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.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

To Murfreesboro in 1862

Only days after retreating back to East Tennessee from its Kentucky Campaign, the Army of Mississippi was on the move again on this date in 1862. Gen. Braxton Bragg, having departed for Richmond, left to Gen. Leonidas Polk the task of moving the army toward Nashville.

Heading south, the army moved through the gorge of Sand Mountain and then down the Tennessee River to Bridgeport, Alabama. At Bridgeport, the men were ferried across the river and put on trains again, headed north, up the Crow Creek gorge, through the Cumberland Mountain tunnel and into middle Tennessee. Their destination was the Stone's River Valley, only 30 miles south of the Federal bastion at Nashville.

Bragg's army will join forces with Gen. Breckinridge's Division, which Bragg had sent ahead without authorization from Richmond, and encamp around Murfreesboro, with its target in sight: William S. Rosecrans's army at Nashville. The 2 opposing armies will face one another again after chasing and fighting each other all year.

Red dotted line is Bragg's line of retreat to Murfreesboro
Source: Source: Civil War Maps by Hal Jespersen

Source:  Autumn of Glory: The Army of Tennessee 1862-1865, Thomas Lawrence Connely

Rosecrans takes command from Buell

On today's date in 1862, Union Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell was relieved of command of the Army of the Ohio in Kentucky and Tennessee for allowing Bragg's Confederate army to escape Kentucky. Lincoln authorized Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans to take over. Buell learned of his sacking on the 29th, from a local newspaper.

Rosecrans, the hero of Iuka and Corinth, will head the newly created Department of the Cumberland. He was immediately ordered to Louisville, via Cincinnati, to take charge of Buell’s former command. Almost universally, the men reacted with cheers and joy. Most assumed they would now go into winter quarters. Instead, as soon as he joined his new command, Rosecrans led his army back to Nashville to confront Bragg, who was taking a new a position in nearby Murfreesboro.

Born in Ohio, in 1819, Rosecrans was an 1842 graduate of the United States Military Academy, ranking fifth in a class of 56. Finding promotion slow in the peacetime army, and having no opportunity to gain advancement in the Mexican-American War, Rosecrans resigned his commission in 1854. Life as a businessman and inventor provided little more satisfaction and nearly killed him when a failed experiment severely burned his face. When the Civil War army offered Rosecrans an opportunity to return to the military profession, he seized it eagerly, rising to brigadier general by the summer of 1861. Success in Western Virginia soon brought him a transfer to the West, where he gained a semi-independent command under Ulysses S. Grant. In northern Mississippi Rosecrans fought strongly at the battles of Iuka and Corinth, although he earned Grant's displeasure at the same time. Promoted to major general in September 1862, he lobbied successfully to have the commission backdated to March. Now he commanded one of the nation's 3 largest field armies, centered in Nashville.

Rosecrans was known to be brilliant, articulate, firm in his convictions, and courageous. He was also a man of extraordinary energy, who drove both himself and his subordinates unmercifully. A devout Roman Catholic, he retained a personal chaplain on his staff. Unfortunately, his favorable virtues were offset by characteristics that were less beneficial. In temperament Rosecrans tended to be nervous and excitable. He was often impatient and critical of others, especially his superiors. Neither introspective nor an perceptive judge of others, Rosecrans had a remarkably simple outlook. Once convinced of the correctness of his views, he could be extremely smug. Generally affable with his staff, he often immersed himself in details better left to subordinates. This tendency, coupled with his love of philosophical and theological discussions, led him to remain active well past midnight, to the chagrin of his staff. He was often unable to sleep during campaigns and became increasingly nervous and irritable as operations accelerated around him.

But, despite his shortcomings, Rosecrans will soon amass important victories and fame for his successes at Murfreesboro and the Tullahoma Campaign.

Sources: Official Records, Vol 16, Part 1; The Civil War Almanac, John S. Bowman; National Park Service

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Bragg's army arrives at Morristown, 1862

The head of the column of Gen. Braxton Bragg's army began reaching Morristown, Tennessee, on today's date in 1862. The conditions of the march from Camp Dick Robinson, following the Battle of Perryville Kentucky on the 8th, had been brutal and disheartening for the troops. Finally, the men received much needed food, uniforms, and soap.

Soon, the army moved again, this time on the East Tennessee railroad to Chattanooga. From there the troops moved through the Sand Mountain gorge and down the Tennessee River to Bridgeport, Alabama, where they crossed the Tennessee River and moved north by train through the Crow Creek Gorge, through the Cumberland tunnel. The army proceeded on to its final destination, the Stones River Valley and the siege of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. By December, the 32nd Mississippi Regiment, in which Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes served, was at Shelbyville, about 25 miles south of the city.

