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Braxton Bragg

Braxton Bragg

[brag]
Bragg, Braxton, 1817-76, Confederate general in the U.S. Civil War, b. Warrenton, N.C. A graduate of West Point, he fought the Seminole and in the Mexican War was promoted to lieutenant colonel for distinguished service at Buena Vista. He resigned from the army in 1856 and lived on his Louisiana plantation until the outbreak of the Civil War, when he was appointed a Confederate brigadier general and assigned to command the coast from Pensacola, Fla., to Mobile, Ala. Shortly after being promoted to major general (Jan., 1862), he assumed command of Gen. A. S. Johnston's 2d Corps, leading it in the battle of Shiloh (April). With Johnston's death, Bragg was made a general, and he succeeded (June) General Beauregard in command of the Army of Tennessee. His invasion of Kentucky (Aug.-Oct., 1862) was unsuccessful, ending in retreat to Tennessee after Gen. D. C. Buell caught up with him at Perryville. A reorganized Union army under Gen. W. S. Rosecrans was then sent against him and at Murfreesboro (Dec. 31, 1862-Jan. 2, 1863) forced him to withdraw again. In the Chattanooga campaign, Bragg, victorious in the battle of Chickamauga, laid siege to the Union army in Chattanooga, but in Nov., 1863, Gen. U. S. Grant thoroughly defeated him and forced him to retire into Georgia. Gen. J. E. Johnston took over his command (December) and Bragg went to Richmond, where he became military adviser to Jefferson Davis, with nominal rank as commander in chief of Confederate armies. After the war he was chief engineer of Alabama and later lived in Texas, where he died.

See biography by D. C. Seitz (1924, repr. 1971); study by G. McWhiney (2 vol., 1969-91).

Braxton Bragg, engraving by George E. Perine

(born March 22, 1817, Warrenton, N.C., U.S.—died Sept. 27, 1876, Galveston, Texas) U.S. and Confederate army officer. He graduated from West Point and served in the Seminole Wars and the Mexican War. When North Carolina seceded, he joined the Confederate army and fought in the American Civil War. He was promoted to general in 1862 at the Battle of Shiloh. As commander of the Army of Tennessee, he led his troops to victory at the Battle of Chickamauga. His forces besieged the Union troops at Chattanooga but were eventually routed. He was relieved of his command but appointed military adviser to Confederate Pres. Jefferson Davis.

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Braxton Bragg (March 22, 1817 – September 27, 1876) was a career United States Army officer, and then a General in the Confederate States Army, a principal commander in the Western Theater of the American Civil War.

Early life and military career

Bragg was born in Warrenton, North Carolina, the younger brother of future Confederate Attorney General Thomas Bragg. He was often ridiculed as a child because of his mother's stint in prison. He graduated fifth in a class of fifty from the United States Military Academy in 1837 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Artillery.

Bragg served in the Second Seminole War in Florida and took part in the occupation of Texas. He won promotions for bravery and distinguished conduct in the Mexican-American War, including a brevet promotion to captain for Battle of Fort Brown (May 1846), to major for the Battle of Monterrey (September 1846), and to lieutenant colonel for the Battle of Buena Vista (February 1847). Bragg was also promoted to captain within the regular army in June 1846. His conduct in Mexico had gained the respect of his commander, Gen. Zachary Taylor.

Bragg had a reputation for being a strict disciplinarian and one who adhered to regulations literally. There is a famous, perhaps apocryphal, story about him as a company commander at a frontier post where he also served as quartermaster. He submitted a requisition for supplies for his company, then as quartermaster declined to fill it. As company commander, he resubmitted the requisition, giving additional reasons for his requirements, but as the quartermaster he denied the request again. Realizing that he was at a personal impasse, he referred the matter to the post commandant, who exclaimed, "My God, Mr. Bragg, you have quarreled with every officer in the army, and now you are quarreling with yourself!" It is alleged that some of his troops attempted to assassinate him on two occasions in August and September 1847, but he was not injured either time. In the more serious of the two incidents, one of his soldiers exploded a 12-pound artillery shell underneath his cot. Although the cot was destroyed, somehow Bragg himself emerged without a scratch.

