Friday, July 20, 2012

Bragg’s intelligence problems

The following is quoted from page 86-87 of Peter Cozzens This Terrible Sound, The Battle of Chickamauga. He in turn quotes Polk and Colonel Brent. Brent's Diary has been preserved in the Parson's Collection by the Western Reserve Historical Society:

"Bragg was exhausted. He had slept but little since abandoning Chattanooga, and the strain was beginning to tell. Polk thought he looked weaker than he had at any time since the retreat form Tullahoma. 'Bragg seems sick and feeble. The responsibilities of his trust weigh heavily upon him,' Colonel Brent noted with concern in his diary. Fundamentally, however Bragg gave up because he could no longer trust his generals to obey his orders. The command structure of the Army of Tennessee was near collapse. The sudden accretion of new commanders and units had strained the fragile patchwork. Weighed down by distrust and contempt, it now ripped apart completely. Hill summarized the problem from the point of view of Bragg's subordinates:

'The nightmare upon Bragg . . . was due, doubtless, to his uncertainty about the movements of his enemy, and to the certainty that there was not that mutual confidence between him and some of his subordinates that there ought to be between a chief and his officers to insure victory. Bragg's want of definite and precise information had led him more than once to issue "impossible" orders, and therefore those intrusted with their execution got in the way of disregarding them. Another more serious trouble with him was the disposition to find a scapegoat for every failure and disaster. This made his officers cautious about striking a blow when an opportunity presented itself, unless they were protected by a positive order.'" *

*from Daniel Harvey Hill, 'Chickamauga -- The Great Battle of the West,' in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, ed. Clarence Buell and Robert Johnson, 4 vols

Comment: My impression from other things I've read is that every general had "uncertainty about the movements of his enemy" at least some of the time. The resources available (if we don't count balloons) were scouts, spies, newspaper article, deserters, civilians and the cavalry. Hill elsewhere faults Bragg for relying too much on his cavalry and not enough on scouts. If that were true and Bragg as we know used his cavalry for guarding his flanks and skirmishing and not for full-time intelligence gathering, perhaps he thought he was getting as much intelligence as was available during the skirmishing. Forrest would skirmish with Wilder for example and then report back as to whether Wilder were on his own or in advance of a larger force. I don't see how Forrest could have done much more than that and there is reference to Bragg using scouts on occasion but perhaps they either weren't available or weren't up to certain sorts of intelligence gathering.

Or perhaps Bragg was especially remiss. Perhaps D. H. Hill believed he would have done better in this situation with scouts for example. But from other things I've read about the Chickamauga campaign just about everyone, both Confederate and Union felt "uncertainty about the movements of his enemy."

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