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, April 16, 2012

Early days in the 32nd Regiment, 1862

In the later weeks of April, following the Battle of Shiloh, the Confederate army within the fortified area around the town of Corinth, Mississippi, was on high alert as Union Gen. Halleck was massing over 100,000 troops for his Corinth campaign.

Little is known about my great grandfather’s unit, the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment (soon to be attached to Wood's Brigade) during the weeks after Shiloh and before the evacuation of Corinth in May. The conditions for the entire army were far from pleasant. As writer David Williamson notes, "When 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."

About this period Col. Mark Lowrey reported that the regiment was reduced by sickness and absences. Many of the men were sent to their homes nearby to recuperate. It wasn't until June, after the evacuation from Corinth, that conditions in the regiment improved. At Baldwyn, Mississippi, outside Tupelo, Col. Lowrey reported, "Since reaching this place we have been in camp of instruction and the regiment has improved very sensible both in drill and discipline and we hope by our next return to be able to report a deciding improvement in health which at this time is very bad indeed."

Photo by Mark Dolan, 2010  
Where the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment encamped on College Hill

Williamson goes on to write that of the 45,000 troops stationed in and around Corinth, by mid-May, 18,000 were hospitalized with sickness. Some of the brigade, perhaps including the 32nd Regiment, may have avoided some the squalor of the camps by being placed on outpost duty north of Farmington, a village about 4 miles east of Corinth. The regiments were likely posted there to keep them close to the action, into which they soon would be drawn.

Photo by Mark Dolan, 2010
The 32nd Mississippi Regiment encamped near the Corona College from March to May 1861

Sources: The Third Battalion Mississippi Infantry and the 45th Mississippi Regiment, David Williamson; 32nd Mississippi Regimental Return, June 1862

Monday, April 9, 2012

David Crockett Neal, 6th TN Cavalry Regiment

I'm honored to have had several ancestors on my mom's side of the family who fought in the War for Southern Independence. Mom's great grandfather, David Crockett Neal, from Giles County, Tennessee, enlisted in the 11th (Gordon's) Tennessee Cavalry Battalion, Company B. The battalion was mustered into Confederate service in Nashville on January 8, 1862. Six companies were formed as part of this unit. Little is known about the battalion in its early months. It's known that in early 1862, it was part of the Western Department, garrisoned in Nashville. The battalion took part in the evacuation of Nashville on February 15th. On March 31st, it was assigned as an unattached cavalry unit in the Army of Mississippi in Corinth. It likely participated in the Battle of Shiloh, and it provided cover for Gen. 
P.G.T. Beauregard’s army as it withdrew from Shiloh to Corinth following that battle on April 7, 1862.

During the subsequent Siege of Corinth in May, the 11th Tennessee Cavalry Battalion was consolidated with the 2nd (Biffle's) Tennessee Cavalry Battalion to form the 6th Tennessee Cavalry Regiment.* The new regiment participated in operations against Federal Gen. Henry Halleck's slow advance and siege of Corinth between April 29 and May 30, 1862. It continued to operate in North Mississippi through the balance of that year and into January 1863, serving in Gen. John H. Wharton's Brigade.

It was during the regiment's assignment in and around Corinth that my Great Grandfather Nathan R. Oakes, enlisted as an infantry recruit nearby in Kossuth. There is no evidence to suggest that either of these ancestors ever met during the war, although as Providence would have it, they were both participants in several of the same battles, including Chickamauga, Chattanooga, and Atlanta. It will be in the next generation that the Neal and Oakes families intersect again, this time when my mother's parents married in Texas more than 50 years later.

* While officially designated the 6th Tennessee Cavalry Regiment, it is often listed as the 1st Tennessee Cavalry Regiment in the Official Records. In fact, according to Tennesseans in the Civil War, which has compiled the histories of the state's military units, the record of this regiment is often confused. When first organized it was called the 1st Tennessee Cavalry Regiment. However, its designation was later changed to the 6th when it was discovered that there already existed a 1st on the Confederate rolls. In the Official Records the regiment is sometimes listed as the "1st" and other times the "6th." In other instances, in an attempt to clarify, it is listed as the "1st [6th]." And these discrepancies are the easiest to sort out! Oh, and there were also at least 14 Union cavalry regiments recruited from Tennessee. They, of curse, have the same numerical designations as their Confederate counterparts, 1st to 14th.