In January 1856, Bragg resigned from the United States Army to become a sugar planter in Thibodaux, Louisiana. He also served as Commissioner of Public Works for the state.

Civil War

Early Civil War career

Before the start of the Civil War, Bragg was a colonel in the Louisiana Militia and was promoted to major general of the militia on February 20, 1861. He commanded the forces around New Orleans, Louisiana, until April 16, but his commission was transferred to be a brigadier general of the Confederate States Army on March 7, 1861. He commanded forces in Pensacola, Florida, and the Department of West Florida and was promoted to major general on September 12, 1861. His command was extended to Alabama, and then to the Army of Pensacola in October 1861. His tenure was successful and along with friend Richard Taylor he turned his men into some of the best disciplined troops in the Confederate Army.

Bragg brought his forces to Corinth, Mississippi, and was charged with improving the poor discipline of the Confederate troops already assembled. He commanded a corps at the Battle of Shiloh and attacked the Hornet's Nest with piecemeal frontal assaults. After the Confederate commander, General Albert Sidney Johnston, was killed at Shiloh, General P.G.T. Beauregard assumed command. On that day, April 6, 1862, Bragg was promoted to full general, one of only seven in the history of the Confederacy, and assigned to command the Army of Mississippi. The next day the Confederates were driven back to Corinth. After the Siege of Corinth, Beauregard departed on account of illness, although he failed to inform President Davis of his departure and spent two weeks absent without leave. Davis was looking for someone to replace Beauregard because of his poor performance at Corinth, and the opportunity presented itself when Beauregard left without permission. Bragg was then appointed his successor as commander of the Army of Tennessee in June 1862.

Army of Tennessee

In August 1862, Bragg invaded Kentucky, hoping that he could arouse supporters of the Confederate cause in the border state and draw the Union forces under Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell, beyond the Ohio River. Bragg transported all of his infantry by railroads from Tupelo, Mississippi, to Chattanooga, Tennessee, while his cavalry and artillery moved by road. By moving his army to Chattanooga, Tennessee, he was able to challenge Buell's advance on the city. Once his forces had assembled in Chattanooga, Bragg then planned to move north into Kentucky in cooperation with Lt. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, who was commanding a separate force operating out of Knoxville, Tennessee. He captured over 4,000 Union soldiers at Munfordville, and then moved his army to Bardstown. On October 4, 1862, he participated in the inauguration of Richard Hawes as the provisional Confederate governor of Kentucky. The wing of Bragg's army under Maj. Gen. Leonidas Polk met Buell's army at Perryville on October 8 and won a tactical victory against him.

Kirby Smith pleaded with Bragg to follow up on his success: "For God's sake, General, let us fight Buell here." Bragg replied, "I will do it, sir," but then displaying what one observer called "a perplexity and vacillation which had now become simply appalling to Smith, to Hardee, and to Polk, he ordered his army to retreat through the Cumberland Gap to Knoxville. Bragg referred to his retreat as a withdrawal, the successful culmination of a giant raid. He had multiple reasons for withdrawing. Disheartening news had arrived from northern Mississippi that Earl Van Dorn and Sterling Price had been defeated at Corinth, just as Robert E. Lee had failed in his Maryland Campaign. He saw that his army had not much to gain from a further, isolated victory, whereas a defeat might cost not only the bountiful food and supplies yet collected, but also his army. He wrote to his wife, "With the whole southwest thus in the enemy's possession, my crime would have been unpardonable had I kept my noble little army to be ice-bound in the northern clime, without tents or shoes, and obliged to forage daily for bread, etc.

