The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Civil War

Restoring the Name of Fort Bragg is Nothing to Brag About

Ron DeSantis and Mike Pence are wrong to advocate naming a US Army base after an incompetent Confederate general who betrayed the United States to fight for slavery.


Confederate General Braxton Bragg (1817-76).


The Department of Defense recently changed the name of the Fort Bragg army base in North Carolina to Fort Liberty. In doing so, they shifted from a name honoring an incompetent Confederate general who betrayed the US to fight for slavery, to a name honoring America's most fundamental value. Seems like a no-brainer!

Nonetheless, GOP presidential candidates Ron DeSantis and Mike Pence have condemned the move and vowed to change the name back if they win the presidency. DeSantis called the name change "political correctness run amok." They could hardly be more wrong.

Who was Braxton Bragg? He was a slaveowner and a Confederate general, best known for commanding the largest Confederate army in the west in 1862-63. During his time as commander of the Army of Tennessee, he became known for incompetence, quarreling with key subordinates, and losing major battles. As one historian put it, Bragg "had done as much as any Confederate general to lose the war."

Bragg was deeply racist even by the very low standards of Confederate generals. For example, he opposed raising black troops late in the war, because he did not think blacks could be reliable soldiers. Many other Confederate generals differed, most notably Robert E. Lee (though Lee's support for this last-ditch measure should not be confused with opposition to slavery, an institution he was determined to preserve).

I suppose it could be argued that Bragg deserves recognition because his incompetent leadership made a major (unintentional) contribution to Union victory in the Civil War. That aside, a militarily incompetent traitor who fought for slavery is the last person whom a major US Army base should be named after.

The debate over the renaming of Fort Bragg is tied up with broader controversy over removing Confederate monuments and renaming sites named after Confederate leaders. I previously wrote about that issue here, here, and here. In those posts, I rebutted a variety of arguments against renaming and monument removal, such as claims that the Civil War wasn't really about slavery (the Confederates themselves said that was what they were fighting for!), concerns that removal and renaming amount to "erasure" of history, and slippery slope considerations.

I won't go over that ground again in detail here. But I will reiterate that I have no desire to "erase" Braxton Bragg and other Confederate leaders from history. Much the contrary. I just don't think we should honor them. Similarly, I don't think we should abjure honoring anyone who ever expressed racist sentiments, or even anyone who ever owned slaves. Some historical figures who committed such wrongs also did great good in other ways (most notably, many of the Founding Fathers). But we should not honor people whose role in waging a war for slavery was their only major claim to fame.

If he had not become a prominent Confederate general (even if an incompetent one), hardly anyone today would remember the name of Braxton Bragg. It's long past time we stopped honoring people like that. If recognizing that is "political correctness run amok," then we should let it run amok some more.