Saturday, June 16, 2012

Commanders of Armies, e.g., Hood & Bragg

In the Civil War, the best generals were believed (by the both governments) to be those who could send enthusiastic troops against an emplaced enemy and route him (not just that of course, but most notably that). Lincoln and Davis both favored that sort of general. One recalls the famous message Lincoln almost sent to McClellan,” My dear McClellan: If you don't want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a while. Yours respectfully, A. Lincoln.”

Jefferson Davis, a graduate of West Point was even more insistent than Lincoln on aggressiveness in his generals. He removed a very fine general, Joseph Johnston and replaced him with the Texas fire-eater John Hood to the detriment of the Western Army. What was Johnston’s sin? Davis thought he was too slow and too conservative. Unfortunately for Hood, who seemed to know this in advance, his army loved Johnston and hated the idea of seeing him replaced. Anyone would have had a difficult time replacing Johnston. It was a shocking thing to be moved out from under a sensible cautious general and turned over to a general who would send them in wave after wave against entrenched fortifications (which was in accordance with Hood’s reputation which was well known). Johnston would have been more cautious and left Franklin with far more of his army than Hood did. Hood didn’t do the sensible thing and retreat after Franklin but took his emaciated forces forward to attack Nashville and utterly destroy his own army.

But in Hood’s defense, what little chance he had was severely hampered by the generals who answered to him. Whether they overtly acted against him may be questionable, but in moving out from under Johnston, they did not do a very good job for Hood. The big example of that is that they let Schofield’s army march by them in the night at Spring Hill. An exhausted Hood was back in his tent suffering from his unhealed stump and paralyzed hand while his corps & division commanders let Schofield’s army string by in the night and get away to Franklin. There was a lot of finger pointing after that. Hood was ultimately responsible by virtue of being in charge of the Army but would Hood’s battlefield commander, Cheatham have been so lax if Johnston was still in charge of the Army? I doubt it. Schofield’s army might well have been routed as it attempted to march by Hood’s army at Spring Hill – if Cheatham and others were feeling loyal toward their commander.

As it was, Schofield’s army made it unscathed past the sleeping, inattentive and lax Confederates and on to Franklin where they dug in so well that when Hood sent his troops against its emplacements a great slaughter ensued. Hood’s army was decimated at Franklin by a force that should have been routed at Spring Hill.

Bragg had some of the qualities necessary to lead an army but like Hood at Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville he had physical problems, “the work of years of dyspepsia, dysentery, and chronic headaches, afflictions that also conspired to sour his temper and enfeeble him, so much so, according to an intimate, that he was unable to endure long periods of stress or responsibility.” His troops hated him and as was the case with Burnside were willing to believe the worst stories about him. “During the retreat from Shiloh, when absolute stealth was imperative, Bragg directed that no gun be discharged, death being the penalty for disobedience. A drunk young Rebel chose to flout the order with a few random shots at a chicken along the roadside. The chicken escaped unscathed, but not so the soldier, who was summarily shot for having betrayed the route of march. Not surprisingly, given the army’s antipathy to Bragg, the incident became exaggerated in the telling. The unlucky soldier was said to have been condemned by Bragg for having killed a chicken. Similar tales followed. Some whispered that the commanding general had had a man shot for stealing apples, others insisted that he had hanged sixteen more from a single tree for an unspecified offense. It is pointless to demonstrate the absurdity of these accusations. What is significant is that many men within the Army of the Mississippi believed them, and that is more damning to Bragg’s reputation than a score of battlefield reverses.” [from Peter Cozzens No Better Place to Die]

Cozzens here is referring to Bragg’s reputation with his troops. If we compare Bragg (widely considered a poor army commander) with Sherman (widely considered an excellent one) we note that Sherman’s troops loved him. They called him “Uncle Billy,” and he took good care of them, treating them fairly and with consideration. Bragg didn’t have that sort of relationship with his troops. He doesn’t seem to have had it with anyone except perhaps Jefferson Davis. It is worth noting that General Hood did have that sort of relationship with his Texas troops – who willingly charged emplaced defenders and gave up their lives for him. Unfortunately there weren’t many of them left, if any, to look out for him as he slept the night away at Spring Hill.

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