Braxton Bragg was born on March 22, 1817, in Warrenton, North Carolina. His father was a carpenter and his younger brother Thomas was the future Confederate States Attorney General. In 1833, Bragg entered the United States Military Academy and graduated fifth in his class in 1837.
U.S. Army Officer
Following his graduation, Bragg entered the United States Army as a second lieutenant on July 1, 1837. As a young army officer, Bragg fought in the Second Seminole War (1835-1842) and the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). He received a promotion to the rank of captain in June 1846. During the Mexican American War, Bragg became friends with Colonel Jefferson Davis, commander of the Mississippi Rifles and future President of the Confederate States of America.
At the conclusion of the Mexican-American War, Bragg returned to frontier duty, where he gained a reputation as a strict disciplinarian. His rigid adherence to military procedure reportedly led to two attempts on his life by subordinates in 1847.
On June 7, 1849, Bragg married Eliza Brooks Ellis at Terrebonne Parrish, Louisiana.
Bragg continued his army career until January 1856 when he resigned his commission to become Commissioner of Public Works for the State of Louisiana and a sugar planter.
During his civilian life, Bragg served as a colonel in the Louisiana Militia. When Louisiana seceded from the Union (January 26, 1861), state officials promoted him to major general of the militia on February 20, 1861, commanding the forces around New Orleans.
On March 7, 1861, Bragg received a commission as a brigadier general in the Confederate Army and was placed in charge of the Department of West Florida. The Confederate government promoted him to major general on September 12, 1861. 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.
Battle of Shiloh
In early 1862, Union forces were threatening western Tennessee. Bragg moved his forces to Corinth, Mississippi to help stop the federal advance. On April 6-7, he served as a corps commander under General Albert S. Johnston at the Battle of Shiloh. After Johnston’s death at Shiloh, Confederate President Jefferson Davis promoted Bragg to the rank of full general on April 12, 1862.
Western Department Commander
On June 14, 1862, Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard received a certificate of disability for a recurring throat problem. The next day, Beauregard informed General Samuel Cooper, adjutant and inspector general at the War Department, that he was transferring “the command of the forces and of this department to the next officer in rank, General B. Bragg.” Beauregard then traveled to Alabama to recuperate. When President Davis learned Beauregard had left his post without his approval, he relieved Beauregard of his command of the Western Department. On June 20, 1862, Davis informed Bragg that “You are assigned permanently to the command of the department, as will be more formally notified to you by the Secretary of War.” On June 27, 1862, Bragg issued a message announcing that “Pursuant to the orders of the President I assume the permanent command of the forces in this department,” including the Army of the Mississippi.
Confederate Heartland Campaign
As commander of the Western Department, Bragg devised a plan to shift the focus of the war in the Western Theater by invading Kentucky. Bragg believed that most residents in that border state supported the Confederacy and that many of them would join the Southern army if given the opportunity. In August 1862, Bragg moved the Army of the Mississippi from Tupelo, Mississippi to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he began his advance north into Kentucky.
On September 17, the Army of the Mississippi captured an important rail station at Munfordville, Kentucky, along with four thousand Union soldiers, at the Battle of Munfordville (September 14-17, 1862). By October 4, events were so promising that Bragg took part in the inauguration of Richard Hawes as the provisional Confederate governor of Kentucky.
On October 8, 1862, Bragg won a tactical victory over his brother-in-law, 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 joined Kirby Smith‘s Confederate forces 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 demurred and instead withdrew to Knoxville.
The invasion of Kentucky proved to be a strategic failure. The Southern press criticized Bragg for his failed campaign and President Davis summoned him to Richmond to defend himself against demands by subordinate officers that Davis oust him as head of the Western Department.
Bragg Creates the Army of Tennessee
Satisfied with Bragg’s rebuttal, Davis ignored requests to relieve the general of his command. Understandably, Bragg’s relationships with his subordinate officers were strained when he rejoined his forces. On November 7, 1862, Bragg issued General Orders, No. 143, reorganizing the Army of the Mississippi into two corps commanded by Polk and William J. Hardee. Two weeks later, he issued General Orders, No. 151, again shaking up the command structure. Bragg created a third army corps, commanded by Kirby Smith, from troops from the Department of East Tennessee. The general designated his newly structured command as the Army of Tennessee.
Battle of Stones River
When Bragg returned from Richmond, he withdrew his forces from Knoxville to new defensive positions around Murfreesboro, Tennessee. When the Army of the Cumberland, now commanded by Major General William S. Rosecrans, approached Bragg’s defenses, Bragg attacked on December 31, 1862. The ensuing Battle of Stones River (also known as the Battle of Murfreesboro) resulted in a tactical draw, but Bragg withdrew to Tullahoma, Tennessee on January 3. Once again, Bragg’s subordinates lobbied for his dismissal. President Davis left the decision up to Bragg’s superior, General Joseph Johnston, who sided with Bragg.
