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.

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.

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