Would you want these two men on your side?

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.

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21 Responses to “Would you want these two men on your side?”

  1. John Foskett Says:

    Good point about Bragg and what he was burdened with (and certainly not in rationalization of his own deficiencies). Of course, they’d tried a “dry run” for this model at Stones River, when Bragg was gifted with Gideon Pillow for a brigade command. The model worked as one would have predicted, complete with Pillow “leading” from behind an ample-girthed tree during Breckinridge’s ill-fated January 2 attack on the Union left. Hill and Hindman look positively Lee-like in comparison. .

  2. Chris Evans Says:

    Fascinating post. They had some of the most dysfunctional command structure of any American army.

    I like how much Arthur Manigault in his book despised Hindman.and rips him throughout. There is some good info on Hindman contained in the endnotes of that book also.

    Chris

  3. zoak Says:

    I have read that Gen Loring said that he would rather lose a battle than serve under Pemberton and based on his performance at Champion Hill, he apparently meant it.

    I wonder if the Confederate Generals at the time understood that they had the opportunity to not just reverse the Confederate setbacks of July but possibly win the war. Maybe they understood that but their own sense of pride or honor or personal insanity did not allow them to subordinate their opinions to achieve victory.

  4. Marc Grad Says:

    Hi Dave. Can you give us an update on the status of this blog? -Thanks.

    • Chris Evans Says:

      Yes, I was wondering the same thing, too. J.D. Petruzzi has even been longer posting on his blog.

      Chris

  5. Nathan Towne Says:

    It is my first coment on your blog, so I have to say briefly that I admire your work immensely and appreciate you and your partner, Mr. Friedrich’s (in “Maps of Chickamauga” obviously) amazing contributions to history.

    With that said though I think that you are pretty hard on D.H. Hill in Maps and this is what I want to address. I know that it is slightly off topic and has nothing to do with Davis’ decision to send Hindman and Hill to the army, but being that you are talking about D.H. Hill. 🙂 The only real blame that I believe can be assigned to Hill was his inability to locate Bragg and Polk and to lay down and rest at Thedfords ford until 3:00 A.M. when he resumed his search for Polk. He probably should have sent a staff officer to Alexanders ford to inform Polk that he wasn’t going to be at his Headquarters for at least a few more hours after Archer Anderson relayed Polk’s desire to meet with him. This also would have obligated J.A. Perkins and Charvet to stay out at the bridge and at the crossroads until Hill arrived, instead of just heading for Polk’s headquarters later in the night. Even though this was an error in judgement, influenced by incredible fatigue, I essentially relieve Hill of further responsibility in the fiasco.

    For the debacle on the right wing, Polk holds tremendous responsibility. It is obvious that despite Polk’s later assertion that he told Anderson about the daylight attack order, it is obvious that he didn’t. As Hill’s biographer, Hal Bridges, points out Breckenridge wrote to Hill on Oct. 16, 1863 saying “I do not recollect that Lt. Gen Polk directed Col. Anderson to order you to attack at daylight.” Both J.A. Reid and A.C. Avery denied any mention of a daylight attack and obviously Anderson denies it. You don’t refute this in your book and it seems obvious that Anderson recited Polk’s words directly to Hill. Furthermore, Polk personally countermanded Reid’s instructions to guide Breckenridge towards the front and allowed Breckenridge to rest his men. He pushed no urgency on Reid for a meeting with Hill when he saw him there and Breckenridge remained completely adamant that no mention was ever made to him about a daylight attack order even though he stayed with Polk after camping the men for a significant portion of the night. Also when you consider Polk’s actions it is counter-intuitive to think that any order had been given for a major attack at time. Polk was showing no urgency whatsover, epitomized by his allowing Breckenridge to stop his men for a few hours without telling him of any pressing need to get in position e.t.c. This would lead someone to believe that Polk was making a conscience decision to disobey Bragg’s orders (which he was obviously disgusted with), but he relayed them to Cheatham via courier and to W.H.T. Walker when he came to his headquarters. Also, if he was trying to ignore the orders why tell Hill that he needs to meet with him that night? And he certainly wouldn’t have sent John Fisher to find HIll! But if it is the case that he was trying to carry out the attack, then how could he behave the way he did with Breckenridge? I have thought that possibly he wanted to communicate official attack orders only with his direct subordinates (Cheatham commanding the independent division, Walker and Hill) but then how could he bypass Hill on the morning of the 20th, after Pollock Lee urged Polk’s cooperation and send direct attack orders to Cleburne and Breckenridge?

