Bragg’s father secured his son an appointment to West Point and the young officer graduated fifth in the class of 1837 and secured a commission in the artillery. Bragg saw action in the Seminole War, but became a hero in the Mexican War. Upon his return from Mexico to his hometown of Warrenton, the citizens presented him with a sword and cheered his heroism. Many have speculated how Bragg might have felt being cheered by the very people who had made his childhood life so miserable.
Braxton wasn’t loved by his men. He was known to be a strict disciplinarian and while in Mexico, one of his men tried to kill him by rolling a lit cannonball under his cot. The cot was destroyed by the blast, but Bragg escaped without injury. Ulysses Grant loved to tell a story about the time on the frontier when Bragg was post commander and quartermaster. Bragg had gotten into an argument with himself over supplies. When he notified his immediate superior of the problem, his commander had remarked, “My God, Mister Bragg, you have argued with everyone in the army and now your arguing with yourself!”
Braxton made a trip to Louisiana where he met Eliza Brooks Ellis. She was the daughter of a rich sugar planter and the two soon fell in love. Bragg tried to take Eliza to the frontier with him, but things didn’t work out. She had been raised on a plantation where she had everything a girl could possibly want. On the frontier, the living conditions were rather rough. She soon protested. Braxton tried to please his wife by asking Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to have his artillery battery assigned to Louisiana. When Davis refused, Bragg resigned his commission and moved to Thibodaux, Louisiana with his young bride.
He then bought a sugar plantation which consisted of 1,600 acres and 105 slaves. Bragg wasn’t a cruel master, but he ran his plantation like a military unit. It didn’t take long before Bragg started showing a profit.
When the Civil War began, Bragg was commissioned a major general. He would become one of the most controversial generals of the war. He first saw action at Shiloh leading a corps. After Shiloh, when Beauregard fell out of favor with President Davis, Bragg was promoted to general and given command of the Army of Tennessee. He proved to be a great organizer, though not a great military leader.
Kirby Smith would talk him into invading Kentucky. Bragg’s first major battle as army commander would occur at Perryville. Bragg had pushed the Federal army back almost a mile by the time the first day was over. He then realized he faced a much larger enemy force than he had initially believed. Kirby Smith begged Bragg to stay and fight and Braxton promised he would, only to retreat during the night.
At Murfreesboro, he surprised the Federal army under General Rosecrans and bent it back like a hair pin. He failed to destroy Rosecrans’ army or cut off their supply line and therefore ordered a retreat. By this point of his career, his subordinates were growing frustrated with his lack of leadership.
At the Battle of Chickamauga, Bragg won the greatest victory of the war for the Confederate army in the west. He failed to believe the enemy forces were defeated and refused to pursue. Once he finally realized he had won it was too late. He then went on a head hunting mission with his subordinates. He fought with Bedford Forrest, got rid of Hindman and D.H. Hill, then sent Longstreet to Knoxville which further weakened his army. Although his men had lost confidence in him, Davis kept him in command.
When the Federal army struck his force at Chattanooga and caused his army to practically break he offered to resign. The man was truly surprised when Davis accepted his resignation. Davis then made Bragg his military advisor. It wouldn’t be the last field command for Braxton Bragg though. At the end of the war, Davis placed Bragg in command of Wilmington, North Carolina. He also bungled this assignment by not taking the Federal force serious. He had a major disagreement with General William Whiting and as a result, Fort Fisher fell and Whiting was mortally wounded.
Bragg’s life began to spiral downward after the loss. Robert E. Lee was placed in command of all Confederate forces which cost Bragg his job as military advisor. One of his enemies, John C. Breckinridge was made Secretary of War. President Davis felt sorry for his friend and attempted to transfer him to Kirby Smith’s Trans-Mississippi command. The politicians in the west wanted no part of Bragg and that plan fell apart.
During the Carolina’s Campaign, Davis made Bragg a corps commander under Joseph E. Johnston. He would again make major mistakes at the Battle of Bentonville and Johnston would never forgive the man.
After the war, Bragg was broke, his plantation had been confiscated by the Federal government. His friend Jefferson Davis was made president of a life insurance company. Davis offered him a job as an insurance agent. He worked there over a year before becoming frustrated with the low pay and a job he believed was below him. He then went to work as an engineer for the city of Mobile. He soon got into an argument with his superiors and quit that job. He then moved to Texas where he became chief engineer for a railroad. Within a year he got into an argument with the board of directors and then resigned.
In September of 1876, Bragg was walking down a Galveston street with a friend (if you can believe he had one), when he collapsed on the sidewalk in front of a drug store. He was carried into the drug store where he was pronounced dead within ten minutes. Braxton Bragg was 59 years old. The cause of death has been listed as heart disease, but we will probably never know for sure. He rests today in Mobile’s Magnolia Cemetery.