January 21, 1863 – President Jefferson Davis learned that the army’s top commanders no longer had confidence in General Braxton Bragg as their leader.
As the Confederates took up winter quarters at Tullahoma, several of Bragg’s subordinates expressed doubts about his generalship. These doubts reached the southern press, with a Chattanooga newspaper reporting that Bragg had lost the army’s confidence, particularly because he had allegedly ignored his commanders’ advice by retreating from the Battle of Stones River.
On the 11th, Bragg wrote a letter to his top five commanders to defend himself against such rumors and allegations. He began, “It becomes necessary for me to save my fair name,” and “stop the deluge of abuse which destroy my usefulness and demoralize this army.” Bragg continued:
“Unanimous as you were in council in verbally advising a retrograde movement, I cannot doubt that you will cheerfully attest the same in writing. I desire that you will consult your subordinate commanders and be candid with me. I shall retire without a regret if I find I have lost the good opinion of my generals, upon whom I have ever relied as upon a foundation of rock.”
All five commanders acknowledged in writing that the newspaper article claiming Bragg retreated against their advice was false. But one of Bragg’s corps commanders, General William J. Hardee, added another statement on the others’ behalf: “Frankness compels me to say that the general officers whose judgment you have invoked are unanimous in their opinion that a change in the command of this army is necessary. In this opinion I concur.”
Bragg’s other corps commander, General Leonidas Polk, joined Hardee in asking President Davis to replace Bragg with General Joseph E. Johnston, currently heading the entire Department of the West. Generals Benjamin F. Cheatham and John C. Breckinridge despised Bragg to the point that Cheatham refused to serve under him any longer and Breckinridge wanted to fight him in a duel. When Davis learned of this, he wrote to Johnston:
“Why General Bragg should have selected that tribunal and have invited its judgments upon him is to me unexplained. It manifests, however, a condition of things which seems to me to require your presence. Although my confidence in General Bragg is unshaken, it cannot be doubted that if he is distrusted by his officers and troops, a disaster may result.”
Davis directed Johnston to inspect the Army of Tennessee at Tullahoma and determine if he “had so far lost the confidence of the army as to impair his usefulness in his present position…” Davis added:
“You will, I trust, be able, by conversation with General Bragg and others of his command, to decide what the best interests of the service require, and to give me the advice which I need at this juncture. As that army is part of your command, no order will be necessary to give you authority there, as, whether present or absent, you have a right to direct its operations and do whatever else belongs to the general commanding.”
Davis’s vague instructions authorized Johnston to take over the Army of Tennessee, which seemed to be what most of the army’s officers wanted. But even though Johnston personally disliked Bragg (like most others), he respected Bragg’s abilities as commander and did not want to take his job from him. This did not stop Confederate politicians in Richmond from lobbying to replace Bragg with Johnston.
As January ended, Johnston was on his way from inspecting defenses at Mobile to visit the Army of Tennessee at Tullahoma.
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 254, 257; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 170, 172; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 256; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 313-14; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 582-83; Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 159-61