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.