In 1863, Rosecrans continued his offensive, driving Bragg from his defensive positions at Tullahoma in June and out of Chattanooga in September. Throughout this period, dissension within the chain of command hampered the Confederate cause. On several occasions, Bragg’s subordinates refused to follow orders he issued.
Battle of Chickamauga
In mid-September, Bragg’s fortunes changed. With his army reinforced, Bragg turned on Rosecrans as the Yankee general pursued the Southern army into northern Georgia. From September 19-20, Bragg’s Army of Tennessee won the greatest Confederate victory in the Western Theater of the American Civil War, when it defeated the Army of the Cumberland at the Battle of Chickamauga.
Despite Bragg’s stunning success, subordinates continued to snipe at him. The dissidents secretly petitioned President Davis to have Bragg relieved of command for allowing Rosecrans’ army to retreat to Chattanooga. Davis responded by denouncing the petitioners and once again deciding to leave Bragg in command.
In late November 1863, the besieged Federals in Chattanooga, now commanded by Ulysses S. Grant, began a breakout. Union assaults on Lookout Mountain (November 24, 1863) and Missionary Ridge (November 25, 1863) drove the Confederates back into northern Georgia. Facing intense criticism, Bragg offered his resignation as commander of the Army of Tennessee on December 2, 1863, and Davis probably surprised him by accepting the offer.
Adviser to the President
In February 1864, President Davis summoned Bragg to Richmond where he appointed the vilified general as his personal military adviser “charged with the conduct of military operations of the Confederate States.” During the next few months, Bragg oversaw the development of Richmond’s defenses during Ulysses S. Grant’s Petersburg Campaign. In July, Davis dispatched Bragg to Georgia to report on Joseph Johnston’s performance (Bragg’s replacement as commander of the Army of Tennessee) during the Atlanta Campaign. Bragg’s recommendation prompted Davis to replace Johnston with John Bell Hood on July 17, 1864.
Operations in North Carolina
In October 1864, President Davis dispatched Bragg to North Carolina to assume temporary command of the defenses of Wilmington. Shortly thereafter, Davis named Bragg as commander of the Department of North Carolina and Southern Virginia. Under Bragg’s leadership, Confederate forces repulsed a Union attempt on December 23–27, 1864 to reduce Fort Fisher, also known as “the Gibraltar of the South.” By the middle of January, Bragg’s indecision in reinforcing the fort opened the door for a second federal assault that forced the Confederates to surrender the bastion after suffering heavy losses.
On February 12, 1865, troops commanded by Major General John M. Schofield began operations against Wilmington, North Carolina, the Confederacy’s last open port on the Atlantic. Attempts by Bragg’s 6,600 defenders to halt Schofield’s 12,000 soldiers proved fruitless. On the night of February 21-22, Bragg ordered the destruction of Wilmington’s stores, and his troops evacuated the city. On the day after Wilmington fell into federal hands, Sherman resumed his march towards the North Carolina border, but only after destroying anything in Columbia that might be of use to the Confederacy.
Carolinas Campaign – Return to Army of Tennessee
As Sherman moved north through the Carolinas, Confederate General-in-Chief Robert E. Lee deployed the remnants of the Army of Tennessee to bolster the Confederate forces in Sherman’s path. On February 22, 1865, Lee ordered General Joseph E. Johnston to “Assume command of the Army of Tennessee and all troops in Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.” During the ensuing reorganization, Confederate officials appointed Bragg as a corps commander under Johnston.
Battle of Fort Wyse
In early March, Schofield began marching his army inland to unite with Sherman at Goldsboro, North Carolina. On March 7, Bragg attempted to thwart Schofield’s plans by attacking the Union army at Kinston, North Carolina. Although the Rebel offensive, known as the Battle of Wyse Fork (March 7 – 10, 1865), delayed Schofield’s progress for three days, the assault failed, and Bragg could not prevent the rendezvous.
Battle of Bentonville Leads to Johnston’s Surrender
Major General Henry W. Slocum‘s Army of Georgia dealt Johnston’s forces (including Bragg’s corps) a deciding blow at the Battle of Bentonville (March 19 – 21, 1865), near Bentonville, North Carolina. The Union victory sealed Johnston’s fate. Upon learning of General Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 12, Johnston contacted Sherman on April 16 to discuss capitulation.
Captured and Paroled
Bragg, however, did not surrender. Instead, he joined President Davis, and the exiled Confederate cabinet near Abbeville, South Carolina, on May 1. Bragg left Davis’ party on May 5. 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.”
Post-Civil War Life
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.
Braxton 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.