Chickamauga 150 Countdown: The Winner, Part I
By Ron Fritze
This is excerpt one from a three-part article for the Chickamauga 150 Countdown:
When it comes to Confederate military prowess, Braxton Bragg was nobody to brag about. Yes, he commanded the Army of Tennessee at the great victory at Chickamauga but the fact is, the Confederates won because of Rosecrans’ mistake and despite Braxton Bragg’s leadership.
Bragg was born in North Carolina into lower class family. His father, however, developed into a successful business man. This provided the resources for Bragg to get a good education and eventually an appointment to West Point. At West Point, Bragg graduated fifth in his class and also earned a below average number of demerits.
After graduating from West Point in 1837, Bragg was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the artillery. He quickly acquired a reputation for being a strict disciplinarian and contentious. Bragg was an equal opportunity offender, he quarreled with anyone, superiors, subordinates, and peers. Criticisms of the general-in-chief Winfield Scott got him court martialed for disobedience and disrespect in 1844 but did not end his army career. During the Mexican War, he partially redeemed himself by his adept deployment of his artillery in cooperation with Jefferson Davis’s infantry at the Battle of Buena Vista in February 1847. At the same time, it is significant that there were two attempts on his life by disgruntled soldiers in Mexico. One involved the detonation of a 12 pound artillery shell under his cot. Amazing Bragg survived unhurt.
The action at Buena Vista earned Bragg the future support of Davis and made him a hero back in the United States. Visiting Louisiana as a war hero, he met the 23 year heiress Eliza Brooks Ellis and they married on 7 June 1849. Initially he remained in the army but a series of frontier assignments were unsuitable for a married couple. Resigning from the army in 1856, he became a sugar planter in Louisiana where he successfully ran his plantation and was actually an opponent of secession.
Once the Civil War broke out, Bragg rose quickly in the ranks of Confederate commanders. He had a reputation for training his soldiers to be well disciplined and was assigned to instill discipline in other units as well. Bragg commanded a corps at Shiloh in April 1862. His actions at the Hornets’ Nest earned him accolades. An astute observer, however, would have noticed that while Bragg doggedly attacked the Union position, his attacks were piece-meal and always costly frontal assaults.
Bragg actually was appalled when his commander P. T. G. Beauregard called off further assaults on the Union positions late on the first day of the battle. Given that by that time, Union troops were well positioned and heavily supported by artillery, Beauregard made the right decision. The entire Shiloh episode point out Bragg’s over-reliance on frontal attacks. Still Jefferson Davis promoted him to be a full general, one of only seven people appointed to that rank. Later that summer of 1862, Bragg would lead a Southern invasion of Kentucky, one of the loyal slave states.
We’ll see how that went on my next blog post. Stay tuned and avoid reality TV.