Source: The Eleventh Tennessee Cavalry Battalion, F. Walter (unpublished manuscript)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard leads the army

The new commander of the Confederate army in the West was Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, a Louisiana-born author, civil servant, politician, and inventor. But most of that would come later in his life. His early and most famous achievements came as a U.S. army officer and then as a Confederate general in the American Civil War.

Trained as a civil engineer at the United States Military Academy at West Point, Beauregard graduated in 1838. He served with distinction as an artilleryman and engineer in the Mexican-American War. He then returned to teach at the Academy, eventually becoming its superintendent in 1861.

With the South's secession, Beauregard's first assignment as a Confederate general was to command the defenses Charleston, South Carolina. It was there on April 12, 1861, that he ordered the firing on the Union held Fort Sumter, the opening shots of the War Between the States.* Three months later he was the victor at First Manassas (a.k.a. First Battle of Bull Run), the first major battle of the war.

Beauregard briefly led the Army of Mississippi (later renamed the Army of Tennessee), in which Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes enlisted in March 1862, after he assumed command from the fallen Albert Sydney Johnston at Shiloh. He continued as the army's commander through the Siege of Corinth which followed. After overseeing the masterful withdrawal of his army of 45,000-man army from Corinth to Tupelo, Beauregard resigned as the army's commander, citing health concerns.

He returned to Charleston and defended it from repeated naval and land attacks in 1863. In 1864, he defended the the city of Petersburg against a superior Federal army, thus preserving Gen. Robert E. Lee's supply line and saving the Confederate capital of Richmond.

Later in 1864, he was appointed commander of Confederate forces in the West, which included the Army of Tennessee under John B. Hood and and Richard Taylor's Department of Alabama and Mississippi. It was a thankless job, without true operational control, especially over the rash and reckless Hood. His department experienced little success in halting the advances of the superior Union forces under Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman.

In early 1865, Beauregard attempted to concentrate his small and scattered forces in South Carolina before Sherman could reach Columbia, ordering the battered Army of Tennessee to be shipped east to reinforce him. In February, he was replaced by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, although he continued as Johnston's second in command. In April, Johnston and Beauregard convinced a reluctant President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet that the war should end. Beauregard surrendered to Sherman with a majority of the remaining Confederate generals and their armies on April 26, 1865.

After War Between the States, Beauregard served as president of the New Orleans, Jackson & Mississippi Railroad, and also Adjutant-General of Louisiana. Refusing several offers to head armies of foreign governments after the war, he did the author a couple of books on warfare and the military: Principles and Maxims of the Art of War (1863) and Report of the Defence of Charleston (1864).

Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard died in 1893, and is buried in the Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans in the tomb of the Army of the Tennessee.


Beauregard and the Development of the Confederate Battle Flag

Southern Cross / Confederate Battle Flag
Source: Museum of the Confederacy
Following First Manassas, Gens. Beauregard and Joseph Johnston advocated the use of a standardized battle flag to avoid confusion between the Confederate national flag and the USA's "stars and stripes." The new battle flag with now familiar St. Andrews Cross pattern, including 13 white stars on a red field, was first introduced in the Army of Northern Virginia. Later, the "Southern Cross" battle flag was brought to the Western Theater at the Battle of Shiloh, and thereafter variations of the flag appeared throughout the Southern armies.

Today, the renowned battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginiathe one Beauregard promotedis the best known of all Confederate flags and one of the most familiar symbols associated with the Southern cause. However, it was never the official flag of the Confederate government. Unfortunately today, it is Beauregard's army flag that is most associated with the Confederacy, along with the negative political and cultural baggage that moderns have attached to it.

