Chickamauga 150 Countdown: The Winner, Part II
By Ron Fritze
This is excerpt two from a three-part article for the Chickamauga 150 Countdown:
In August 1862, Braxton Bragg and Edmund Kirby Smith launched an invasion of Kentucky. Their plan was to help Secessionists bring Kentucky into the Confederacy and make the Ohio River the northern border of the new nation. On 8 October 1862, units of the Union and Confederate armies fought a battle at Perryville. Bragg was under the misapprehension that he was fighting an isolated segment of the Union forces. Confederate forces attacked and drove back the Union troops. By the end of the day, however, Bragg realized that the entire numerically superior Northern Army of Don Carlos Buell was nearby and rapidly reinforcing their comrades at Perryville. So Bragg broke off the engagement and retreated, or as he put it, withdrew into Tennessee. His action dismayed Kirby Smith along with the other Confederate generals Leonidas Polk and William J. Hardee and they wrote to Jefferson Davis asking him to remove Bragg from command. Davis refused but Bragg’s relationship with his subordinate generals was in tatters.
Back in Tennessee, Bragg positioned his army at Murfreesboro. The Union Army of the Cumberland under the command of William Rosecrans advanced into Tennessee and retook Nashville. Then in late December, he moved against Bragg at Murfreesboro. When Rosecrans and his army arrived there, Bragg took the initiative and launched an attack on 31 December that began the Battle of Stones River. The Confederate attack surprised Rosecrans and Union forces were driven back to a compact defensive position. But they did not break. Bragg assumed that Rosecrans would retreat to Nashville. Instead he held his ground. Fighting recommenced on 2 January 1863 but Bragg could not dislodge Rosecrans. After conferring with Polk and Hardee, he withdrew from the battlefield and took up position at Tullahoma.
Once again, Bragg’s subordinate generals were highly critical of his actions at the Stones River. Leonidas Polk wrote to Jefferson Davis urging him to remove Bragg and put Joseph Johnston in command of the army. Other generals like Hardee agreed. John C. Breckinridge, whose troops were mauled when Bragg ordered them to make a senseless attack, was so disgusted that he threatened to challenge Bragg to a duel. Davis reacted by sending Joseph Johnston to investigate with orders to assume command from Bragg, if he found him wanting. Johnston actually found Bragg’s camp at Tullahoma to be in very good order and his troops well disciplined. Of course, such things do not necessarily a great general make. The example of George McClellan and the Army of the Potomac comes to mind. Johnston was also reluctant to remove Bragg and put himself in command as it would appear self-serving. So Bragg remained in command of the Army of the Tennessee with dissension rife among his subordinate offices as Rosecrans prepared to take the offensive in June 1863.