Braxton Bragg Facts: Five Things to Know About the Worst Confederate General

Braxton Bragg. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Braxton Bragg was a full general in the Confederate Army who commanded the Army of the Mississippi and the Army of Tennessee. He took part in key battles such as Shiloh, Stones River, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga. However, Bragg had an abrasive, combative personality. At one point, some of his men may have even tried to assassinate him. His reputation and lack of success on the field of battle have led many to call him the worst officer of the Civil War. Here are a few interesting things about Braxton Bragg.

1. He graduated from West Point

In 1833, Bragg entered the United States Military Academy and graduated fifth in his class in 1837. Some of his notable classmates were Jubal Anderson Early, Joseph Hooker, John C. Pemberton, and John Sedgwick.

2. Even before the Civil War, he had a bad reputation.

Bragg entered the United States Army as a second lieutenant on July 1, 1837. Like many officers who later served in the Civil War, Bragg fought in the Second Seminole War (1835–1842) and the Mexican-American War (1846–1848). In June 1846, he was promoted to the rank of captain. During the Mexican-American War, Bragg met Colonel Jefferson Davis, commander of the Mississippi Rifles — and the future President of the Confederate States of America. However, Bragg gained a reputation for being a strict rule-follower and disciplinarian — and he had a habit of arguing with his fellow officers and superiors. The situation was so bad that his men might have actually tried to assassinate him in 1847 — twice — but failed both times.

3. He opposed secession but served in the Confederate Army anyway.

He opposed secession, but still led Louisiana troops against the Federal Arsenal on January 11, 1861, and took control of it. On March 7, 1861, Bragg received a commission as a brigadier general in the Confederate Army and was put in charge of the Department of West Florida. On September 12, 1861, he was promoted to major general. On October 9, 1861, he sent troops to attack Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island, but they were pushed back at the Battle of Santa Rosa Island. It was one of his early missteps as a commanding officer in the Confederate Army.

Battle of Santa Rosa Island, Wilson Zouaves, 1861
Bragg ordered Confederate forces to attack a Union camp on Santa Rosa Island. Image Source:

4. He was vilified by the Southern press for abandoning Kentucky.

On June 27, 1862, Bragg replaced P.G.T. Beauregard as commander of the Western Department. Soon after, Bragg invaded Kentucky, thinking there was significant support for the Confederacy and people would take up arms against the Union. On October 8, 1862, he won a tactical victory over Major General Don Carlos Buell, at the Battle of Perryville. However, with his army running short of supplies and ammunition, the prospect of squaring off against Buell’s reinforced army the next day prompted Bragg to withdraw during the night and met Confederate forces under the command of Edmund Kirby Smith at Harrodsburg, Kentucky. Smith and two of Bragg’s subordinate officers, Leonidas Polk, and William J. Hardee urged Bragg to continue the campaign, but with winter approaching, Bragg decided to withdraw to Knoxville. Once he left Kentucky, the Union held control of the state for the remainder of the war. The invasion of Kentucky proved to be a strategic failure. The Southern press criticized Bragg for the failed campaign. Bragg’s subordinates wanted him removed too and complained to President Davis.

5. He refused to surrender.

Following the Surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House and the surrender of Joe Johnston at Bennett Place, Bragg went on the run. A Union cavalry patrol commanded by Lieutenant Samuel Phillips captured Bragg and his wife five days later near Concord, Georgia. Phillips paroled Bragg immediately and directed him to report to General James H. Wilson at Macon. When Bragg did not report, Wilson directed him to go home and remain there on parole as long as he would “abstain from all acts of hostility to the United States.”

What happened to Braxton Bragg?

After the Civil War, Bragg served as the superintendent of the New Orleans waterworks, the chief engineer for Alabama, and a railroad inspector in Texas. Bragg died at Galveston, Texas, on September 27, 1876. His final resting place is in Magnolia Cemetery, Mobile, Alabama. In 1919, the U.S. Army opened Fort Bragg, in North Carolina, named in Bragg’s honor.

Would you like to learn more about Braxton Bragg? We have a full biography and a list of facts about him.