    Polk’s behavior on the night of the 19th-20th is almost impossible to figure out and chief blame resides with him. Once Hill was aware of the orders, he reacted as quickly as he possibly could on the morning of the 20th considering that the men were already eating and the problems with Cleburne’s frontage overlapping Stewart’s e.t.c. Polk however was unaware of these problems in disposition, made little effort to coordinate Cheatham’s units with Hill’s assault, made no attempt to coordinate Walker’s corps with Hill’s attack and ultimately left it to two subordinate officers (Hill and Walker) to bicker over how those troops should be allocated.

    In conclusion, I think your work is amazing, but I think you are somewhat unfair with Hill. I agree with Connelly’s interpretation in Autumn of Glory “Hill is partly at fault for not making a more determined effort to locate either Bragg or Polk during the night…,” but goes on to say “Bragg and Polk seem chiefly to blame for the fiasco that night.” (Page 220)

    I think Hill should be exonerated of all guilt aside from his inability to find Bragg and Polk and if you have any further insights into Polk that night that may refute my interpretation, I am open to hearing them.
    Thanks

    -Nathan Towne

  6. Nathan Towne Says:

    I am sorry for getting kind of off topic there yesterday.

    As for the content of the post, may I add one point? That is that Davis is in a terrible position with the Army of Tennessee by July of 1863. For the third time in the war Bragg’s army is at Chatanooga, but unlike in the summer and autumn of 1862, Bragg doesn’t have many good options. His ranks are massively depleted from malnutrition and disease, morale is at an all time low, there is now an organized Anti-Bragg movement in the army with clout in Richmond and he loses his best officer in William Hardee which forces to begin to restructure the entire high command.

    The situation for Davis is desperate. If Davis replaces Bragg now, who will he replace him with? Johnston did everything he could in the spring to avoid being appointed to the post and Davis is now entagled in the most damaging fued of the war with Johnston over command theory in the west and responsibility for the setbacks. Davis isn’t going to reinstate Beauregard. Lee doesn’t want to come West and Sidney Johnston is dead. That leaves only subordinate officers, notably Hardee, Longstreet and Polk and he has no assurances that Hardee (who is in my opinion the best option of those three officers) will take the position. So he decides to give Bragg as many men and experienced officers from other departments as he can. He sends Breckenridge’s division back to Bragg from Johnston along with W.H.T. Walker’s division and more cavalry. He disolves the East Tennessee department and gives William Preston’s division along with his senior officer Simon Buckner to Bragg. He agrees to detach two divisions from argubably the best Corps in the Confederacy along with their commander from the army of Northern Virginia. Lastly, he sends the two most experienced officers who are not occupying a vital post, in Hill and Hindman, to the army to fill positions in this buildup.

    It is easy for us to be critical now, but Davis had to act and he had to act quickly. So he sent five divisions from across the Confederacy, including two divisions already comprising a cohesive Corps under Longstreet and three of the most experienced officers that he could free up for Bragg to allocate at his discretion. I don’t see much else that Davis could have done.

  7. Lee Elder Says:

    Nathan,

    I enjoy your obvious command of the history of the fight at Chickamauga. Your posts make it clear that you know the history. However, I do not agree with some of the key points you make above. Bragg’s leadership style was not effective, but even when he produced sound plans of action, his subordinates let him down because of their inability to force their professional responsibilities to outweigh their personal feelings about their commander. This was a costly problem at McLemore’s Cove prior to Chickamauga and again during the morning hours of September 20.

    Lee Elder

    • Nathan Towne Says:

      Lee,

      Sorry that it took me so long to respond, I just saw your comment. Firstly, I am entirely open to disagreement, it is how we learn and grow and I am completely willing to engage in a discussion with you. That being said however, I am not sure exactly what you disagree with me about? Maybe if you clarify specific points?

      Finally, allow me to agree with you that the problems within the high command were disastrous for the army and that on numerous occasions during his Bragg’s tenure his subordinates let him down miserably. Furthermore, it must be stated that serious high command problems lingered within the army during both Joe Johnston’s and Hood’s future tenures with the army, so the problems in the upper command went beyond Bragg. I entirely agree that during the Chickamauga campaign Bragg was seriously let down on multiple occasions by his subordinates, notably, although not exclusively, his cavalry arm, Hindman and Polk.

