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.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Evacuation of Corinth, May 29-30, 1862

On the 29th and 30th of 1862, the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment was withdrawn from Corinth with the Confederate Army south to Baldwyn, where it stayed through June. One of the men of my great grandfather’s regiment recalled: “Many boys passed their homes on the retreat.” Indeed, Great Grandfather Oakes was one of those who passed within sight of his family’s farm in Kossuth on that march south.

Col. Lowrey reported of his 32nd Mississippi that many of the men were sick and recuperating at home in communities around Corinth. When the army evacuated, those too sick to march with the army were cut off when enemy captured the city. Many of these later were able to make their way to rejoin their units.

At daylight on the 30th, Union Gen. Halleck becomes aware of the Confederate evacuation and vainly sends troops in pursuit. Alas, his one real opportunity for destroying Bragg's army slips through his fingers.

Sources:  Corinth HeraldMay 17, 1902; 32nd Mississippi Regimental Return, June 1862

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Beginning of the evacuation of Corinth, MS, 1862

During the very warm night of May 29th, 1862, without detection by the enemy, Confederate Gen. Gen. 
P.G.T. Beauregard masterfully withdrew his army of 45,000 troops to a point 7 miles south of Corinth, across Tuscumbia Creek. Various units from my great grandfather’s division took part in guarding the turnpike bridge over the Tuscumbia Creek while the army passed, then they burned the bridge, then followed army to Baldwyn, Mississippi. Other units guarded the railroad bridge, and after all the cars passed over, burned this bridge also. Jessee Cheeves, of Great Grandfather's 32nd Regiment, remembered guarding the wagon train as the Confederate army evacuated Corinth.

The 6th Tennessee Cavalry Regimentof which another of my ancestors, Great-Great Grandfather David Crockett Neal was a memberwas cut off by the Federal forces during the evacuation. But it cut it's way through and followed the army on to Tupelo.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Another Skirmish for the 32nd Regiment

Awaiting the inevitable conflict with Union forces from the north following the Battle of Shiloh, Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes’s 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment in Gen. William Hardee's Corps, participated in a minor fight with the enemy on the Payne farmAnother northeast of Corinth, Mississippi. According to the regiment’s colonel, Mark P. Lowrey, while not having yet seen action, the regiment did act as skirmishers on while on outpost duty here in 1862. Lowrey reported that on this date, 2 privates were wounded and captured—1 from Great Grandfather's Co. D, John Dilworth, and another from Co. C, James Spain, who later died.* The next day the 32nd Mississippi was called back to the town.

Photo by Mark Dolan, 2007
By the 28th, it was clear that the Federals had advanced to within a few hundred yards of the Rebel entrenchments around Corinth. Con-federate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard authorized Hardee to conduct a reconnaissance of Federal move-ments. Hardee sent Gen. Patrick Cleburne with 4 regiments out the Farmington road where they engaged in heavy skirmishing with the enemy.

By now, Gen. Beauregard decided to abandon Corinth and will evacuate on the 29th.


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Photo by Mark Dolan, 2007

The Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center is operated by the National Park Service as part of the Shiloh National Battlefield. The exhibits of both the Siege and the later Battle of Corinth are helpful and informative (and it's much more attractive inside than the architecture at first reveals). However, it was the research library that was the most useful to us when we visited a few years back in our search for Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes in the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment.

We were allowed extensive use of the center’s collection of new and reprinted volumes of the period of the War Between the States. Ranger Tom Parson was exceptionally helpful and made copies of several pages of books we were interested in. Pat took this picture of me in front of the library wall in the research room.



* A number of men from the regiment died of sickness and disease in the early days at Corinth. However, the death of Pvt. James Spain, following his wounding at Bridge Creek, was likely the first death resulting from wounds received in battle.

Source: 32nd Regimental Return, June 1862Corinth Herald, May 17, 1902; Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Great Uncle Turner enlists in the 32nd MS Regiment

Over the past few months, coinciding with the 150th anniversary of Civil War battles over the remaining 3 years ahead, I have been tracking my Great Grandfather Nathan Richardson Oakes from his enlistment in the Confederate Army in March 1862, to his surrender in April 1865. I also had other family members who fought in that war. Great Uncle William D. Turner enlisted in the C.S.A. army on this date in 1862. He joined my great grandfather in Co. D of the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment. Both ancestors will survive the war, and, finally back in Mississippi, Great Grandfather Oakes will marry his prewar sweetheart, "Billy" Turner’s sister, Martha Ellen, on June 1, 1865.

Great Grandmother Martha Oakes and her brother,
William "Billy" D. Turner, years after the war

Thursday, May 3, 2012

32nd Mississippi Infantry's skirmish at Box Chapel, 1862

In the weeks following the Battle of Shiloh, the Confederate army, which had fortified itself around the city of Corinth, Mississippi, was on high alert as Union Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck was slowly moving his army of 100,000 toward that town.

