Bragg’s Retreat

They’ve sounded retreat and lowered the flag over old Fort Bragg, sundowning the memory of a man who may rightfully claim his place along with with the bumbling Burnside, “Beast” Butler and Jubilation T. “Cornpone ” among the Civil War’s worst generals. A ferocious disciplinarian who survived two assassination attempts by his own men, a man so quarrelsome that it was said in the Army that if he could not find someone else to argue with he would pick a fight with himself, Braxton Bragg arguably contributed more to losing the Lost Cause than any other man wearing gray.

At Shiloh, he wasted hours in repeated frontal attacks on the Hornet’s Nest when he might have flanked the position and pressed on to break the union center and drive the federals back into the Tennessee River, ending U.S. Grant’s career before it had scarcely begun. His greatest victory, at Chickamauga, cost him 18,000 casualties the Confederacy could not afford to lose and was ultimately pointless because Bragg failed to follow up and entrap the retreating federals. Instead he went on to lose the supposedly impregnable Missionary Ridge and so Chattanooga, thus opening the way for Sherman’s March on Georgia. As Flashman says in the epitaph of another general, “We shall not, with luck, look upon his like again.”

Taken altogether it’s surprising we’re not erecting monuments to the man rather than ejecting him from the public square. Not that any of that would have mattered to or was likely even known to the “Naming Commission” that defenestrated him. Naming the North Carolina post after a Tar Heel native son was an attempt to unite a still divided nation as we marched into World War. “It was kind of a gesture of, ‘Yes, we acknowledge your patriotism,’ which is kind of absurd to acknowledge the patriotism of people who rebelled against a country,” according to Nina Silber, a historian at Boston University.

The professor is certainly aware Bragg and his men fought for their families, their homes and not least for the State’s Rights they had embedded in the Constitution. They believed with Lee that, “The consolidation of the states into one vast empire, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of ruin which has overwhelmed all that preceded it.” Robert E. Lee

None of that matters to those busily tearing down statues and renaming not just military bases but the mountains themselves; the only thing worth talking about is slavery. In that respect, I believe Bragg paid his full share in reparations. The Union Army freed his slaves and confiscated his plantation for use as the Bragg Home Colony under the control of the Freedmen’s Bureau. Most of the rest of his wealth was in worthless Confederate currency and bonds. So he exited the war worse than even his former slaves, who at least were left with a roof over their heads.

The Secret of Hidden Mountain

Rummaging through old files as they move into the waste basket on the other side of my chair I unearthed an old manuscript unread in forty years. I worked hard on unearthing The Secret of Hidden Mountain, met some interesting people along the way and enjoyed writing it, so I was very sorry to abandon the project mid-stride to grab for the security of a steady paycheck.

No date on this draft but I remember it well. September, 1987.

An Irish Wake

“To be truly human is to bear the burden of our own mortality and to strive, in grace, to help others carry theirs; sometimes lightly, sometimes courageously. In communally accepting death into our lives through the Irish wake we are all able to relearn the first and oldest lessons of humanity. How to be brave in irreversible sorrow. How to reach out to the dying, the dead and the bereaved. How to go on living no matter how great the rupture or loss. How to face your own.”

In Memory of

Sgt Michael Jerrard “Mike” Kotulla {RA16809415}, was killed in action from multiple fragmentation wounds on 4-12-1967 while serving as a Light Weapons Infantryman with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. He was 21 years old.

lonesome traveler

Well I’m just a lonesome traveler, a great historical bum
Highly educated, through history I have come
I built the Rock of Ages, it was in the year of One
And that’s about the biggest thing that man has ever done

I was born about ten thousand years ago*
There ain’t nothin’ in this world I don’t know
I saw Peter, Paul and Moses playing ring-around-the-roses
And I’ll whup the guy what says it isn’t so

I saw Adam and Eve a-driven from the door
I’m the guy that pick the fig leaves that they wore
And from behind the bushes peeping, saw the apple they were eating
And I’ll swear that I’m the one that et the core

Now, I built the Garden of Eden, it was in the year of Two
Joined the Apple Pickers Union, and I always paid my due
I’m the man that signed the contract to raise the Rising Sun
And that’s about the biggest thing that man has ever done

I taught Samson how to use his mighty hand
I showed Columbus to this happy land
And for Pharaoh’s little kiddies I built all the pyramiddies
And to the Sahara carried all the sand

I was straw boss on the pyramids, and the Tower of Babel too
I opened up the ocean, let the migrant children through
I fought a million battles and I never lost a one
And that’s about the biggest thing that man has ever done

I taught Solomon his little A-B-C’s
I’m the first one that ate Limburger cheese
And while floating down the bay with Methuselah one day
I saw his whiskers floating in the breeze

I fought the Revolution that set this country free
It was me and a couple of Indians that dumped the Boston tea
I won the battle of Valley Forge and the battle of Bully Run
And that’s about the biggest thing that men has ever done

Well, Queen Elizabeth, she fell in love with me
We were married in Milwaukee secretly
But I got tired and shook her and ran off with General Hooker
To go shooting skeeters down in Tennessee


This is the posture of fortune’s slave:

One foot in the gravy, one foot in the grave

All men should strive

To learn before they die

What they are running from.

