Sunday, March 18, 2007

Was Braxton Bragg Really that Bad? Part II

One of Bragg’s worst problems was the fact that he was saddled with General Leonidas Polk, undoubtedly the most insolent idiot in high command.Polk was repeatedly insubordinate and worked to undermine Bragg’s plans and convert other generals to his anti-Bragg position: he was openly insubordinate during the Perryville campaign; during the Tullahoma campaign he undermined Bragg’s plan to turn Rosecrans’s right; during the Chickamauga campaign he refused Bragg’s orders to attack Crittenden’s corps on September 13; and on the night after the first day of Chickamauga, he took no steps to comply with Bragg’s orders to prepare for a dawn assault on the Federal left (which was crucial to Bragg’s plan to cut the Federals off from, rather than drive them back toward, Chattanooga).

Unfortunately, although Polk was a terrible general, he was a charmer. After a year of badmouthing and conspiring against Bragg, he had won over many of the other commanders. For differing reasons, when D.H. Hill and Longstreet joined the army they were only too happy to join the anti-Bragg cabal. Hill refused to attack an isolated portion of George Thomas’s corps at McLemore’s Cove on September 10, 1863, claiming that Cleburne was sick and unavailable when that was not the case. Longstreet was responsible for the sector that included Brown’s Ferry and ignored orders and suggestions to guard against Federal movements in that area, leading to the opening of the “cracker line.”

Ironically, for all Bragg’s reputation as a nasty curmudgeon, the argument can be made that his biggest fault was that he tried to be too reasonable and accommodating. Knowing the relationship between Jefferson Davis and Polk, and not realizing the extent to which Polk was poisoning the other commanders, Bragg did not take firm steps against Polk after the Perryville campaign, but instead turned the other cheek. Arguably, he should have brought charges against Polk immediately after that campaign; if Jefferson Davis objected (as he certainly would have), Bragg should have been prepared to say, “Him or me.”

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