JEFFERSON DAVIS AND HIS GENERALS: THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR IN THE WEST
WOODWORTH, STEVEN E.
Doctor of Philosophy
Jefferson Davis, though apparently well-qualified for the role of commander-in-chief, nevertheless proved to be a failure in that role because of his blind devotion to certain friends, some of whom turned out to be incompetent generals, and because he lacked the ability to grasp new ideas, to handle pressure, and to make crucial decisions. This was most clearly demonstrated in the western theater of the war. Davis showed favoritism in appointing a number of his pre-war friends as generals, notably Leonidas Polk. Polk proved to be incompetent and insubordinate to his commanders, but Davis could not see this and failed to remove him. Polk's presence was made especially damaging by his efforts to undermine his immediate superior, Braxton Bragg. Bragg was a fairly competent general who, though a pre-war enemy of Davis, came to possess a moderate degree of Davis's confidence and commanded the South's chief western army for over a year. Bragg's effectiveness was reduced by Polk, who regularly disregarded orders with which he disagreed, sometimes costing the army a chance for victory. Polk also organized a movement for Bragg's removal. The morale damage caused by Polk eventually brought about the army's collapse. Davis's personal friendship with Polk kept him from preventing this. Davis's inability to trust his own judgments and to act forcefully and decisively was demonstrated in his handling of Joseph E. Johnston. Though Johnston had already caused problems in Virginia, Davis appointed the popular general to overall command in the West. Besides lacking the nerve to engage in battle, Johnston disagreed with nearly all of Davis's strategic ideas. His subsequent foot-dragging hurt the Confederate cause, especially during the Vicksburg campaign. Davis, rather than forcing compliance or removing the stubborn general, engaged in a long and petty argument with his subordinate. Despite all this Davis, in early 1864, still gave Johnston direct command of the Confederacy's only remaining major army in the West. Johnston again failed, but Davis hesitated to remove him until it was all but too late to save the vital city of Atlanta.