News of the Confederate defeat at Missionary Ridge and the subsequent loss of Chattanooga in late November 1863 proved a bitter pill for the South. Now the heartland of Georgia and Alabama lay open to Union invasion.
One soldier in gray who had witnessed this devastating turn of events firsthand remarked to his company commander, “Captain, this is the death knell of the Confederacy. If we cannot cope with those fellows with the advantages we had on this line, there is not a line between here and the Atlantic Ocean where we can stop them.”
In Gen. Braxton Bragg’s opinion, the humiliating reversal at Chattanooga was not his fault. In his report to Richmond, Bragg laid the blame on his soldiers. “No satisfactory excuse can possibly be given for the shameful conduct of the troops,” he pronounced. Yet it was Bragg who had weakened his army in the face of a growing host of Union soldiers, while at the same time making little attempt to feed, supply or clothe his own men during the siege at Chattanooga. Morale was now at its lowest point since Bragg had taken command of the Army of Tennessee back in the early summer of 1862. “Bully for Bragg — he’s hell on retreat,” his soldiers scoffed.
Now in the safe confines of Dalton, with Rocky Face Ridge serving as a natural obstacle against further Union advances, Bragg and his dispirited men tried to collect themselves. Subtracting those killed, wounded, taken prisoner or simply missing in action during the recent engagements, the Confederate army numbered scarcely 40,000. A full third of its artillery had been captured and its horses and mules were in no shape for strenuous activity.
Dalton, chiefly by simple coincidence, had overnight become the Army of Tennessee’s winter encampment site. Many of the local citizens had packed up what they could and abandoned the town, and from that point until the end of the war Dalton stood in harm’s way.
At this point there was nothing left for Bragg to do but submit his resignation, hoping that President Davis would refuse it as he had done once before. On Nov. 29 the Confederate commander wired Richmond to report his army’s current location, saying, “We hope to maintain this position, but should the enemy press on promptly we may have to cross the Oostenaula (sic).”
Toward the end of the same telegram Bragg offered up his sword: “I deem it due to the cause and to myself to ask for relief from command.” But this time Davis did not refuse. The next day a telegram arrived from the Confederate War Department: “The president directs me to notify you that you are relieved from command, which you will transfer to Lieutenant General Hardee, the officer next in rank and present for duty.”
Stunned, on Dec. 1 Bragg sent a letter by special messenger to his old friend Davis: “The disaster (at Chattanooga) admits of no palliation, and is justly disparaging to me as a commander. I trust, however, you may find upon full investigation that the fault is not entirely mine.” Bragg then went on to point an accusatory finger at several of his subordinate officers, including John C. Breckinridge and Benjamin F. Cheatham, two of his favorite targets since the Battle of Stones River. The next day Bragg sent another letter, this time suggesting to Davis that “we can redeem the past. Let us concentrate all our available men, unite them with this gallant little army, march the whole upon the enemy and crush him in his power and glory. I trust that I may be allowed to participate in the struggle which may restore us.”
There was no response. On Dec. 4, Bragg turned command of the Army of Tennessee over to William J. Hardee and decamped. But Hardee refused to accept the position on a permanent basis, thus setting in motion a frantic search for Bragg’s replacement. Eventually, Davis brought Bragg to Richmond as his military adviser, a position he held until early 1865.
Following the cessation of hostilities, Bragg spent time in Alabama before relocating to Galveston, Texas. On Sept. 27, 1876, while walking down a Galveston street in the company of a friend, Bragg dropped dead. He was laid to rest in Mobile, Ala.
It is ironic that a man frequently derided as “the best general the North had” was in command of the Army of Tennessee during the period of its greatest success. Bragg’s abrasive personality and his willingness to blame others for his failures have left him with a tarnished image. But those who followed him, and who are remembered more favorably, did no better.
The ultimate insult is evident at the Chickamauga battlefield today: There is no monument to Braxton Bragg.
This article is part of a series of stories about Dalton and life in Dalton during the Civil War. The stories run on Sunday and are provided by the Dalton Civil War 150th Commission. To find out more about the committee, go to www.dalton150th.com. If you have material that you would like to contribute for a future article, contact Robert Jenkins at (706) 259-4626 or email@example.com.