Bragg’s Silver Lining and Another Chance for Everyone

October 31, 1862 (Friday)

Bragg: Jeff, it’s not nearly as bad as they say!

Braxton Bragg not only wanted to put the Kentucky Campaign behind him, he wanted others to forget about it too. However, soldiers and the public alike were calling for Joseph Johnston or P.G.T. Beauregard to take command. Even Bragg’s wife was critical of his performance during the past month.

After chastising him for his inability to defeat Don Carlos Buell, she pitched into him about leaving “Nashville strongly garrisoned by Yankees in your rear.” She feared that Union General Rosecrans “will soon effect a junction with them, and thus place you between two enemies. […] I hoped you would have cleared Tennessee as you advanced.”

It was within that critical mood that Bragg arrived in Richmond, the Confederate capital, at the calling of Jefferson Davis. There, the press and politicians were both out for blood. The more benign pointed out that Bragg was too cautious, while others, less sanguine, pegged him as a “tyrant, assassin, murderer, etc.”

President Davis also called upon Leonidas Polk and Kirby Smith for their opinions. Both had served with Bragg in Kentucky and both wanted little more to do with the man. Polk admitted that Bragg was a fine organizer, but did not have “the higher elements of generalship” necessary to commanding an army. Smith simply refused to serve under him.

After some thought, Davis decided it best to keep Braxton Bragg where he was. When he personally spoke with him, the President found Bragg to be willing to accept the blame for the campaign. Things would be different next time, the man would learn from his mistakes. Besides (and probably most important of all), there was nobody to take his place. Johnston was still recovering from his wounds, and Beauregard had been ousted – Davis wasn’t about to give that one a second try just yet.

Davis: That’s a fine point, Brax. Go forth!

And so, he would stick with Bragg. He would also keep Smith and Polk right where they were. Davis did not see the retreat from Kentucky as such a bad thing. Bragg certainly faired better than General Lee did in his attempt to invade Pennsylvania, which was stopped along Antietam Creek, barely a stone’s throw from the Potomac River.

The Kentucky Campaign was Bragg’s first in command of an army. Davis could probably see that Smith’s lack of support, coupled with bungling by other officers, like Polk and William Hardee, did Bragg no favors. Perhaps Davis even saw that he was personally to blame by not ordering Smith’s Army of Kentucky to be enveloped into Bragg’s Army of Mississippi.

Maybe for everyone involved, the next campaign would be the one where all of these errors could be corrected. And, if Bragg got his way, the next campaign would begin as soon as possible. On this date, Bragg submitted a note, quickly scribbled in pencil, to Davis, outlining his ideas for a new campaign to invade Western Tennessee and Nashville. For this campaign, he wanted command of Kirby Smith’s Army of Kentucky and any other forces that might be on the scene (John Breckinridge’s newly-formed Army of Middle Tennessee, for example).

After some consideration, Davis basically approved the idea. Bragg could draw upon Smith’s command, but wanted enough troops left behind to defend Cumberland Gap. Davis left it up to Smith to decide how many would be needed. It wasn’t a perfect compromise, but it was clear that Davis wanted Smith to assist Bragg.

Smith: You’re both kidding, right?

This was just fine, especially seeing as how Bragg’s Army of Mississippi was already moving west towards Nashville. It was, at any rate, a demoralized army. With injuries and desertions, the entire command was down to nearly half strength – less than 30,000 troops. Any help that Kirby Smith could lend from his 23,000 would be greatly appreciated.

It would take Bragg several days to return to command, but when he did, his army would continue its march west to Murfreesboro, where he would establish his headquarters for the coming campaign.1

  1. Sources: Autumn of Glory by Thomas Lawrence Connelly; Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat, Vol. 1 by Grady McWhiney; No Better Place to Die by Peter Cozzens; Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 20, Part 2, p384-386. []
Creative Commons License
Bragg’s Silver Lining and Another Chance for Everyone by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


View all posts by