The following letter written by Major General Braxton Bragg to his wife, Eliza, and sent from Corinth on 29 MAR 1862 reveals the mindset of Confederate leaders in the build-up to Battle of Shiloh. Discussed in the letter:
the importance of the Mississippi River to the Confederacy;
incompetence responsible for the loss of New Madrid;
Bragg's recommended strategy for Arkansas (and use of Van Dorn)
Confederate evaluation of Union force (under C.F. Smith) and Smith's likely objectives;
Bragg compares his Army of Pensacola to the forces under A.S. Johnston and Leonidas Polk;
Bragg evaluates the current state of affairs, and offers suggested remedies;
Letter concludes with "personal matters" (acquiring provisions for his family; and answering questions in Eliza's last letter.)
Corinth, March 29th 1862
Your letters are all coming to hand since they have found me out, and yesterday I had one only three days old, written on my birthday, tho' you probably did not know it. You write under great excitement and despondency, and I must acknowledge, with much reason, but still I hope and trust a change for the better is about to occur.
The rapid movement from Jackson to Bethel, and thence to this place, was to prevent the very movement you seem so much to fear. The enemy in large force ascended the Tennessee River, with a view no doubt of striking at or near this point, by which he would divide the forces of Polk and myself from those of Johnston coming west on the rail road. He landed in force and made two assails [against] our stations, one against Bethel, and one here. But finding us not only prepared to receive him, but arranging to attack him, he fell back, crossed the river with his main force, and now confronts us with only a brave few thousand, under cover of his gun boats.
Desirous as I was, and Genl Beauregard was for sure, to bring on an action, it became utterly impossible. We could not cross the river; and they would not. In the mean time events have gone on very disastrously on the Mississippi River in Genl Polk's command, not from any immediate fault of his, but from a bad commander [McCown] and the unfortunate result of bad discipline, and too much whiskey. Under orders from Genl Beauregard to hold the place [New Madrid] until the last extremity, they had driven the enemy [Pope] back in New Madrid with a heavy loss. We were supplied, were fortified, and had force enough to hold out until we could reinforce them. But a big stampede got hold of them. Whiskey got into them, and a few, a false alarm that Genl Siegel, who was in front of Van Dorn in north west Arkansas, was upon them with 20,000 additional men... all was disgracefully abandoned.
On the 23rd Genl Johnston reached here, Genl Beauregard came down [from Jackson] to mesh up, and a conference has resulted in changes I hope will save the Mississippi, though time is precious, and much needed. I insisted on a change of subordinate commanders of Island No.10 and Fort Pillow, which is the next point to defend if the first falls. All said they had nobody to put there, their best having been done. I offered my whole force, saying I could put any of my generals there and know they would never be stampeded. Being allowed to designate, I have sent Genl Jones to Island No.10 and Genl Villepique to Fort Pillow. I ought to have the whole command there [of Mississippi River defences] myself, and take my Pensacola and Mobile troops there. But that point I could not urge, of course, as Genl Polk, who commands, is my senior. I thought my Mobile Army was a mob, but it is as far superior to Polk's and Johnston's as the Army of Pensacola was to it.
The commander of the disgrace at New Madrid [General McCown] I insist shall be arrested and tried. There is want of nerve to do it, but I shall insist, and hope yet to accomplish it. Stern, dictatorial measures are necessary, and as far as my influence goes, will be adopted.
The enemy will operate on both our flanks, striking us here [at Corinth] whenever he is ready. Sooner one could not make him do it, as he is on the other side of the [Tennessee] River, which he controls by gun boats. But it is not so on the Mississippi: we control that below them, and can throw our forces at any point there by steamer. Had my opinion prevailed, we should have assailed him at New Madrid and defeated him there about the time we moved here. But fears were felt for this position, by which Genl Johnston would be divided from us. Swift measures would have saved both [New Madrid and Corinth] but that is now too late. To hold the Mississippi River is my primary object; the loss of its use be about fatal to us, and I shall unceasingly urge its importance. I find my opinions have some weight with both Johnston and Beauregard, and I shall not cease to urge my point.
Johnston almost embraced me when I met him, saying, "Your prompt and decisive move, Sir, has saved me, and saved the country. But for your arrival [at Corinth] the enemy would have been between us."
A change is to be made today in our organization. I believe the Army here, between the Mississippi and the Tennessee, will be called the Army of the Mississippi, as at present, but largely increased by Johnston's forces. This will all be commanded by Beauregard, and be divided in turn into two grand divisions under Polk and Bragg. Say 25,000 men each. Johnston to command all. And East Tennessee and Missouri. Under my urgent advice, supported by Polk and Beauregard, Johnston has decided to withdraw the forces of Van Dorn from Arkansas, and unite them to ours on this side of the river. This, you may recollect, I advised in January from Pensacola. Where he is, Van Dorn can do nothing; nor can he subsist his army. Arkansas is a wilderness the enemy will never penetrate. And should we unfortunately lose the Mississippi, Van Dorn there would be lost. With his addition, 20,000. If we do our duty, and work our men into soldiers, we shall be able to turn the tide, and redress our losses.
But, great labor is before us, and we need not conceal the fact that great danger also threatens us. Our people, our generals, with a few exceptions, are not up to the emergency. Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri are lost to us. Such has been the outrageous conduct of our troops that the people generally and very voluntarily prefer seeing the enemy. Polk and Johnston do nothing to correct this. Indeed, the good Bishop sets the example by taking whatever he wishes -- requiring it to be paid for, it is true. But, every man is not willing to give up his house, his necessities, servants, provisions, etc., etc., even though our Government is required to pay for it.
The provision question is embarrassing to us publicly and privately. Financing the great difficulty in New Orleans. And hearing such accounts from Mr. Urquhart, I bought 20,000 pounds of bacon in Mississippi which was offered me as a favor. It will be shipped to Mr. Urquhart and by him one half to you and the other half to Towson. It will be more than either will require, or ought to use. Half of it ought to suffice. The other I thought it prudent to take as we might supply Pierce and your Mother. We face weeks more, not a pound of meat can be had in the country. The money you speak of for the girls, I paid to Towson in cash. He tells me he deposited it to your Mother's credit with Mr. Urquhart for the girls to draw on. That makes it all right. She is charged with it, but look on the other side and see if she is also credited? That might make it all right. Towson and Robert are well. My own health is good, besides a cold.
The meantime -- Write.
God Keep you Darling Wife
[The original hand-written Letter of 29 MAR 1862] is on file with Missouri History Museum -- Missouri Digital Heritage -- in the "St. Louis Civil War Collection" and accessible online at the following: http://cdm.sos.mo.gov/cdm/compoundobject/collection/CivilWar/id/1261/rec/20
Thanks to Missouri History Museum for making the original letter available online.