      With that said though, it was Bragg’s responsibility to create and maintain a well-oiled system within the upper command of the army. Military operations depend just as much upon mutual trust, adequate communication within the command structure and faith in your superiors decision making as they do upon strategy, tactics, relaible up to date intelligence, logistics e.t.c. I believe that the problems ringing the upper command of the army essentially doomed it to failure, or what ended as an empty victory at Chickamauga, before the campaign even began, despite Davis’ massive consolidation in North Georgia in August and September of 1863.

      Finally, as for the McLemore’s cove operation I concur that Hindman performed very poorly in the operation. After his reservations (which I believe were quite legitimate btw) were overruled at Bragg’s headquarters, he had no other choice but to execute his orders on the morning of the 11th. He didn’t want to be involved in the operation and ultimately let Bragg down horribly on the 11th. Bragg was absolutely justified in moving on Hindman after the end of the campaign. However, I see the McLemore’s cove operation as seriously problematic from a conceptual standpoint and I think that it reflects Bragg’s frustration at his inadequate intelligence. Finally having definitive information of Roscrans whereabouts, a lone Federal division (Negley’s) 4-5,000 men strong of Thomas’ X!V Corps having penetrated into the cove and being isolated, he moved on it. There were several major problems with the operation however that became apparant soon after its initiation that ultimately came to compound upon one another and break down the plan. In essence the plan was overly ambitious and was not nearly the oppurtunity that several historians have implied it was. It also necessitated Bragg going himself to Lafayette, just as Forrest had far more substantial information on the dispositions of Crittenden’s corps bit I will leave a more detailed discussion of the McLemore’s cove operation to another time.

      If you clarify your areas of disagreement, I am more than willing to engage in a conversation with you about them.

      Nathan Towne

    • Nathan Towne Says:

      Lee,

      I will note though, if we do get into a discussion as to the McLemore’s cove operation, I will acknowledge that I am actually in a minority as to some of my positions with regards to the operation. Dave Powell, a tremendous authority on the campaign and Steven Woodworth in his writings both present the operation in a different light than I do and have come to slightly different conclusions than I have. So if our conversation goes there, I will make sure to be very careful in substantiating my positions.

      Nathan Towne

  8. Lee Elder Says:

    Nathan,

    We might agree more than we disagree. After reading your May 14, 2012 post more carefully, I may have done you a disservice. When I read that post the first time, I must have missed your point.

    If Bragg’s design for the non-fight at McLemore’s Cove was ambitious in terms of the timing and coordination, it was at least workable. It sometimes falls to smaller unit commanders to make things work and that did not happen often in those instances. If I concede your point questioning the quality of the plan at the Cove, we are still left with the fact that Bragg’s officers did not try to make the plan work.

    Bragg’s style of leadership, which didn’t provide much leadership, caused a lot of his own problems. When he met individually with his commanders on the night of the 20th rather than meeting with them as a group, he invited misunderstandings and mistakes and probably prevented coordination of effort. I am not a Bragg defender (haven’t ever met one, either) and I believe you and I agree here.

    Still, Bragg issued orders the night of the 19th and a commanding officer has every reason to expect that orders will be carried out. Bragg’s orders were not carried out by the combination of commanders on his right wing on the morning of the 20th. I can’t blame Bragg for that.

    Lee Elder

    • Nathan Towne Says:

      Lee,

      I agree that we are not disagreeing by much. As for the design of the McLemore’s cove operation, it was workable, and I entirely concur that T.C. Hindman blew it in the operation. On the morning of the 11th, his reservations had been rejected and he had definitive orders from Bragg to press the operation. He failed to do so and Bragg was entirely justified in moving on him after Chickamauga. He clearly disobeyed direct orders from his commanding general.

      I will just say though that I believe it is extremely unfortunate the Cove operation was initiated in the first place. Bragg finally had good intelligence to work off of and he moved on it immediately. Unfortunately, striking Negley’s division was going to be difficult and dangerous, not only to the operation force, but to the entire army. The dangers of the operation began to come into focus after its initiation and the operation broke down under its own weight.

