Thursday, March 6, 2008

Behind Every Good Man, or General, There is a Woman...

I felt that I would digress somewhat from Lee's post and move into the social realm myself. As I was searching for more information pertaining to our illustrious General Bragg, I could not help but remember the number of times I have read excerpts from documents concerning the enormous influence his wife played in military affairs dealing with the Army of Tennessee. First, let's get to know the woman behind the general.

Eliza (Elise) Brooks Ellis was the daughter of a wealthy Louisiana planter. According to G.S. Borit's Jefferson Davis's Generals, she was "intelligent, opinionated, engaging, and rich," all qualities that attracted Braxton to his future wife. They were married in 1849, but soon confided to on of her cousins that she had "censured Col. Bragg for being too cold and reserved a lover." She went on to write, "I little knew the depth and affection that was concealed under such and exterior-he is an ardent and devoted husband and fonder of displaying his affection in a thousand little tendernesses than even myself." She was his confidant and companion through his illnesses, military failures, and everything else the colonel (general) underwent. On one occasion, Bragg even wrote, "I am lost without you my dear wife."

I believe many of us can testify that many of Bragg's soldiers did not think him the tyrant modern historians make him out to be during the war. Elise could frequently be found around the Army of Tennessee's headquarters when Bragg was commanding. She was there for her husband when he resigned after the debacle at Missionary Ridge and accompanied him to Richmond upon his transfer as Davis' military advisor.

How much influence did Elise Bragg have on her husband? This is the question I pose to you all. According to Judith Hallock, editor of The Civil War Letters of Joshua K. Callaway, she probably played a vital role in his decision to march out of Chattanooga toward Kentucky in June 1862. She reminded him of the technological advances in transportation (i.e. railroads and steam navigation) that could be used militarily to his advantage. She wrote, "Why not take our army round into Tennessee & thence into Kentucky?" Although Bragg chose to leave Federal forces in the rear of his army, particularly in and around Corinth, Mississippi, she reminded him that "you leave our enemy in your rear-true, but is not that better than an enemy in your midst, starvation."

Like I said, behind every great man is a woman. It is my opinion that we, as historians, need to take a closer look into Bragg's personal life and the person whose opinion "really" mattered, Elise Bragg.

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