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.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The haven of Corona College, 1862

Established in 1857, Corona College was once an elegant girls school located on the outskirts of the small town of Corinth, Mississippi. But in 1862, its grounds were used as a point of assembly for many of the 45,000 soldiers who were mustered here in the defense of Northeastern Mississippi and the South. Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes was posted there with his company in March through May of 1862, just up the road a few miles from his tiny village home of Kossuth. One of his comrades in Co. A, Allen Epps, recalls that while the 32nd Regiment was being organized, it camped on the college grounds, filling the area (pictured) with “white shacks or tents.”

Corinth, Mississippi, 1862, by Conrad Wise Chapman
Life in camp was far from pleasant or even safe in the spring of 1862, as the Army under Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston was being readied for the inevitable battle to come. In his book, The Third Battalion Mississippi Infantry and the 45th Mississippi Regiment, David Williamson points out: “[W]hen the rain stopped and hot weather set in, drinkable water became scarce and, in the poor sanitary conditions, disease, especially chronic diarrhea, spread through the camps as neither town nor the Confederate Army were able to handle the large number of sick and wounded.” Of the 45,000 troops assembled here, by mid-May 18,000 were hospitalized. Many perished from camp-related disease not far from their homes, including at least one from my great grandfather's Company D. No doubt numerous poor souls found aid and comfort within the haven of the Corona College hospital.

Photo by Mark Dolan, 2007
The Site of Corona Girls College
The college remained in that service until it was burned by the Union occupiers abandoning the town in January 1864. The only reminder of it and its importance to the war effort is a small marker on the Civil War Corinth Tour. But somewhere among the specter of the little white shacks and tents is that spot that billeted 16-year old Great Grandfather Oakes and his comrades of the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment. It was a poignant experience for me a few years ago, to amble up and around that haunting little hill.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Crossroads in history: Corinth, MS, March 1862

For my great grandfather, 16-year old Nathan Oakes, and the 45,000 Confederate troops assembled there, the little town of Corinth, Mississippi in 1862, was in many ways a crossroads. Strategically, the little town of 1,200 in Northeastern Mississippi held little significance, except for the railroads that crossed there, that is. And that gave it ultimate military significance. Two major railroads, the Memphis & Charleston, running east and west, and the Mobile & Ohio, running north and south, crossed in its downtown. These 2 railroads were perhaps the most important in the South because they joined nearly the entire height and width of the Confederacy. When the war came, some of the fighting took place around and within the city limits. When the siege and later battle occurred, the damage brought on the town was severe.

Photo by Mark Dolan, 2007
This is why Corinth was vital.
Even before its eventual fall, the little village was called upon to set up hospitals in churches, hotels, and even private homes. Most of its townsfolk were only too willing to do their part in repelling the Northern invaders. The aftermath of the siege and fighting took a tremendous toll on the citizens it left behind. Many of its inhabitants and others in surrounding villages were called upon to care for the wounded and bury the dead, further taxing the little community's depleted resources.

But Corinth was key to the defense of the South. Union Major General Henry W. Halleck, commander of Union forces in the Western Theater, reported to Washington that “Richmond and Corinth are now the great strategical points of war, and our success at these points should be insured at all hazards.” Likewise, Confederate General 
P.G.T. Beauregard wrote to Richmond, “If defeated at Corinth, we lose the Mississippi Valley and probably our cause.”

Many Southern towns and cities would face a similar fate, and other battlefields would come into prominence for their sheer horror and numbers of casualties as the war dragged on for 3 more years.  But Corinth was the first town of major importance to fall. According to author Timothy B. Smith, its overthrow in May of 1862 opened the way to the defeat of Vicksburg and spelled the ultimate defeat of the South. But as the month of March, 1862, drew to a close, this town was doing all it could to aid in "The Lost Cause."

It was a crossroads for Great Grandfather Oakes, too. The struggle at Corinth will thrust him into a war that will take him far from home and to the great battlefields of Perryville, Chickamauga, Ringgold Gap, Atlanta, Franklin, and the Carolinas.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Corinth prepares for war

As the Army of Mississippi (later known as the Army of Tennessee) was being organized in the small town of Corinth, in Northeast Mississippi in the spring of 1862, there was a lot to do in a town soon to be under siege. Corinth, a town of about 1,200 citizens, was a mobilization center and a key railway crossroads—a vital artery for supplying the South and a key military objective for both sides. Fortifications were being built, and daily drills for the newly formed regiments were the norm. During the months of March and early April, Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston’s army of nearly 45,000 mostly “green” troops, was preparing for the inevitable battle to come.