      The real prize was Thomas Crittenden’s corps which on the 10th of September was spread out across almost ten miles on three different roads, being screened by only a single mounted infantry brigade, separated from the rest of the army by Lookout mountain. Unfortunately, Bragg was unaware of Crittenden’s dispositions or his isolation and set the Cove operation in motion just before midnight on the 9th. In fact once Forrest and Pegram had an accurate portrait of the precariousness of Crittenden’s position, Forrest rode personally to Bragg’s headquarters to map out Crittenden’s dispositions for him. However, by the afternoon of the 10th Bragg was already riding with his staff to Lafeyette to coordinate the Cove operation. I don’t blame Bragg overly so for this breakdown. He had definitive intelligence in hand and acted on it. Pegram’s intel was way too late coming in and by the time the Cove operation had failed and Bragg had Crittenden’s dispositions they were obsolete. Recognizing that Bragg was not falling back deep, as had initially been supposed in the Army of the Cumberland’s high command, Crittenden began the process of consolidating his corps on the 11th. By the afternoon of the 12th all three of his divisions were behind West Chickamauga Creek at Lee and Gordon’s Mills. Bragg’s thrust against Crittenden was simply put in motion too late because he didn’t have the intel from Pegram’s division when he needed it.

      As for the night of the 19th/20th at Chickamauga, I wholeheartedly agree with you. Polk’s lack of initiative that night is just astonishing. I will add to my above points however, that Bragg also deserves some criticism for the fiasco that night. His decision not to call his high command together was an appallingly bad one. Furthermore, he made a huge error in judgement in so drastically reorganizing his army when Longstreet arrived. These decisions set the stage for confusion on the morning of the 20th.

      Nathan Towne

  9. Lee Elder Says:

    Nathan,

    Here I go again, getting myself in trouble. I have to disagree with you on the idea that Bragg erred in the reorganization of the army on the night of the 19th.

    The decision was out of the ordinary, I agree. But Longstreet had arrived and Bragg had to do something with him. Polk retained the command that he already had, so no change there. Bragg probably hoped he’d get something out of Longstreet he hadn’t seen in a while: Action in accordance with orders.

    That’s my take, anyway.

    Lee Elder

    • Dave Powell Says:

      Interesting conversation. Bragg need not have necessarily split the army equally between Polk and Longstreet, however. Bragg could have given Longstreet authority over the left and taken a more firm hand on the right, in effect superseding Polk and still reducing Bragg’s own command load to a more manageable level. Certainly trusting Polk to handle his expanded duties without much closer supervision was a major blunder. Dave Powell

      • Nathan Towne Says:

        Dave,

        Longstreet however had just come up onto the field and had after his council with Bragg and had been informed of his command authority had only a general idea of his units dispositions, locations, or the terrain around Chickamauga Creek. Should Bragg have given him an even larger command than that which he was given?

        As for Polk, although I don’t think Bragg made the correct decision in reorganizing the army that night, Polk was experienced corps commander who had been with the army throughout the entire campaign. If Bragg went through with the reorganization that night, he should expect Polk to carry out his orders and open up proper channels of communication with Cheatham, Hill and Walker. After Cheatham and Walker were informed of their responsibilities and he couldn’t figure where Hill was he basically just gave up. He mentioned nothing about the daylight attack to Major Anderson and not only didn’t explain to Breckenridge his duties but he directly impeded Breckenridge’s ability to fulfill them even if he had known by countermanding Hill’s guide, J.A. Reid who was supposed to bring Breckenridge’s division in on Hill’s right.

        Bragg has the right for his orders to be carried out and one would expect an experienced corps commander like Polk to be able to fulfill those orders.

        Nathan Towne

      • Nathan Towne Says:

        Dave,

        I will just ask you point blank. Do you believe that Bragg made the correct decision in completely reorganizing the armies high command on the night of the 19th/20th?

        I see it as unneccasarily risky on the field of battle, in front of the enemy. The army could have been reorganized after the fight.

        Nathan Towne

      • Dave Powell Says:

        While I view Bragg’s decision to re-organize the army on the night of the 19th as problematic, he did need to simplify his command structure and he clearly needed some help in getting the army to work in concert. With Longstreet, the decision paid off. The only time during the course of the battle that the Army of Tennessee managed to get more than one or two divisions acting in concert was when Longstreet set his wing in motion on Sept 20. I don’t think the same degree of success would have been achieved had Longstreet merely been retained at corps command, with Hood bumping back down to division. Buckner was extremely passive on the 19th, and I don’t see him suddenly becoming more aggressive on the 20th. That said, by magnifying Polk’s responsibilities, Bragg was only magnifying Polk’s inadequacies, which was clearly a mistake. I think had Bragg decided to take a more active role in directing the right wing, his decision to restructure the army would have made more sense.

