December 2, 1863 (Wednesday)
When last we left Confederate General Braxton Bragg, he was in command of the Army of Tennessee, retreating south. He had lost the Battle of Chattanooga – a feat that few expected he could accomplish. They had retreated thirty some miles southeast to Dalton, Georgia, crossing the muddied Ringold’s Gap – though not without a nip at the heels from elements of General Grant’s Army of the Tennessee.
Once in Dalton, on November 27th, Braxton Bragg began to take account of the battle and immediately relieved John Breckinridge. Prior to the battle, Bragg had wanted to retreat, but Breckinridge, a corps commander, was apparently convincing enough to persuade the general to fight it out. Camp rumor had it that Breckinridge was on a long bender and inebriated for several days straight. Bragg contended that he had to place the drunken officer under the care of a division commander in order to get him to Dalton. True or not, Breckinridge was quickly, though only shortly, unemployed.
The very next day, Bragg turned inward and penned a letter of resignation to Richmond. It was a short, but still rambling affair, and at the end, he decided “to ask for relief from command and an investigation into the causes of the defeat.” The telegram was swiftly shown to President Jefferson Davis, who had always supported Bragg in the past. Perhaps Bragg’s request was empty sentiment, believing that Davis would once again sustain him. But this time, it would not be so.
On the 30th, Bragg received notice that he was indeed relieved and that corps commander, General William Hardee, would take the reigns. It would take a few days for the paperwork to go through, and in that time, Bragg both sulked and tossed blame around from officer to officer.
In his official report, which he began on the same day his resignation was accepted, Bragg rambled on about the causes for the defeat at Chattanooga. Mostly, he blamed the soldiery: “No satisfactory excuse can possibly be given for the shameful conduct of our troops on the left in allowing their line to be penetrated.” The position, Bragg urged, was strong enough to be held by merely a thin line of skirmishers.
A day later, in a letter to Davis, Bragg admitted that the defeat was “justly disparaging to me as a commander,” but trusted that the President “may find upon full investigation that the fault is not entirely mine.” To further this investigation, he requested that all of his corps commanders divulge the names of the officers under them who fled the battle so their names could be forwarded to Richmond and ultimately “dropped from the rolls.”
On this date, December 2nd, General Hardee officially took command of the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Bragg made his egress with a farewell letter to the troops. “The announcement of this separation is made with unfeigned regret,” spoke Bragg to his men. “The associations of more than two years, which bind together a commander and his trusted troops, cannot be severed without deep emotion.”
Bragg was, of course, correct. The troops had a very deep emotion for their commander – and for most, the emotion was seething hatred. Unwilling to fight, they were deserting in droves. In fact, on the retreat to Dalton, Bragg had to establish a skirmish line behind his army to capture his own men trying to make good their freedom. Even the veterans had lost confidence in their commander.
General Hardee officially took command of Bragg’s Army of Tennessee, reassuring his men that it was not actually their fault. “The overwhelming numbers of the enemy forced us back from Missionary Ridge,” he spoke, “but the army is still intact and in good heart. […] Only the weak and timid need to be cheered by constant success. Let the past take care of itself; we can and must secure the future.”
But on this odd little day, the future was exactly what Braxton Bragg was worried about. President Davis’ acceptance of his resignation either came as a complete shock, sending him into a delusional stupor, or he simply ignored it. “What, then, shall be our policy?” asked Bragg, who evidentially still believed there was an “our” that included him. He again accepted blame, but in a strange and superficial way, flippantly assuring that “the whole responsibility and disgrace rest on my humble head.” Perhaps, though the humility lasted only until the next line. “But we can redeem the past,” he continued. “Let us concentrate all our available men, unite them with this gallant little army, still full of zeal and burning to redeem its lost character and prestige, and with our greatest and best leader at the head, yourself, if practicable, march the whole upon the enemy and crush him in his power and glory.”
Indeed, Bragg was suggesting that they form one gigantic Confederate army and that Jefferson Davis himself lead it to victory. “I believe it practicable,” the disturbed general blathered on, “and trust that I may be allowed to participate in the struggle which may restore the character, the prestige, and the country we have just lost.” Bragg’s mania aside, the plan was ridiculous, and Davis gave it hardly a glance.
General Hardee had accepted command of the army, but only temporarily. While Bragg was hallucinating, Richmond was scrambling to find a more permanent replacement. Obviously General Lee was out of the question, but there was James Longstreet, still slightly besieging Ambrose Burnside in Knoxville. There was also, of course, Joe Johnston, managing best he could in Mississippi.
In the meantime, Bragg was ordered away from his beloved army, and would soon find himself in Richmond. His unemployment would not be long lasting, but his days on the field of battle were over for the foreseeable future.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 31, Part 3, p775-776; Vol. 52, Part 2, p567-568; Mountains Touched with Fire by Wiley Sword; The Shipwreck of Their hopes by Peter Cozzens; Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat Vol. 2, by Judith Lee Hallock; Days of Glory by Larry J. Daniel. [↩]