As of February 1st, we have 21 paid attendees for the Friday portion of the March tour, and I expect several more will sign up. It’s always good to be able to reserve the bus and not worry that we will be a few dollars short. There are still plenty of seats left, so if you want to sign up, please do.
My goal, as ever, is to focus on a detailed aspect of the battle of Chickamauga and examine it from the ground up, as it were. In the past we have focused on specific actions, units, or leaders. This year we have a mix.
For our Friday tours this year, we are going to spend time with everyone’s favorite General, Braxton Bragg.
What? Bragg’s not your favorite? How about favorite whipping boy, then?
I will be the first to admit that General Bragg is not a Great Captain. In fact, I don’t think he’s much of a commander at all – mainly because he seemed to lack all ability to inspire either troops or subordinate commanders. A beloved general can be forgiven mistakes. A hated general will rarely get credited even for his successes.
But we also need to understand that “It’s not all Bragg’s fault.” Too often that is the standard conclusion of off-the-cuff history. In fact, Bragg faced some very difficult challenges during the campaign, including outright insubordination from some of his generals. Moreover, the Army of Tennessee still lacked professionalism – incompetence could flare up at any time. Nor, even if Davis would let him, could Bragg just relieve officers indiscriminately. The men who would replace them would likely be even more unready for command. It takes time and experience to develop good officer and instill professionalism. During the war, both armies – in both theaters – suffered from these problems, but the Army of Tennessee seemed to manage to distill incompetence to a fine art.
The portrait we have of Bragg at Chickamauga is usually that painted by D. H. Hill, or James Longstreet. When Hill reported to Bragg at the end of July, he found a gaunt, haggard, care-worn figure ground down by defeat and ill health. Hill was shocked; Bragg hardly looked like the man he knew in the old army. Longstreet, for his part, leaves us with an image of Bragg from the afternoon of the 20th – a man out of touch, angry beyond reason that his plans had again gone awry, and dismissive of his own troops. “there is not a man in the right wing that has any fight left in him,” Longstreet has Bragg snapping when asked for support from Polk’s Wing.
Bragg was sick, there is no doubt of that. He was also often enraged, as well. But I am struck by the fact that despite being driven out of Chattanooga, he never stopped thinking of striking back. He did not despair when several of his initial counter-attack schemes (McLemore’s Cove, most famously) derailed. He was dogged, determined, and unwilling to just give up. He hit hard, and in the end, won the day. Heck, this sounds like Grant, not Bragg…
I am also intrigued by a description of Bragg’s headquarters on the morning of September 19th, just after Bragg arrived on the field near Thedford’s Ford. it was not an ideal spot for a commander; being too remote from the action, especially on the second day, but at least initially it was central to most of his army. Colonel Thomas Claiborne of Buckner’s staff recalled that the officers gathered on a hill near the ford, from which they could see the Union positions around Lee and Gordon’s Mills and also the comings and goings of Federals along the Lafayette Road. “Bragg came there…”recalled Claiborne, “and assembled nearly all his commanders in reach for consultation. There was a big crowd of staff.” To me, this hardly smacks of a man sulking in his tent. This is a man who has not given up, despite repeated miscues.
For those of you who attend the tours this coming March, hopefully we can offer up an alternative to the cartoon Bragg so often featured in popular history. We will also be looking at Cleburne’s attack on September 20th and in closing, another aspect of the final Federal retreat from Kelly Field.
For an aspect of Cleburne’s assault: