General Braxton Bragg’s Confederate Army of Tennessee remained camped at Tullahoma in Middle Tennessee following the Battle of Stones River in early January. Reports of animosity toward Bragg and mass demoralization had prompted President Jefferson Davis to assign General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Western Theater, to personally inspect the army to determine whether such reports were accurate.
Johnston had conducted a limited inspection and found the army in good spirits, with the men having great confidence in Bragg’s leadership. This finding may have been clouded by the fact that if Bragg was going to be replaced, Johnston would have to take his job, and Johnston did not want his job. In fact, Johnston made it clear that if Bragg was to be replaced, his replacement should be someone not connected with the inspection (i.e., Johnston). Johnston also stated that he would consider it an affront to his “personal honor” to replace Bragg.
In his final report from Tullahoma, issued on February 12, Johnston called the troops “well clothed, healthy, and in good spirits,” which gave “positive evidence of General Bragg’s capacity to command… General Bragg should not be removed.”
Davis reviewed the reports and wrote to Johnston expressing regret that “the confidence of the superior officers in Genl. Bragg’s fitness for command has been so much impaired. It is scarcely possible in that state of the case for him to possess the requisite confidence of the troops.” Davis was leaning toward replacing Bragg with Johnston, but he was thwarted by Johnston’s strong resistance to such a move. On the 19th, Davis tried once more to convince Johnston that the army officers’ dissatisfaction with Bragg would eventually filter down to the troops.
“It is not given to all men of ability to excite enthusiasm and to win affection of their troops,” Davis wrote, “and it is only the few who are thus endowed who can overcome the distrust and alienation of their principal officers.” If Bragg knew that he did more harm than good by staying on as army commander, he “would surrender a desirable position to promote the public interest…”
Davis complimented Bragg’s “confidence… and zeal,” and then told Johnston, “You limit the selection (of a new commander) to a new man, and, in terms very embarrassing to me, object to being yourself the immediate commander. I had felt the importance of keeping you free to pass from army to army in your department, so as to be present wherever most needed, and to command in person wherever present.” Davis continued:
“When you went to Tullahoma, I considered your arrival placed you for as long a period as you should remain there in the immediate command of that army, and that your judgment would determine the duration of your stay. I do not think that your personal honor is involved, as you could have nothing to gain by the removal of General Bragg. You shall not be urged by me to any course which would wound your sensibility or views of professional propriety, though you will perceive how small is the field of selection if a new man is to be sought whose rank is superior to that of the lieutenant-generals now in Tennessee.”
Not only would Johnston stay firm in refusing to be Bragg’s replacement, but he soon began expressing dissatisfaction with his current role as well. In late February, Johnston asserted that the armies in the Western Theater were too separated to coordinate offensive operations, and too small to conduct effective defensive operations. He requested reassignment to a different command. Meanwhile, Bragg remained in charge of the Army of Tennessee as it remained in winter quarters at Tullahoma.
- Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian. New York: Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (Kindle Edition), 2011.
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.
- 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.
- Street, Jr., James, The Struggle for Tennessee: Tupelo to Stones River. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983.