The invasion of Kentucky was a strategic failure, although it had forced the Union forces out of northern Alabama and most of middle Tennessee; it would take the Union forces a year to regain the lost ground. Bragg was criticized by some newspapers and two of his own generals, Polk and William J. Hardee, but there was plenty of blame to spread among the Confederate high command for the failure of the invasion of Kentucky. The armies of Bragg and Kirby Smith suffered from a lack of unified command. Bragg can be faulted for moving his army away from Munfordville, out of Buell's path, a prime location for a battle to Confederate advantage. Polk can also be blamed for not following Bragg's instructions on the day before and of the battle.

In December, Bragg fought the Battle of Stones River, and nearly defeated Union Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans, but withdrew his army from the field to Tullahoma, Tennessee, after the urgings of corps commanders Hardee and Polk. The attacks upon Bragg started anew and several of his supporters now turned against him. James M. McPherson wrote about the aftermath of Stones River:

Stones River was also another in which blame can be spread beyond Bragg alone. Bragg has to be faulted for the ground on which the battle was fought, which offered few advantages to the attacking Confederate army and offered more advantages to the defending Union army. He also selected his military objective poorly, resulting in a Union defensive line that became more concentrated and stronger as Bragg's became spread out and weaker. The ill-advised assaults he ordered John C. Breckinridge to make on January 2, 1863, weakened his army without gain. But his subordinates were at various degrees of fault. The inexperienced Maj. Gen. John P. McCown was found guilty by court-martial of disobedience to Bragg's orders, which diluted the force of his division's attack and possibly cost the Confederates a victory. The charge of drunkenness pressed against division commander B. Franklin Cheatham was merited, as there were claims that he was so drunk during the battle that he fell off his horse while leading his men forward. Both Polk and Hardee can be faulted for not coordinating their attacks, but instead choosing to attack en echelon, which led to much of the confusion. Fault is also given to Jefferson Davis, who sent Maj. Gen. Carter L. Stevenson's division to the defense of Vicksburg. The loss of these troops weakened Bragg's army and if Bragg had had these troops victory might have been possible.

Many members of Bragg's army sought to get him transferred after the battle, citing the failure of the Kentucky invasion and the recent defeat at Murfreesboro, as well as the lack of faith the army had in Bragg, as reasons to remove him. Polk became the ringleader and tried to influence his friend Jefferson Davis through a series of letters explaining to Davis about why Bragg needed to go as the commander of the army. Hardee became Polk's second-in-command, so to speak, as he went about trying to influence the officers in the army against Bragg, while presenting a friendly face to him. Davis was unwilling to choose between Bragg and Polk, so he empowered Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, commander of all Confederate forces in the Western Theater, to relieve Bragg of command. Johnston visited Bragg, found general morale in the army to be high, and decided to retain him. Bragg was then driven from Tullahoma to Chattanooga and into Georgia during Rosecrans's Tullahoma Campaign in late June 1863, during which he constantly outflanked the Confederate army out of their positions.

After William S. Rosecrans had consolidated his gains and secured his hold on Chattanooga, he began moving his army into northern Georgia against Bragg's army. Bragg began to suffer from inattention to his orders on the part of his subordinates. On September 10, Maj. Gens. Thomas C. Hindman and D.H. Hill refused to attack the outnumbered Federal column under Brig. Gen. James S. Negley, as ordered. On September 13, Bragg ordered Leonidas Polk to attack Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Crittenden's corps, but Polk ignored the orders and demanded more troops, insisting that it was he who was about to be attacked. Rosecrans used the time lost in these delays to collect his scattered forces. Finally, on September 19 and September 20, 1863, Bragg, reinforced by two divisions from Mississippi, one division and several brigades from the Department of East Tennessee, and two divisions under Lt. Gen. James Longstreet from Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, turned on the pursuing Rosecrans in northeastern Georgia and at high cost defeated him at the Battle of Chickamauga, the greatest Confederate victory in the Western Theater during the war. After the battle, Rosecrans's Army of the Cumberland retreated to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where Bragg laid siege to the city. He chose to use the victory to rid himself of his enemies within the army and managed to get Polk and D.H. Hill transferred. Bragg blamed Polk for the numerous occasions on which he disobeyed instructions. Hill, one of the many generals who were allies of Polk, spoke out against Bragg so much that Jefferson Davis removed him from command and canceled his endorsement of Hill's promotion to lieutenant general.

