Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“Possessed of an irascible temper, and naturally disputatious.”

Posted in Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on September 16, 2010

Over at KNOXVILLE 1863, the novel, Dick Stanley has a couple of posts up on Confederate General Braxton Bragg. They paint a picture of a man who was decidedly not popular, either with his men or with his fellow senior officers. He was a prickly man, very much caught up in protocol and form. In his own memoir, Ulysses S. Grant echoes some of their impressions of the man — honest, industrious, and decidedly formal with colleagues. Grant goes on to repeat an anecdote about Bragg from the prewar Army which, accurate or not, vividly captures Bragg’s obsession with procedure:

Bragg was a remarkably intelligent and well-informed man, professionally and otherwise. He was also thoroughly upright. But he was possessed of an irascible temper, and was naturally disputatious. A man of the highest moral character and the most correct habits, yet in the old army he was in frequent trouble. As a subordinate he was always on the lookout to catch his commanding officer infringing his prerogatives; as a post commander he was equally vigilant to detect the slightest neglect, even of the most trivial order.

I have heard in the old army an anecdote very characteristic of Bragg. On one occasion, when stationed at a post of several companies commanded by a field officer, he was himself commanding one of the companies and at the same time acting as post quartermaster and commissary. He was first lieutenant at the time, but his captain was detached on other duty. As commander of the company he made a requisition upon the quartermaster–himself–for something he wanted.

As quartermaster he declined to fill the requisition, and endorsed on the back of it his reasons for so doing. As company commander he responded to this, urging that his requisition called for nothing but what he was entitled to, and that it was the duty of the quartermaster to fill it. As quartermaster he still persisted that he was right. In this condition of affairs Bragg referred the whole matter to the commanding officer of the post. The latter, when he saw the nature of the matter referred, exclaimed: “My God, Mr. Bragg, you have quarreled with every officer in the army, and now you are quarreling with yourself!”



12 Responses

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  1. Dick Stanley said, on September 16, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Heh. I enjoyed Grant’s memoir, but I’d forgotten that one about Bragg. What a doofus.

  2. Craig Swain said, on September 17, 2010 at 12:30 am

    I’ve tried over the years to document the place, time and circumstances of the argument Bragg had with himself. But Bragg’s service record don’t offer a clear time window when he was quartermaster and the situation described would have played out as described. Grant himself cites the story as “an anecdote.” So perhaps it is just an old soldier’s tale.

    Likewise, the other famous pre-war Bragg episode is laced with more myth than fact. Gen. Taylor’s order referenced double-shotting the guns, and was more likely regarding canister than grapeshot.

    • Andy Hall said, on September 17, 2010 at 1:45 am

      Craig, thanks for your note. My read of Grant’s passage is that the appointment as quartermaster at the fort may have been like his role as company commander — temporary and unofficial, by happenstance, and so may not show up in official documentation. But yeah, it may just be an old soldiers’ tale.

      In any case, Grant’s recollection of it so many years later suggests that, true or not, it fits the man’s temperament. 😉

      • Craig Swain said, on September 17, 2010 at 1:12 pm

        Andy, yes, this likely references a “temporary” assignment. But, as I said in my original comment, there is simply no point in Bragg’s career where he was a quartermaster officer for an installation AND the senior subordinate officers AND his commander took a leave of absence long enough for the events to have unfolded.

        So maybe it is not so much fitting of the man’s temperament, but more so indicative of the nature of the jibs directed at Bragg by his cohorts. Deserved reputation or not.

        Just one of my personal peeves with regard to “branding” someone’s personality through the lens of history. Unless we have an account with the context and setting details, it is hard to pin down someone’s personal behavior, whims, and idiosyncrasies. That’s the work of a good biographer 🙂

  3. Dick Stanley said, on September 18, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    It does seem more likely to be a joke on Bragg than the truth. Even Bragg wouldn’t likely argue with himself, unless he was doing it for the humor, and he doesn’t seem to have had much sense of humor.

  4. emilylhauser said, on September 21, 2010 at 4:20 am

    naturally disputatious

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Oh my God that is such a great word!

  5. Brainz said, on September 21, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    There’s a line in Bill Mauldin’s Up Front where he says that when it comes to the stories that soldiers tell about their officers, whether or not the stories are true, the fact that the soldiers tell the story says a lot about what kind of officers they have.

    This story seems to sum up how Bragg’s peers saw him, and if you want to know how his enlisted men saw him, just read Sam Watkins:

    They had no love or respect for General Bragg. When men were to be shot or whipped, the whole army was marched to the horrid scene to see a poor trembling wretch tied to a post and a platoon of twelve men drawn up in line to put him to death, and the hushed command of “Ready, aim, fire!” would make the soldier, or conscript, I should say, loathe the very name of Southern Confederacy. And when some miserable wretch was to be whipped and branded for being absent ten days without leave, we had to see him kneel down and have his head shaved smooth and slick as a peeled onion, and then stripped to the naked skin. Then a strapping fellow with a big rawhide would make the blood flow and spurt at every lick, the wretch begging and howling like a hound, and then he was branded with a red hot iron with the letter D on both hips, when he was marched through the army to the music of the “Rogue’s March.” It was enough. None of General Bragg’s soldiers ever loved him. They had no faith in his ability as a general. He was looked upon as a merciless tyrant. The soldiers were very scantily fed. Bragg never was a good feeder or commissary-general. Rations with us were always scarce. No extra rations were ever allowed to the negroes who were with us as servants. No coffee or whisky or tobacco were ever allowed to be issued to the troops. If they obtained these luxuries, they were not from the government. These luxuries were withheld in order to crush the very heart and spirit of his troops. We were crushed. Bragg was the great autocrat. In the mind of the soldier, his word was law. He loved to crush the spirit of his men. The more of a hang-dog look they had about them the better was General Bragg pleased. Not a single soldier in the whole army ever loved or respected him.

    • Andy Hall said, on September 22, 2010 at 1:53 am

      That’s a devastating critique. Thanks for posting that. The story about Bragg “arguing with himself” may well be apocryphal, but it certainly illustrates how he was understood within the army.

    • Dick Stanley said, on September 27, 2010 at 7:40 pm

      That’s easy to believe. The only thing I ever read about his soldiers loving Bragg (and I forget the source) was that in his constant retreating he at least kept them alive.

  6. pedrog said, on September 22, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    You probably know of this blog, and likely even know the folks who run it.
    They’ve been digging around and have found a number of examples of Bragg being loved or at least respected. Interesting stuff.
    Some examples here:

    He is certainly an interesting topic for discussion!

    • Andy Hall said, on September 22, 2010 at 3:23 pm

      Thanks for that link. I wasn’t familiar with it before, but it’s on my list now.

  7. […] Brainz, a commenter at Dead […]

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