General Braxton Bragg was soundly defeated at Perryville by Union Gen. Don Carlos Buell
(October 19, 2012) - On this date in 1862, Rebel Gen. Braxton Bragg was in full spin doctor mode, claiming his retreat from Kentucky was a good move.
On Oct. 8, 1862, Bragg fought Gen. Don Carlos Buell to a standstill at the Battle of Perryville in Boyle County. But Bragg's withdrawal turned his tactical victory into a strategic win for the Yankee army.
Bragg protested that he had little to gain and much to lose if he stuck around in Kentucky. A sound defeat by the Yankees—who far outnumbered him—would have cost him the bounty of food and other supplies he managed to take out of Kentucky.
"With the whole southwest thus in the enemy's possession, my crime would have been unpardonable had I kept my noble little army to be ice-bound in the northern clime, without tents or shoes, and obliged to forage daily for bread, etc.,” Bragg explained to his presumably sympathetic spouse.
No matter, Bragg had an ace in the hole: he was one of Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ pet generals. Even so, Davis’ esteem did not shield Bragg from critics in the Confederate press. Lewis and Richard Collins’ old History of Kentucky quoted some of the scorn heaped on Bragg by newspapers in Richmond, the Confederate capital, and elsewhere.
They described Bragg’s invasion as “a brilliant blunder and a magnificent failure.” His retreat was "profoundly disappointing and mortifying" to Confederate citizens and dashed "their fond hopes of liberating Ky. and Tennessee."
The papers charged that Davis would have sacked any other general who displayed such incompetence. "He is the only prominent instance in either section or army, where presidential favoritism persistently maintained an officer in commanding position who had repeatedly proved himself inadequate to the emergency.”
Indeed, the papers pointed out that Buell, who was as hapless at Bragg, was fired in favor of Gen. William S. Rosecrans. Buell’s Army of the Ohio became the Army of the Cumberland under “Old Rosey.”
Some of Bragg’s own subordinate commanders--and soldiers--denounced him after Perryville. The carping grew louder after Rosecrans whipped him at Stones River, Tenn., Dec. 31, 1862-Jan. 2, 1863.
The battle of Chattanooga—Nov. 23–25, 1863--was the last straw. After Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's army ran Bragg and his troops out of town, Bragg offered to quit. Davis, much to Bragg’s surprise and chagrin, accepted his resignation. He stayed in the army but played only minor roles for the rest of the war.
Often described as a “dyspeptic martinet," Bragg generally doesn’t fare well in Civil War history books. But his name lives on in Fort Bragg, N.C.
It has been suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that the U.S. Army named the home of the famous 82nd Airborne Division for the Rebel general because he did such valuable service to the Union side by routinely losing battles and retreating.
-- Berry Craig is a professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and is the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, Hidden History of Kentucky in the Civil War, Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers and Hidden History of Western Kentucky. The books are being sold to raise money for scholarships at WKCTC. They are available by contacting Craig by phone at (270) 534-3270 or by email at email@example.com.