      • Nathan Towne Says:

        *unnecessarily

      • Nathan Towne Says:

        Dave,

        I agree with you on almost every point, however I believe that the restructuring of the army put Longstreet in an extremely difficult position. He hadn’t even been with the army for an hour and he was put in command of a wing. He had only a general idea of the ground he was working on and the dispositions of the forces with relation to that ground. He was left with the responsibility of opening up proper channels of communication with his subordinates, who had no idea that they were suddenly under his command and of coordinating those forces on the 20th. Had Bragg decided to personally oversee Polk’s wing on the 20th, he would have been essentially leaving Longstreet out to dry, in an already extremely complicated assignment.

    • Nathan Towne Says:

      Lee,

      Let me clarify. I entirely agree with you that the army was in desperate need of reorganization and the command structure in place was both cumbersome and severely overtaxed. On the night of the 19th, the army was organized in five corps. Leonidas Polk’s first corps consisting of Hindman and Cheatham’s divisions, D.H. Hill’s second corps consisting of Cleburne and Breckenridge’s divisions, Simon Buckner’s third corps comprised of A.P. Stewart’s and William Preston’s divisions, W.H.T. Walker’s reserve corps with St. John R. Liddell’s division and Walkers own division which by the morning of the 20th would be temporarily under the command of S.R. Gist and finally Hood’s corps which had been cobbled together from Bushrod Johnson’s provisional division and Hood’s own division under the command of Evander Law. Furthermore, the lead elements of Lafayette McLaws division was moving onto the field that night.

      However, I feel as though Bragg was essentially handcuffed that night to what he had to work with. Restructuring the armies entire high command, on the field of battle, in the face of the enemy with a major attack planned for the next morning, in an army that has serious communication problems already and has not even had a general council of the upper command seems extremely dangerous to me. Ultimately, Bragg put to much stress on his command structure that night and it let him down. He would have been best served ordering Longstreet to take command of Hood’s corps and giving him the responsibility of guiding Kershaw and Humphrey’s brigades in behind Jerome Robertson and Henry Benning’s brigades, hence giving him Bushrod Johnson’s division, Hood’s division and the first two brigades of McLaws division on the 20th.

      If Bragg was adamant however that the army had to be restructured that night and felt he could not deal with the five corps structure any longer than he had no choice but to call a general council of all of his corps commanders on the field and outline the new chains of command.

      As for the reorganization, lets remember that Polk did not retain his command at all. How Bragg reorganized the army that night was by attaching the two corps on the right wing of the army to Polk. Hill’s corps, with Cleburne’s division on the field and Breckenridge’s division coming up and W.H.T. Walker’s reserve corps with Liddells and Ectors divisions (soon to be Gist’s) badly spent and S.R. Gist’s brigade still coming up. Polks own command was divided in half, Polk retaining Cheatham’s division, but losing Hindmans division to Longsteet’s new Left Wing. In other words, Bragg cut the army in half, on the field of battle, into two wings with Polk controlling two corps and Cheatham’s division and Longstreet controlling two corps under him and Hindman’s division. This haphazard rearrangement to me is just asking for command confusion.

      I sympathize with Bragg’s position and his frustration. I recognize that he is on the ground and has to make decisions in real time, without the benefit of hindsight but I think the extent of the reorganization was very dangerous and was putting an immense strain on his command structure.

      Nathan Towne

  10. Lee Elder Says:

    Nathan,

    I have a problem with your lengthy statement above. My problem is that you seem to feel giving Longstreet command of a wing was a mistake. I disagree. Longstreet’s wing got results. He was energetic in the hours before the attack finally kicked off and got lucky later in the day when the Feds fouled up by transferring a regiment and creating that nice gap for Longstreet’s men to go through.

    We agree that Bragg’s leadership style was not effective. See my comments above. But the decision to give Longstreet a big piece of the action turned out to be a good one. It worked. And if my Dad’s old lesson is true, “What matters is what works,” then what matters is that Longstreet got the desired results for Bragg.

    Lee Elder

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