Surprising to some, not all units adopted Beauregard's battle flag. For example, Gen. William Hardee designed his own corps battle flag (below), which was flown for the first time at Shiloh. When Gen. Johnston took over command of the Army of Tennessee at Dalton in 1864, he adopted a variation of the "Southern Cross" for his army, adding white edging to it. However, Gen. Patrick Cleburne's Division of Hardee's Corps, in which my Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes served, appealed to keep their "Hardee Flags." Due to the division's hard-earned respect and well-earned fame, the appeal was granted. Thus, the unique Hardee/Cleburne flag, instead of Beauregard's, was flown by the division until the final surrender of the Army of Tennessee at Greensboro, North Carolina in April 1865.

Replica of the Hardee Battle Flag, hanging in my library
First flown at Shiloh in 1862
Patrick Cleburne's Division earned the privilege to fly this flag rather
than the standard Confederate battle flag that Beauregard advocated.

* Ironically, the Union commander at Fort Sumter was Major Robert Anderson, an Academy graduate, who had been Beauregard's artillery instructor at West Point.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Melville's "Shiloh: A Requiem (April, 1862)"

Shiloh: A Requiem (April, 1862)

Herman Melville

Skimming lightly, wheeling still,
The swallows fly low
Over the field in clouded days,
The forest-field of Shiloh—
Over the field where April rain
Solaced the parched ones stretched in pain
Through the pause of night
That followed the Sunday fight
Around the church of Shiloh—
The church so lone, the log-built one,
That echoed to many a parting groan
And natural prayer
Of dying foemen mingled there—
Foemen at morn, but friends at eve—
Fame or country least their care:
(What like a bullet can undeceive!)
But now they lie low,
While over them the swallows skim,
And all is hushed at Shiloh.

Photo by Mark Dolan, 2007
The Confederate Monument at Shiloh, erected in 1917
to honor all the Confederates who fought in the battle.

Bloody Shiloh, 2nd Day

Source: Civil War Trust
The action of the second day of the Battle of Shiloh played out much like the first day, except in reverse order and with opposite effect.1 

After Gen. Johnston was killed on the the first day, Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard took command of the Confederate forces. In the fighting on that day, the Federal army was routed and pushed back to the area around Pittsburg Landing, finding relative shelter in the uneven terrain and under the protection of the massed Union artillery. What Beauregard did not know was that Grant's troops had been reinforced overnight by Buell's men.2 

Now on the second day, Grant had 40,000 soldiers to attack Beauregard's 30,000 outnumbered and exhausted men. Despite several counterattacks, Beauregard knew his force could not prevail, so by dusk, he orchestrated a withdrawal to Corinth. Covering the retreat, Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest met the pursuing Federal forces under Gens. Thomas and Sherman. He successfully checked the Federal pursuit at Fallen Timbers, and the Battle of Shiloh came to an end.

Photo by Mark Dolan, 2007
The "Bloody Pond" at Shiloh
Although a beautiful and tranquil place when we visited the battlefield in December 2007, this shallow pool of water was once reported to be the scene of great horror. It was in the path of the retreating Union Army as it was pushed back toward the river on the first day of battle. Being the only water in the immediate area, the wounded from both sides crawled here to quench their thirst and bathe their wounds. So many bled in and around the pond that witnesses said the water was stained the color of blood.

To see an excellent animated map of the Battle of Shiloh, visit the Civil War Trust website.
Some interesting footnotes to my Civil War ancestor's history are that among Buell's troops that reinforced Grant's soldiers at Pittsburg Landing, was a young Union lieutenant, Ambrose Bierce, who in later years would become a famous American writer. He wrote about his experience in this battle in What I Saw of Shiloh. His firsthand knowledge of the war provided material for many of his shockingly realistic short stories. Also present at the Battle of Shiloh was Union Gen. Lew Wallace, who, after the war, wrote one of the most beloved novels of his century, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Both Bierce and Wallace went on to fight the Confederates on many of the same battlefields as my great grandfather, Nathan Oakes.

