Saturday, May 9, 2015

One last Confederate broadside

Elise Bragg outlived her husband Braxton by 32 years. She was 39 when they were captured, and she caught the eye of Union Corp. William Spang. "She was good looking, had black hair and eyes, in fact the perfect type of a Southern brunette," he wrote.
     Stoneman's raiders missed the $100,000 bounty on Jefferson Davis, but they got a consolation prize by capturing one of Davis' best friends, Gen. Braxton Bragg, and his indomitable wife Elise.
Sgt. Levi Sheffler
     "General Bragg's wife was not altogether amiable," reported our war correspondent, Capt. Henry Weand. "She scolded our men and applied all sorts of epithets to them, but the principal burden of her song was the disgrace of having been captured by a Philadelphia fireman." 
     The fireman was Sgt. Levi Sheffler, who recognized Bragg even though the general had tried to disguise himself by shaving his beard and removing insignia from his uniform.
     Corp. William Spang confiscated a trunk that belonged to Mrs. Bragg. "She opened her batteries by reminding us who we were and said that she had never been so insulted in all her life as to have her effects searched by a set of Yankee hirelings," Spang wrote. "While she was giving vent to her eloquence, she was at the same time tearing up a letter of dispatch into very small pieces, and by the time her tirade was exhausted, the ground was covered with small bits of paper, reminding me of 'the beautiful snow'."
     E.L. Palmer helped escort the Braggs on the 10-hour ride to Union headquarters, and he never forgot how she gave the guards another earful: "Now, gentlemen, you left your homes, where you had all you wished, and came into our country, and brought misery and sorrow to us by all the cruel circumstances of war, with its destruction of life and property. You have made us helpless, hopeless, and comfortless to a degree from which we can never recover. Would you not, as well as we, have been better off without this terrible invasion and subjugation? We have no heart, no hope, no country we care to call our country."
     Palmer later wrote: "These words, coming from such a distinguished lady, seemed to call for a reply, but I felt that silence was the most appropriate under the circumstances."

Gen. Braxton Bragg:
 Did the unibrow blow his cover?
     Braxton Bragg was raised in Warrenton, N.C., and graduated from West Point in 1837, nine years ahead of Stoneman. He retired from the army after serving under Jefferson Davis in the Mexican War, 1845-47, and in 1849 he married young Elise Brooks Ellis, who was heiress to a sugar plantation. In 1855, he bought a Louisiana sugar plantation with over 100 slaves.
     Bragg prospered until the outbreak of the Civil War. He was lukewarm about secession and initially declined Davis' offer to become a Confederate general.
     In 1863, he commanded a significant rebel victory at Chickamauga, Ga. But Bragg is more widely known for several defeatsincluding Perryville, Ky., Chattanooga, Tenn., and Fort Fisher, N.C.—and became a scapegoat for the fall of the Confederacy.
     Meanwhile, in 1862 Federal troops confiscated the Braggs' beloved plantation home, called Bivouac. The Freedman's Bureau used it as a shelter for ex-slaves before selling it at auction. It's no wonder that Mrs. Bragg was so indignant about being captured by "Yankee hirelings."
     Stripped of his reputation and fortune, Gen. Bragg died in 1876 at age 59. Elise lived until 1908, and her obituary noted that she fell into her final sickness on the 45th anniversary of Chickamauga.
     The U.S. Army honored him in 1918 by naming its North Carolina post as Camp Bragg (now Fort Bragg, the nation's largest Army base).
     Confederates, though, never forgave him, as reflected in the subtitle of Earl Hess's 2016 biography: Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man in the Confederacy.       

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