Magazine article Army

Confederate General Can Blame Himself for Woes

Magazine article Army

Confederate General Can Blame Himself for Woes

Article excerpt

Confederate General Can Blame Himself for Woes Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy. Earl J. Hess. The University of North Carolina Press. 368 pages. $35

In the words of author Earl J. Hess, Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg "has always been a controversial figure of the Civil War." In fact, Bragg's contemporaries labeled him "a fool, a bloodthirsty disciplinarian and an old-fashioned scapegoat, all wrapped up in one package."

In the more recent forefront of Bragg's detractors was Thomas L. Connelly, whose magnificent two-volume history of the Army of Tennessee offered readers a largely negative view of the Confederate commander. In contrast, Hess presents a more balanced assessment and posits that Bragg's failures rested more "on the personal level than in the military sphere."

Hess is no stranger to Civil War history. He is the Stewart W. McClelland Chair in History at Lincoln Memorial University, Tenn., and the author of many books on the Civil War, including Civil War Infantry Tactics, Pickett's Charge: The Last Attack at Gettysburg, and four other volumes in the Civil War America series. As with the other volumes in this landmark series, Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy broadly interprets the history and culture of the Civil War era.

Braxton Bragg is not a full-length biography. Hess devotes a single chapter to Bragg's antebellum career and two short chapters to Bragg's life following his resignation of command of the Army of Tennessee. The heart and soul of Hess' book is an examination of Bragg's Civil War career. "How Bragg handled his army in the field is important," Hess states, but "the reaction of a myriad of people to his success or failure as a general is even more important."

One of the most intriguing aspects of this book concerns Bragg's relationship with Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Though Davis and Bragg had served together in the Mexican-American War, they were hardly on friendly terms when the Civil War commenced. Future Union Gen. William T. Sherman said, "Bragg hated Davis bitterly," and Bragg resigned his commission in the old Army because of Davis' policies as secretary of war in the Franklin Pierce administration.

Hess breaks new ground, opining that friendship was not an issue because Bragg's administrative abilities endeared him to Davis. Bragg had demonstrated to the Confederate chief executive that he was a disciplined trainer who clearly understood volunteer forces. In short, Davis supported Bragg because Davis "sincerely believed him to be a reliable and effective commander."

What was missing on Bragg's resume was combat, but that was about to change. In March 1862, Davis ordered Bragg to central Tennessee, where Bragg commanded a corps at Shiloh. In the ensuing battle, Bragg "rose to the occasion [and] fought the battle with passion, even with an air of desperation."

But Hess notes that "there were black marks on Bragg's record," such as his uncoordinated attacks against the Union position known as the Hornet's Nest, which resulted in over 2,400 Confederate casualties. …

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