Lawyer, soldier and later politician, Edward Bragg is a good example of a civilian who made a successful transition to military service during the American Civil War. Born in New York State, where he qualified as a lawyer, in 1850 he moved west to Wisconsin. Like many from the north west, Bragg was a Democrat. At the outbreak of the civil war, he became a ‘war’ democrat. In June 1861 he raised an infantry company, and was commissioned as a captain in the 6th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. This regiment was to take part in many of the most important battles in the Virginia theatre of the war.
After a spell in the defences of Washington, Bragg was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and second in command of the Regiment. At Second Bull Run, he took over after the Colonel was wounded. In the Maryland campaign that followed, he retained command of the regiment in the battles of South Mountain and Antietam, although was himself serious wounded at Antietam. The regiment itself suffered 40 dead and 112 wounded out of 300 men present during the battle, a 50% casualty rate.
Both Bragg and his Colonel had recovered in time to take part in the disaster at Fredericksburg (13 December 1862), although Colonel Cutler was now also involved at Brigade level. This was the ‘Iron Brigade’, one of the best units in the Union army, and the brigade that suffered the highest percentage of casualties of any union Brigade.
In March 1863 Bragg was promoted to Colonel. Cutler was now a Brigadier General, although commanding a different brigade. Both were present at the Battle of Chancellorsville (2-5 May 1863), yet another disastrous Union defeat. Once again the aftermath of defeat saw a Confederate invasion of the north, but this time Bragg was absent, missing Gettysburg through illness.
1864 saw the arrival of U.S. Grant as commanding general. Bragg commanded the 6th Wisconsin at the start of the Wilderness campaign, although for some of the time he was in command of a Pennsylvania Regiment (the constant fighting during this campaign took a heavy toll on officers). By the battle of Cold Harbor, Bragg was commanding the Third Brigade, Fourth Division in General Warren’s Fifth Army Corps, a brigade entirely composed of Pennsylvania regiments.
June 1864 saw him finally promoted to brigadier-general. Back in command of the Iron Brigade, he took part in the first assault on Petersburg. During the crossing of the Rappahannock he led his men across the river under enemy fire, taking the Confederate positions and earning his promotion. He remained the brigade commander until February 1865, just missing the Appomattox campaign.
Throughout his military career his conduct and bravery impressed his commanding officers. For a civilian with no military background to reach the rank of brigadier-general was an impressive achievement. His appointment to command a Pennsylvania division in 1864 met with no protests.
Post war he entered politics, serving as a Democratic congressman from 1877-83 and 1885-7, playing an important role at several Democratic conventions. He also served as American minister in Mexico (1887-9) and consul general in Hong Kong (1902-6).