This paper discusses the interpretation and analysis of James McPherson’s use of primary and secondary material and how effectively he interpreted and subsequently used the material in regards to the Civil War general Braxton Bragg. There will also be comparisons made between resources that were not mentioned or used by McPherson and independently researched material as validation and control measures. Also attempts will be made to determine if the use of said material was done with a particular slant. Introduction Braxton Bragg was a North Carolina native, born March 22, 1817 and died in Galveston, Texas September 26, 1876.
Like many other Civil War commanding generals was a graduate of West Point. Bragg distinguished himself during the Mexican American War and is even credited with saving the life of the then Colonel Jefferson Davis (About North Georgia, nd). Bragg served in the Louisiana militia from 1855 until he was appointed Brigadier General by the Confederate States of America in 1861. Between April 1862 and his resignation on November 30, 1863 Bragg took part in at least twelve battles, not all of them victories. Some writers consider Bragg to be among the worst generals in the Civil War (Unkn, 2007).
I selected Braxton Bragg as the topic for this project. My primary reasoning behind selection him was that Bragg, compared to the other available subjects, was a military leader that I had minimal knowledge of. In preparation for gathering references I searched the bibliography for primary and secondary resources that McPherson might have used and gave reference to. The first observation I made was while reviewing McPherson’s bibliography was that it is broken down into the major sections like the text; at first I thought that it was a great method of separating his references.
But as my search continued, I found it to be confusing and somewhat misleading. It would have been far more helpful and effective if it were indexed in a more organized manner. The first mention of Bragg was in chapter eleven when McPherson mentioned that there were many West Point graduates that had left military service in order to pursue civilian career opportunities (McPherson & Hogue, p. 179). There was no footnote or resource provided in the text. However, in other writings I had found that Bragg was a member of the class of 1846 along with several other notable Civil War Generals (Notable USMA Graduates, n.
d. ). Unfortunately, there are several mentions of Bragg in the text that do not have any associated citation associated with them. As a result it made it rather difficult to analyze McPherson’s use of his resources. For example Bragg is mentioned several times during the section of “The Confederate Invasion of Kentucky” but there are no supporting references to accompany the entire section save the quote from Halleck (McPherson & Hogue, pp. 311 – 313). I was able to validate some of the statistics that were included in section through the McWhiney text.
One point that did differ between the two texts was a point that McWhiney made very well. It was that Bragg had captured the 4,000 man garrison under the command of Colonel John T. Wilder in Munfordville, Kentucky without anything more than notes being passed between the two commanders (McWhiney, pp. 285, 286). Once again Bragg was listed in the index for “The Battle of Perryville” and once again without a supporting citation (McPherson & Hogue, p. 313). I returned to the McWhiney text as the authoritative resource and found that McWhiney had other points from the Perryville battle and how Bragg handled the events of the battle.
The most interesting point that McWhiney made that McPherson did not was that Bragg had assumptions based upon letters from his commanders that were neither explicitly included in the notes nor implied. Specifically, that Hardee had stated that “the enemy was moving in heavy force against” his position and that he urged “the concentration of the whole army at Perryville. ” Another interesting note of how Bragg handled the Perryville battle was that he seemed to have failed in sound battlefield tactics of the time.
This inference is based upon the note from Hardee to Bragg about not scattering his forces when attacking the enemy (McWhiney, pp. 310 – 311). As a result I felt that McPherson glossed over the Battle of Perryville in so far as that he primarily focused his attention on the Union side of the battle and gave a minimal mention of the Confederate leaders tactical blunders. I do not think that he misrepresented any of the facts as I was able to find supporting documentation in either the Original Record or other sources (Polk, 1863).
While reviewing the mention of Bragg in chapter eighteen in the section “The War in the West: The Battle of Stones River”, McPherson wrote about the loss of confidence of Bragg’s leadership ability and his tactical judgment by his subordinate generals. In review of the notes between Lincoln and Rosecrans I made the following observations. McPherson used a direct quote from a letter from Lincoln to Rosecrans that was dated January, 5 1863 “‘God bless you, and all with you,’ he wired Rosecrans.
