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, 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.

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