Braxton Bragg was a senior commander in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. Bragg became a highly controversial commander and attempts were made to remove him from his commands. Many found Bragg to be bad tempered, rude and unable to take advice. Bragg’s supporters argued the other way – that if he appeared to be such to his subordinates it was because of their incompetence. Either way, Braxton Bragg was to remain a controversial army commander for the duration of the American Civil War.
Bragg was born on March 22nd 1817 in North Carolina. His father, Thomas, was to become the Confederate’s Attorney General once Jefferson Davis had announced the South’s secession from the Union. Bragg’s childhood was steeped in the traditions of the South and like many from his background, he joined the West Point Military Academy where he graduated in 1837. Bragg joined the US Artillery.
Bragg fought with distinction during numerous campaigns, primarily in the war against Mexico. By 1847, Bragg was a lieutenant colonel with a reputation as an officer who required total discipline from his men. Clearly some under his command believed that this discipline was too excessive as it is claimed that his men tried to kill Bragg on two occasions, including one attempt to blow him up with an exploding shell under his bed. His commanding officer once complained to Bragg that he had argued with every officer he had come across in the army. It may be that Bragg accepted that his popularity was not what he would like and this may have accounted for his resignation from the US Army in January 1856. Bragg took over a sugar plantation in Louisiana, where he also served in the state’s militia.
When the American Civil War broke out, Bragg was appointed a brigadier colonel in the Confederate Army. By September, he was a major general and in the following month he was made commander of the Army of Pensacola. His men underwent the same training Bragg had used on his men in the twenty years he served in the US Army with discipline being at the heart of everything.
His men fought at the Battle of Shiloh and in April 1862, Bragg was promoted to full general. During the whole of the American Civil War, only seven men were to hold this rank in the Confederate Army. He was given the command of the Army of Mississippi and in June 1862 was appointed commander of the Army of Tennessee.
Bragg found great success in his campaign into Kentucky. He centred his army on Chattanooga and ensured that a Confederate governor was made governor of the state. Bragg’s men captured over 4,000 Union troops at Munfordville and defeated an Union army at Perryville on October 8th 1862. The Confederate government in Richmond were delighted with his success and called on Bragg to build on it. Bragg agreed to do so and then withdrew his men. This caused great consternation in the Confederate capital but Bragg had his reasons for doing so. In various other theatres of the war, Confederate forces were not doing so well, including Robert E Lee’s failure in Maryland. He believed that a further penetration into Kentucky would keep his men even further from important events and that his army would be further isolated. Therefore, he moved the Army of Tennessee nearer ‘to the action’ so that his highly trained men could act as support to other Confederate armies if required.
The Army of Tennessee fought at the Battle of Stones River. After nearly defeating the Union army there, Bragg again chose to withdraw his men rather than push for victory. After this battle, Bragg found that those who had previously supported him, now turned against him – in government, in the military and in the Confederate media. Jefferson Davis thought about removing Brag from his position but found that his men were in high spirits and that the morale of the Army of Tennessee was high. Davis decided that this was far more important to the Confederate cause and could be irrevocably damaged if he dismissed Bragg from the Army of Tennessee.
However, the support of the Confederate leader did not put off Bragg’s detractors. They maintained a campaign against him on the battlefield where they failed to carry out his orders. One of his main opponents was Leonidas Polk, a subordinate general in the Army of Tennessee. Polk refused to carry out Bragg’s orders during a campaign to protect Georgia when he refused to attack a Federal force despite outnumbering it. Polk argued that he needed more men to make any attack successful. When more men were sent to support Polk, the Army of Tennessee fought General William Rosecran’s army at the Battle of Chickamauga. It was to be the greatest Confederate victory in the western theatre of war and led to a retreat by Rosecran’s army. Polk’s refusal to carry out Bragg’s initial orders ironically played into the hands of Bragg who received huge praise in Richmond for this victory. It also allowed Bragg the opportunity to remove from their command those he believed had sought to undermine him – Polk being at the top of his list. However, Bragg’s detractors had not finished. They petitioned Davis with regards to his command and demanded his removal from the Army of Tennessee. They used as their primary weapon Bragg’s failure to follow up his success at Chickamauga and they argued that Bragg had effectively let Rosecran’s ‘off the hook’. The situation was considered to be so potentially damaging, that Jefferson Davis left Richmond to travel to Chattanooga to assess what was going on. Bragg offered to resign but Davis refused to accept it and turned on Bragg’s critics instead.
Bragg’s next military involvement was at the Battle of Chattanooga in November 1863. Here, the Confederate force narrowly escaped total destruction and the collapse of the Confederate force around Chattanooga encouraged General William Sherman in his Atlanta Campaign and his drive across Georgia. After the collapse of the Confederate army around Chattanooga, Bragg did resign and Davis accepted it.
In what were to be the final months of the American Civil War, Bragg was unofficially the military advisor to the government of Jefferson Davis. He helped in the defence of South and North Carolina but by January 1865, it was clear that the South had lost the American Civil War, even if the war was to continue for another three months. Bragg accompanied Davis when he fled Richmond.
After the American Civil War, Bragg worked for the New Orleans waterworks and later became chief engineer for Alabama. Following this, he moved to Texas where he was a railroad inspector.
Braxton Bragg died on September 27th 1876.