The Official Braxton Bragg Defense Thread

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#1
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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#2
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.
 
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#3
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.
 
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#4
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
 
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#5
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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#6
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!
 
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#7
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.
 



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