Little is officially known about my great grandfather’s regiment, the 32nd Mississippi Infantry, during the weeks after Shiloh, and before the evacuation of Corinth in May. Because the regiment had only been formed recently, and since most of the men were green recruits, their main task was to be thrown out on picket duty along the front line, facing the Union army as it slowly moved on Corinth. Oftentimes, these assignments turned into clashes with the enemy. Years later, Great Grandfather Oakes wrote in the magazine, the Confederate Veteran, that his Company D participated in “many skirmishes” about this time. One of the first encounters with the enemy was on May 3-5, 1862, along road to Farmington. It turned into what is probably the company’s first real “skirmish,” near a church known as Box Chapel. One of his comrades in Co. A, Jesse Cheeves, remembered the fight this way:
The writer, then a boy was put on picket three-hundred yards north of the road. At daybreak one yankee made his appearance, the first 'yank' this writer had seen, with a gun in his hand. Owing to his quick disappearance I did not get to fire on him. Immediately the advancing picket were called in and formed in line with the reserve at the Chapel. Several shots were fired by the time we reached the Chapel when a lone cavalryman road up and reported the enemy advancing in force. We fell back on the road to Corinth to fool them but they did not follow far.*
The skirmish on Farmington Heights wasn't too serious of an encounter for the men of the 32nd Regiment, but it was the first of many throughout the month of May in 1862, and is was one of countless more over the course of the war. Like Cheeves, Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes was only a "boy"—a 16-year old at the time—and, like Cheeves, this was probably the first armed Yankee he had ever seen, too.


Photo by Mark Dolan, 2007
"Box Chapel" as it appears today

* In the larger perspective of the battle, the Federal cavalry had been working its way around the flanks of the Confederate defensive lines at Corinth to occupy a high ridge running southward from Farmington, 3 miles east of Corinth. Learning of the Federal movement, Rebel defenders were sent on a night march out the Farmington Road on May 3rd, and at 10:00 AM on the 4th, they encountered the enemy. The Confederate force drove the Federals back several miles before halting. However, instead of occupying and fortifying the high ground taken, Gen. 
P.G.T. Beauregard ordered his troops to fall back to his lines around Corinth. On the Union side, Maj. Gen John Pope reported the facts differently. He wrote that his force “found the enemy 4,500 strong, with four pieces of artillery and some cavalry, occupying strong position in front of the town. Our forces advanced at once to the assault, and after a sharp skirmish carried the position in handsome style. The enemy left 30 dead on the field and their tents and baggage. The cavalry in pursuit toward Corinth” (Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Vol. 10).

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Gen. Halleck's slow march toward Corinth

Since April 29, 1862, after massing over 100,000 troops for his Corinth campaign, Union Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck had moved his army from the Tennessee border toward his objective only 10 miles in four days. Over the next 22 days, Halleck, a leader of extreme caution, will average only 1/3 of a mile per day. During this period, Confederate units from my great grandfather’s corps made sorties towards the Federal advance forces at Farmington, outside of Corinth, as they probed the enemy's strength, preparing for the battle to come.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

32nd Mississippi assigned to S.A.M. Wood's Brigade

Gen. Sterling Alexander Martin Wood
In May 1862, Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes's 32nd Mississippi Regiment (a.k.a. "Lowrey's Regiment") was officially recorded as belonging to Wood's Brigade. In the organization of the army recorded in the Official Records for June 30, 1862,* the 32nd is listed together with the 16th Alabama, 33rd Mississippi, 44th Tennessee, and Baxter’s Battery, altogether commanded by Brig. Gen. S.A.M. Wood, in the Maj. Gen. William J. Hardee's Third Army Corps. Gen. Braxton Bragg commands the Army of Mississippi (soon to be renamed the Army of Tennessee). It's likely that the regiment was added as a replacement unit to make up for the corps’s significant losses at the Battle of Shiloh.

Sterling Alexander Martin Wood was born in Florence, Alabama on March 17, 1823. He attended St. Joseph College in Kentucky, and then moved to Tennessee to practice law. In 1851, Wood returned to Alabama, where he served in the state legislature. From 1851-1857, Wood was solicitor of Alabama's 4th judicial court. He also served as editor of Florence's Gazette newspaper before the war.

Wood's home state of Alabama seceded in January 1861. On April 3, Wood joined his state's militia as captain of the "Florence Guard." In May, he was elected colonel of the 7th Alabama Infantry Regiment and served with his regiment in Pensacola, Florida. In October of that year, Col. Wood was given brigade command and joined the Army of Central Kentucky and served at Bowling Green. After promotion to brigadier general on January 7, 1862, he was given command of a brigade in the Army of Mississippi. Shiloh would be Wood's first battle as brigadier general. However, he was wounded while leading his brigade in the fighting on April 6-7.

Although Lowrey's Regiment was attached to Wood's Brigade by this point, it did not participate in the Battle of Shiloh because it was not yet equipped. Instead, the regiment remained at Corinth to guard prisoners taken at the battle.

Following Shiloh, Wood continued to lead the brigade through the fighting in the Kentucky, Murfreesboro, Tullahoma, and Chickamauga Campaigns. Wood was wounded again in the Battle of Perryville, and his command fell temporarily to Lowery, who was also wounded in the battle. A few weeks after the army's victory at Chickamauga in September 1863, Wood resigned his commission, opening a path for the newly promoted Brig. Gen. Mark P. Lowrey to assume command of the brigade.

After his resignation, Wood returned to his law practice. Later, he served again in the Alabama Legislature and also as a law professor at the University of Alabama.

S.A.M. Wood died in 1891 at age 67, and is buried in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

To my knowledge, this is the first mention of the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment in the The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. See Vol. 10, Part 1.

Sources: Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Vol. 10; Wikipedia