Braxton Bragg

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Braxton Bragg
Braxtonbragg.jpg
American Civil War
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Rank General, CSA
Born March 22, 1817
Place of birth Warrenton, North Carolina
Died September 27, 1876
Place of death Galveston, Texas
Battles engaged in Shiloh
Perryville
Stones River
Chickamauga
Chattanooga


Braxton Bragg (born March 22, 1817, died September 27, 1876) was a Confederate general during the American Civil War.

Contents

Military education and service

Braxton Bragg was born in Warrenton, North Carolina. He joined West Point, graduating fifth in a class of 50 in 1837. Bragg was commissioned a second lieutenant in the US Army, serving in the 3rd Artillery. In the Second Seminole War, his unit was deployed to Florida as infantry, with Bragg commanding the army post at St. Augustine. Bragg served with distinction in the Mexican War, gaining a promotion to captain and brevet promotions to lieutenant colonel. His effort at the battle of Buena Vista saved Jefferson Davis' regiment, earnig Bragg Davis' friendship.

Bragg resigned from the Army in 1856 and became a planter in Louisiana.

Civil War

Pensacola to Shiloh

Bragg was a colonel in the Louisiana militia at the outbreak of the civil war. In February 1961, he was promoted to major general and became the highest-ranking officer in the state forces. By early march, he was commissioned a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army instead. Bragg was sent to Pensacola, Florida, and became commander of the District of West Florida. He was promoted to major general on September 12, 1861, and his command was upgraded to include Alabama. He spent most of his time drilling his troops, making them some of the best-trained in the Confederacy.

When Albert S. Johnston prepared to repel the Union incursions on the Tennessee River in early 1862, Bragg and two divisions of his troops were ordered to Corinth, Mississippi as reinforcements, where Bragg was engaged in instilling some discipline into the forces already assembled. He took part in the Battle of Shiloh on April 6-7, 1962, commanding the first wave of Confederate troops. When Johnston died at Shiloh and P. G. T. Beauregard, the second-in-command, took a leave of absence for medical reasons a few weeks later, Bragg was promoted to full general and placed in command of the army in June 1862, which would become famous as the Army of Tennessee.

Kentucky Campaign

Kentucky had been a border state with strong pro-Confederate sentiments. At the outbreak of hostilities it had tried to remain neutral, but the neutrality had been violated by Confederate general Leonidas Polk's occupation of Columbus, quickly followed by Ulysses S. Grant's Union occupation of Paducah. Kentucky's pro-Union legislature had used Polk's actions as a pretext to end neutrality and declare allegiance to the Union. Yet when Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan returned from Kentucky after a July 1962 raid, he reported pro-Confederate enthusiasm.

Bragg decided to invade Kentucky with his army for several reasons. On the one hand, he hoped to recruit thousands of Kentuckians. For this purpose, his army would carry along an arsenal of spare muskets. On the other hand, he might catch his Union opponent Don Carlos Buell, commander of the Department of the Ohio, south of the Ohio river, cut his lines of supply, and force a battle under favourable circumstances.

In preparation, Bragg moved his army from Tupelo, Mississippi to Chattanooga, Tennessee, transporting his infantry by rail. He left behind two detachments under Sterling Price and Earl Van Dorn tasked with opposing Union efforts in east Mississippi, but without unified command. For his Kentucky campaign, he secured the cooperation of Edmund Kirby Smith, commander of the Department of East Tennessee, who would lead a second column of Confederate troops from Knoxville through Cumberland Gap, one of the few passes through the Cumberland Mountains.

President Davis had urged Bragg and Smith to cooperate, and Bragg ranked Smith, but there was no unified command structure; Smith would report directly to Davis and would only fall under Bragg's command when Bragg's and Smith's forces combined.

When Bragg advanced in August 1862 he enjoyed initial success, capturing 4,000 Union soldiers at Mumfordville and cutting Buell's line of supply; yet when Buell's army arrived in the vicinity, Bragg's supply situation turned out to be even worse. Meanwhile Smith had deviated from the plan and, instead of joining Bragg, had advanced deep into central Kentucky. Thus, Bragg moved from Mumfordville towards Smith in central Kentucky, with Buell in pursuit.

