It’s no secret that Braxton Bragg was a hard man to work for. He might be the most hated man in the Civil War. The Army of Tennessee had a difficult time under his tenure, arguably winning battles only to see those successes wasted by discord and dissension among the generals.
Let’s be fair, however, the men Bragg had to work with were often of not much help. It’s no secret that the army had leadership problems, and needed a house-cleaning. In fact, it wasn’t that much of a secret to President Davis or the Confederate Government in Richmond, either, though they didn’t seem to have a clear idea of what to do about it.
In fact, in the summer of 1863, it appears that some of that house-cleaning was happening. Hardee was gone, Bragg got a new chief of staff (William Whann Mackall) and two new men were coming to the army. But were they really a help?
I find it strange that Davis decided to send Generals D. H. Hill and T. C. Hindman to join Bragg. Why? Because both men had difficult reputations, and had already been shunted aside from other departments.
D. H. Hill had already been weighed and found wanting by Robert E. Lee. Hill could fight, and proved himself a capable division commander, it was true; but in Lee’s terms, “he croaked.” I can’t think of a worse combination of personalities: the dour, dyspeptic and acerbic Bragg; paired with the constant pessimism and sarcasm of Hill. It was once said of the Union General Gordon Granger that he never disliked a man without letting that man know it – a description that might as well be written for D.H. Harvey Hill would manage to find fault with nearly every decision Bragg made during the short course of their service together, from mid-July to mid-October, 1863. When Davis changed Hill’s orders from Mississippi to take command of Hardee’s old corps at Chattanooga, he slipped Bragg a poison pill every Federal had reason to rejoice over, had they but realized the logical outcome of that promotion.
Hindman wasn’t much better. Hindman was flamboyant, arrogant, and contentious. One boyhood aquaintance would go on to note that Hindman had “a wonderful ability to get in fusses.” Before the war, this was a man for whom politics was physical, and periodically life-threatening. He once had to hide behind the speaker’s podium in the Arkansas state house to keep an angry mob at bay; Pat Cleburne nearly died at his side during a gun-battle (Debates? Who needs debates?) in the streets of Helena Arkansas.
He was competent, and managed to accomplish quite a lot towards creating a field force out of scratch in his adopted state in 1862, but he also so managed to upset the locals that the entire Arkansas political delegation in Richmond pleaded with Davis to send Hindman packing by the end of that year.
All war is political, of course, all the more for Civil Wars. The hoary adage that amatuers study strategy, professionals study logistics needs an addendum: Generals need to be team-builders. Consummate political skills are an essential job requirement for great captains. We like our Pattons, all flamboyance and ivory (NOT pearl) handled pistols, but wars get won by the quiet competence of an Eisenhower.
Bragg was already saddled with Polk, the Bishop-Albatross around his neck. Sending both Hill and Hindman to him was an obvious recipe for disaster. Bragg, of course, must carry a heavy burden of guilt here, too – he was his own kind of prickly leadership-deficient commander, who needed no help in antagonizing generals.
Most readers will probably know that I have little sympathy for the Confederate Cause, but that doesn’t mean that my blood can’t still boil – if just a tad – when I think of how badly the rank and file of the Army of Tennessee were let down by their commanders.