Braxton Bragg

i sent this to The fort bragg advocate-news where it appeared in the july 23 edition. the publisher gave permission to reprint it.

braxton1Recent talk about changing the name of Fort Bragg, California, made me curious about my town’s namesake. For years, I’d assumed that Confederate General Braxton Bragg had a hand in setting up the fort. But that’s not true—he never stepped foot in Northern California. Furthermore, the place was given its name four years before Bragg served in the Confederate Army.

In the summer of 1857, First Lieutenant Horatio Gibson was dispatched to the California hinterlands to build a military post near the Noyo River. Ten years earlier, Braxton Bragg had been his commanding officer in the Mexican War. Horatio was one of the few soldiers who claimed to admire him.

horatioI’d like to offer an opposing theory for how our town got the name. Before global warming, the weather was not kind to the Mendocino Coast. For decades, residents had to choose which weather pattern—fog, rain or wind—they hated the least.

I imagine Horatio and his crew struggling to build shelters with subpar tools. When the winter rains began, someone probably said, “Hey, why don’t we name this Godforsaken place after that nut ball Braxton Bragg?”

Despite growing up in a poor family, Bragg attended West Point and finished fifth in a class of 50 cadets. In 1856, after nearly 20 years of military service, he retired to farm his Louisiana sugar plantation. Shortly before retirement, he was given two crappy assignments—Fort Gibson in Oklahoma Indian territory and Fort Washita near the Texas border. This may have been the Army’s way of “encouraging” him to retire.

braxton3In his early years, Braxton proved to be a brave soldier, saving the life of future Confederate President Jefferson Davis in the Mexican War. Over time, his behavior became increasingly kooky.

Ulysses S. Grant wrote that Bragg had an obsessive need for proper procedure that bordered on mental illness. At one time, Bragg had been both a company commander and quartermaster (the officer in charge of approving the disbursement of provisions).

As company commander, Bragg made a request to the company quartermaster— himself—for something he wanted.

As quartermaster, he wrote an official reason for denying it.

As company commander, he argued that he was entitled to it.

As quartermaster, he continued to persist in denying himself what he needed.

Bragg finally requested the intervention of the post commander who said, “My God, Mr. Bragg, you have quarreled with every officer in the army, and now you are quarreling with yourself.”

Initially, Bragg opposed the idea of secession. However, when civil war became imminent he emerged from retirement and returned to the military in 1861. His years away had not improved his mental state. His men were often mystified by his orders on the battlefield. He would command reckless, aggressive offensive attacks or become bizarrely hesitant to move forward, sometimes in the same battle.

braxton2After a victory at Chickamauga, Bragg passed up a chance to thrash Union forces by letting them retreat to Chattanooga, Tennessee. After this debacle, Confederate Cavalry General Nathan Forrest said to him: “You have played the part of a damned scoundrel, and are a coward, and if you were any part of a man I would slap your jaws and force you to resent it. You may as well not issue any orders to me, for I will not obey them. I say to you that if you ever again try to interfere with me or cross my path it will be at the peril of your life.”

Bragg’s subordinates threatened mutiny and called upon President Davis to remove him. But Davis stood by the man who had once saved his life and, instead, transferred the generals under Bragg’s command.

After the Civil War, Bragg returned to Louisiana to find that the Union Army had seized his plantation. He eventually found work as the superintendent of the New Orleans Waterworks and then as chief engineer of Alabama. He moved to Texas in 1874 to become the chief engineer of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad and later served as the chief railroad inspector for the state.

Bragg died in Galveston, Texas, on August 27, 1876 while walking down the street with a friend.

Given Braxton’s history, it’s hard to imagine any place named after him, let alone four. In addition to our little town, the Army base in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and a ghost town in Hardin County Texas share his name. There’s also a company in Knoxville, Tennessee, called Braxton-Bragg, which specializes in “Tools for Granite, Marble, Tile, Polished Concrete & Stone Restoration.”

California State Senator Steve Glazer claims the name of our town pays tribute to the Confederacy and has introduced SB 539 to persuade us to change it. This is absurd. Braxton Bragg was an inept Confederate and holds the distinction of being one of the most hated military men of all time. Our town’s name does not honor him. Over the last century and a half, the name Fort Bragg honors the generations of people who lived, worked and died here. It belongs to us and we aim to keep it.

