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, September 19, 2012

Buckner and the 32nd Mississippi Infantry at Munfordville

Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner
Simon Bolivar Buckner was born on his family's estate near Munfordville, Kentucky, on April 1, 1823. He was named for the South American military and political leader in the war for independence from Spain, Simón Bolívar. Buckner attended schools in Munfordville and later Greenville, then Christian County Seminary in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. In 1840, Buckner enrolled at the United States Military Academy, where he graduated in 1844, 11th in his class of 25. He served for a while as an infantry officer before returning to West Point to teach ethics, history, and geography.

In 1844, Buckner resigned his teaching post to take part in the Mexican-American War. He participated in many of its notable battles, earning citations for gallant conduct. At the conclusion of the occupation of Mexico, Buckner was given the honor of lowering the American flag over Mexico City for the last time.

After the war with Mexico, Capt. Buckner returned to the academy as a professor of infantry tactics. Then, he served in various military posts until 1855, including some on the frontier, gaining a reputation for his fair dealings with the Lakota Indians. After that time, Buckner managed property in Chicago, which he inherited, eventually becoming a major in State Militia of Cook County. He would later serve as Adjunct General for the State of Illinois before rising to the rank of colonel.

By now, Buckner had a family, and in 1857, he returned with them to his native state of Kentucky, settling in Louisville. Due to his successful military experience, he was made captain of the local militia and served in that capacity until 1860, when the militia was incorporated into the State Guard's Second Regiment. He then was chosen to be inspector general of Kentucky, and in 1861, appointed major general of the state militia.

As momentum for the Civil War was mounting that year, Buckner found himself at odds with Kentucky’s neutral stance, so he resigned his commission. He was twice offered a commission as a brigadier general in the Union Army, but declined each time. On September 14, 1861, Buckner accepted a Confederate commission as a brigadier, and was followed by many of the men he had commanded in the state militia. Union officials in Louisville reacted by indicting him for treason and seizing his property. Assigned to Brig. Gen. William J. Hardee’s Corps, Buckner was appointed a general of a division in the Army of Central Kentucky and was stationed in nearby Bowling Green.

After the fall of Fort Henry in February of 1862, Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston assigned Buckner to the defense of Fort Donelson. The fort soon fell to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's forces during his offensive to divide the Confederacy by controlling the Mississippi River. The surrender was a humiliation for Buckner and a strategic defeat for the Confederacy, which lost more than 12,000 men and much equipment. Soon, Nashville had to be evacuated.

After 5 months in solitary confinement, under indictment for treason, Buckner was released in a prisoner exchange. He was then promoted to major general and ordered to Chattanooga to join Gen. Braxton Bragg’s Army of Mississippi assembling there for the Kentucky Campaign in late August. As Bragg pushed his invasion army north, his first battle was in Buckner's hometown of Munfordville at Fort Craig along the Green River. The fort capitulated on September 17, 1862, and Buckner was chosen to receive the formal surrender. Participating with Buckner’s troops in the surrender ceremony was my great grandfather’s unit, Lowery’s Regiment, in S.A.M. Wood's Brigade.


In an interesting side note to history, while growing up in Munfordville, Buckner’s closest friend was Thomas J. Wood, later a classmate at West Point, who became a career officer in the Union Army. Wood just missed being present at Munfordville in September, or the two old friends would have met in battle on their childhood playground. As Providence will have it though, Wood will soon oppose Buckner at the climatic Battle of Perryville, and, again, in the great Battle of Chickamauga.

Gen. Simon Buckner, Jr.
Another historical fact worthy of note is that after the war, Buckner became governor of Kentucky. He raised a son, named after him, who went on to become a famous American general in World War II. On June 18, 1945, while commanding the Tenth Army in the Battle of Okinawa, Gen. Simon Buckner, Jr. was killed by an enemy shell, the highest ranking American killed during that war. Father and son are buried in the family plot in the Frankfort Cemetery in Kentucky.

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