American Civil War: General Braxton Bragg

Braxton Bragg, CSA
General Braxton Bragg. Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Braxton Bragg - Early Life:

Born March 22, 1817, Braxton Bragg was the son of a carpenter in Warrenton, NC. Educated locally, Bragg yearned to be accepted by the higher elements of antebellum society. Often rejected as a young man, he developed an abrasive personality that became one of his trademarks. Leaving North Carolina, Bragg enrolled at West Point. A gifted student, he graduated in 1837, ranked fifth in a class of fifty, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 3rd US Artillery. Sent south, he played an active role in the Second Seminole War (1835-1842) and later traveled to Texas following the American annexation.

Braxton Bragg - Mexican-American War:

With tensions heightening along the Texas-Mexico border, Bragg played a key role in the defense of Fort Texas (May 3-9, 1846). Effectively working his guns, Bragg was brevetted to captain for his performance. With the relief of the fort and the opening of the Mexican-American War, Bragg became part of Major General Zachary Taylor's Army of Occupation. Promoted to captain in the regular army in June 1846, he took part in the victories at the Battles of Monterrey and Buena Vista, earning brevet promotions to major and lieutenant colonel.

During the Buena Vista campaign, Bragg befriended the commander of the Mississippi Rifles, Colonel Jefferson Davis. Returning to frontier duty, Bragg earned a reputation as a strict disciplinarian and an obsessive follower of military procedure. This reputedly led to two attempts on his life by his men in 1847. In January 1856, Bragg resigned his commission and retired to the life of a sugar planter in Thibodaux, LA. Known for his military record, Bragg became active with the state militia with the rank of colonel.

Braxton Bragg - Civil War:

Following Louisiana's secession from the Union on January 26, 1861, Bragg was promoted to major general in the militia and given command of forces around New Orleans. The following month, with the Civil War about to begin, he was transferred to the Confederate Army with the rank of brigadier general. Ordered to lead Southern troops around Pensacola, FL, he oversaw the Department of West Florida and was promoted to major general on September 12. The following spring, Bragg was directed to bring his men north to Corinth, MS to join General Albert Sidney Johnston's new Army of Mississippi.

Leading a corps, Bragg took part in the Battle of Shiloh on April 6-7, 1862. In the fighting, Johnston was killed and command devolved to General P.G.T. Beauregard. After the defeat, Bragg was promoted to general and, on May 6, given command of the army. Shifting his base to Chattanooga, Bragg began planning a campaign into Kentucky with the goal of bringing the state into the Confederacy. Capturing Lexington and Frankfort, his forces began moving against Louisville. Learning of the approach of superior forces under Major General Don Carlos Buell, Bragg's army fell back to Perryville.

On October 8, the two armies fought to a draw at the Battle of Perryville. Though his men had gotten the better of the fighting, Bragg's position was precarious and he elected to fall back through the Cumberland Gap into Tennessee. On November 20, Bragg renamed his force the Army of Tennessee. Assuming a position near Murfreesboro, he fought Major General William S. Rosecrans's Army of the Cumberland on December 31, 1862-January 3, 1863.

After two days of heavy fighting near Stones River, which saw Union troops repel two major Confederate attacks, Bragg disengaged and fell back to Tullahoma, TN. In the wake of the battle, several of his subordinates lobbied to have him replaced citing the failures at Perryville and Stones River. Unwilling to relieve his friend, Davis, now the Confederate president, instructed the General Joseph Johnston, commander of Confederate forces in the West, to relieve Bragg if he though it necessary. Visiting the army, Johnston found morale to be high and retained the unpopular commander.

On June 24, 1863, Rosecrans initiated a brilliant campaign of maneuver which forced Bragg out of his position at Tullahoma. Falling back to Chattanooga, insubordination from his subordinates worsened and Bragg began to find orders being ignored. Crossing the Tennessee River, Rosecrans began pushing into northern Georgia. Reinforced by Lieutenant General James Longstreet's corps, Bragg moved south to intercept the Union troops. Engaging Rosecrans at the Battle of Chickamauga on September 18-20, Bragg won a bloody victory and forced Rosecrans to retreat to Chattanooga.

Following, Bragg's army penned the Army of the Cumberland in the city and laid siege. While the victory allowed Bragg to transfer out many of his enemies, dissent continued to foment and Davis was forced to visit the army to assess the situation. Electing to side with his former comrade, he decided to leave Bragg in place and denounced those generals who opposed him. To save Rosecrans' army, Major General Ulysse S. Grant was dispatched with reinforcements. Opening a supply line to the city, he prepared to attack Bragg's lines atop heights that surrounded Chattanooga.

With Union strength growing, Bragg elected to detach Longstreet's corps to capture Knoxville. On November 23, Grant opened the Battle of Chattanooga. In the fighting, Union troops succeeded in driving Bragg's men off of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge. The Union attack on the latter shattered the Army of Tennessee and sent it retreating towards Dalton, GA.

On December 2, 1863, Bragg resigned from command of the Army of Tennessee and traveled to Richmond the following February to serve as Davis' military advisor. In this capacity he successfully worked to make the Confederacy's conscription and logistical systems function more efficiently. Returned to the field, he was given command of the Department of North Carolina on November 27, 1864. Moving through several coastal commands, he was at Wilmington in January 1865, when Union forces won the Second Battle of Fort Fisher. During the fighting, he was unwilling to move his men from the city to aid the fort. With Confederate armies crumbling, he briefly served in Johnston's Army of Tennessee at the Battle of Bentonville and ultimately surrendered to Union forces near Durham Station.

Braxton Bragg - Later Life:

Returning to Louisiana, Bragg oversaw the New Orleans Waterworks and later became chief engineer for the state of Alabama. In this role he oversaw numerous harbor improvements at Mobile. Moving to Texas, Bragg worked as a railroad inspector until his sudden death on September 27, 1876. Though a brave officer, Bragg's legacy was tarnished by his severe disposition, lack of imagination on the battlefield, and unwillingness to follow-up successful operations.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: General Braxton Bragg." ThoughtCo, Sep. 9, 2021, Hickman, Kennedy. (2021, September 9). American Civil War: General Braxton Bragg. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: General Braxton Bragg." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 31, 2023).