By early October Bragg was close to Smith's army and Kentucky's capital of Frankfort, where Richard Harris was to be installed as Confederate governor of Kentucky. The inauguration took place at Frankfort on October 4. Bragg decided to attend and left his own army under the command of Leonidas Polk.

By October 7, the Union forces were close to the Confederate army at Perryville, south of Frankfort. Buell's army outnumbered the Confederates more than two to one but included many green recruits.

Bragg had been deceived by a Union detachment which he took for Buell's main effort. He therefore ordered Polk to attack what Bragg assumed to be a small Union force at Perryville and then hurry to Frankfort to unite Bragg's army with Smith's for a combined effort against Buell. On October 8, Polk failed to attack until Bragg himself arrived, took command and started the Battle of Perryville. Bragg misjudged the Union position and was unaware of the location of several nearby Union corps, but Union passivity allowed Bragg to concentrate his entire army against a single corps, resulting in a tactical victory.

Smith urged Bragg to renew the fight with their combined armies. But by then Bragg's hope for Kentucky recruits had proved idle, his supply situation became worse, and he had received reports of the defeats of his detachments under Price and Van Dorn at Corinth and of the failure of Robert E. Lee's Maryland campaign at Antietam. Therefore Bragg believed that an isolated victory would provide few benefits, while a defeat or even too long a stay in Kentucky might endanger his entire army. Thus, he retreated towards Knoxville.

This retread sapped Confederate morale and led to dissension among Bragg's subordinates, many of whom (especially those from Kentucky, but also Polk and Hardee) blamed Bragg for the campaign's failure. Bragg was recalled to the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, where he explained his conduct and was retained in command.

Middle Tennessee

From Knoxville, Bragg moved his army west through Chattanooga to the vicinity of Murfreesboro, Tennesse, and took up a defensive position along Stones River. By Novermber 20, Smith's army permanently became a part of Bragg's command, which was officially renamed the Army of Tennessee. In December, Bragg was ordered by President Davis to detach a division of 7,500 men to Mississippi. Bragg reorganized his army into two corps under Polk and Hardee, while Smith was transferred to the Trans-Mississippi Department. Also under Bragg's command were cavalry units under Joseph Wheeler, John Hunt Morgan and Nathan Bedford Forrest. Morgan and Forrest were dispatched on strategic raids and did not participate in the upcoming campaign.

Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln had tired with Buell's slowness and relieved him for William S. Rosecrans who was tasket with liberating East Tennessee, where pro-Union sentiment was strong. Rosecrans was a perfectionist and, despite increasing pressure from Washington, did not begin his move until December 26, using the delay to train and equip his forces and secure abundant supplies.

By December 30, 1862, Rosecrans' army had arrived at Stones River. Battle was joined on December 31. Bragg managed to strike first, dealing the Union army a heavy blow but not routing it. The following day Wheeler, who operated in Rosecrans' back, observed transports of injured Union soldiers under heavy escorts and reported the movement to Bragg as a retreat by Rosecrans. Thus, Bragg felt the victor and was content to let Rosecrans retreat. In the afternoon of January 2, Bragg ordered a division-sized attack against the Union right flank, separated from the rest of the Union army by Stones River. Union artillery inflicted heavy casualties on the attackers who were driven back by a Union counterattack.

When Rosecrans didn't retret but was reinforced by a brigade, Bragg concluded that Rosecrans would be reinforced even further while he could not expect any help. Therefore, Bragg decided to retreat from Murfreesboro although the battle had been a tactical draw. He took up a new position north of Tullahoma, 30 miles to the south of Murfreesboro.

Bragg's retreat was highly controversial. His subordinates once again campaigned for Bragg's dismissal. But Joseph E. Johnston, the Confederate theater commander, supported Bragg, and Davis could not find a better replacement. Thus, Bragg was kept in command.

