General Braxton Bragg

(March 22, 1817 – September 27, 1876)

Fort Bragg, California was named after General Braxton Bragg a West Point graduate who rose to be a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army and later a Commanding General of the Western Division of the Confederate States Army in the American Civil War. General Bragg was a very controversial figure and, believe it or not, he ended up being an inspector of railroads.

His pre-Civil War career was highly distinguished. After seeing action against the Seminoles, he went on to win three brevets in the Mexican War, in which his battery of “flying artillery” revolutionized, in many respects, the battlefield use of that arm. In 1856, as a lieutenant colonel by brevet-in the 3rd Artillery, he resigned from the Army, and bought a Louisiana sugar plantation.

During the Civil War, he held many posts in the Confederate Army. Initially commanding in Louisiana, he was later in charge of the operations against Fort Pickens in Pensacola Harbor. Ordered to northern Mississippi in early 1862, he briefly commanded the forces gathering there for the attack on Grant at Shiloh. During the battle itself he directed a corps and was later rewarded with promotion to full general. As such he relieved Beauregard when he went on sick leave and was then given permanent command in the West.

Of the eight men who reached the rank of full general in the Confederate army Braxton Bragg was the most controversial. The North Carolinian West Pointer (1837) had earned a prewar reputation for strict discipline as well as a literal adherence to regulations. At one time, the story goes, he actually had a written dispute with himself while serving in the dual capacity of company commander and post quartermaster.

Having served during the Corinth siege, he led the army into Kentucky and commanded at Perryville, where he employed only a portion of his force. On the last day of 1862 he launched a vicious attack on the Union left at Murfreesboro but failed to carry through his success on the following days. Withdrawing from the area, he was driven into Georgia during Rosecrans’ Tullahoma Campaign and subsequent operations.

In September he won the one major Confederate victory in the West, at Chickamauga, but failed to follow up his success. Instead he laid siege to the Union army in Chattanooga and merely waited for Grant to break through his lines.

Throughout these campaigns, Bragg fought almost as bitterly against some of his uncooperative subordinates as he did against the enemy, and they made multiple attempts to have him replaced as army commander. The defeat at Chattanooga was the last straw and Bragg was recalled in early 1864 to Richmond, where he became the military adviser to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. His disputes with his subordinates especially Leonidas Polk, James Longstreet, and William J. Hardee severely injured the effectiveness of the Army of Tennessee. Several top officers left the army for other fields, and Longstreet and Simon B. Buckner were dispatched into East Tennessee. With the army thus weakened, Bragg was routed at Chattanooga and was shortly removed from command. Almost immediately he was appointed as an advisor to Jefferson Davis, his staunch supporter, and maintained an office in Richmond.

Bragg and his wife Elise lost their home in late 1862 when the plantation in Thibodaux was confiscated by the Federal Army. It briefly served as a shelter, the Bragg Home Colony, for freed slaves under the control of the Freedmen’s Bureau. The couple moved in with his brother, a plantation owner but they found the life of seclusion there to be intolerable. In 1867 Bragg became the superintendent of the New Orleans waterworks, but he was soon replaced by an African-American as the Reconstructionists came to power.

In late 1869 Jefferson Davis offered him a job as an agent for the Carolina Life Insurance Company. He worked there for four months before becoming dissatisfied with the profession and its low pay. He considered but rejected a position in the Egyptian Army. In August 1871 he was employed by the city of Mobile, Alabama, to improve the river, harbor, and bay, leaving after quarreling with a “combination of capitalists.” Moving to Texas, he was appointed the chief engineer of the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe Railroad in July 1874, but within a year disagreements with the board of directors over his compensation caused him to resign. He remained in Texas as inspector of railroads.

At the age of 59, Bragg was walking down a street with a friend in Galveston, Texas, when he suddenly fell over unconscious. Dragged into a drugstore, he was dead within 10 to 15 minutes. A physician familiar with his history believe that he “died by the brain” (or of “paralysis of the brain”), suffering from the degeneration of cerebral blood vessels. He is buried in Magnolia Cemetery, Mobile, Alabama.

Bragg has had a very controversial legacy. James McPherson’s reference to “the bumblers like Bragg and Pemberton and Hood who lost the West” sums up the judgment of many modern historians. Bragg’s shortcomings as an army commander included his unimaginative tactics, mostly his reliance on frontal assault and his lack of post-battle follow up that turned tactical victories or draws into strategic disappointments. His sour disposition, penchant to blame others for defeat, and poor interpersonal skills undoubtedly caused him to be criticized more directly than many of his unsuccessful contemporaries.

Peter Cozzens wrote about his relationship with subordinates …. “Even Bragg’s staunchest supporters admonished him for his quick temper, general irritability, and tendency to wound innocent men with barbs thrown during his frequent fits of anger. His reluctance to praise or flatter was exceeded, we are told, only by the tenacity with which, once formed, he clung to an adverse impression of a subordinate. For such officers—and they were many in the Army of the Mississippi—Bragg’s removal or their transfer were the only alternatives to an unbearable existence.”

So Fort Bragger’s now you know about the man for whom your town is named.