostensibly for reasons that would make it even more popular here. Hmmmm.

                  Although the Perez thing is a wrench. Maybe they were also really hardcore time-travelling Jason Isaacs fans.


        1. I wish whoever had mentioned the Catalan thing in Wikipedia had given more detail – it’s unclear where the information is from, so hard to know whether to believe it.


Comments are closed.