And a further bit of trivia, Welshman and Confederate Pvt. Henry Morton Stanley was captured on the second day at Shiloh. Surviving the war, he went on to become a renown African adventurer, Sir Henry Morton Stanley, who in 1871 famously "found" Scottish missionary, Dr. David Livingston, near Lake Tanganyika in present day Tanzania.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Bloody Shiloh, 1st Day

Source: Civil War Trust
Today is the sesquicentennial of the start of the 2-day Battle of Shiloh.* Our public library was kind enough to order for me Winston Groom’s new book, Shiloh 1862, and I actually picked it up this morning. I really enjoyed his previous book on the Battle of Franklin (Shrouds of Glory), and I am just as excited about this new one.

In April 1862, the War Between the States had been going on for nearly a year. Many Americans still believed that it “would be over by Christmas.” But the dreadful Battle of Shiloh was about to change all that. While earlier battles in the East had been costly, nothing that had happened before could have prepared Americans—Northerners or Southerners—for the appalling loss of lives at Shiloh. More than 100,000 soldiers fought on Sunday and Monday, April 6-7, 1862, and cost in casualties was staggering.

Photo by Mark Dolan, 2007
Pittsburg Landing today
The struggle took place in the 12 square miles that comprised Pittsburg Landing, a small stretch of waterfront on the west bank of the Tennessee River. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's army of 40,000 was waiting here for Gen. Don Carlos Buell and his 35,000, reinforcements, in preparation for an attack on the Confederate position at Corinth, Mississippi. Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, with his army of 44,000, was determined to hit Grant's forces before they could be reinforced. According to the National Park Service, when the battle was over, nearly 23,746 Americans were dead, wounded, or missing. There were more casualties at Shiloh than from all previous American wars combined.

Photo by Mark Dolan, 2007
View from the "Hornet's Nest"
along the "Sunken Road"
My great grandfather, Nathan Oakes, one of the thousands of new recruits assembling in Corinth, Mississippi, 20 miles south of the battlefield, did not participate due to the fact that his regiment, the 32nd Mississippi Infantry, was not yet equipped nor armed. The regiment did, however, receive Union prisoners, about 2,200 from Gen. Prentiss's division, that were captured in the fight at the famed "Hornet's Nest."

Photo by Mark Dolan, 2007
The marker in the ravine where
Johnston died
Near the "Hornet's Nest" Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston was killed on the first day. His death would create a serious setback for the Southern army, changing the course of the present battle and perhaps the rest of the war. While leading an attack at the "Peach Orchard," Johnston was shot in the left leg. Not believing the wound to be serious, he dismissed his surgeon to care for wounded Union soldiers, and continued leading the Rebel attack. But within the hour, he bled to death.

Fighting continued until after dark. The Federals were pushed back to Pittsburg Landing, but they managed to hold on to fight again in the morning.

* To see an excellent animated map of the Battle of Shiloh, visit the Civil War Trust website.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The founding of the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment

Great Grandfather Nathan R. Oakes
years after the war
Throughout the winter of 1861-1862, thousands of Mississippi men, like my Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes, volunteered for military service, first with their state militia, and later in the western Confederate army.

On this date in 1862, field officers were officially commissioned to lead what would soon be named the "32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment" of the Army of Mississippi. So, this date may be considered the 150th-year anniversary of the official organizing of the regiment.

Actually, the 32nd Mississippi had its roots in the 4th Regiment of "60-Day Troops" (a.k.a. Second Regiment) of December 1861, an "Army of 10,000," volunteers from Mississippi who enlisted for service in defense of their state, which only recently seceded from the United States of America. Nathan Oakes was only 16 when he enlisted. The men of the 60-Day regiment elected Mark P. Lowrey, a Baptist pastor known well to many of them, as their colonel. In spite of the severe winter hardships, a significant number of these citizen soldiers reenlisted under Lowrey to fight for the Confederacy.