Things came to a boil in the Confederate high command in the aftermath of Chickamauga. Some of Bragg's subordinate generals were frustrated at what they perceived to be his lack of willingness to exploit the victory by driving the Union Army from Chattanooga and pursuing them. Polk in particular was outraged at being relieved of command. The dissidents, including many of the division and corps commanders, met in secret and prepared a petition to the president. Although the author of the petition is not known, historians suspect it was Simon Buckner, whose signature was first on the list. Lt. Gen. James Longstreet wrote to the Secretary of War with the prediction that "nothing but the hand of God can save us or help us as long as we have our present commander." Nathan Bedford Forrest, dissatisfied after a long association with Bragg, and bitter about his failure to pursue the defeated Union forces after Chickamauga, refused to serve under him again. He told Bragg to his face, "You have played the part of a damned scoundrel. ... If you ever again try to interfere with me or cross my path it will be at the peril of your life. With the Army of Tennessee literally on the verge of mutiny, Jefferson Davis reluctantly traveled to Chattanooga to personally assess the situation and to try to stem the tide of dissent in the army. Although Bragg offered to resign to resolve the crisis, Davis eventually decided to leave Bragg in command and denounced the other generals and termed their complaints "shafts of malice".

Finally reinforced and now commanded by Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, the Union Army broke the siege by driving the Confederates from their commanding positions on Lookout Mountain (the famous "Battle Above the Clouds") on November 24, and Missionary Ridge the following day. The Battle of Chattanooga at Missionary Ridge resulted in a rout, with the Confederates narrowly escaping total destruction and retreating into Georgia. The loss of their hold on Chattanooga is partially attributed to poor placement of artillery; instead of locating the guns on the military crest, they were placed on the actual crest of the ridge, allowing the approaching infantry to remain in defilade. Bragg, on the advice of Davis, sent James Longstreet and his divisions, as well as Simon B. Buckner and his division, to Knoxville, Tennessee, to lay siege to Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside and his forces in the city. This move was gladly accepted by Longstreet, and Bragg believed he could prevent Burnside from marching to Grant's aid. Only after the Confederate collapse at Chattanooga did Davis accept Bragg's resignation and replace him with Joseph E. Johnston, who commanded the army in the Atlanta Campaign against Sherman.

Final days

In February 1864, Bragg was sent to Richmond, Virginia; his official orders read that he was "charged with the conduct of military operations of the Confederate States", but he was essentially Davis's military advisor without a direct command, a post once held by Robert E. Lee. Bragg used his organizational abilities to reduce corruption and improve the supply system. He reshaped the Confederacy's conscription process by streamlining the chain of command and reducing conscripts' avenues of appeal. Later he commanded in turn the defenses of Wilmington, North Carolina, the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia, the defenses of Augusta, Georgia, the defenses of Savannah, Georgia, the defenses of Charleston, South Carolina, and in January 1865, the defenses again of Wilmington. His performance in the Second Battle of Fort Fisher caused the loss of the latter city, but he managed to escape with the bulk of the garrison and win a small victory at Kinston. Near the end of the war he served as a corps commander (although his command was less than a division in size) in the Army of Tennessee under Joseph E. Johnston in the Carolinas Campaign against Sherman and fought at the Battle of Bentonville. After Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, Bragg accompanied Jefferson Davis as he fled through South Carolina and into Georgia.

Postbellum

After the war Bragg served as the superintendent of the New Orleans waterworks and later became the chief engineer for Alabama, supervising harbor improvements at Mobile. He moved to Texas and became a railroad inspector.

Bragg was walking down a street with a friend in Galveston, Texas, when he suddenly fell over dead. A local legend holds that there is a mysterious light near the place of his death, which is called Bragg's light. He is buried in Magnolia Cemetery, Mobile, Alabama.