Photo by Mark Dolan, 2007
Corinth citizens took in the grand martial display unfolding before them. One of these observers, Mrs. F.A. Inge, later wrote in a letter to the editor of the Confederate Veteran, Vol. 17, of what she saw going on: “Daily drilling was witnessed by citizens and visitors, and much interest was taken in the proficiency of the troops.  As many as ten regiments were sometimes drilling on the field at one time. The social feature, the brighter side of life, had attention. Many entertainments were given the troops. There might have been some married men, but no tales were told.”

She provides many fascinating details about daily life, but none more compelling or uplifting than her observation of the Christian faith among the troops: “May it be said,” she wrote, “of the chaplains and of the religious element among the troops that preaching and prayer service were never omitted, dying soldiers were never neglected. In camp singing dear old familiar songs of Zion was a great joy to the men. ‘Jesus, Lover of My Soul’ and ‘How Firm a Foundation’ would be sung in ringing notes at almost every service.”

How very different from service in the 21st century military, in which my son serves, where God-fearing chaplains are in short supply and practice of the Christian faith is marginalized or forbidden altogether.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mark Perrin Lowrey, Christian General, CSA

Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Leonidas Polk. Many of the Confederacy’s great generals and and other officers were also outstanding men of faith. Add to this list the leader of my great grandfather’s regiment, Col. Mark Perrin Lowrey, later promoted to Brigadier General following his brave and decisive leadership at the Battle of Chickamauga.

Born to English and Irish emigrants, Lowrey was ordained a Baptist minister before serving in the Mexican War. He was well known in northern Mississippi, having pastored several churches there, including one in my great grandfather’s hometown of Kossuth where Lowrey also lived. That he was a man of high esteem is evidenced in the fact that early in 1861, he led a regiment of Mississippi state militia in the campaign into Tennessee and Kentucky. After it was disbanded, Lowrey was urged to organize, another regiment for the Confederacy—largely from the same men—the 32nd Mississippi Infantry, of which he was elected Colonel, unanimously.

Brig. Gen. Mark P. Lowrey
He was a heroic fighter on battlefields like Chickamauga, Ringgold Gap, and Pickett's Mill, yet I prefer to think of Lowrey as a Christian, who was also a warrior. Becoming a commissioned officer in the Confederate army didn’t hinder him from shepherding the flock of soldiers under his command. It is well documented that Lowrey frequently preached to his men and helped many convert to the Christian faith. He participated in the now famous Revival of the Southern Army, preaching before crowds in Tullanoma, Tennessee and again at Dalton, Georgia, where my great grandfather was present. An autobiographer wrote of "the fighting parson of the Army of Tennessee," that "Throughout the war... General Lowrey never laid aside his responsibility as an ambassador of Christ, and often preached in camp."* Even the stress of the battlefield would not deter him from his calling as a minister. In his brief autobiography Lowrey wrote, “While our division was in camp at Jonesboro, Ga., the 16th of September 1864, having been set apart by the President as a day of fasting and prayer, on that day I preached to a large congregation of soldiers from this text: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee and thou shalt glorify me" (Psalm 50:15).

Is it any wonder that one chronicler summarized Lowrey's character this way: "General Lowrey was greatly loved and implicitly trusted by his men, who felt that he had their interests at heart and who knew that he himself was always willing to go where he commended them to go."
Surviving the war, Lowrey returned to Mississippi and took up the task of reorganizing and rebuilding churches that had been destroyed during the conflict. Eventually, he formed a Christian women’s college, which still exists as the Blue Mountain College (3 generations of Lowreys became presidents of the college). He was elected president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention, serving from 1868-1877. Following years of teaching at the college, Lowrey became quite ill, and in 1882 his doctors informed him that his heart was very weak. He died suddenly 3 years later.

Photo by Mark Dolan, 2010
Lowrey's Blue Mountain College today

* One old soldier recalled that Lowrey would "preach like hell on Sunday and fight like the devil all the week!" A more noble compliment was made by Gen. William J. Hardee after the war when he wrote that Lowrey was "the parson soldier, who preached to his men in camp and fought with them in the field with equal earnestness and effect."

