Friday, July 20, 2012

On trying to understand Bragg's orders

Historians attempting to fault Bragg's generals for not supporting Bragg well enough in the midst of battle are at a disadvantage. The "midst of battle" seemed to be the very time that Bragg had the least understanding of what he ought to do. What follows is Cozzens (This Terrible Sound, p 169) describing Stewart's attempt to get clear instructions from Bragg:

"Major General Alexander Peter Stewart could read no sign in the orders Major Pollock Lee of the army staff handed him shortly after Cheatham's division ran into trouble. Stewart was to withdraw from the left of the army, march behind hood, and then 'move to the point where the firing had commenced.' That was all. There was no mention of what he should do when he reached the fighting, nor any hint of a coordinated effort.

"Stewart had no intention of acting on orders so ridiculously vague. 'Old Straight,' as he was known in the army, was an intelligent man who liked to know the why behind his orders; at the moment, however, he would settle simply for . . . the what. Leaving his command, Stewart set out for Thedford's ford, a half mile in his rear. . ."

"Stewart's interview with Bragg was a failure. [Stewart's] pointed request for more explicit instructions embarrassed Bragg, and he fumbled for an answer. Walker was engaged on the right; he was badly cut up and the enemy was trying to turn his flank, Bragg told Stewart. Polk was in command of that wing now, he added, and Stewart should report to him for further orders; in the meantime, he must 'be governed by circumstances.' Stewart gave up and rode back to his command in disgust.

"Bragg had been cruelly disingenuous with [Stewart]. Polk had left Bragg's side only minutes before with Captain Wheless to try to find Cheatham's position himself; certainly Bragg must have known that the odds of Polk and Stewart meeting on ground unfamiliar to both were slim."
Connelly on page 205 of Autumn of Glory writes, "Disgusted with the lax state of command, Stewart, on his own initiative, continued his march around Hood's corps, and finally got into action about 2:30 P.M.

"Stewart's ensuing success during the afternoon indicates that the Rebels probably could have won the battle on September 19 had commands been more wisely handled. Intelligence received by Bragg during the morning had indicated that Rosecrans was marching troops across Buckner's and Hood's front to reach the new Union Left . . . Thus, a strong attack by Hood and Buckner might have . . . cut off Rosecrans from Chattanooga. . ."

"Unable to find any instructions for a coordinated effort, Stewart marched to Cheatham's left, wheeled, and drove his three brigades straight across the La Fayette Road and through the Union center. By 4 P.M., the Federal line was severed in half."

One might at this point think that Bragg's telling Stewart, to be "governed by circumstances" was good enough. Stewart used his own judgment and severed the Federal line. However, "Stewart could not hold. Buckner and Hood did not move to his support. . . Unsupported, Stewart's men sullenly gave up their hold on the Federal center, and by 4 P.M. were retreating to the east side of the La Fayette Road. . ."

"It was only on his own initiative that Hood about 4 P.M. [but presumably after Stewart retreated] ordered a belated assault across the La Fayette Road."

Why did not Buckner use the initiative that Stewart and Hood were using? One can read Connelly to say that Buckner had received no current orders and ". . . without orders Buckner had gone into a semi-siege position along the west bank of the Chickamauga."

Connelly (as Cozzens) goes on in excruciating and painful detail about these unled, uninstructed generals doing the best they can and surprisingly doing better than we might expect. It is their good fortune that Rosecrans is as befuddled as Bragg is. Neither commander provided the adequate leadership, but here we are looking mostly at Bragg and we find no evidence that he was failed by his lieutenants or those providing him "intelligence." There is ample sign, on the other hand, that he failed his army.

No comments: