Steven E. Woodworth
Braxton Bragg has fared ill in history. Few other Civil War generals have suffered a press as unflinchingly and universally negative, both during the war and since. Perhaps only John C. Pemberton, among Southern leaders, and Ambrose Burnside, among the generals of the North, have suffered from historians a dismissal as curt, sweeping, and final as that accorded Braxton Bragg. Indeed, to read almost any modern campaign or battle study involving Bragg’s army is to wonder not why he was still in command of an army but why he was still outside of a mental institution, few though such places might have been in those days.
Some modern students of the war would explain this phenomenon very simply: Bragg was indeed an atrocious general and a loathsome human being. Yet the more thought one gives to the situation, the less satisfying such an explanation becomes. Bragg possessed an excellent reputation in the pre-Civil War U.S. Army, was one of the most celebrated of the South’s military leaders in early 1862, and won the grudging respect and admiration of Jefferson Davis (q.v.), a tough, experienced army officer and politician who had been on bad terms with Bragg while serving as Secretary of War during the mid-1850s. Nor was Davis his only admirer—others within the Confederacy, including officers and soldiers within his own army, retained a high regard for him throughout his tenure in command. Finally, his troops won at least tactical victories in three out of the four pitched battles they fought under his command, though facing numerous and well-equipped enemies led by some of the North’s premier commanders. How could all of this be if Bragg were indeed the blundering miscreant often depicted? Clearly, something here needs explaining.
Born third of the twelve children of Thomas Bragg and Margaret Crosland Bragg, on March 21, 1817, in Warrenton, North Carolina, Bragg was the son of a successful tradesman. His two older brothers, John and Thomas, became an Alabama judge and a North Carolina governor, respectively. Braxton himself