Photo courtesy of that fabulous guy Tony of Tony Argüelles Photography

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What’s in a Name?

sglazerRecently, California State Senator Steve Glazer revealed he has a great deal of spare time on his hands. I believe he must have been lounging in a chaise next to his pool in Orinda when he had this ah-ha moment: “I’ll propose a bill that will remove names associated with the Confederacy from all public places in our fair state!”

He composed Senate Bill 539 and introduced it to the State Legislature.

Dan Walters, a reporter for the Sacramento Bee, picked up on this and wrote an article questioning whether the bill might affect our little town of Fort Bragg, which is named after—uh-oh—the Confederate General Braxton Bragg.

This hit the internet and unleashed a torrent of comments.

Reactions in the mainstream media are, for the most part, carefully worded. For example:
I was born and raised in the Deep South. I certainly agree that confederate flags should not be flown over government building but that is where I stop…most of the people things and places are named after did more than just fight in the war on the losing side. In one way or another they helped shape our nation. I gripe all the time about the far right wingers who jump over the cliff about their issues and now the far left wingers are jumping over that same cliff…the bodies at the bottom are really piling up.

Comments on the Facebook pages of the Fort Bragg Advocate-News, Mendocinosportsplus and You Know You’re From the Mendocino Coast if…. are more raw. I must say I most admire these comments because these people are unafraid to say what they really think (no grammatical errors have been corrected):

This is why I say liberals SUCK

WTH…I’m about to leave this God forsaken state…

Lunacy at it’s best! My biggest concern is we may have to change our dog’s name to be in accordance to the law, his name is Braxton. I could say he was named after Toni Braxton. But I will probably say he was named after Braxton Hicks.

It’s going to suck for all of you anti-gun liberals when the next civil war happens which is a lot closer to happening than many would like to think what’s going to happen is a lot different from the civil war that has already happened and that you criticize so much. You won’t have any way to protect you because “all cops are bad” “all guns are bad” you all have got another thing coming your way and honestly when the next civil war happens I’m going to enjoy taking part in the winning side (I’ll give you a hint: its the side that will actually have weapons)

Really?? This is what is on Sacramento’s agenda? With ALL the REAL problems out there, these numbnuts have to after something with no bearing on anything. This state gets more communistic every day, all these bleeding hearts, “oooo, someone’s feelings are hurt”. Grow up this is the real world, if any of these bleeding hearts go anywhere else in the world, it will chew them up and spit them out.

Fortbragg focus on giving us a Taco Bell or even a Mall, Not something that’s part of our History

lol – Bunch of rebels there in Ft. Bragg I was one –

The Dems . Won’t be happy till it’s called Jose’s Rainbow Bay !!!!!!

So if it applies to schools would Fort Bragg High School have to change its name?

I need to start a “WTF” page so people can really say what they feel.

We should probably rename it to “Fluffy Kittens” that way nobody is offended

It won’t happen anyway so I’m not worried about it. However I am curious as to what the natives called this area before it was Fort Bragg.
Response: Maybe they called it “the beach”….but that may have been offensive to someone.

No series of comments would be complete without at least one fight breaking out:
Original commentator: forts and braggng….mmmm the north coast deserves a name more fttng
Response: are u even from Fort Bragg?Or live there? I’ve seen u bad mouthin our home’s name on all Fort Bragg sites and our beautiful home is obviously not a place for u.
Original commentator: I live in Jenner and would love to move farther north, (I’l throw a party you’ll never forget when ft bragg changes its name
Responses: Actually why don’t you stay down there in jenner.
No one in Fort Bragg cares about your party you could never do it Fort Bragg style anywAy that’s obvious
Original commentator: keep playing dumb, and being hurtful, it reveals so much.
Responses: Who’s being hurtful. So far you are the one thats approaching that level.
It only hurts because her ego is being deflated.

Finally, my favorites:

Let’s name it Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. But we’ll call it Fort Bragg for short.

Enough is enough. Find something else to do. Bake some cookies, do the laundry. Try to keep busy.cookies