Braxton Bragg was a slave-owning racist and failed military leader, sometimes described as the worst general of the Civil War. The question should be, why would anyone name a military base after him in the first place? Nevertheless, Gov. Ron DeSantis is defending him.
The governor is upset that the U.S. military changed the name of North Carolina’s Fort Bragg to Fort Liberty earlier this month. He called it “political correctness run amok,” and said he would restore the name if voters elected him president.
But Braxton Bragg is no cancel culture martyr. The military base should never have been named in his honor, not when Camp Bragg opened in 1918, and certainly not now.
Naming military institutions after Confederate generals — and erecting statues of them — was all the rage in the early 1900s, part of the effort decades after the Civil War to reshape it as a noble Southern fight, a perniciousness rooted in white supremacy and other dangerous “Lost Cause” nonsense. Only in that lamentable political environment would Bragg be remembered in such a favorable way as to have a base named after him.
Even if Bragg’s supporters want to mitigate his slave ownership by citing the era in which he lived, his military record is hardly first-rate, especially his time as a general in the Civil War. By most accounts, he performed well at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862, which, remember, was a stunning Confederate loss. But after that:
• He took control of the Army of Mississippi that same year, but an invasion of Kentucky ended with his retreat.
• He retreated again a few months later after the Battle of Stones River in Tennessee.
• He surrendered middle Tennessee to the Union in 1863 after getting outmaneuvered.
• He helped win the Battle of Chickamauga later in 1863, though was criticized for not pursuing and potentially destroying his Union adversaries.
• Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant routed Bragg’s army in the Battle of Chattanooga, after which Confederate President Jefferson Davis accepted Bragg’s resignation (though Davis later made him his chief military adviser in Richmond, Virginia, the headquarters of the Confederacy).
• Bragg is routinely listed among the worst Civil War generals. Two of his main biographies are titled “Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat” and “Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy.” One of the books concluded: “Much of this criticism was justified, for (Bragg) had done as much as any Confederate general to lose the war.”
• He also had a reputation for picking unnecessary fights with other officers and for overly strict discipline, which did not always endear him to his troops. In his memoirs, Grant relayed a story about Bragg serving as both company commander and quartermaster of a frontier post years before the Civil War. As commander, Bragg denied his own request as quartermaster for supplies and then referred the decision to the post commandant, who according to Grant’s possibly apocryphal account, said, “My God, Mr. Bragg you have quarreled with every officer in the army, and now you are quarreling with yourself!”
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By definition, Bragg was a traitor to the United States. He was at best a middling military leader and, at worst, so inadequate that he helped cost the Confederacy the war. Celebrate his failures and treachery? How un-American.
If the military base had never been named after Bragg, who would be pushing for it today? Would DeSantis extol Bragg, the slave owner and the military loser? The answer is obvious.
Bragg’s name should not be attached to an Army base. That honor is meant for heroes and patriots, not for inept generals and slave-owning traitors.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.