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Thomas H. Bradley was a planter, state legislator, and brigadier general of the Arkansas State Militia. Given his initial opposition to secession, however, he was unsuccessful with his command during the Civil War.
Thomas Bradley was born on July 25, 1808, in Williamson County, Tennessee; records show he had perhaps five siblings. The son of farmers Thomas Bradley and Margaret Bradley, he became a merchant in Franklin, Tennessee. In 1835, Bradley joined the First Tennessee Volunteers to serve in the Second Seminole War. While in the military, he served as both a major and the regimental adjutant. In 1836, he moved to Crittenden County and became a planter. His holdings were located roughly eighteen miles upriver from Memphis, Tennessee. He was able to increase his holdings and in 1850–51, served a term in the Arkansas House of Representatives as a Democrat. During the 1860 Democratic Convention, Bradley served as a delegate for Stephen Douglas.
Bradley was elected to the Arkansas Secession Convention in 1861 as the sole representative of Crittenden County. By this point, he had amassed a fortune of more than $160,000, with holdings of over 2,000 acres, making him the wealthiest delegate at the convention. He also owned ninety-five slaves, having the largest slave holdings of those at the convention.
Initially opposed to secession, Bradley changed his vote during the second session of the convention held on May 6. The Secession Convention not only severed Arkansas from the Union, it also organized the military affairs of the state. A three-member military board was organized and placed in charge of the Arkansas army. Bradley, on account of his previous military experience and standing in the state, was named as the brigadier general in command of the Second Division, which included the eastern section of Arkansas. N. Bart Pearce was named commander of the western section or First Division.
Bradley made some efforts to lead his new military command but was continually unsuccessful. Most of the troops serving under his command distrusted him, as he was not an original secessionist but instead supported secession rather late in the convention. Some of those under his command, including Patrick Cleburne (then a colonel), chose to ignore his orders. Bradley tried to gain support from both the convention and the military board, but both organizations ignored his pleas for help. Rumors about his conduct began to swirl, and a court-martial was called to investigate charges of drunkenness and cowardice. The court-martial never met, and the charges were eventually dropped. Regardless, Bradley was not given another command and never saw combat in the Civil War. He was replaced as the head of Arkansas State Troops in eastern Arkansas by Major General James Yell, commander of the entire Arkansas army.
Bradley soon left Arkansas and moved to Memphis. He died of an undisclosed illness in that city on September 30, 1864, and is buried in Elmwood Cemetery.
For additional information:Allardice, Bruce S. More Generals in Gray. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006.
Dougan, Michael B. Confederate Arkansas: The People and Policies of a Frontier State in Wartime. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1976.
Huff, Leo, E. “The Military Board in Confederate Arkansas.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 26 (Spring 1967): 75–95.
Wooster, Ralph. “The Arkansas Secession Convention.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 13 (Summer 1954): 172–195.
David SesserHenderson State University
Last Updated 2/25/2017
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