Discussion Worse Than I Thought, Failure of Confederate Leadership in the West

Pete Longstreet

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Most of the blame falls onto Bragg, which is rightfully so. Bragg rarely took his subordinates opinions into account and just ordered his plans executed, regardless of what many of them said or wanted. When Davis went to Tennessee to meet with the subordinates, they all wanted Bragg removed. Davis offered Longstreet command, he declined. Then Davis offered Hardee command, he declined. It was a complete breakdown of leadership. Several generals think Bragg is inept, yet they refuse to take over. Davis has no confidence in Joe Johnston, and leaves Bragg in command. Davis was unable to find a new commander out of the entire western theater, which shows it lacked men of leadership quality... so he leaves Bragg in command. It was a complete failure of leadership from top to bottom..
 

Piedone

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I deem it most understandable that no one was eager to succeed Bragg. Given all the disadvantages and shortcomings the Confederates faced in the western theatre everybody surely knew that there were absolutely no laurels to win....
 

Rhea Cole

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Pete Longstreet has raised a good point. In Tullahomam, The Forgotten Campaign That Changed the Course of the Civil War June 23-July 4, 1863. Powell & Wittenberg document the fact that Bragg did not communicate any plans to his corps commanders. One of my "It was worse than I thought!" moments was that Bragg & Polk's HQs were in Shelbyville where they socialized, went to church & attended reviews regularly. During the winter & spring Bragg did not share his intentions & Polk did not ask what they were. I don't know how many times the phrase, "...if his subordinates had only carried out Bragg's plans..." has appeared in comments on CWT threads. My summer reading coupled with returning to Autumn of Glory has brought me to the realization that Bragg did not plan. He only issued ad hoc orders. At least Johnson did have a perfect plan... when he wrote his memoirs ten years later, anyways.
 
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Rhea Cole

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I deem it most understandable that no one was eager to succeed Bragg. Given all the disadvantages and shortcomings the Confederates faced in the western theatre everybody surely knew that there were absolutely no laurels to win....
There was also the problem that it was always the same "them." Unlike the constellation of new men who rose through the command ranks in the Union army, the cohort of CS major generals was static.
 

Piedone

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So they all put themselves ahead of the cause they were fighting for.
I don‘t think so - I just think nobody wanted to take the responsibility of taking the supreme command. The battle of Franklin showed how many were willed to give their lives... But the dire situation proves IMO how outstanding Joe Johnston did. To achieve more in the west
was probable out of the question - a thing the public and Jeff Davis never understood...
 

Rhea Cole

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So they all put themselves ahead of the cause they were fighting for.
It was a filiopietistic society. Slaveholding fostered an extraordinary species of self aggrandizement. They really did believe that God had made them a superior breed of human being. Elite Southern men remind me more of 13 year old boys playing at being men than anything else.
 

jackt62

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It seems that the western Confederate leadership did everything it could to ensure failure. I have lately been reading about Longstreet and Bragg during the Chattanooga campaign. To get him out of sight and mind (ostensibly however to engage Burnside and get Longstreet back to the ANV) Bragg sent Longstreet and his 2 divisions to Knoxville, despite the fact that the additional manpower would have been more useful to Bragg during Grant's November offensive at Chattanooga.
 

Rhea Cole

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It seems that the western Confederate leadership did everything it could to ensure failure. I have lately been reading about Longstreet and Bragg during the Chattanooga campaign. To get him out of sight and mind (ostensibly however to engage Burnside and get Longstreet back to the ANV) Bragg sent Longstreet and his 2 divisions to Knoxville, despite the fact that the additional manpower would have been more useful to Bragg during Grant's November offensive at Chattanooga.
Lee had an interesting rethink. Upon sober reflexion his opinion was that sending Longstreet directly to Knoxville would have been the best way to go. With 20-20 hindsight, that is a reasonable alternative.
 

Joshism

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My summer reading coupled with returning to Autumn of Glory has brought me to the realization that Bragg did not plan. He only issued ad hoc orders.

Bragg had a plan at Stones River and several plans at Chickamauga.

He clearly didn't have much of a clue at Chattanooga and may not have planned in 1863 what to do when Rosecrans moved against him.

I get the impression planning was often sorely lacking in the ACW. Too little staff, too little training, not enough command experience, not enough knowledge of the topography, not many generals who understood the idea of contigency planning.

Unlike the constellation of new men who rose through the command ranks in the Union army, the cohort of CS major generals was static.