On this date, Bragg received a summons to the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia, to give a report to his friend, President Davis, of his plans for the future of the army. He again left the army under the command of Gen. Leonidas Polk, with orders to take the army by rail to Chattanooga, and then on to Murfreesboro.

Somehow, Bragg was able to convince Richmond that any blame for losing Kentucky belonged with Gen. Polk. This will not be the only time that Bragg shifts blame to his subordinate general officers. While President Davis doesn't seem to have shared Bragg's assessment, nevertheless, he did not hold Bragg accountable for the loss. Sadly, blame shifting will continue through future campaigns, seriously impeding the army's effectiveness going forward.

In his invasion of Kentucky, Bragg's men had marched a thousand miles, had fought a bloody battle, and now are finally back where they started 2 months before. Despite their inordinate effort and sacrifice, Bragg's Kentucky invasion yielded little, if any, results.

Sources: The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn; Autumn of Glory, Thomas Lawrence Connelly; Record of Events for 32nd Mississippi Regiment

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bragg's army reaches the Cumberland Gap

For 5 days Gen. Braxton Bragg's Army of Mississippi trudged south from Crab Orchard, ascending Wildcat Mountain, toward the Cumberland Gap and Eastern Tennessee, averaging 15-20 miles per day. This was in spite of Buell's Federal skirmishers nipping at its heels. The exhausted army also encountered insults, stone throwing, and even fire from Unionist ambushers in many Kentucky towns on their way south. And adding to the general misery, the weather turned prematurely cold.

Union Gen. Don Carlos Buell finally gave up his half-hearted pursuit of Bragg at London, Kentucky. Taken in balance with his performance at Perryville, this soon would cost him his command.

Contrary to rumors coming out of East Tennessee at the time and which persist today, the 200-mile retreat for the Confederate army was the first sustained period of hunger. Rations were scarce, and the troops survived mainly on parched corn, polluted water, and whatever they could forage en route. Many soldiers were barefoot and in ragged uniforms. But physical discomfort was only part of the suffering. According to Pvt. Sam Watkins's famous account, beneath the surface of the sorry troops lurked gloom and frustration.

On today's date in 1862, the leading end of Bragg's tattered army, having just passed through Barboursville, reached the Cumberland Gap. Soon it was in Knoxville.

Having now passed into his own department in East Tennessee, Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith resumed command of his army, glad to be out from under Bragg's command, which he had grown to hold in low regard. Smith will go on to distinguish himself during the rest of the war. He will become one of the last Confederate generals to surrender his army, which he will finally do in June 1865, almost 2 months after Lee's surrender at Appomattox, and more than 2 weeks after the Army of Tennessee surrendered in North Carolina. And Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith will have the distinction of being the last surviving full Confederate general until his death in 1893.


Sources: Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle, Kenneth W. Noe; Autumn of Glory: The Army of Tennessee 1862-1865, Thomas Lawrence Connelly; Company Aytch: Or, a Side Show of the Big Show, Sam Watkins; Corinth Information Database

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Wheeler's cavalry covers the army's retreat

On this date, 1862, both Gens. Bragg and Smith moved their armies south from Camp Dick Robinson, near Bryantsville, to Lancaster, 10 miles east of Danville. There they divided, with Bragg leading his force south via the road to Crab Orchard and Mount Vernon, while Smith moved to strike east to Paint Lick, and then south along the same road he used to enter Kentucky weeks earlier. Col. Joseph Wheeler's cavalry was assigned to ward off Union Gen. Buell's pursuing troops for both retreating columns. The 2 parallel Confederate armies will meet north of Barboursville at the roads’ junction and pass through the Cumberland Gap.

Col. Wheeler was a rising star in the Confederate cavalry and the entire army. Graduating in July 1859 from West Point, at the start of the Civil War, Wheeler entered the Confederate Army as a 1st lieutenant in the Georgia state militia. He was soon promoted to colonel and ordered to take command of the newly formed 19th Alabama Infantry Regiment. He served well in the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, and again in the army's retreat from Corinth the following month. Next, Wheeler transferred to the cavalry and commanded the 2nd Cavalry Brigade of the Left Wing of Bragg's army in the Kentucky Campaign through September and October. His delaying tactic at Bowling Green allowed Bragg's army to reach Munfordville and capture the fort there. He commanded the cavalry at Perryville, where he fought admirably.

On today's date in 1862, Wheeler was appointed chief of cavalry and charged with covering the rear of the army as Bragg retreated south from this date through the 26th. He fought in 26 engagements over the next 13 days. His well-deserved promotion to brigadier general came on the 30th. In the months ahead, another ancestor of mine, my great-great grandfather, David Crockett Neal, will fight in the 6th Tennessee Cavalry Regiment under Gen. Wheeler.

