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.

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).

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