Rosecrans again spent lots of time resupplying and training his army. While Washington was anxious to see some move towards a liberation of East Tennessee, Rosecrans stalled, requested more reinforcements and more supplies, and generally brought his army to a near-perfect state of readiness. This preparation would pay off when he began to move on June 23, 1863.

Rosecrans' position at Murfreesboro and Bragg's new position near Tullahoma were separated by a range of hills that could be crossed by an army only at a few gaps. Bragg had sent out his cavalry under Wheeler and Forrest to keep him informed of the Union movements while his infantry waited south of the gaps, ready to concentrate when the Union route became clear. But Bragg was deceived by a feint on Rosecrans' right while his cavalry screen was scattered by mounted infantry armed with the new Spencer repeating rifles without informing their superiors of Rosecrans' advance. Thus, Rosecrans was able to capture several gaps against weak Confederate resistance. On June 26, Bragg had caught up with events and ordered Polk to advance to the north of the hills and attack Rosecrans from behind, while Hardee would threaten the Union front. But Polk objected and claimed he could not cover the required distance in time; thus the planned counterattack was canceled. Worse, Hardee, who had lost all confidence in Bragg and considered victory under Bragg's leadership impossible, decided to save the army from defeat by retreating without awaiting Bragg's orders. Bragg was forced to order a general retreat towards Tullahoma on June 27. On July 1 Polk, who had become concerned for the army's communications after a Union raid by mounted infantry, urged Bragg to retreat from the Tullahoma position. Hardee was no encouragement, and so Bragg decided to retreat further south towards Chattanooga. Rosecrans had planned to assault the Confederate fortifications at Tullahoma on July 2; such frontal attacks usually were costly failures, but due to his retreat Bragg missed the opportunity. On July 4, the Confederate army crossed the Tennessee River.

At Tullahoma Rosecrans paused and refitted his army, assembling enough supplies for an extended campaign south of the Tennessee. He resumed the offensive in August, when he sent his army in several colums across the Cumberland Plateau towards the Tennessee river.

Again Bragg was deceived by a feint of Rosecrans and believed that Rosecrans planned to cross the Tennessee River above Chattanooga when Rosecrans really assembled most of his army downriver. By September 4, most of Rosecrans' army had crossed the Tennessee unopposed. By then, the Confederate high command had become concerned about Bragg's situations, and reinforcements from Mississippi and a detachment from Lee's Army of Northern Virginia under James Longstreet were dispatched to Bragg.

Bragg's army was camped just 20 miles south of Chattanooga, and Bragg intended to defeat Rosecrans' isolated corps in detail. He deliberately sent "deserters" to Rosecrans telling of low Confederate morale and impending retreat. Rosecrans believed these accounts and continued to advance in widely separated columns, with the most extended parts of his army 40 miles apart - farther away from each other than from Bragg's army. Bragg saw a chance to strike on September 10 when a Union division of George H. Thomas' XIV corps entered McLemore's Cove. He ordered two divisions of Polk's corps to attack, one in front and another in the northern flank. Thus, the Union division was to be driven south, separated even further from possible Union reinforcements, and destroyed or captured. But Bragg's divisional commanders stalled and asked for reinforcements despite outnumbering the Union forces. Bragg sent two more divisions to join the flank attack, achieving a 3:1 numerical superiority. Attack was still delayed until a division of Union reinforcements arrived on September 11, allowing a Union retreat east and saving the lone division from defeat.

When Rosecrans became aware of Bragg's presence, he hastily began to concentrate his forces, marching north towards Chattanooga. Bragg also marched north on parallel roads, east of Rosecrans. On September 13 he once more tried to strike at a separated part of Rosecrans' army but was hampered by his subordinates when Polk failed to attack as ordered.