” The letter Lincoln wrote to Rosecrans was written following the Battle of Stones River, which was fought between December 31, 1862 and January 2, 1863 and subsequently I felt that it was taken out of context. The remainder of the quote from Lincoln was from another letter to Rosecrans later that year August 31, 1863. In combining the text from the two letters gives the impression that they came from the same conversation. While I do not believe that the combination of the two letters was intended to be misleading at first blush it was. The first letter was a congratulatory note for defeating Bragg at Stones River.
However, the subsequent note was one that I felt was between the Commander in Chief and a subordinate commander in which he was attempting to explain that he was not dissatisfied with his subordinate’s leadership abilities. When McPherson quoted Lincoln as saying “I can never forget, whilst I remember anything,” I feel he should have included the missing text “that about the end of last year, and the beginning of this,” or at least gave reference to the fact that the text was a combination of two letters on two separate occasions (Basler, 1953-1955) (McPherson & Hogue, pp.
331 – 334). Had McPherson mentioned the point that he was combining two letters it would have painted a clearer picture for the reader. In chapter nineteen, “The Confederates Retreat from Tennessee”, McPherson perfectly captured the original author’s intent and feeling of the event that he described in the portion of the crossing of the Tennessee River by Rosecrans’ troops at several locations below the city (McPherson & Hogue, p. 362) (Hill, 1887). In the following section “The Battle for Chickamauga”, I was unable to procure the cited text by Catton.
However, in comparing the Original Record and the McWhiney text with McPherson’s writings it is clear that McPherson utilized the primary and secondary sources in good faith and presented the information that he gathered properly without any untoward slants or views. Most of the statistics that I found were approximations and did not lend the impression that they were exact numbers in regards to troop strengths. A good resource was found in the Command and General Staff College’s “Staff Ride Handbook for the battle of Chickamauga” (Robertson, Shanahan, Boxberger, & Knapp, 1992).
I think that McPherson could have painted Bragg in a more negative light if he would have included a portion of, or even the context of, the letter from Captain Polk in which he described the total disarray in which communications and battle preparations were handled during the hours before the start of battle on September 20, 1863 (Hill, 1887, p. 662). One portion of this section that I found of particular interest is when McPherson wrote about Bragg’s subordinate commanders having lost confidence in his tactical abilities (McPherson & Hogue, p. 365).
Had he included direct reference from McWhiney’s text about that point; “Only the charge that Bragg had lost the confidence of his army really disturbed Davis. ” As well as possibly including Polk’s insight that Bragg had a “great ability as an organizer and disciplinarian, but he insisted his commander lacked ‘the higher elements of generalship’” (McWhiney, Chapter XIV September 23 – November 2, 1862: Many Blame Gen. Bragg, 1969). That addition would have greatly bolstered the background knowledge and subsequently the credibility of the section.
Within “The Battles for Chattanooga” McPherson effectively painted the picture of Bragg’s extremely poor tactical abilities and demonstrated the tactical prowess of Grant following his assumption of command of the Army of the Cumberland. McPherson concluded the section with Davis’ relief of Bragg and subsequent appointment of Johnston in his stead (McPherson & Hogue, pp. 366, 369). By this point it was astounding to me that Davis took as long as it did to relief Bragg of his command. One can only assume that Davis held a very strong feeling of debt to Bragg for saving his life during the Mexican American War.
Conclusion Following the review and analysis of all of the mentions of Braxton Bragg in the text and subsequent review of the minimal direct citations that McPherson utilized I was able to support a good portion of them. This was done either through the use of the Original Record, by using the McWhiney bibliography, or multiple searches of internet resources. I found some of McPherson’s use of supporting documents impressive at times and wanting others. McPherson indicated that he used biographical writings because “they provide a great deal of information of value.
