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, June 28, 2012

"Old Reliable" Gen. Hardee

As one historian observed, compared to Corinth, camp life at Tupelo in 1862 was serene, even dull. The weather was hot and dry. The Confederate army’s morale improved along with the standard of hygiene and the quality of the rations. The army, including the 32nd Mississippi Regiment, also finally had time to properly drill under "Old Reliable" Gen. Hardee’s direct supervision.

Gen. William J. Hardee
Born in Georgia, William Joseph Hardee was a career U.S. Army officer by the time the war broke out. Earlier in the Mexican-American War, Hardee, like many officers in the Army of Tennessee, served under Zachary Taylor, who in 1848 would be elected President of the United States. After the Mexican-American War, Hardee returned to West Point, serving as a tactics instructor, then as commandant from 1856 to 1860. Among other accomplishments he published the best-known drill manual of the Civil War, popularly known on both sides as Hardee's Tactics.

Hardee resigned his U.S. Army commission in January 1861, after his home state of Georgia seceded. Joining the Confederate army as a colonel, by 1862, he had risen to the rank of lieutenant general. Hardee was leading a force in Arkansas when he was ordered to join Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston's army as a corps commander, the position he held in the Battle of Shiloh.

Hardee continued to serve in the Army of Tennessee through most of its famous campaigns and battlefieldsPerryville, Murfreesboro, Tullahoma, Missionary Ridge, and the Atlanta Campaignuntil September 1864. After leading forces against U.S. Gen. Sherman and his March to the Sea, Hardee rejoined the remnants of the Army of Tennessee under Joseph Johnston in its final days of fighting in the Carolinas Campaign. He participated in the Battle of Bentonville in March 1865, where his 16-year-old son was mortally wounded. Hardee surrendered under Johnston along with the surviving elements of the army at Durham Station on April 26, 1865.

The "Hardee Flag"

The famous "Hardee Flag" first flew over the corps at the Battle of Shiloh. From then on, units of Hardee's Corps each flew a version of the battle flag pattern. Flying over one such unitPatrick Cleburne's Division—was the flag Union soldiers remarked that they most dreaded to see on the battlefield. Great Grandfather Oakes's 32nd Regiment was one such unit that proudly served under that renowned flag in Cleburne's Division.

Sources: The Third Battalion Mississippi Infantry and the 45th Mississippi Regiment: A Civil War History, David Williamson; The Confederate Veteran, Vol. 17 (January 1909-December 1909)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Bragg assumes command of the army

Braxton Bragg graduated from West Point in 1837, ranking 5th in his class. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 3rd US Artillery. He fought in the 2nd Seminole War of 1835-1842, and later distinguished himself in the War with Mexico, being promoted up the ranks to lieutenant colonel. During that war, Bragg became friends with Col. Jefferson Davis, who years later became President of the Confederacy. After the Mexican War, Bragg retired to the life of a sugar planter in Louisiana, but he remained active with the state militia, rising to the rank of colonel.

Following Louisiana's secession from the Union on January 26, 1861, Bragg was promoted to major general and given command of militia forces in New Orleans. As the Civil War was coming to Louisiana, Bragg was promoted to major general that same year. The spring of 1862 found Bragg leading his men north to Corinth, Mississippi, to join Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston’s Army of Mississippi. He was a corps commander in the Battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862), and following Johnston’s death on that battlefield, Bragg became Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard’s second-in-command.

On this date in 1862, at camp at Tupelo, Mississippi, Bragg officially assumed command from Beauregard. By now Bragg had a well-earned reputation as a strict disciplinarian and an obsessive follower of military procedure. The appointment was not well received by many in the army, primarily due to his widely known harshness as a corps commander, as well as his public distain for many of his subordinate officers. Throughout the upcoming campaigns, Bragg will fight nearly as bitterly with some of his subordinates as he will against his Northern enemy, a fact that will cost his Southern army dearly. His senior generals—in particular, William J. Hardee, James Longstreet, and Leonidas Polk—have so little confidence in him that they will try more than once to have him replaced. One of his cavalry generals, Nathan Bedford Forrest, held Bragg’s leadership in such low regard that he once threatened Bragg with his life. And another of his generals, former USA Vice President, John C. Breckinridge, almost challenged Bragg to a duel because of his mismanagement at Murfreesboro.

Although Bragg's leadership style invited many detractors, he generally was respected for his field command and excellent ability for organization. He had other command characteristics, too, that the Confederate army desperately needed. And while he eventually will lose the support of his generals, backing will come from above in the form of his old friend, President Davis. It is Davis who will save Bragg’s command, at least for the next year and a half. However, according to one historian, Grady McWhiney, Davis's decision to retain Bragg will become "a major contribution to Confederate defeat."

But 150 years ago today, Gen. Braxton Bragg became the commanding general of the 40,000-man Army of Mississippi (a.k.a. Army of Tennessee). His blunders, many of which will result in bloody disasters for the common soldiers like my great grandfather, Nathan Oakes, are yet to come.

Source: Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat, Grady McWhiney

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

March to Tupelo, 1862

P.G.T. Beauregard's Confederate army, including my great grandfather Nathan Oakes's regiment, having successfully withdrawn from its threatened position in Corinth to Baldwyn, Mississippi on May 30, is moving again on this date in 1862, to its new base in Tupelo, 19 miles farther south. It will remain in Tupelo until late in July. From there it will be transported to Chattanooga for the summer campaign into Kentucky.

The 6th Tennessee Cavalry, Great-Great Grandfather David C. Neal's unit, having been cut off in the withdrawal from Corinth, joins up with the army in Tupelo.