By September 17, the Union corps were concentrated and no longer prone to defeat in detail. But Bragg's reinforcements from Mississippia and Virginia were closeby, and Bragg decided to try and get north of Rosecrans, cut him off from Chattanooga and again drive him south into McLemore's Cove. Skirmishing began on September 18 when the Confederates crossed Chickamauga Creek. On September 19, battle was joined when Union and Confederate columns blundered into each other in the heavily wooded terrain. The Union left flank extended farther north than Bragg believed. Fighting was confused. Both sides sent massive reinforcements, but neither had a clear idea of the enemy's position. Thus, a series of attacks and counterattacks amounted to a push-and-shove match without a clear victor.

Bragg still planned to push Rosecrans south to cut him off from his supply base at Chattanooga. On the evening of September 19, Longstreet arrived on the battlefield. His presence compelled Bragg to reorganize his army into two wings, the right under Polk and the left under Longstreet. Polk was ordered to renew combat on September 20 with a "day-dawn" attack on the Union's northern flank. Combat was to be extended down the line en echelon: When the northernmost Union units crumbled, the next in line would be attacked both in front and in flank until it gave way, and so on.

Rosecrans had become aware of the threat to his northern flank, which was commanded by Thomas. He sent heavy reinforcements north and prepared to fight while shifting more and more of his army in that direction.

Meanwhile, Confederate orders had been delayed. Polk's wing was not ready by daybreak, and the northernmost Confederate corps commander was not informed that he was to attack until 6 a.m. Attack was delayed even further because the Confederate troops were not properly aligned, had not had breakfast and had not scouted the Union position. The attack finally began by 9:30, but in the meantime the Union forces in that sector had received further reinforcements, and they had constructed field fortifications. Thus, the attack failed, and the entire Confederate right wing was fought to a standstill by noon. Meanwhile the left wing under Longstreet attacked. Due to mistaken orders, a gap in the Union line had been created just at the point of attack. Several Confederate divisions exploited this gap and began to unravel the Union's line to both sides, routing all opposition. The entire southern half of the Union army, including Rosecrans himself, was put to flight, but because the northern half under Thomas had held, they could retreat north towards Chattanooga.

Thomas' four divisions retreated after dark. Bragg did not mount a vigorous pursuit; he had not realized the magnitude of his victory, and his own army, parts of which had arrived by rail without their wagon trains, needed some reorganization. When the Union army had retreated to Chattanooga, Bragg followed, but lacked the capacity to cross the Tennessee River. Thus, Bragg decided to besiege the Union forces whose supply situation was dire.

On September 29, Bragg rid himself of some of his unreliable subordinates. He relieved Polk and Thomas C. Hindman, the division commander that had failed to attack at McLemore's Cove. On October 4, twelve of Bragg's senior subordinates sent a petition to President Davis to have Bragg removed. Davis inspected the Army of Tennessee in person , and Bragg offered to resign, but Davis retained Bragg in command. Bragg retaliated by dismissing some more of his subordinates and by reorganizing his divisions to break up cliques.

Meanwhile, the Union high command was rushing reinforcements towards Chattanooga. Joseph Hooker's corps of the Army of the Potomac was dispatched immediately after the battle of Chickamauga. Ulysses S. Grant was ordered to send 20,000 men under William T. Sherman, and on September 29, Grant was ordered to Chattanooga himself as supreme commander of all Union forces between the Appalachies and the Mississippi, with authority to relieve Rosecrans and appoint Thomas in his stead. Grant arrived on October 23 and immediately began to improve the supply situation which had become desperate. Bragg became aware of Hooker's corps arriving in the vicinity of his left flank and ordered Longstreet to strengthen that position, but his order was ignored. When Union forces crossed the Tennessee to open a new supply line, Bragg ordered Longstreet to counterattack, but Longstreet delayed and instead chose to launch a night attack on Hooker's troops, resulting in the Battle of Wauhatchie. Confederate forces were insufficient, and despite some initial surprise, they failed to achieve anything.

Bragg, disgusted by Longstreet's performance, detached Longstreet's corps on November 5 to deal with the Union forces under Ambrose Burnside at Knoxville, thus ridding himself of another disappointing subordinate but also weakening his army by about 5,000 men.

