Braxton Bragg and James Longstreet were two of the most infamous generals of the Confederate army. Many believe that Bragg was the worst general of the Confederacy and cite him as one of the main reasons that the Confederacy lost the war. Bragg’s detractors point to the battles of Perrysville, the Tullahoma Campaign and Chattanooga, among other blunders, to show the ineptness of his command. On the other hand, Longstreet has been blamed for his actions at Gettysburg.
Confederate General Braxton Bragg
Many believe that the Confederacy could have won the battle in the small Pennsylvania town had it not been for Longstreet’s delay on July 2, the second day of the battle. Longstreet vocally disagreed with Robert E. Lee’s plan of attack, wishing instead to disengage and re-engage the Army of the Potomoac on the ground of their choosing. On July 3, Longstreet could not even give the order for Pickett’s Charge. Instead, he just nodded his head because of his lack of faith in the plan of his commanding general.
Because of his actions at Gettysburg and his support of President Ulysses S. Grant, the Republican party and reconstruction after the war had ended, Longstreet became another “villain” of the Confederacy along with Bragg.
Confederate General James Longstreet
While these two generals have drawn the resentment of Confederate supporters, they had a rocky relationship between themselves. In this article, we will examine Bragg and Longstreet’s relationship and see how that affected the Battle of Chattanooga.
Longstreet Heads West
Longstreet was a corps commander in the Army of Northern Virginia under Robert E. Lee. However, following the fighting at Gettysburg, the eastern theater saw a lull in action. This resulted in Longstreet and two divisions (Major General John Bell Hood and Major General Lafayette McClaws) of Confederate soldiers being sent west to support Braxton Bragg and the Army of Tennessee.
These soldiers under Longstreet moved from Virginia via rail through Atlanta. By the 20th of September, 1863, five brigades, or 7,700 men, had arrived to reinforce Bragg and strengthen his force to 67,000 men. These troops arrived during the Battle of Chickamauga being fought from September 19-20.
Longstreet at Chickamauga
Longstreet and his men were assigned to the left side of the battlefield. The plan on the 20th was to have Polk’s men attack the left wing of the Union army, the rebel right, and force the Union soldiers to the south away from the city of Chattanooga. While this move from Polk was being made, Longstreet was to attack the Union right and simultaneously crush the Union force under Rosecrans.
This plan, however, did not begin as planned and the attack was delayed for hours. At 11:00 a.m. Longstreet attacked in full force. The right of his men was aligned on the Brotherton Road. Major General John Bell Hood took his divisions and attacked the Federal troops who were situated west of the La Fayette Road.
This attack was a success and the Union troops were pushed back in a rout. This resulted in the capture of Union artillery and wagons and the rebels reached the Dry Valley Road. A Union soldier stated that Longstreet “had now swept away all organized opposition in his front.” However, Longstreet then decided he would not turn his men south, which Bragg ordered him to. Longstreet instead decided to move north and attack George Thomas and his Union men near the Kelly farm.
General Longstreet’s Left Wing assaults, mid-day, September 20, 1863
Then, Longstreet and his men attacked the Federals at Horseshoe Ridge for six hours and were eventually victorious.
Longstreet and Bragg Fall Out
While Longstreet and his men had performed valiantly at Chickamauga, following the attack Bragg and Longstreet had a falling out.
Following the victory at Chickamauga, Bragg began to look around and reorganize his army. Bragg had a reputation as a fiery, angry man who was rather difficult to get along with. On September 29, Bragg relieved General Hindman and Polk of their commands. As a reaction to this move by Bragg, twelve senior generals sent a petition to Richmond. They asked the Confederate President Jefferson Davis to relieve Bragg.
In response to the growing distention, Davis headed west to deal with the conflict that was brewing between Bragg and his subordinates. With few options, Davis decided to stick with Bragg. Braxton Bragg then decided to relieve Hill and demote Buckner to command of a division. Polk, at the urging of Jefferson Davis, headed to Mississippi with Nathan Bedford Forrest, who also had a confrontation with Bragg when Bragg ordered him to give up his command.
