HDQS. Department Alabama and West Florida
Mobile, Ala., February 15, 1862.
Hon. J.P. Benjamin
Secretary of War, Richmond, Va.:
Sir: You will excuse me, at this time of great danger to our cause, for presuming to depart from my usual course and to offer a few suggestions on our future military policy.
- Our means and resources are too much scattered. The protection of persons and property, as such, should be abandoned, and all our means applied to the Government and the cause. Important strategic points only should be held. All means not necessary to secure these should be concentrated for a heavy blow upon the enemy where we can best assail him. Kentucky is now that point. On the Gulf we should only hold New Orleans, Mobile, and Pensacola; all other points, the whole of Texas and Florida, should be abandoned, and our means there made available for other service. A small loss of property would result from their occupation by the enemy; but our military strength would not be lessened thereby, whilst the enemy would be weakened by dispersion. We could then beat him in detail, instead of the reverse. The same remark applies to our Atlantic seaboard. In Missouri the same rule can be applied to a great extent…
- The want of success with our artillery everywhere is deplorable; but I believe it can be explained and remedied. This arm requires knowledge, which nothing but study and experience combined can give…
We have the right men, and the crisis upon us demands they should be in the right places. Our little army at Pensacola could furnish you hundreds of instructors competent to build batteries, mount guns, and teach the use of them. Our commanders are learning by bitter experience the necessity of teaching their troops; but a want of instructors is sadly felt.
Pardon me if I have been too free in the expression of my feelings and opinions, and attribute any error to an overzeal in the great cause we all have at heart.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
General Braxton Bragg to Judah P. Benjamin, February 15, 1862
Artillery is extremely popular at Civil War living history events and re-enactments. However, it doesn’t get a lot of attention in the regular history books (at least from my observations). First, let’s clarify – artillery means cannons. Big guns. Some were transported to and around battlefields (see photograph). Others were more stationary and used in forts.
To command an artillery unit successfully required some skills. Yes, a little more than learning to command marching drills. Artillery was taught almost like a science in the antebellum military academy days. A good commander understood the mathematics of getting the projectile to the target and how to adjust the range if the firing wasn’t precise.
And that presented a problem. Particularly in the Confederacy, the officers had figured out how to tell their men to march, and they could ride horses to make the cavalry units, but the South lacked an abundance of big guns and skilled artillery commanders. General Bragg noticed this and wanted to remedy the situation by training artillery; he also advocated defending locations that were defendable. Artillery and defense went hand-in-hand.
Meet Braxton Bragg – a controversial general in Civil War history. He was a West Point graduate (Class of 1837) with training in artillery command. He had served in the U.S. military in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and fought against the Seminoles in Florida. After reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel in the U.S. military, he resigned and settled into plantation life in Louisiana.
At the beginning of 1862, Bragg had held the command post to defend the Gulf Coast from Pensacola, Florida, to Mobile, Alabama, for nine months. In the coming spring, he would command the Confederate Second Corps at the Battle of Shiloh and eventually command the Army of Tennessee. Bragg would exchange a lot of correspondence with the Confederate government in the coming years, regarding his military choices in the western and southern campaigns.
Bragg’s suggestion brings interesting military ideas to mind. What could’ve happened if the Confederacy had purposely abandoned certain locations in order to concentrate their troops and resources on decisive battles? Early in the war, could this have made a difference?
Ultimately, it wasn’t going to happen – no matter how innovative the idea. The Confederate government and military had enough trouble just getting certain states to send troops outside of that state. States Rights which was a Confederate ideological rallying point was, in many ways, its own downfall. There wasn’t enough central control to implement changes that would benefit the whole “nation.”
I’m not suggesting I wish the Confederacy had won. But it’s interesting to consider what the outcome might have been if that government and military had had enough authority to introduce and enforce a strategy like General Bragg suggested.
P.S. Braxton Bragg – love him, hate him, or just don’t know much about him? I’m curious what you think…