Tennessee was remarkably static. Hardee was a corps commander from Shiloh to in the AOT until the fall of Atlanta, except Chickamauga. Polk was a corps commander from Shiloh until losing his head in the Atlanta Campaign, except Chattanooga. But the Union wasn't much better. McCook and Crittenden, two very mediocre generals, were corps commanders from the Kentucky Campaign until the fallout from Chickamauga.

I just think nobody wanted to take the responsibility of taking the supreme command.

Those who shirk responsibility don't deserve it.
 

Rhea Cole

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Bragg had a plan at Stones River and several plans at Chickamauga.

He clearly didn't have much of a clue at Chattanooga and may not have planned in 1863 what to do when Rosecrans moved against him.

I get the impression planning was often sorely lacking in the ACW. Too little staff, too little training, not enough command experience, not enough knowledge of the topography, not many generals who understood the idea of contigency planning.



Tennessee was remarkably static. Hardee was a corps commander from Shiloh to in the AOT until the fall of Atlanta, except Chickamauga. Polk was a corps commander from Shiloh until losing his head in the Atlanta Campaign, except Chattanooga. But the Union wasn't much better. McCook and Crittenden, two very mediocre generals, were corps commanders from the Kentucky Campaign until the fallout from Chickamauga.



Those who shirk responsibility don't deserve it.
Bragg did have a plan during the weeks leading up to the Battle of Stones River... He was convinced by Morgan et al that the 14th Army Corps in in Nashville was starving & would have to retreat w/o a fight. Bragg spent hours planning the triumphant parade into Nashville. When the telegrapher at Stewart’s Creek, ten miles from Murfreesboro, alerted Bragg’s HQ that Rosecrans had sallied from Nashville, there was no plan of any kind in existence. The cluelessness that Bragg displayed on January 1& 2 January 1863 left Bragg with no option but retreat.

No Better Place to Die & Army of the Heartland are sources that explicitly reveal the death of planning by Bragg.
 

Jamieva

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Bragg had a plan at Chickamauga. He actually had a really good one, but he could not get his subordinates to do what he ordered, specifically DH Hill and Polk. Polk was a multiple time offender of receiving an order from Bragg and then deciding not to follow it.
 

jackt62

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Lee had an interesting rethink. Upon sober reflexion his opinion was that sending Longstreet directly to Knoxville would have been the best way to go. With 20-20 hindsight, that is a reasonable alternative.

I find compelling, the tension between those two men on the ongoing issue of Longstreet's desire to seek independent command away from the ANV, and Lee's efforts to retain the entirety of the ANV in Virginia. Some of that was Longstreet's need to be his "own man" outside of Lee's sphere, and part of it was Longstreet's identification with the "Western Concentration" of political and military leaders who believed that reinforcing the Confederate forces in the west was an important objective. But once again, the lack of a strong hand to oversee and impose a uniform Confederate strategy on a national basis was a sure recipe for failure.
 

Eric Wittenberg

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I often say that the high command of the Army of Tennessee put the fun in dysfunctional. The inability of the army commander to work with--even get along with--his subordinates, who often worked against him and in their own interests, made the disaster in the West inevitable. Jefferson Davis must bear the brunt of the blame for keeping Bragg in command for as long as he did, but that also raises the important question of if not Bragg, then who? Beauregard's health was suspect and he couldn't get along with Davis. Johnston was ordered to take command and refused to do so, and he also didn't get along with Davis. Hardee didn't want army command. Polk wasn't competent. So, if not Bragg, then who?
 

Rhea Cole

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I often say that the high command of the Army of Tennessee put the fun in dysfunctional. The inability of the army commander to work with--even get along with--his subordinates, who often worked against him and in their own interests made the disaster in the West inevitable. Jefferson Davis must bear the brunt of the blame for keeping Bragg in command for as long as he did, but that also raises the important question of if not Bragg, then who? Beauregard's health was suspect and he couldn't get along with Davis. Johnston was ordered to take command and refused to do so, and he also didn't get along with Davis. Hardee didn't want army command. Polk wasn't competent. So, if not Bragg, then who?
To answer your question... During the Tullahoma Campaign tour last week, we had an interesting discussion about the command disfunction in the AofT. A really good case was made for replacing Bragg with Longstreet. Is there any doubt that he would have gathered his Corps commanders together in the same room & explained what he wanted them to do? They may or may not have liked Longstreet, but they did respect him. Like you, I was in the “... who?” group. It was a very knowledgeable group who made the case for Longstreet. He is a fantasy candidate worth considering.
 

