In honor of Pvt. Nathan R. Oakes, CSA

150 years ago, my great grandfather, Nathan Richardson Oakes, served as a private in Company D of the distinguished 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment in the Army of Tennessee. He participated in the great Civil War campaigns, including the battles of Perryville, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Atlanta, Franklin, Nashville, and Bentonville. I am writing about his engagements as well as some details about fighting for the Lost Cause. I hope to honor him and commemorate the events and individuals that contributed to making this a renowned unit in the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Great Grandfather Oakes in the Army of 10,000

On this date in 1861, my great grandfather, Nathan R. Oakes, enlisted for 60 days of military service for his state of Mississippi in 2nd Regiment, Mississippi Infantry (Davidson's). He volunteered with his neighbors as a 16-year-old* private in a company comprised of 68 volunteers. The men quickly elected their popular local pastor, Mark P. Lowrey, their captain, and named the new company, "Lowrey Guards." Lowrey was soon elected colonel of the regiment, so command of the Lowrey Guards was given to Great Grandfather's uncle, Capt. F.S. Norman.

Earlier in January of that year, Mississippi became the second Southern state to secede from the Union. The state's strategic location along the Mississippi River made it key to both the North and South during the war. Dozens of battles will be fought in the state as armies repeatedly clash near key towns and cities.

In September, Gov. Pettus called for 10,000 volunteers to enlist for emergency service under the orders of Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston in Kentucky. No troops were actually sent under this call as Mississippi had earlier sent 25,000 men, organized in 8 regiments in the Army of Mississippi. Soon, though, the state legislature called again for volunteers, not to exceed 10,000 in number, for 60 days of servicer. The men had to furnish their own arms, which for most like my great-grandfather, was a borrowed double-barreled shotgun. The troops were ordered to rendezvous at Corinth under Gen. Reuben Davis of the State troops while another unit was organized at Grenada under Gen. J.L Alcorn.

Gen. Davis arrived at Bowling Green on December 16 with 2 regiments and a battalion that comprised about 2,000 infantrymen. The soldiers were assigned to garrison various fortifications in and around the town. On December 31, Davis’s Brigade was reported to have 145 officers and 1,617 enlisted men in the infantry, 38 officers and 495 enlisted men in the cavalry, with a total present of 2,295, and 3,550 absent.

Davis’s Brigade saw no action during its service in Kentucky. However, the soldiers did suffer intensely from a very severe winter that year. Snow lay on the ground for weeks,and the unprepared men were exposed to freezing cold while they were stationed there. Most of them came down with measles, and many died from this and other camp diseases like pneumonia.

According to his service records, Great Grandfather Oakes served at least 44 days of his 60-day enlistment in the 4th Regiment. Back in Corinth in February 1862, the term of enlistment having expired, the regiment was disbanded. Amazingly, many of the men of the "Sixty-Day Troops" reenlisted at once in other commands in the Confederate army. In fact, by March, Col. Lowrey had recruited nearly a thousand men for a new regiment, a large number of which returned from his old regiment. My great-grandfather was one of the recruits, as was his uncle, Capt. Norman. They will become members of Co. D (also nicknamed "Lowrey Guards") of Lowrey's famed 32nd Mississippi Infantry of th Army of Tennessee.

* His service records indicate he was 18 years of age. However Great Grandfather was born in August 21, 1845.

Sources: N.R. Oakes Service Records; Military History of Mississippi, Dunbar Rowland; Mark P. Lowrey Autobiography

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A providential discovery | N.R. Oakes's in the 32nd Mississippi Infantry

About 12 years ago, I attended the last Oakes's family reunion, which was held in Santa Anna, Texas. While family members visited the cemetery there, which contains the graves of many of my mom's ancestors, Uncle Todd drew my attention to my great grandfather's headstone and told me that he was a veteran of the War Between the States. That war had been an off-and-on hobby of mine, so I was astounded to learn this heretofore missing bit of family history.