Bedford, as the story supposedly goes, responded to this ordered by stating, “I have stood your meanness as long as I intend to….You have played the part of a damned scoundrel, and are a coward, and if you were any part of a man I would slap your jaws and force you to resent it. You may as well not issue any more orders to me, for I will not obey them, and I will hold you personally responsible for any further indignities you endeavor to inflict upon me….If you ever again try to interfere with me or cross my path it will be at the peril of your life.”
Bragg then turned his attention to James Longstreet.
Longstreet and Bragg met three times. Their first encounter was on September 19 and the second on the 20th. The most notable of their meetings took place on September 21, following the smashing Confederate victory at Chickamauga. While Bragg did not record the conversation, Longstreet did.
Following Chickamauga, both Bragg and Longstreet agreed that a frontal assault on the Federals was a poor course of action. Longstreet then voiced his plan of attempting to turn the Federals. Longstreet wanted to move northeast, crossing the Tennessee River and attacking Burnside , who was stationed at Knoxville, the supply lines of Rosecrans or moved into the middle of Tennessee.
Longstreet created an account of this conversation with Bragg on September 25, four days later when he wired James Seddon stating suggesting to “at once strike at Burnside, and if he made his escape, to march upon Rosecrans’ communications upon rear of Nashville.” Longstreet again recounted the meeting in October in his official report calling for “crossing the river above Chattanooga, so as to make ourselves sufficiently felt on the enemy’s rear as to force his evacuation of Chattanooga, and indeed, force him back upon Nashville, and if we should find our transportation inadequate for a continuance of this movement, to follow up the railroad to Knoxville, destroy Burnside, and from there threaten the enemy’s railroad communications in rear of Nashville.”
From Bragg’s perspective, these moves would prove to be untenable. Bragg’s Army of Tennessee was suffering from a lack of supplies and logistical problems. Historian Thomas Connelly stated, “Bragg’s own transportation system had been on the verge of collapse since early 1863.” Longstreet and his men felt the effects of this weak logistical system, stating that he “complained to Bragg that many of his men needed provisions, and as his staff officers had not been provided with the means of supplying the troops, he [Longstreet] could do nothing.”
Another issue that Bragg saw with Longstreet’s plan was the Tennessee River. To move the necessary pontoons into place to cross the river would only worsen the supply situation for the Army of Tennessee. The Western & Atlantic Railroad was the primary railroad for Bragg. However, it was being taxed beyond belief. The rail line had been used to bring Longstreet to the front. In addition to this, the line ended at Catoosa Platform. This was just a mere 12 miles from the McDonald farmstead. The farmstead was the central part of Bragg’s army. Bragg wanted to move the depot to Chickamauga Station 15 miles north. However, destroyed bridges and an intervening line had to be repaired to do so. To top it all off, to move the necessary supplies to bridge the river and build the pontoon bridges would add even more stress to the Western & Atlantic line, meaning even less supplies would get through. This would also strain the limited amount of livestock available to the Army of Tennessee.
Finally, Bragg believed that Longstreet’s plan would expose this delicate supply line to an attack by Rosecrans. Having heard Longstreet’s proposal, Bragg decided on his own course of action: to send Longstreet to Knoxville to attack Burnside while he would simultaneously lay siege to Chattanooga.
Longstreet, however, did not believe in Bragg’s plan to send him to Knoxville to attack Ambrose Burnside. The Union force there Had 12,000 infantry and 8,5000 cavalry. Longstreet believed this force was too weak to attack the Federals and objected to Bragg’s plan. In addition to this, Longstreet also believed that his absence would weaken the rebel army too much, as it would be reinforced by Sherman and Hooker.
While Longstreet objected, Bragg was the superior commander and forced Longstreet to depart for Knoxville on November 5. Longstreet however did not hold back in his recommendation that Bragg be relieved of command. While Longstreet did not start the movement to remove Bragg, he certainly supported it.
While one may argue that Longstreet’s plan may have been untenable, Bragg’s proved even worse. Longstreet’s campaign to Knoxville accomplished little but to hurt Longstreet and his men. Even more important, it weakened Bragg and led to a crushing defeat at the Battle of Chattanooga. Had Longstreet stayed in position on the rebel left at Lookout Mountain, the battle could have gone very differently.
Morris, A. N. (2016). The Civil War in the West, 1863 / by Andrew N. Morris. Center of Military History, United States Army.