Braxton Bragg was an unusual Soldier. He was said to have a strange disposition and a strictness for details of military rules that many believed bordered on insanity.
A decorated officer from the Seminole War and Mexican War, Bragg had once been an admired fixture of the United States Army, but has become known as the most controversial general in the American Civil War.
Bragg was born on March 22, 1817 in Warrenton, North Carolina. He was one of six sons. His father, Thomas, became a very successful carpenter. When Bragg was only 10 years old, Thomas began the process of securing a nomination to West Point for him.
Bragg’s oldest brother, John, had been elected as a state legislator and was able to obtain the senatorial support needed for his brother to attend West Point from Sen. Willie P. Mangum.
Bragg was admitted into the academy at 16 years old. His classmates included the future Civil War generals Joseph Hooker, Jubal Early and Williamt H.T. Walker. He graduated fifth in his class of 50 in 1837, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Artillery.
Arriving first in Florida and then in Mexico, Bragg proved himself to his superiors, and he moved through the ranks quickly, earning three brevet promotions.
The Battle of Buena Vista in February 1847 was the defining moment of the Mexican American War for Bragg. Maj. Gen. Zachary Taylor told the then Capt. Bragg to maintain his position at all costs, and to “double-shot your guns and give ‘em hell, Bragg.” Taylor would later use a version of this as his presidential campaign slogan.
Bragg’s artillery unit helped push back the larger Mexican Army, and the day ended in a heavy rain before the Mexicans could retaliate.
While Bragg was praised for his service and valor, he was also condemned by superiors and several of his Soldiers. A possible apocryphal tale tells of two different occasions where Bragg’s Soldiers attempted to assassinate him. Another story tells of how he called a halt to an active battle to retrieve a fallen Soldier’s sword. The sword was Army property, it is believed he said, and as such the sword needed to be retrieved and handled correctly.
He fought with superiors both in his chain of command and in Washington D.C. He was seen as a smart, yet contentious commander, perfect for commanding smaller operations.
Bragg resigned his commission in 1856 to move to his wife’s Family’s estate in Louisiana. He became a sugar plantation owner. He was active in local politics, and opposed secession.
Before the beginning of the Civil War, Bragg became a colonel in the Louisiana Militia. In 1860, he was appointed to create a 5,000-man army. He took 500 volunteers to the federal arsenal in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and persuaded them to surrender. He was then appointed the commander of the Louisiana State Army, and received the rank of Major General in February 1861.
Bragg was often praised in the early part of the war by Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America. In April of 1862, pleased with Bragg’s performance in Shilo, Tennessee, Davis appointed him a full general.
The faith in Bragg didn’t last long. After the battles of Chickamauga and Chatanooga, both in Tennessee in 1863, Bragg was relieved of his command and became a chief of staff to Davis.
Davis did grant another temporary command to Bragg.
Bragg took over the defenses of Wilmington, North Carolina during Sherman’s March to the Sea. Due to his inability to act quickly and send forces to Fort Fisher, Wilmington was forced to evacuate. Bragg’s military career was essentially over.
During a brief cabinet meeting with Davis, he helped persuade the president that the cause was lost. Bragg was later captured and paroled in May 1865.
During the war, Bragg’s plantation had been confiscated, so he and his wife Eliza moved in with her brother. Over the course of the next decade, Bragg would have several jobs and move to four different cities before collapsing while walking in Galveston, Texas in September 1876. He died quickly after.
Bragg may have been a controversial figure in his military career, but he was seen initially as a fearless leader. Three towns in the United States bear his name.
In 1857, 1st Lt. Horatio G. Gibson established a military post on the coast of California. He named the post Fort Bragg, after his former commanding officer.
By 1867, the garrison at Fort Bragg, California was abandoned, but the town kept the name, and is a tourist destination in California today. In 2015, Senate Bill 539 was introduced in the California Senate to change the name of places associated with the Confederate States of America. Clarification of the bill meant that the town of Fort Bragg, California, could keep its name.
Bragg, Texas, now a ghost town, was a small community that was built up around the Santa Fe Railroad system in 1902.
Camp Bragg, North Carolina was founded in 1918 as an artillery training ground. Chief of Field Artillery, Gen. William J. Snow, decided that the area around Fayetteville would make the perfect training ground. Camp Bragg was named for Braxton Bragg, a native North Carolinian, and a commander of the 3rd U.S. Artillery.
(Editors note: Information for this article was provided by: The Civil War Trust and Braxton Bragg: The most Hated Man of the Confederacy by Early J. Hess.
The Paraglide will publish a series of articles throughout the year on the history of Fort Bragg to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the installation.)