For some time after that, I searched for information about Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes in all the war records I could access,1 and one day, I finally ran across his name and military unit during an internet search. The following muster roll entry for "N.R. Oaks2 Co. D, Private" of the 32nd Mississippi Infantry revealed this entry for June 1863:
“Present, lost 1 cap pouch, $1.00, 52 caps at $.05 each $2.60, total $3.60”3 
Now, thanks to regimental historian, Tommy Lockhart, I had officially located my great grandfather in Company D of the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment. From that find, I have spent years, off and on, reading and researching his movements in the war, from his enlistment this month in 1861 in Kossuth, Mississippi, into his state's 60-Day Troops (a.k.a. "Army of 10,000"), to his reenlistment in the newly formed Confederate Army of Mississippi (later Army of Tennessee) on March 13, 1862, to his surrender at war's end on April 26, 1865, at Durham Station, North Carolina. I've also learned that he married the sister of his company comrade, Sgt. William D. Turner, and that he served under his uncle, Capt. F.S. Norman.

And these are just a few of the exciting nuggets that I've uncovered, all thanks to an offhanded comment by an uncle and the generosity of a military historian. I've since collected dozens of books pertaining to the regiment and the Army of Tennessee in which it fought. My hobby has also extended to research in several genealogical and university libraries, as well as visiting most of the battlefields he crossed during that great conflict from 1861-1865.

I've set myself the task to write about Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes and his small part in the War for Southern Independence. And from time to time I’ll blog a little a about his regiment's battles and other details about fighting for the Lost Cause.

My great grandparents, Nathan and Martha Oakes, and their family in
front of their home in 1897, after moving from Mississippi to Texas.
Great Grandfather Oakes was obviously proud of his mules, too!

1 At the time, I did not have access to the massive reference, The Roster of Confederate Soldiers 1861-1865, nor did I have enough information to find him in the National Park Service, Civil War Sailors and Soldiers System.
2 At my request a few years ago, the manager of the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment website, where Lockhart's material is published online, was kind enough to add a notation to correct the spelling of the family's surname. It often appears in the muster rolls as "Oaks," but was, in fact, spelled "Oakes."
3 Interestingly, then, like now in the armed services, soldiers were charged for replacement gear and armaments. The scant entries in his muster roll cards are the only informational anecdotes in Great Grandfather's military records. His captain was (disappointingly) a master of understatement in his reports. My wife and I did discover that Great Grandfather Oakes also wrote a couple letters to the editor of the Confederate Veteran, in 1889 and 1900, which shed light on some of his war experiences.

Source: "Muster Roll of the 32nd Mississippi Infantry", Tommy Lockhart (Tippah County Genealogical Society. Lockhart's research was first published as the book, now out of print, Muster Roll 32nd Mississippi Infantry, C.S.A. (Old Timer Press, Ripley, 1982). I was able to read a copy in the genealogical department at the East Baton Rouge Parish Library.

Monday, July 4, 2011

President Lincoln makes his case for war

Early in April 1861, in response to the fall of Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to defend the Union. On today's date in 1861, the 37th U.S. Congress was called into special session by the President to consider whether to approve his request for additional soldiers and financing for the war against Southern rebellion.

In his famous address sent to Congress, ironically on Independence Day in 1861, Lincoln outlined the events he believed started the war and justified actions taken since Fort Sumter. He distinguished "secession" from "rebellion" and cast the conflict in terms of a defense of the Union against an armed insurrection. He also offered a refutation of the Confederacy's rationale that the Constitution protected its secession.

Lincoln believed his response to the rebellion was justified even if it required him to take unprecedented measures, including disregarding the law of habeas corpus without the consent of Congress.* His address eloquently and forcefully speaks for itself.

