by Earl J. Hess.
Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2016. Pp. xii, 341.
Illus., noted, biblio., index. $35.00. ISBN: 1469664062
The Confederacy’s Most Contentious General
While not a full biography, this book is an effort to understand Braxton Bragg’s personal life and military career, a man with a personality that did not invite approach and easy conversation, a fact which continues to affect his popular image.. To do this, noted historian Earl J. Hess delves into the man’s personality, his family life, his skills as a domestic provider, and his views of Southern culture. This helps humanize the otherwise contentious Confederate general, turning him into a real person with praiseworthy abilities as well as disconcerting faults. Bragg’s colleagues began the process of making him, variously, a hero, a fool, a cruel disciplinarian, and a scapegoat, all bound into one parcel.
Hess investigates the career of the most hated Confederate general deeply, probing into the many conflicting arguments about his command of Confederate troops during the war during operations at Pensacola, Shiloh, Corinth, the invasion of Kentucky, Stones River, Tullahoma, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga.
This is not simply a standard narrative of the campaigns and battles which Bragg directed. While how he handled his army in the field is important, the response by innumerable people to his victories and disappointments as a general is even more important in this work. Hess digs deeply into all of these opinions, weighing their importance to an assessment of Bragg’s ability to lead. He compares Bragg with many other Confederate generals, most notably Robert E. Lee, as he tries to ascertain whether Bragg really deserves blame for causing the Confederate defeat.
Nearly everyone has a negative view of Bragg, and legions of Civil War enthusiasts and historians seem to enjoy making him the chief scapegoat of the Confederacy’s failure. Hess often takes issue with earlier historians, based on their opinions about the general or the sources which they did or did not use.
In sum, Hess finds that general’s record while building and leading the Army of Tennessee longer than any other commander, was severely tainted by tensions and personality clashes between himself and his principal subordinates, despite which, Bragg was certainly not individually responsible for the Confederate defeat, nor was he an idiot or inept.
A well written, balanced, and very readable account, Hess’s Braxton Brag gives form and definition to the general’s services as a commander, trying to assess fairly where he deserves credit as well as where he warrants fault. A valuable read.
Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His previous reviews here include, , Voices of the Army of the Potomac, The Record of Murders and Outrages, Gettysburg 1963, No Common Ground, Confederate Conscription and the Struggle for Southern Soldiers, Stephen A. Swails, The Great ‘What Ifs’ of the American Civil War Chained to History, Grant vs. Lee: Favorite Stories and Fresh Perspectives from the Historians at Emerging Civil War, and Spectacle of Grief.
Note: Braxton Bragg is also available in e-editions.
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