Murray: Legend and legacy of Braxton Bragg

Murray: Legend and legacy of Braxton Bragg

January 19th, 2014 by By R. Smith Murray in Opinion Columns

Braxton Bragg was in Chattanooga three times. First, in 1838 as a young Federal lieutenant at the time of the Cherokee removal. Second, in 1862 as General of the Army of Tennessee and prior to his and Kirby Smith's invasion into Kentucky. Third, in 1863, with the same general's rank at the time of the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga.

He was a prominent figure in Chattanooga history, and it is worthwhile seeing what made him tick.

To say the least, he was a complex man, who was as Ulysses S. Grant said, just naturally "disputatious". Since two of Bragg's brothers were lawyers, an argumentative nature may have been genetic.

His relationship with his mother poses questions. No where is it recorded that he ever mentioned her. We do know two things. One, a few years before Bragg's birth she was jailed for shooting a free black man for which she was later exonerated. Two, while at West Point, Bragg developed a drinking problem at the time of her death. Except for this brief episode he was thereafter a "tee-totaler."

Bragg was quick to take offense and was always quick to assert his prerogatives. In modern parlance he might be described as having "a chip on his shoulder."

Is there anything in his background that contributed to this attitude? Well, it may have been how he was regarded and treated in his hometown of Warrenton, N.C.

Warrenton was a town of distinct class differentiation, and the Bragg family fell below the aristocratic class. They were definitely viewed as middle class.

Bragg's father was listed as a carpenter; however, he was something more than that. He built homes and office buildings. He even took over the reconstruction of the Raleigh State House.

Although the Braggs never became rich, his two lawyer brothers were successful politicians.

Even so, the Braggs were regarded as second class. Perhaps the jail time of Braxton's mother contributed to Warrenton looking down on the Braggs.

After the war with Mexico, Bragg emerged as a hero. The phrase "a little more grape, Capt. Bragg" got national recognition, and Bragg was feted in a number of U.S. cities. No banquet or adulation pleased him more than that which Warrenton lavished on him. Bragg perceived that it was somewhat of a validation.

Despite these accolades, Bragg's brusque manner did not fade away. Some of his irritability may have stemmed from his poor health. He suffered from boils, malarial fevers, headaches and dyspepsia. Even though these maladies were real, Bragg was also somewhat of a hypochondriac, complaining that the climate of his various assignments had deleterious effect on his health. Florida was too hot and New York too cold.

Just prior to the Mexican war his assignment to Fort Moultrie in South Carolina seemed to satisfy his climate requirements. If all was quiet and content, Bragg would get restless or bored or something. He couldn't resist kicking a hornet's nest.

Although apparently happy at Fort Moultrie, Bragg managed to initiate two quarrels with his superiors. One was a series of articles he wrote that critiqued various practices in the army. This series offended Winfield Scott, the Chief of the U.S. Army, and brought a court-martial to Bragg from which he slipped through with only a light reprimand. The second was a quarrel with his base commander over his living quarters.

In his pre-Civil War years, Bragg seemed to get along well with his peers, forming close ties with William Tecumseh Sherman, John Reynolds and George Thomas. This brings up the question of why, as a commanding Confederate general, he was so unable to win the support of his subordinate generals.

Bragg was not totally at fault. Some were inordinately pompous (such as Leonidas Polk), or irascible (such as D.H. Hill) or reluctant to be under anyone's command and resistant to cooperation (such as Kirby Smith). Be that as it may, Bragg's brusque manner was interpreted as rude.

Shortly after graduating from West Point, Bragg became known as a martinet and a stickler for discipline. This may have worked adequately with the troops, but Bragg never developed a smooth and diplomatic way of handling his immediate subordinates.

From the beginning, Bragg had the dangerous combination of a high degree of intelligence coupled with a high degree of eccentricity. It made being commanded by or commanding others difficult, and Bragg never developed those talents.

For more information, contact LaVonne Jolley at 886-2090 or visit