Braxton Bragg: Early Life and Military Service
Braxton Bragg was born on March 22, 1817, into a family of humble means in Warrenton, North Carolina. His father was a contactor and his mother—whom Bragg rarely discussed in his later life—had spent time in jail for killing a freed slave. While his family struggled throughout his youth, Bragg’s politician brother helped him secure an appointment the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1833. He graduated in 1837, finishing fifth in a class of 50 cadets.
Bragg was commissioned into the 3rd U.S. Artillery and first served in Florida during the Second Seminole War (1835-42). He was next transferred to Charleston, South Carolina, where he was disciplined after publicly criticizing the esteemed U.S. General Winfield Scott. Bragg later served in the Mexican-American War, in which he was commended for bravery and promoted to lieutenant colonel after the Battle of Buena Vista in 1847. Bragg returned from Mexico a war hero and went on to serve in a variety of peacetime duties. In 1849 he married Eliza Brooks Ellis, a wealthy Louisiana woman. Bragg would later resign from the military in 1855 and settle on a sugar plantation in Thibodaux, Louisiana.
Braxton Bragg: Civil War Service
During his time as a planter, Bragg also served as a colonel in the Louisiana militia. At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, he was promoted to major general in the militia and helped raise Louisiana’s army. He was later shifted to the rank of brigadier general in the Confederate Army and placed in command of troops on the Gulf Coast. A notorious disciplinarian who was rarely loved by his men, Bragg nevertheless proved adept at training his new soldiers, who became known as some of the best-drilled troops in the army. He was later promoted to major general and in February 1862 joined forces with General Albert Sidney Johnston in the war’s Western Theater.
Bragg’s first major combat experience came in April 1862 at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee. The battle ended in defeat, but Bragg received praise for his tenacious assaults on a Union position known as the “Hornets’ Nest.” He was promoted to full general that same day after Johnston was killed during the fighting. Following General P.G.T. Beauregard’s failure at the Siege of Corinth in May 1862, Bragg was elevated to command of the Army of Mississippi (later known as the Army of Tennessee).
Braxton Bragg: Command of the Army of Tennessee
After transporting his army by train to Chattanooga, Tennessee, Bragg worked with General Edmund Kirby Smith during a Confederate invasion of Kentucky in August 1862. In October Bragg engaged the forces of General Don Carlos Buell at the Battle of Perryville. While his troops succeeded in striking a blow against a portion of Buell’s army, Bragg did not press the victory and instead made the controversial decision to withdraw to Knoxville. Bragg would face a setback at the Battle of Stones River in December 1862 and January 1863, when Union forces under General William Rosecrans repulsed repeated Confederate offensives. During this time Bragg’s leadership came under considerable scrutiny, and many of his subordinates began to call for his replacement.
During the Tullahoma Campaign in the summer of 1863, Bragg evacuated Chattanooga and withdrew to Georgia with Rosecrans in pursuit. While he fell back, Bragg was able to take on significant reinforcements to his Army of Tennessee, and in September 1863 he counterattacked during the Battle of Chickamauga. With the help of General James Longstreet’s corps, Bragg launched a successful offensive that collapsed the Union left flank and nearly destroyed Rosecrans’s army.
The Battle of Chickamauga proved to be the most significant Confederate victory in the Western Theater, resulting in more than 30,000 casualties. But despite his clear advantage, Bragg once again declined to capitalize on his victory and instead allowed the Union Army to retreat to Chattanooga. Bragg then laid siege to the city, but was dealt a decisive defeat by General Ulysses S. Grant during the Battles of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge in November 1863. Bragg withdrew to Georgia that same month, still under bitter criticism from his subordinate officers. He offered his resignation to Davis shortly thereafter and was replaced by General Joseph E. Johnston in December 1863.
Braxton Bragg: Later Civil War Service
After being relieved of his command, Bragg was appointed as the military advisor to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. In this capacity, Bragg overhauled the Confederacy’s conscription process and prisoner-of-war system; he also coordinated Richmond’s defenses. In July 1864 he traveled to Georgia to report on General Joseph Johnston’s performance during the Atlanta Campaign, and played a role in replacing him with General John Bell Hood.
In October 1864 Bragg took command of the defenses of Wilmington, North Carolina—one of the last ports of call for Confederate blockade-runners—and later oversaw the entire Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia. In November 1864 he commanded the defenses of Augusta, Savannah and Columbia during General William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea. Bragg returned to Wilmington in early 1865 and presided over the Second Battle of Fort Fisher, but he was unable to prevent the port from falling into Union control. Bragg ended the war with a brief return to the Army of Tennessee in March 1865, serving as a corps commander during the Battle of Bentonville. He was captured by Union forces in May 1865 and was paroled shortly thereafter.
Braxton Bragg: Later Life
After the Civil War Bragg returned to Louisiana to find that the Union Army had seized his plantation. After struggling financially for some time, Bragg found work as the superintendent of the New Orleans Waterworks and then as the chief engineer of Alabama. He moved to Texas in 1874 after securing a position as the chief engineer of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad, and later served as the chief railroad inspector for the state of Texas. Bragg died in Galveston, Texas, in 1876 at the age of 59.