The Official Braxton Bragg Defense Thread

OldReliable1862

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Braxton Bragg. For Civil War buffs, the name usually creates an image of an irritable, spiteful man kept in high command solely due to Davis' favor. But how much of this is really the case? This thread is meant to serve as a place to make reasonable defenses of aspects of Bragg's career. Similar to McClellan, many critics of Bragg cite his personal flaws, so I think that should be fair game as well.

To get things started, I'd like to deal with the executions. Bragg has become infamous for the supposed numerous executions of soldiers for trivial reasons. However, one of the most frequently cited stories isn't what I expected it to be at all. Quoting from Earl J. Hess' Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy:

"An incident happened on the march that marred Bragg's reputation forever. Beauregard issued strict orders not to fire a gun during the evacuation, and in his determination to stop violations of it Bragg went too far. Because several rumors took the place of accurate reports, exactly what happened has long remained obscure. According to some versions, a Rebel soldier shot at a chicken and instead hit a black child, but another version identified the victim as a man rather than a child. In some stories Bragg executed the soldier for killing an innocent civilian rather than for shooting an animal. Another variation had it that the man tried to steal roasting ears of corn. As rumors circulated through the army and made their way into civilian society, Bragg's name became a household word associated with executing Confederate soldiers for trivial reasons in the perspective of many Southerners.

Fortunately Giles Buckner Cooke provided reliable evidence to lay bare these stories. As a member of Bragg's staff during the retreat from Corinth, he was well placed to see and hear everything that happened at army headquarters. On May 30, the day after pulling away from the town, a guard brought a soldier he had arrested to Bragg's headquarters and accused him of shooting a hog. The man, whom Cooke refused to identify by name in his diary, belonged to Charles L. Lumsden's Alabama battery, attached to James R. Chalmers's brigade of Jones Withers's Division. The accused said his battery had joined the army only a couple of weeks before, and he knew nothing of the order that prohibited the firing of weapons. "Gen. Bragg - after hearing all he had to say - decided that it was stealing besides disobeying orders, and ordered the man who brought the accusation against him - to take him out and shoot him." The accused understandably became desperate. "I didn't know that it was [against orders]-Have mercy on me - Oh: Gen. please don't shoot me!" he cried.

Cooke overheard everything and was shocked. He made arrangements for Withers to see Bragg and intercede for the man, but Withers did not make a strong case for clemency even though, according to Cooke's interpretation of what Withers said, the division commander favored the killing of the hog. So Cooke had to think of something else to save the man. He persuaded Bragg to postpose the execution until the battery commander could be located. Cooke delivered the message personally, "got there in time to save him and delivered the order." Then Cooke found and took an officer of the battery to see Bragg. The general questioned him minutely concerning the accused man's character. Once the officer promised to take charge of him and make sure he obeyed orders, Bragg released the accused to the officer's custody. Cooke assumed he would be tried by a court-martial and probably acquitted. The staff officer understandably concluded he had saved the poor man's life.

Cooke wrote a brief, unpublished memoir of his service in the West that provided a slightly different version of the details in this story. He recalled that Bragg was "sitting up against a tree in the woods" when the man was brought to him and that the accused was "almost in a state of collapse" as he was led away to be executed. Cooke saw that the soldiers who were within hearing of the proceedings were reacting very badly. He said to another staff member, "if this man is shot it is the uprooting of Christianity." Cooke was not certain if Bragg heard this remark, but the general called Cooke immediately after and told him to countermand the order."
 
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Luke Freet

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He had his moments of brilliance, such as at the last day of Chickamauga, where his plan, if it had been executed as designed and not Fowler up by Hill and Polk's delay, would have rolled up the entire Army of the Cumberland and scatter them into McLemore's Cove as planned.
However, beyond that mere surface reading, he doesn't hold much regard in my mind.
To be a leader is more than being good at what you do. You have to be diplomatic, you have to have a sense of personal integrity. Bragg lacked both. After Stones River, Bragg found a southern newspaper (I believe it was from a Memphis paper) chastising him and his abilities as a commander. What a good commander, or even a sound person, would do is compartmentalize the criticism or just ignore it. Bragg instead decided to write his subordinates asking them to write a rebuttal to this slanderous article. His ego was bruised and he asked his subordinates to help him heal that bruise, instead of dealing with it himself. Its no wonder that Hardee, Polk, and nearly every division commander signed a letter of no confidence and mailed it to Davis.
Apologies for continuing the hate train in this discussion thread, but we might forget why he became so hated.
 