Controversial legacy

James McPherson's reference to "the bumblers like Bragg and Pemberton and Hood who lost the West sums up the judgment of many modern historians. Bragg's shortcomings as an army commander included his unimaginative tactics, mostly his reliance on frontal assault (such as the Hornet's Nest at Shiloh, Breckinridge's assault at Stones River, and numerous instances at Chickamauga), and his lack of post-battle followup that turned tactical victories or draws into strategic disappointments (Perryville and Chickamauga). His sour disposition, penchant to blame others for defeat, and poor interpersonal skills undoubtedly caused him to be criticized more directly than many of his unsuccessful contemporaries. Historian Peter Cozzens wrote about his relationship with subordinates:

Some counterarguments have emerged in recent years. Judith Lee Hallock called the blaming of Bragg for Confederate defeats in the west the "Bragg syndrome." While most agree he was a poor army commander, historians such as Hallock and Steven Woodworth cite his skills as an organizer and that his defeat in several battles can also be partially blamed upon bad luck and incompetent subordinates, notably Polk. Of his troublesome subordinates, Hardee was considered to be a solid soldier even by Bragg. Polk, although personally brave and charismatic, was simply an average tactician known for insubordination and piecemeal attacks. Unfortunately, he was a close friend of Davis, who was unwilling to relieve him. Bragg also never got the support Davis gave to Robert E. Lee and Sidney Johnston. That his abilities were only properly utilized in 1861 and 1864 also shows the inability of the Confederacy to make proper use of many of its generals. Despite his faults, Bragg was able to impress on occasion his superiors, such as Taylor, Davis, Beauregard, and Sidney Johnston.

Historians Grady McWhiney and Steven Woodworth have pointed out that, contrary to popular belief, Davis and Bragg were not friends, having bitterly quarreled during the antebellum years. Davis was impressed with Bragg, but was willing to relieve him in early 1863. He did not relieve him, in part because no suitable replacements could be found, a consistent problem for Davis. Even Bragg's harshest critics have generally failed to suggest a suitable replacement.

In memoriam

A few geographic features memorialize Braxton Bragg:

References

  • Cozzens, Peter, No Better Place to Die: The Battle of Stones River, University of Illinois Press, 1990, ISBN 0-252-01652-1.
  • Dupuy, Trevor N., Johnson, Curt, and Bongard, David L., Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography, Castle Books, 1992, 1st Ed.,
    ISBN 0-7858-0437-4.
  • Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford Univ. Press, 2001,
    ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville, Random House, 1958, ISBN 0-394-49517-9.
  • Hallock, Judith Lee, Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat, Volume 2, University of Alabama Press, 1991, ISBN 0-8173-0543-2.
  • McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States), Oxford University Press, 1988, ISBN 0-19-503863-0.
  • McWhiney, Grady, Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat, Volume 1—Field Command, Columbia University Press, 1969, ISBN 0-231-02881-4.
  • Powell, Dave, "Battle of Chickamauga", Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, Heidler, David S., and Heidler, Jeanne T., eds., W. W. Norton & Company, 2000, ISBN 0-393-04758-X.
  • Sword, Wiley, Shiloh: Bloody April, Morningside Books, 1974, ISBN 0-89029-770-3.
  • Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders, Louisiana State University Press, 1959, ISBN 0-8071-0823-5.
  • Woodworth, Steven E., Jefferson Davis and His Generals: The Failure of Confederate Command in the West, University Press of Kansas, 1990, ISBN 0-7006-0461-8.
  • Bragg, Texas, Handbook of Texas Online

Notes

Further reading

  • Daniel, Larry J., Soldiering in the Army of Tennessee: A Portrait of Life in a Confederate Army, University of North Carolina Press, 1991, ISBN 0-8078-5552-9.
  • McDonough, James Lee, Stones River: Bloody Winter In Tennessee, University of Tennessee Press, 1980, ISBN 0-87049-373-6.
  • Noe, Kenneth W., Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle, University Press of Kentucky, 2001, ISBN 978-0-8131-2209-0.

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