Eric Wittenberg

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To answer your question... During the Tullahoma Campaign tour last week, we had an interesting discussion about the command disfunction in the AofT. A really good case was made for replacing Bragg with Longstreet. Is there any doubt that he would have gathered his Corps commanders together in the same room & explained what he wanted them to do? They may or may not have liked Longstreet, but they did respect him. Like you, I was in the “... who?” group. It was a very knowledgeable group who made the case for Longstreet. He is a fantasy candidate worth considering.
Fair enough. It would have required promoting him to four star general, which Lee might have opposed, particularly after losing Jackson. I'm not persuaded it was feasible.

I'm glad you enjoyed Greg's tour. I've done two of them with him, and Greg helped us lay out that driving tour.
 

Rhea Cole

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Fair enough. It would have required promoting him to four star general, which Lee might have opposed, particularly after losing Jackson. I'm not persuaded it was feasible.

I'm glad you enjoyed Greg's tour. I've done two of them with him, and Greg helped us lay out that driving tour.
It was very refreshing to finally get out & share time with a bus load of knowledgeable folks. Of course, the shadow over all the AofT actions is the failure of Johnston as an area commander. He had a tough nut to crack, no doubt. As numerous historians have pointed out, Johnston never demonstrated any capacity for long term planning.

A cold hard analysis argues that they could have retaken Vicksburg after defeating Rosecrans but not the other way around. Of course, even proposing such a strategy would have set Davis’ hair on fire. Lee’s proposed use of the Carolina forces before Gettysburg Campaign wasn’t even considered, so he wasn’t about to give Johnston that kind of of authority.
 

wausaubob

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This is very consistent with Grant's story telling about the events at Chattanooga. Bragg is characterized as not able to get along with anyone. And the common soldiers are characterized by Grant as wanting the US to win and the end the war as soon as possible. The fact that the US controlled the Mississippi and that Grant had paroled those Confederate defenders was working on the moral of the Confederate soldiers.
 

Rhea Cole

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This is very consistent with Grant's story telling about the events at Chattanooga. Bragg is characterized as not able to get along with anyone. And the common soldiers are characterized by Grant as wanting the US to win and the end the war as soon as possible. The fact that the US controlled the Mississippi and that Grant had paroled those Confederate defenders was working on the moral of the Confederate soldiers.
I agree, the policy that allowed Confederate deserters to sign a piece of paper & just go home bore great fruit for the Union. The kind of string ‘em up punitive policy that was advocated would have been counter productive. Lincoln’s humanity played a larger part in the Union victory than he is often given credit for.
 

Joshism

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Murfreesboro, alerted Bragg’s HQ that Rosecrans had sallied from Nashville, there was no plan of any kind in existence.

In fairness to Bragg, short of intelligence to the contrary, Rosecrans could be expected to at best spend the winter in Nashville then launch a campaign in the spring. Bragg failed to consider Rosecrans would be pushed to act in December. It is a failure of Bragg's intelligence (the jokes make themselves) to think Rosecrans was starving rather than preparing to attack.

Bragg's flank attack on Dec 31 was an excellent move. It came up short in no small part to Polk's mismanagement of his corps with piecemeal attacks.

Bragg's total clueless about what to do Jan 1 or 2 is a major failure on his part.

Bragg had a plan at Chickamauga. He actually had a really good one, but he could not get his subordinates to do what he ordered, specifically DH Hill and Polk. Polk was a multiple time offender of receiving an order from Bragg and then deciding not to follow it.

David Powell's books give Bragg's intended operations and the reasons they weren't carried out a pretty thorough examination.

Jefferson Davis must bear the brunt of the blame for keeping Bragg in command for as long as he did, but that also raises the important question of if not Bragg, then who? Beauregard's health was suspect and he couldn't get along with Davis. Johnston was ordered to take command and refused to do so, and he also didn't get along with Davis. Hardee didn't want army command. Polk wasn't competent. So, if not Bragg, then who?

Literally anyone. Not removing Bragg after Stones River was inexcusable.

Joe Johnston is the logical choice, both in terms of seniority and circumstances (being on the defensive). When Johnston declined to relieve Bragg, Davis should have responded that he could either follow orders and replace Bragg or be relieved himself for failing to follow orders.

Alternatively, Hardee should have been ordered into command whether he wanted it or not. If not after Stones River then later.
 
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