And to, and why

James Thurber

The Death of Von Mansfeld

“The courage, endurance and self-discipline for which he was famous were balanced by no social virtues and he was as devoid of common honesty as he was of cowardice. …What his destination was on that last journey, or what his projects, no one knew. … Mystery and legend surround his last days, but somewhere on the way to the Dalmatian coast among the hills above Sarajevo, he died, leaving his leaderless companions to starvation or captivity. It was rumored untruthfully that the Turks had poisoned him, rumoured too, perhaps with more truth, that when his body and soul were in their last struggle, he called for two of his men and, leaning a heavy arm on the shoulder of each, dragged himself to his feet so that he should die at least as befitted a soldier and the son of a noble house — a defiant and futile gesture to end that defiant and futile life.” Wedgwood, The Thirty Years War.

A Contrarian View of the Little Bighorn

I’ve been re-reading P.T. Tucker’s Death at the Little Bighorn, which challenges the popular consensus on the grand finale of that most iconic fight. I find myself persuaded by the psychology underlying Tucker’s thesis rather than the facts he advances in support. The argument revolves around the events in the dry gulch known as Medicine Tail Coulee on the fateful afternoon of June 25, 1876.

Certain facts can be considered settled. Soon after he crossed into the valley of the Little Big Horn, Custer divided his 12 companies into four elements. He sent three companies under Captain Benteen to the left to sweep the broken country upstream in search of other possible Indian encampments — a precaution he had failed to take on the Washita 8 years’ before. He left one company behind with the slow moving mule pack train. He gave Major Reno three companies with orders to cross the river in pursuit of Indians glimpsed fleeing some miles ahead of the main column. The regiment’s Arickaree scouts rode with Reno, aiming at the huge horse herd west of the village.

Custer and his headquarters staff led the largest force of five companies north along the bluffs on the east side of the river, obviously intending to cross further downstream. either into or above the huge village to the west. Most historians I have read (and I’ve only read a handful in an incredibly prolific field) believe he aimed to round up enough of the fleeing women and children to use as hostages, forcing the warriors to draw off and negotiate a surrender.

Custer himself never said, so far as I know. He “followed the model of Napoleon, telling his subordinates as little as possible about his intentions.” In his final officers’ call he defended declining cavalry reinforcements and leaving behind the wheeled Gatling guns. He warned that they might face as many as 1,500 warriors. but declared the 7th could whip them unassisted. Nobody in the little group gathered in his tent had the temerity to ask “How?”


Le Beau Sabreur

Destroying Black Kettle’s village and capturing women and children had certainly worked for Custer on the Washita, and that objective had been explicit in Sheridan’s marching orders on that campaign. General Terry’s orders on this occasion were far more vague and lawyerly, but surprise attacks on Indian villages was the standard operating procedure in the Plains Wars. The Army justified the tactic on the grounds that the rascally redskins wouldn’t stand and fight, leaving the destruction of their villages as the only option if the tribes were to be subdued.

But hiding behind non-combatant hostages to bring the warriors to terms conflicted with Custer’s image of himself as le beau sabreur, a dashing, fearless adventurer in the Napoleonic mold of Lasalle and Davydov. For those bold horsemen the only true role of the cavalry was to attack no matter what the odds, overwhelming the enemy in a sabre-to-sabre l’attaque a outrance.

“L’audace, encore de l’audace, toujours l’audace,” was the motto embraced by these daring cavalrymen, and it had carried Custer to his greatest victories in the Civil War. Given that mindset, I would suggest his plan as he moved up the east side of the river was to launch a flank attack aimed not at the fleeing villagers but falling on the rear of the mass of warriors engaging Reno. His five companies would be the hammer, Reno’s three companies the anvil that would crush the Sioux and Cheyenne braves between them, with Benteen coming up in time to mop up the fleeing survivors.

A complete victory over this huge assembly of their greatest warriors in the open field would finally convince the tribes that resistance was futile. Custer aimed to end the Great Sioux War in one afternoon.