Following are excerpts of his letter to Congress. A complete copy of the text may be found at Internet Archive.
Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives: 
Having been convened on an extraordinary occasion, as authorized by the Constitution, your attention is not called to any ordinary subject of legislation.  
And this issue [i.e., "Immediate dissolution or blood"] embraces more than the fate of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man, the question, whether a constitutional republic, or a democracy—a government of the people, by the same people—can, or cannot, maintain its territorial integrity, against its own domestic foes. It presents the question, whether discontented individuals, too few in numbers to control administration, according to organic law, in any case, can always, upon the pretences made in this case, or on any other pretences, or arbitrarily, without any pretence, break up their Government, and thus practically put an end to free government upon the earth. It forces us to ask: “Is there, in all republics, this inherent, and fatal weakness?’’ “Must a government, of necessity, be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?’’ 
The provision of the Constitution that “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, shall not be suspended unless when, in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it,’’ is equivalent to a provision—is a provision—that such privilege may be suspended when, in cases of rebellion, or invasion, the public safety does require it. It was decided that we have a case of rebellion, and that the public safety does require the qualified suspension of the privilege of the writ which was authorized to be made. Now it is insisted that Congress, and not the Executive, is vested with this power. But the Constitution itself, is silent as to which, or who, is to exercise the power; and as the provision was plainly made for a dangerous emergency, it cannot be believed the framers of the instrument intended, that in every case, the danger should run its course, until Congress could be called together; the very assembling of which might be prevented, as was intended in this case, by the rebellion. 
It is now recommended that you give the legal means for making this contest a short, and a decisive one; that you place at the control of the government, for the work, at least four hundred thousand men, and four hundred millions of dollars. That number of men is about one tenth of those of proper ages within the regions where, apparently, all are willing to engage; and the sum is less than a twentythird part of the money value owned by the men who seem ready to devote the whole. A debt of six hundred millions of dollars now, is a less sum per head, than was the debt of our revolution, when we came out of that struggle; and the money value in the country now, bears even a greater proportion to what it was then, than does the population. Surely each man has as strong a motive now, to preserve our liberties, as each had then, to establish them. 
The States have their status in the Union, and they have no other legal status. If they break from us, they can only do so against law and by revolution. The Union, and not themselves separately, procured their independence and their liberty. By conquest or purchase the Union gave each of them whatever of independence and liberty it has. The Union is older than any of the States, and, in fact, it created them as States. 
What is now combatted, is the position that secession is consistent with the Constitution—is lawful, and peaceful. It is not contended that there is any express law for it; and nothing should ever be implied as law, which leads to unjust, or absurd consequences. The nation purchased, with money, the countries out of which several of these States were formed. Is it just that they shall go off without leave, and without refunding? The nation paid very large sums, (in the aggregate, I believe, nearly a hundred millions) to relieve Florida of the aboriginal tribes. Is it just that she shall now be off without consent, or without making any return? The nation is now in debt for money applied to the benefit of these so-called seceding States, in common with the rest. Is it just, either that creditors shall go unpaid, or the remaining States pay the whole? A part of the present national debt was contracted to pay the old debts of Texas. Is it just that she shall leave, and pay no part of this herself? 
Our popular government has often been called an experiment. Two points in it, our people have already settled—the successful establishing, and the successful administering of it. One still remains—its successful maintenance against a formidable [internal] attempt to overthrow it. It is now for them to demonstrate to the world, that those who can fairly carry an election, can also suppress a rebellion—that ballots are the rightful, and peaceful, successors of bullets; and that when ballots have fairly, and constitutionally, decided, there can be no successful appeal, back to bullets; that there can be no successful appeal, except to ballots themselves, at succeeding elections. Such will be a great lesson of peace; teaching men that what they cannot take by an election, neither can they take it by a war—teaching all, the folly of being the beginners of a war. 
It was with the deepest regret that the Executive found the duty of employing the war-power, in defence of the government, forced upon him. He could but perform this duty, or surrender the existence of the government. No compromise, by public servants, could, in this case, be a cure; not that compromises are not often proper, but that no popular government can long survive a marked precedent, that those who carry an election, can only save the government from immediate destruction, by giving up the main point, upon which the people gave the election. The people themselves, and not their servants, can safely reverse their own deliberate decisions. As a private citizen, the Executive could not have consented that these institutions shall perish; much less could he, in betrayal of so vast, and so sacred a trust, as these free people had confided to him. He felt that he had no moral right to shrink; nor even to count the chances of his own life, in what might follow. In full view of his great responsibility, he has, so far, done what he has deemed his duty. You will now, according to your own judgment, perform yours. He sincerely hopes that your views, and your action, may so accord with his, as to assure all faithful citizens, who have been disturbed in their rights, of a certain, and speedy restoration to them, under the Constitution, and the laws. And having thus chosen our course, without guile, and with pure purpose, let us renew our trust in God, and go forward without fear, and with manly hearts.

* In March 1863, Congress passed the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act, which authorized the president to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus (i.e., searching citizens or imprisoning them indefinitely without showing cause), during the war. Lincoln and his subordinates now were released from any liability that resulted from his suspension of habeas corpus without congressional approval. The law also protected anyone acting in an official capacity from being convicted for false arrest, false imprisonment, trespassing, or any crime related to a search and seizure.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tennessee Secedes, 1861

On this date in 1861, Tennessee becomes the last Southern state to secede from the United States. Tennessee declared its secession and joined the Confederacy following a call by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln for troops from each state to recapture Fort Sumter and other lost federal properties in the South. It joins with 10 other Southern states to form the Confederate States of America.