Sources: A Light on a Hill: A History of Blue Mountain College, Robbie Neal Sumrall; Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 16; The Confederate Veteran, Vol. 8 (January 1900 -December 1900)

Friday, March 16, 2012

Louis Kossuth, Freedom Fighter

He was one of the more famous leaders and spokesmen of the European Revolutions of 1848. He led the Hungarian branch of this movement, which achieved its independence from the Habsburg Monarchy in 1849, and his name was Louis Kossuth. His influence was felt as far away from Hungary as the little North Mississippi village named in his honor, the community of my ancestors.

Freedom Fighter Louis Kossuth
The 1848 "Year of Revolution" was a wide spread wave of democratic and nationalistic uprisings, beginning in France and spreading throughout Europe, and even to Latin America. Americans followed these events in Europe with interest. Europe’s revolutionary leaders appeared on front pages of American papers. Many of these visited America, the most celebrated being freedom fighter Louis Kossuth.

In 1852, Kossuth embarked on a triumphal tour of America, speaking and raising funds and political support for his Hungarian revolution. Apparently the famous leader created a lasting impression among his American audiences. A statue of Kossuth now stands in New York City near the Columbia University campus, and another in front of the county Court House in Algona, Iowa. Other statues of Kossuth are sprinkled throughout the US. Kossuth County, Iowa, is named in his honor. I even bumped (literally) into a Kossuth bust during a tour of our nation’s capital building a few years ago. And, of course, the village of Kossuth, Mississippi, is named for him.*

Photo by Mark Dolan, 2007
Kosssuth, Mississippi
The ancestral home of the Oakes's family
The Revolution of 1848 eventually collapsed, and most Americans took comfort in the belief that their country was more conservative and, therefore, more stable than their European counterparts. However, seeds of this “European Spring” were sown in American society and politics, thrusting them into their own radical upheaval in the tragic "Civil War" of the 1860s. The war will draw in several of my ancestors, including my great grandfather, Nathan Oakes, from the little Mississippi town named for the Hungarian patriot, Louis Kossuth.

* Louis Kossuth even started something of a fashion revolution in America. Men began to grow Kossuth-esque beards, and "Kossuth hats" (later to be known in the military as the "slouch hat") became widely popular. Couples even learned to dance the polka in the folk hero's honor.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Civil War Comes to Mississippi, 1862

N.R. Oakes years after the war
In February 1862, with the fall of Fort Henry along the Tennessee River, and then Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River, the Civil War was about to engulf the ancestral home of my Northeastern Mississippi relatives. A great battle soon would be fought, but not before my great grandfather, Nathan Richardson Oakes, answered the call of duty to repel the Northern invaders. The Army of Mississippi (later renamed the Army of Tennessee) soon would make its stand in the deadly Battle of Shiloh, a landmark confrontation in the War for Southern Independence.

Fort Henry Campaign, February 1862
Source: Source: Civil War Maps by Hal Jespersen

Nathan Oakes was 16 when, after just serving in his state's "60-Day Troops," he reenlisted on this date, in the renown 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment, in Co. D (“Lowrey’s Guards”) of Col. Mark Lowrey's Regiment. Great Grandfather's uncle, Capt. F.S. Norman, enlisted him and my great uncle, William D. Turner, into the 32nd Regiment, a unit of thousand or so volunteers. Less than 10% of these men, which will include Oakes and Turner, will remain by war’s end in North Carolina, 4 years from now.

My great grandfather will participate in many of the war’s great battles and campaigns, including Perryville, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, the Atlanta Campaign, Franklin, Nashville, and the Carolinas. From time to time I’ll write a about some of the particulars of many of his engagements, as well as details about a soldier’s days in fighting for the Lost Cause.

Great Grandfather Oakes enlisted in Company D (“Lowrey Guards”). Company D was assigned to Col. Mark P. Lowrey's' Regiment, a regiment comprised entirely of volunteers. W. H. H. Tison was the lieutenant colonel and Major F. C. Karr was its major. In April 1862, the regiment was officially attached to Gen. S.A.M. Wood's Brigade in Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner's Division of Gen. William Hardee's Corps. It will soon be assigned the designation, "32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment." It also will be known as "Lowrey's Regiment" in honor of its founder/leader.

Great Grandfather Nathan R. Oakes & Family in 1888 or 1889.
Baby (lower right) is my grandfather, Johnnie McPeters Oakes.

Source: Muster Roll of the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment