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.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Victory at Munfordville | Defeat at Antietam, 1862

As Civil War historian James Lee McDonough observes, September 17 stands out dramatically and tragically in the history of the Confederacy as the bloodiest single day of the war, as the Federals and Confederates battled it out in western Maryland along the banks of Antietam Creek, near the town of Sharpsburg. General Robert E. Lee’s army had held on against overwhelming numbers, but was forced to pull out during the night of the 18th, ending Lee’s Maryland Campaign. This gave Lincoln the victory he needed to consider the emancipation of slaves for military purposes. On the 22nd, Lincoln will present Congress his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.

When it was over, Gen Robert E. Lee’s invasion of the North had failed, and the important border state of Maryland would remain loyal to the Union. The Confederates were forced to retreat into Virginia. Lincoln’s announcement of his Emancipation Proclamation, changed the complexion of the war, and effectively ended the Confederacy’s hope of foreign recognition, a factor which well might have meant success for the Confederacy.

But on that same day, there was a bit of good news for the Confederacy. Bragg forced the surrender of the Union garrison at Munfordville without loss of life. Earlier in the day, Bragg ordered Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner, whose home was Munfordville, to attack the bridge on the northern bank of the Green River. Gen. Hardee would attack from the south side, while Gen. Leonidas Polk crossed upriver and would attack the Federal rear. Most of the previous day had been spent getting into position, while skirmishing fire continued on the south bank. Late in the afternoon Bragg sent a message to the Union commander, Col. John T. Wilder, to surrender, and a truce was called for the evening. Wilder surrendered his garrison at midnight.*

According to the Official Records, my great grandfather's brigade, S.A.M. Wood's, participated in the the formal ceremony of surrender on today's date:
By command of Major General Hardee, “Chalmers brigade, Withers’ division, and Wood's Brigade, Buckner’s Division, will be present at the surrender of the garrison of Munfordville at Rowlett’s Station at 6 a.m. to-day.”
Like Lee, Bragg will face his own failure to turn an important state to the Confederacy. In less than a week, he will move his army away from Munfordville and out of Gen. Don Carlos Buell's path, yielding up a strategic and advantageous location for a decisive battle. Also, as McDonough points out, if having decided to move, Bragg had immediately marched on Louisville from Munfordville, his army probably could have taken it. Bragg simply let events slip from his control, stemming from his lack of a clearly defined objective in his Confederate Heartland Offensive.

But Bragg will have one more opportunity to confront the Federal army in early October, in an unexpected encounter in the Chaplin Hills west of Perryville, Kentucky.

* Wilder will return to fight a portion of Bragg's army at the Battle of Hoover's Gap, Tennessee, on June 24, 1863. In that attack his mounted infantry, for the first time on a battlefield, will make use of Spenser repeater rifles in a decisive outcome for the Union. He will also have a significant role in the Chickamauga Campaign later that year.

Sources: War In Kentucky, James Lee McDonough; The Third Battalion Mississippi Infantry and the 45th Mississippi Regiment: A Civil War History, David Williamson; Official Records, Vol. 16, Pt. 2

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