Friday, July 20, 2012

Bragg, his Cavalry and his failure

I especially enjoyed the last two chapters of Powell's Failure in the Saddle. In them he does address the almost universal criticism of Bragg. Yes, Bragg made mistakes, but, these mistakes were exacerbated by poor support from his Cavalry. Powell may be right but he hasn't made his case. He assumes that Bragg's orders were "clear." No one I've read accepts that assumption. Connelly, D. H. Hill, Longstreet, McWhiney & Cozzens among others describe Bragg's thinking as muddled and his orders unclear -- at least during the heat of battle. Cozzens deals more with Bragg's opponent (at Chickamauga) than the others and it is interesting that when I picked up Cozzens to resume reading I was often unclear as to whether I was reading about Rosecrans or Bragg. I had to refer back a few pages to orient myself. They were both muddled in their thinking and both unclear in their orders. Is that a mere coincidence or was Chickamauga so difficult a battlefield that anyone would have been muddled?

While I don't agree with the position Powell takes on Bragg I think that Bragg and Rosecrans may have been criticized for factors beyond their control. They are back behind the lines with poor maps, no timely reports of activities, no clear picture of what the enemy is doing or whether their own units are fulfilling their obligations.

I hope it isn't anachronistic to attempt to put myself back into their situations. While reading Connelly and Cozzens I was chagrined to admit to myself that if I were in Bragg's position (given what I am being told that Bragg knew) I couldn't have done any better and probably wouldn't have done as well. If I told my cavalry that their primary duty was to feed me information (which Powell sometimes asserts), then who would guard my left and right flanks?

Also, my corps commanders were responsible for conducting the actual battle on the field. Like Bragg I would perhaps have told them to turn Rosecrans right wing, but how would I know how well that was going, or if it was going at all?

A failure everyone mentions is Bragg's inability to get along with his lieutenants. Was Bragg better or worse than others in that regard? I don't know. Many of the generals I've read about had their "buttons pushed" by subordinates and others. Dealing with Polk may have seemed more important at the moment than believing Longstreet when he reports Rosecrans' right wing in full retreat. Yes R. E. Lee was better at avoiding having his buttons pushed, but to be second to Robert E. Lee isn't a bad thing. Who else was he worse than? Not Johnston, D. H. Hill, Longstreet, or Hood and maybe no one. When tempted to think Bragg couldn't get along with anyone I am reminded that one of his best friends, if I recall correctly, was Sherman. They became friends at West Point and as far as I know resumed their friendship after the war and remained friends throughout the rest of their lives. That is something one can puzzle over for a while.

Yes, Bragg failed to give Longstreet the support he needed to pursue the retreating Federals, but as Cozzens said, all the Confederate troops were well used. The number of Confederate looses was huge. According to McWhiney & Jamieson, Attack and Die, Table 1, Bragg's army started the battle of Chickamauga with 66,326 men and lost 16,986. The Federals on the other hand started out with 58,222 and lost 11,413. While Bragg wouldn't know those details he would probably have had a very strong feeling that his army had been severely hurt and that rushing ahead in support of Longstreet's desire to give chase might not have been a wise thing to do.

Knowing what I know now I would have believed Longstreet, and even if I did, what troops would I have given him with which to pursue the retreating Rosecrans? And what if Rosecrans picked a good spot, entrenched, and waited for Longstreet? I might lose most of the forces I sent along in his support.

I would use this same sort of thinking to explain Forrest. He didn't trust the orders he got from Bragg. He also had the experience of Bragg not listening to him when much was at stake. So how much was Forrest "failing" when he attempted to do the right thing despite poor orders from Bragg? Powell seems to assume there were no poor orders, but Powell does not support his assertion with evidence.

In Powell's Epilogue he analyzes many of the readily-available books on Bragg and Chickamauga. All but one are critical of Bragg. That one is Judith Lee Hallock's Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat: Volume II.

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