Enigma of Braxton Bragg
By William Sariego
Braxton Bragg (1817 to 1876) presents historians
with an interesting riddle. Was he a failure
as a general, or was he competent but just
Certainly many historians come down own the
negative side of the equation. One biographer,
arguably his best, entitled his book Braxton
Bragg and Confederate Defeat. All historians
of a partisan nature, whatever the war, often
look for a scapegoat. Braxton Bragg filled
that role nicely for Southern writers in the
years following the War Between the States.
Pensacola to Perryville
Bragg was quite successful in his career
before 1861. A West Point graduate, he served
in the Florida Indian Wars, and in the Mexican
War he won distinction as an artilleryman
at the battle of Buena Vista. After leaving
the army he ran a successful sugar plantation
11 slave-holding states attempted to form
a new country, the Confederate States of America,
Bragg volunteered. His first command was the
coastal defenses along the Gulf of Mexico.
He is often discredited in this due to the
South’s failure to take Fort Pickens
in Pensacola, but he did much to improve and
strengthen the Confederate positions otherwise.
He was promoted to command the II Corps under
Albert Sydney Johnston. In this capacity he
took part in the bloody battle at Shiloh in
April 1862. Often Bragg is criticized for
his frontal assaults during the battle, which
led to tremendous casualties among his command.
In his defense, the war was still young, and
effective offensive tactics were being learned
by all. The densely-wooded terrain at Shiloh
hardly benefited maneuver, regardless. Following
the death of General Johnston and the resignation
of P.G.T. Beauregard, Bragg was given command of
He then embarked on his offensive campaign
to wrest Kentucky from the Union. The Bluegrass
State had divided loyalties. More of her sons
would serve in the Federal army than in the
Confederate when all was said and done, but
in 1862 it was logical to try to bring her
into the war fully on the side of the Confederacy.
In 1861 her pro-Southern governor and a rump
legislature had actually formed a pro-Confederate
government, which was effectively nullified
by Union victories at Forts Henry and Donelson
just inside the Tennessee border, and at Mill
Springs, Kentucky, near the Cumberland Gap
in the opening months of 1862.
Bragg’s use of the shaky Confederate
rail system in getting his troops poised for
the invasion was masterful. The campaign succeeded
in its early stages, with subordinate General
Kirby Smith winning a battle at Richmond,
Kentucky. Bragg’s troops fanned out
to occupy key positions in the state and
attempted to recruit, but he was largely disappointed
at the results. Despite installing a new pro-Confederate
governor, the strategic city of Louisville
remained in Union hands and Northern forces
began to encroach upon the Southern army.
An accidental battle at Perryville on a blisteringly
hot day on October 8 saw a tactical victory
for the South, but the strategic position
of Bragg’s army was becoming untenable
and he was forced to withdraw into Tennessee.
Bragg later commented that although Kentuckians
talked of the South sympathetically, “they
loved their Bluegrass and fat cattle more.”
In truth, Kentucky thought it could retain
her slaves by remaining loyal to the Union.
Chickamauga and Chattanooga
On New Year’s Eve, Bragg fought General
Rosecrans’ army at Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
The battle was a bloody draw, and sporadic
fighting continued until January 2nd. Bragg
then withdrew to Tullahoma and winter quarters.
This move brought much public outcry and criticism
from the Confederate government because it
was generally conceded that Rosecrans’
force were in worse shape after the engagement.
The first months of 1863 was All Quiet on
the Tennessee Front, as momentous events were
happening in Mississippi and Pennsylvania.
When the campaign finally began, Rosecrans
engaged in a war of maneuver to force Bragg
to fall back, and captured the important rail
junction of Chattanooga and pressed into northern
Georgia — where Bragg had been waiting
to seize the opportunity for a counterattack.
The bloody two-day battle at Chickamauga
proved a tactical but bloody Confederate victory.
Again Bragg’s critics came out the woodwork
over his poor pursuit and Rosecrans’
escape. In truth Bragg’s army was battered,
and attempts at a more vigorous pursuit were
stymied by the excellent defense put up by
the Union rearguard, led by General Thomas.
Bragg pursued Rosecrans and occupied key
positions and high ground, effectively besieging
the Union forces in Chattanooga. Here Bragg
made a critical error. Sensing both a chance
to retake Chattanooga and Knoxville, Longstreet’s
troops — who had arrived in time for
Chickamauga due to another extraordinary feat
of the Confederate rail system — were
dispatched to the latter. Bragg and Longstreet
held much animosity toward one another, and
the parting of ways eased command friction.
The Confederacy split its forces as Union
troops began to arrive from Vicksburg and
Bragg was badly beaten by the forces now
under overall command of General U.S. Grant
in a series of battles around Chattanooga
in late November. He pulled back to northern
Georgia and was relieved of command of the
Confederate Army of Tennessee.
was, in effect, booted upstairs. He had a
good relationship with Confederate President
Jefferson Davis (one of the few Confederate
generals to do so). He served as Davis’
chief military advisor and de facto chief
of staff. In this capacity he did great service
to help coordinate Confederate efforts as
the war drew to a close.
Bragg fled south with the government when
Richmond was abandoned. He had one more field
command, effectively commanding a division
under Joe Johnston in the counterattack at
Bentonville, but was captured by Union troops
After the war Bragg worked as a civil engineer
and a railway executive. His military career
is still the subject of debate and acrimony,
but one fact about Bragg does stand out. In
reading the memoirs and papers of the Union
generals he faced in the field, it is readily
apparent they respected his abilities as a
commander. It is an odd twist of fate to be
respected more by one’s foes than one’s
This brief look at Bragg’s career gives
us an excellent opportunity to add a variant
to Dave Powell’s Chickamauga
During a night turn, when an infantry unit
is activated, it can attempt to recover stragglers
and treat the more lightly wounded, returning
them to combat.
To attempt Recovery, the unit must be In
Command and may not move. Roll a die; on a
roll of 6 the unit recovers one step. The
roll is modified by +1 if a leader is in the
area and –1 if the unit attempting Recovery
is adjacent to an enemy unit.
Only infantry units can attempt Recovery,
not cavalry or artillery. A unit can never
regain its “A” step.
This rule applies in scenarios three and
six of Chickamauga and Chattanooga.
here to order Chickamauga and Chattanooga now!