Brig. Gen. Mark Perrin Lowrey
When the term of service expired for this state militia, Col. Lowrey raised another regiment, which was made up of volunteers from several northern Mississippi counties. By March, Lowrey had recruited nearly a thousand men for his regiment. Not surprisingly, its core was comprised of men who served under him in the state militia.

On March 13, 1862, Great Grandfather Oakes was one of those who reenlisted, as did his uncle, Capt. Norman. My Great Uncle William D. Turner, the brother of Great Grandfather's sweetheart, also enlisted soon thereafter. All three become members of Co. D, nicknamed "Lowrey Guards," in the Lowrey's new regiment, which soon will be designated "32nd Mississippi Infantry."

Confederate regiments typically were comprised of 10 companies, A-K (neither side had a Co. J for some reason). Each company had about 100 men, bringing the total in the regiment to approximately 1,000. Most of the men within a company were recruited from the same town or village.

The 32nd Mississippi Infantry was a typically-sized regiment of around a 1,000 troops. All 8 of the 10 companies were raised from a single county, Tishomingo, in Northeastern Mississippi. Whole companies of men who fought side-side were also neighbors back home.

My great grandfather (and a great uncle) were enlisted men in Company D, comprised of about 120 volunteers, at least 65 of whom were from the tiny village of Kossuth, in Tishomingo County. On March 13, 1862, Co. D was organized under the following officers, each from Kossuth:1 

Company D, “Lowrey Guards”
F.S. Norman: Captain
James Buford: First Lieutenant
J.L. Madden: Second Lieutenant
B.F. Dilworth: Third Lieutenant
Col. Lowery's first entry in the Muster Rolls of the 32nd Mississippi Regiment is dated April 2, 1862. These are the officers he recorded that comprised his original staff on that date:
M.P. Lowrey: Colonel
W.H.H. Tison: Lieutenant Colonel
F.G. Karr: Major
J.W. Swinney: Major
J.H.P. Stevenson: Surgeon
William C.Cross: Surgeon
D.A. Lithecome: Surgeon
T.J. Talleferro: Surgeon
D.F. Archer: Asst. Surgeon
A.B. Deloach: Asst. Surgeon
W.M. Morton: Asst. Surgeon
B.C. Cook: Asst. Surgeon
J.M. Bynum: Surgeon
J.A. Hughes: Asst. Surgeon
J.F. Arnold: AJM
J.M. Roberts: ACS
Tom Irons: ACS
W.D. Paden: ACS
J.W. Smith: Adjunct
O.D. Fitzgerald: Chaplin
M.B. Hanks: Chaplin Hardin
N. Patton: Ensign
According to The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, in May 1862, the newly formed 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment was assigned to S.A.M. Wood's Brigade in William Hardee's Corps, probably as a replacement unit to make up for the corps’s significant losses at the Battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862. To my knowledge, this is the first mention of the organized 32nd in the The Official Records.2 

The 32nd Regiment, also known henceforth as "Lowrey's Regiment," will bear its founding commander's name until the closing days of the war. Even after Col. Lowrey was promoted to brigadier general in October 1863,3 and command given to another brigadier, the regiment continued to be known as "Lowrey's Regiment."

Lowrey's Regiment will distinguish itself in the war’s great battles and campaigns like Perryville, Chickamauga, Ringgold Gap, Atlanta, Franklin, Nashville, and Bentonville. Fewer than 1 in 10 remained at the army's surrender in 1865 in North Carolina. Great Grandfather Oakes and Great Uncle Turner were among that remnant.

1 Actually, Capt. Norman lived in the adjacent unincorporated community of Boneyard (now extinct).
2 The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Vol. 10, Part 1
3 At Lowrey's promotion to brigadier general, the brigade's name changed to "Lowrey's Brigade," while the 32nd Regiment continued to be known as "Lowrey's Regiment" in honor of its valiant leader.

Sources: Military History of Mississippi, 1803-1898, Dunbar Rowland; N.R. Oakes Service Records; Muster Roll of the 32nd Mississippi InfantryNational Park Service, Civil War Sailors and Soldiers System