A different kind of post…
I recently finished Steven E. Woodworth’s excellent Decision in the Heartland: The Civil War in the West, a slim volume that succinctly and persuasively surveys the war in the west and argues that it is the Western theater where the Union won the war. Woodworth especially highlights the dearth of good, solid Confederate leadership out west. He places blame of much of the Army of Tennessee’s various crises in command at the foot of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, a position he furthers in his work Jefferson Davis and His Generals.
Woodworth makes a strong case for his Western-centric views and the faults he finds in Jeff Davis. Yet as I pondered the situations and scenarios Davis faced, I was struck by the sheer difficulty of his choices and the murkiness of his options. And I wondered…what would I do?
So I ask, what would you do? This post will be an experiment in engagement, participation and interaction between bloggers, readers, and our imaginations alike. I’ll give you the scenario.
It is the cold winter of 1863/1864. Braxton Bragg is the commander of the Confederate Army of Tennessee out west. He has retained command of the army for some time, seeing it through the ill-fated Kentucky campaign and the bloodbath at Stones River. He managed a fortuitous but incomplete victory at Chickamauga, then ensnared the Union army at Chattanooga…only to see his efforts stymied by the work of Union generals William “Baldy” Smith and Ulysses S. Grant. He has offered his resignation to you (Jefferson Davis) before, and he is offering it again. Bragg has little support within the army and even less among the acrimonious officer corps. The campaigning season of 1864 is on the horizon; Atlanta and the Deep South must be defended. Do you keep the controversial Bragg or replace him? If you’re thinking the latter, with whom do you replace Bragg?
Perhaps you bring back popular Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, the victor of Manassas and the victim of Corinth? He’s been inconsistent in his leadership to say the least. Do you promote one of your bitter enemies, Joseph E. Johnston? Johnston failed to save General Pemberton and Vicksburg the year prior in a devastating blow to the Confederacy, but he’s a popular choice among many officers and still retains a credible military resume.
Maybe the choice should stay in-house. You could appoint William J. Hardee, the senior corps officer of the Army of Tennessee, over his own objections to promotion. Do you search for someone more aggressive and fiery, perhaps the Texan warrior John Bell Hood or the adopted Arkansan-Irishman Patrick Cleburne? The Eastern theater contains a bounty of skilled officers, maybe one of them should get a chance with the Army of Tennessee. Longstreet, despite Knoxville? Hill? Ewell? Early? Lee himself? The answer could even lay even further west, across the great Mississippi, to someone like Edmund K. Smith or Richard Taylor.
In short, play armchair general. Who takes command if you are Jefferson Davis in the winter of 1863/’64 and why? Keep in mind the time-frame; some things have yet to be revealed or have happened (Johnston’s “fighting” retreat to the gates of Atlanta, Hood’s Nashville nightmare, Taylor’s brilliant victory at Mansfield, etc.). Other military, political, social or economic calculations may factor into your decision. This should be a fun discussion and debate! Keep it civil, but prepare to defend your appointment and challenge those of others!
Who do you choose?