Tennessee provided thousands of soldiers in the war, both for the South (115,000) and the North. By war's end, 64,333 Confederate soldiers and 58,521 Union soldiers perished in Tennessee.

The 296 battles and skirmishes fought in Tennessee accounted for these high casualties, including the vicious fighting at the Battle of Shiloh, which at the time was the deadliest battle in American history. Other large battles in Tennessee included Fort Donelson, Murfreesboro, Chattanooga, Franklin, and Nashville. Consequently, the state shared disproportionately the devastation resulting from 4 years of warring armies crisscrossing its land. Tennessee's rivers were key arteries to the Confederacy, and from the early days of the war, Union efforts focused on securing control of those transportation routes, as well as major roads, railways, and mountain passes, such as the Cumberland Gap. The Federal invasion and occupation of the state brought poverty and distress to almost every household.

Source: Access Genealogy
Several of my ancestors fought in Tennessee, including Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes and Great Uncle William Turner, Mississippi infantrymen who fought on battlefields in Tennessee and elsewhere. I also had a Tennessean great-great grandfather, David Crockett Neal, who fought with the 6th Tennessee Cavalry Regiment throughout Tennessee and other Southern states.

Source: Confederate Military History, Vol. 9, James D. Porter

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Texas Secedes, 1861

On this date in 1861, Texas became the 7th state to secede from the Union, joining South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.  Not all Texas leaders agreed. Hero of the war for Texas independence from Mexico and current governor Sam Houston, objected. An avowed Unionist, Houston refused to take an oath of allegiance to the Confederacy. Consequently, he was deposed from office in March 1861, when Texas joined the Confederate States of America.

More than 90,000 sons of the Alamo's defenders saw military service in the Confederacy during the War Between the States. About 2,000 Texans also served in the Union army. Texas regiments fought in every major battle throughout the war. The state provided 45 regiments of cavalry, 23 regiments of infantry, 12 battalions of cavalry, 4 battalions of infantry, 5 regiments of heavy artillery, and 30 batteries of light artillery for the Confederacy.

The last battle of the Civil War was fought in Texas at the Battle of Palmito Ranch on May 13, 1865, weeks after Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston surrendered their armies in the east.

Texans have gone to great lengths to memorialize their Confederate dead. Several cities and 26 counties in Texas have been named for Confederate generals. Many of these namesake locations are associated with generals under which my Great Grandfather Nathan R. Oakes served,* including (John B.) Hood County (as well as Fort Hood), in addition to the towns of (Patrick R.) Cleburne and (Hiram B.) Granbury. Monuments, statues, and plaques are ubiquitous, from the statehouse and the campus of the University of Texas, to small town squares like the one in the town in which I live.

Photo by Mark Dolan, 2014
Commemorative plaque on the main floor of the Texas State Capital Building

Photo by Mark Dolan, 2014
The Confederate Soldiers Monument on the south grounds of the Texas State Capitol.
A statue of President Jefferson Davis stands at the top with 4 statues below,
 each representing the infantry, cavalry, artillery, and navy.

Photo by Mark Dolan, 2014
One of the inscriptions on the base of the Confederate Soldiers Monument,
erected in 1901 by survivors and comrades.

While he served in a Mississippi regiment, the 32nd Mississippi Infantry, Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes moved to Texas years after the war. He is buried in the Santa Ana Cemetery in Coleman County.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mississippi Secedes, 1861

On this date in 1861, Mississippi became the second Southern state to secede from the United States. A month later, it joined with 6 other Southern states to form the Confederate States of America (more would join in the months ahead). The state's strategic location along the Mississippi River made it key to both the North and South during the war. Dozens of battles were fought in the state as armies repeatedly clashed near key towns and cities.

Mississippi provided an incredible number of soldiers in the war, both for the South and the North. Eighty thousand men from Mississippi fought in the Confederate Army, among whom were relatives of mine. I plan to write about one of them, my great grandfather, Nathan Richadson Oakes, following his enlistment in his state's militia in 1861, and then in Confederate army at Corinth in March 1862. Some 500 white Mississippians fought for the Union, together with more than 17,000 Mississippi slaves and freedmen.

Source: Access Genealogy