Saruman

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Bragg was a poor tactician and favored frontal assaults. After Shiloh, he always remained at the rear of the battlefield and wasn't in any position to respond to the changing situation at the front.

"Except for Shiloh, Bragg usually remained in the rear during a battle. This, he said, made him readily accessible to all of his generals at the front. It also relieved him of seeing his men bleed and die. And it prevented Bragg from knowing what was taking place. Word regarding the ebb and flow of the combat came far too late for him to make timely decisions, especially at Murfreesboro, Tullahoma, and Chickamauga. He was essentially a non-participant in these engagements."
- General Braxton Bragg, CSA, by Samuel Martin
 

Saruman

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Bragg's mother was also irritable...

"One day when she was in town, a free black youth made an impertinent remark to [Bragg's mother]. Infuriated by his insolent behavior, she pulled a small pistol out of her purse, shot, and killed him."
- General Braxton Bragg, CSA, by Samuel Martin
 
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I am trying to a do an honest re-assessment of the man myself. I would rank him ahead of Beauregard and Joe Johnston, both of whom were even more difficult to deal with. At least Bragg was aggressive and fought hard. The more I read about Confederate high command in the West, the more sympathy I feel for the poor average soldier. Polk was horrible, Hardee was mediocre, Pemberton was way over his head...And I haven't even mentioned Pillow and Floyd!
 

OldReliable1862

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I am trying to a do an honest re-assessment of the man myself. I would rank him ahead of Beauregard and Joe Johnston, both of whom were even more difficult to deal with. At least Bragg was aggressive and fought hard. The more I read about Confederate high command in the West, the more sympathy I feel for the poor average soldier. Polk was horrible, Hardee was mediocre, Pemberton was way over his head...And I haven't even mentioned Pillow and Floyd!
Though this thread is focused upon Bragg, I would posit Hardee's attack at Murfreesboro rivals Jackson's flank attack at Chancellorsville. His performace was quite good in the Atlanta Campaign, but I think Johnston's replacement with Hood affected him for the worse.
 

Henry Hunt

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Good thread. Agree with @Lt R. Blackwell 4th Texas points. Despite any personality faults Bragg looks like a better choice than Beauregard or Johnston. At Stones River he nearly pulled off a great victory. I can only imagine what would have happened had Carter Stevenson and his ten thousand men not been sent to Pemberton. Rosecrans would have been in even more trouble...
 
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Greywolf

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The only defense I can provide for General Braxton Bragg is................In my opinion he was better than General retreat Joe Johnston.

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William

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Disagree, Braggs performance at Chatanooga was far and away one of the worst commanding General performances of the war. He deserved sacking over it and it put the next commander in a perilous situation.
 

W. Richardson

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Disagree, Braggs performance at Chatanooga was far and away one of the worst commanding General performances of the war. He deserved sacking over it and it put the next commander in a perilous situation.
I do concur with you that Bragg's performance at Chattanooga was one of the worst in the war.

Had Joe Johnston not been wounded in 1862 and replace first by General Smith and then by General Lee, it is possible there would have been no battle of Chattanooga. Johnston had retreated all the way back to the steps of Richmond to await a devastating blow by McClellan. Johnston had no where else to retreat to without surrounding the city, which would probably have led to the collapse and surrender of the Confederacy.

Had that happen, that, and not Bragg's Chattanooga, would have been the worst performance of the war, a very short war.

However, I am talking opinions and speculation. Chattanooga did happen and can be claimed the worst performance of the war.

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William

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Henry Hunt

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Had Joe Johnston not been wounded in 1862 and replace first by General Smith and then by General Lee, it is possible there would have been no battle of Chattanooga. Johnston had retreated all the way back to the steps of Richmond to await a devastating blow by McClellan. Johnston had no where else to retreat to without surrounding the city, which would probably have led to the collapse and surrender of the Confederacy.
Though Johnston did organize the counter attack at Fair Oaks. He correctly recognized that Keyes Corps was isolated with its flanks in the air and moved to take advantage of it. Had Longstreet and Huger not gotten their routes confused they would have likely destroyed Keyes Corps. Would Johnston not have attempted more such attacks if opportunities presented themselves?
 