Meanwhile, the Union supply situation had improved , Sherman's troops had arrived in the vicinity, and Grant began to plan a battle to drive off Bragg's army. Bragg had taken positions on Lookout Mountain southwest of Chattanooga, and on Missionary Ridge to the southeast. The Union attack began in the west, with Hooker attacking the Confederates on Lookout Mountain in the Battle Above the Clouds on November 24. Bragg withdrew his forces in the night.

On November 25, Grant had planned a double envelopment: Sherman was to attack the Confederate right, Hooker, whose forces were separated from the Confederates by Chattanooga Creek, to attack the left. Thomas was to hold the center, attacking only when the Confederate troops began to crumble. Hooker was supposed to be just a diversion; the attack by Sherman's fresh divisions was the main effort. But determined Confederate resistance stalled Sherman's attacks along Missionary Ridge. Thus, Grant ordered Thomas to advance. Neither Grant not Thomas expected a frontal assault to be successful, but Thomas' troops rushed forward, driving the Confederates from their positions, overrunning Missionary Ridge and putting the Confederate army to flight. Bragg attempted to personally rally his army, but was unsuccessful.

Bragg was blamed for this defeat because the Confederate positions had been selected badly. The Confederates were posted in two lines, with the first line ordered to skirmish and to retreat to the main line if faced with a determined assault. This retreat served as cover for the Union assault on the main line, which could not fire for fear of hitting their retreating comrades. Also, the main line had been posted on the crest of the ridge, and defiles gave further cover to the advancing Union soldiers.

At night, Bragg ordered his beaten army to retreat to Dalton, Georgia. Bragg first tried to blame the defeat on drunkenness by one of his subordinates, but on December 1 he resigned from command.

Presidential advisor and end of war

In February 1864, Bragg was ordered to Richmond as military advisor to the President, a position vacant since Lee had become commander of the Army of Northern Virginia. There, Bragg could put his organizational skills to good use and improved the Confederate supply system. He was ordered to several defensive commands, including at Wilmington, North Carolina, Augusta, Georgia, Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina. In January 1865, he lost the second Battle of Fort Fisher and the city of Wilmington, but extracted his forces. He went on to serve as a corps commander under Joseph E. Johnston in the Carolinas campaign. When Johnston surrendered to Sherman on April 26, Bragg instead accompanied President Davis on his flight to Georgia.

Post-Civil War career

After the war Bragg took several jobs in public engineering: As superintendent of the New Orleans waterworks, as chief engineer for Alabama and as a railroad inspector in Texas. He died in Galveston, Texas, on September 27, 1876.

Assessment

Bragg was known to his contemporaries as a strict disciplinarian, but also as an irritable person, with Grant recalling a pre-Civil War anecdote where Bragg, after quarreling "with every officer in the army", even managed to get into a quarrel with himself. Worse, Bragg was quite outspoken about his negative opinion of others, making him unpopular with his subordinates and contributing to a breakdown of personal relations.

His record as a general was decidedly mixed; he was unable to get along with other senior officers or delegate authority; he spent far too much time on drill, details, and minutia. Worse, he routinely failed to exploit the victories he won, and tended to retreat after a draw. At Chattanooga he suffered a major defeat. On the other hand, his strategic plans mostly were adequate or even inspired, but the execution was often handicapped by Bragg's subordinates, and unlike Robert E. Lee, Bragg would not be allowed a free hand at choosing them.

President Jefferson Davis retained such generals as Bragg and P. G. T. Beauregard long after they demonstrated incompetence in leading the Army of Tennessee, an error in judgment costly to the Confederacy.

Further reading

  • McWhiney, Grady. Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat (2 vol 1991) 440 pp., 298pp. Standard scholarly history; by a conservative historian
  • Woodworth, Steven E., Six Armies in Tennessee: The Chickamauga and Chattanooga Campaigns, University of Nebraska Press, 1998. Takes a rather positive view of Bragg's performance.
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