” (McPherson & Hogue, pp. B-2). I would have liked to have seen references pulled from the text that McPherson listed for Bragg. There were times that I felt that McPherson’s text would have been bolstered with the inclusion of additional references in some areas. As previously indicated, by and large I think that McPherson used the primary and secondary source material appropriately. It could also be inferred that McPherson had made the same conclusion that several other historians like McWhiney had, that General Braxton Bragg was a major contributing factor to the Confederate defeat.
There is no impression in the McPherson text that would lend the reader to believe that he shared McWhiney’s opinion that Bragg could have been better utilized in another position where his talents could have been used best. McWhiney made mention that Davis “prided himself so on his knowledge of the capabilities of those former regular army officers who fought for the South” and instead put him in command of the second most important Confederate army and insisted on keeping him there (McWhiney, p. 392). Bibliography About North Georgia. (nd).
Retrieved June 1, 2010, from Braxton Bragg: http://ngeorgia. com/ang/Braxton_Bragg Basler, R. P. (1953-1955). In A. Lincoln, The Collected Works of Abrahan Lincoln (pp. VI, 39, 424). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Hill, D. H. (1887). Chickamauga- The Great Battle of the West. Retrieved May 30, 2010, from eHistory @ The Ohio State University: http://ehistory. osu. edu/osu/books/battles/vol3/pageview. cfm? page=644&dir=638 (2009). Bibliography. In J. M. McPherson, & J. K. Hogue, Ordeal By Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction 4th Ed (pp. B-2). Boston, MA: McGraw Hill.
(2009). Chapter Eighteen: The Winter of Northern Discontent. In J. M. McPherson, & J. K. Hogue, Ordeal By Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction: 4th Ed (pp. 331 – 334). Boston, MA: Mcgraw Hill. (2009). Chapter Eleven: Mobilizing for War. In J. M. McPherson, & J. K. Hogue, Ordeal By Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction 4th Ed. (p. 179). Boston, MA: McGraw Hill. (2009). Chapter Nineteen: The Second Turning Point. In J. M. McPherson, & J. K. Hogue, Ordeal By Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction 4th Ed. (pp. 362, 366, 369). Boston, MA: Mcgraw Hill. (2009).
Chapter Seventeen: The First Turning Point: Antietam and Emancipation. In J. M. McPherson, & J. K. Hogue, Ordeal By Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction 4th Ed. (pp. 311 – 313). Boston, MA: Mcgraw Hill. (1969). Chapter XIII: July 29 – September 22, 1862. In G. McWhiney, Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat Volume 1: Field Command (p. 286). New York, NY: Columbia University Press. (1969). Chapter XIV September 23 – November 2, 1862: Many Blame Gen. Bragg. In G. McWhiney, Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat Vol. 1: Field Command (pp. 326 – 327). New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
(1969). Chapter XIV: September 23 – November 2, 1862. In G. McWhiney, Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat Volume 1: Field Command (pp. 310 – 311). New York, NY: Columbia University Press. (1969). Chapter XVI: January 4 – April 10, 1863. In G. McWhiney, Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat Volume 1: Field Command (p. 392). New York, NY: Columbia University Press. Notable USMA Graduates. (n. d. ). Retrieved June 4, 2010, from United States Military Academy: West Point: http://www. usma. edu/NotableGrads. asp Polk, L. (1863, April 16). Morgan’s First Kentucky Raid, Perryville Campaign.
Retrieved June 4, 2010, from The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies: http://ehistory. osu. edu/osu/sources/recordView. cfm? page=1102&dir=022 Robertson, W. G. , Shanahan, E. P. , Boxberger, J. I. , & Knapp, G. E. (1992, September). Staff Ride Handbook for the Battle of Chickamauga 18-20 September 1863. Retrieved June 4, 2010, from Command and General Staff College: http://cgsc. edu/carl/resources/csi/Robertson3/robertson3. asp#table7 Unkn. (2007, May 20). Braxton Bragg. Retrieved June 1, 2010, from Georgia’s Blue and Gray Trail: http://blueandgraytrail. com/event/Braxton_Bragg
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