Jamieva

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Bragg was a fighter. His Kentucky campaign showed signs of brilliance. At Stones River, Rosecrans came at him with a 2 to 1 advantage and Bragg attacked. His battlefield tactics were aggressive and sound. Unfortunately Bragg suffered from a personality deficit disorder. In other words, he was a jerk.
I have never seen anything to suggest that bragg was outnumbered 2 to 1 at Stones River. In fact they were numerically neutral from what I have read. Would be interested to see the numbers to back up a 2 to 1 assertion.
 

Greywolf

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Is there anything to say in Bragg's defense at the Battle of Fort Fisher? From what I've read it seems as though his inaction in deploying reserves from Wilmington cost Whiting and Lamb the fort.
I have read, but cant remember where, that Braggs decision at Ft. Fisher was due to the exposure to Union fire that the reinforcements would have to get through to get to the fort. That area isn't that wide, may have been a bit different in 1864, not sure, but with the union armada and troops, it would have been tough. I know Whiting was not happy at all with Bragg.
 

Rebelsoul

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Just got done reading Army of the heartland and Autumn of glory histories of the Army of Tennessee. Great reads ! Never liked Bragg too much but after reading these books I can see why it was so difficult for him to get anything done. Between having to beg Richmond for everything, all the backstabbing and infighting by the likes of Polk, Kirby Smith, Hardee and quiet a few others no wonder nothing was accomplished ! It seems like they spent more time fighting each other than they did the Yankees ! Still don't like the man but now I understand his problems and obstacles better.
 

Greywolf

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Though Johnston did organize the counter attack at Fair Oaks. He correctly recognized that Keyes Corps was isolated with its flanks in the air and moved to take advantage of it. Had Longstreet and Huger not gotten their routes confused they would have likely destroyed Keyes Corps. Would Johnston not have attempted more such attacks if opportunities presented themselves?
I've always thought it wasnt that Johnston wouldn't fight, it was he was looking for the perfect plan at the perfect time. As you mention his plan there, he was waiting for the right moment. Some see it as purely retreating with no gumption to fight. Essentially he was concentrating his forces while waiting for McClellan to make a mistake. Same thing he did at Bentonville and same thing he waS planning at Peachtree before being sacked. Let's not forget Cassville either, until Hood got cold feet
 

W. Richardson

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Though Johnston did organize the counter attack at Fair Oaks. He correctly recognized that Keyes Corps was isolated with its flanks in the air and moved to take advantage of it. Had Longstreet and Huger not gotten their routes confused they would have likely destroyed Keyes Corps. Would Johnston not have attempted more such attacks if opportunities presented themselves?
I would think and hope he would, but would another situation such as that appear? Johnston had moments of offense, but everything just about had to be perfect. His idea of giving up territory for time, in hopes of receiving a very favorable opportunity to attack, such as you stated, is a good strategy to a point. Johnston ended up with his back to the Confederate Capital, and a much larger force as his opponent. I think the best thing to happen to Johnston at that time, was that he was facing McClellan.

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William

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I have read, but cant remember where, that Braggs decision at Ft. Fisher was due to the exposure to Union fire that the reinforcements would have to get through to get to the fort. That area isn't that wide, may have been a bit different in 1864, not sure, but with the union armada and troops, it would have been tough. I know Whiting was not happy at all with Bragg.
I believe that was his justification too, it's been a little while for me and I've only read one book on it Confederate Goliath which certainly insinuated Bragg deserved the brunt of the blame. If I recall the account the book gave it made it seem as though the navy would have likely had to mute their guns had he sent in the reserves simply on account that had the fighting got thick enough they wouldn't have been able to shell the rebels without hitting their own men. Regardless I'm sympathetic to Whiting, he and Lamb and just about everyone else but Bragg saw the writing on the wall that Fort Fisher was Wilmington. Albeit I truly wonder what the best that could have been hoped for was in that situation. Even if the second union expedition to take the fort had failed it does seem as though the willpower was there in the government to take the fort one way or another, even if it meant mounting a third Fort Fisher expedition
 


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