As Wheeler was doing his part to protect the rear of the army, the longest Confederate campaign in terms of miles covered, was drawing to a close. The conditions for Bragg’s army at this point were much the same, except for the causalities and the blow to Confederate morale. Many in Bragg’s ranks were downcast and disillusioned, and many were critical of Bragg's leadership through the campaign. It certainly didn't help matters that numerous troops in the rank and file also were starving and barefoot on the long march south.


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Wheeler continued to lead cavalry troops following the Kentucky Campaign. In January 1863, he was appointed major general, and then lead the cavalry corps of the Army of Tennessee through campaigns in Middle Tennessee, including Tullahoma, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga. His cavalry helped to cover the army during the 1864 Atlanta Campaign. Then later that year, instead of following the Army of Tennessee in Hood's Tennessee Campaign, Wheeler's cavalry opposed Sherman's March to the Sea. In the 1865 Carolinas Campaign, Wheeler once again led his cavalry in slowing Sherman's advance. After the army's surrender, while attempting to cover Confederate President Jefferson Davis's flight south, Wheeler was captured near Atlanta. After a 2-month imprisonment, he was paroled in June 1865.

After the war, Wheeler was a planter and practiced law in Alabama, where he also married and raised  family. In 1880, As an Alabama Democrat, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, serving several terms until 1900.

Gen. Wheeler had the rare distinction of serving as a general officer during war time for 2 opposing forces. He was a celebrated cavalry general in the Confederate army, but during the conflict with Spain in 1898 (Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars), he was a general in the United States Army. Below, at 61 years of age, Gen. Wheeler is pictured with a future president serving under his command, Col. Theodore Roosevelt.

Gen. Joe Wheeler (front) and Col. Theodore Roosevelt (right)
 in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, 1898

Sources: War in Kentucky, James Lee McDonough; The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable AmericansRossiter Johnson & John Howard Brown

Friday, October 12, 2012

Retreat from Buell

By today's date in 1862, Gen. Braxton Bragg, having successfully withdrawn his army from its bloody and victorious engagement in the Battle of Perryville on the 8th, now had the entire Confederate force concentrated at Camp Dick Robinson near Bryantsville, at the junction of the Kentucky and Dicks Rivers, a position relatively secure from Federal attack. In total, he had about 45,000 experienced troops.

Camp Headquarters at Bryantsville (from Harper's Weekly)
Bragg called a council of his generals to inform them of his plan to leave Kentucky. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, whose army had finally joined forces with Bragg, urged Bragg to renew the fight with the strengthened force. At first Bragg seemed to agree that a decisive battle for the control of Kentucky should be fought here. But then he changed his mind. The resulting consensus of the other generals seems to have been a shared loss of confidence in Bragg and therefore, there being no other course to pursue, retreat was the only option. 

Perhaps to his credit, Bragg was beginning to feel the pressure of Union Gen. Don Carlos Buell troops were reaching for the Confederate flanks. He also had learned that no help would be coming from Mississippi, as Generals Price and Van Dorn had been defeated at Corinth by Union Gen. Rosecrans a week earlier. Gen. Breckinridge’s column would remain in Tennessee. Federal reinforcements were en route from Cincinnati to nearby Lexington. Supplies here at Camp Dick Robinson would run out in 4 days, while Buell 's army was being resupplied from Louisville daily. Finally, the recruits Kentucky were not joining the army as Bragg had hoped. With Buell about to cut off the army’s last path of escape, and autumn’s drenching rains approaching, there seemed to be no choice but to fall back into Tennessee and preserve the army. He will begin moving his army south at daybreak.

Today, many historians of the Battle of Perryville believe Bragg made a strategic mistake in not attacking Buell, perhaps losing the best opportunity that he would have of knocking out Buell and changing the course of the Confederacy's war in the West.

Sources:  Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle, Kenneth W. Noe; War in Kentucky, James Lee McDonough; Stone's River: The Turning-Point of the Civil War, Wilson J. Vance

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Confederate withdrawal from Perryville

Confederate General Braxton Bragg, deciding that his foe, Union General Don Carlos Buell, was heavily reinforced during the night following the Battle of Perryville on the 8th, retired the next morning. During the early morning hours of today's date in 1862, and using the cover of darkness, Bragg ordered his army to pull back from the Perryville battlefield to the lines it occupied the previous morning.

At daybreak on today's date, the army began its retreat towards Harrodsburg, about 10 miles northeast, and concentrated with Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith's army, leaving only a picket line to delay pursuit. Bragg's departure, and Buell's failure to follow up, will create a source of mystery to history students, in that neither side took advantage of obvious opportunities.

Overnight, both sides were caring for their wounded and dead. On Confederate Gen. Hardee’s front, men of Wood’s Brigadeof which my great grandfather's 32nd Mississippi Regiment was a part— moved back up toward the Benton Road to search for comrades and gather their personal effects. Discovering scores of wounded, they gathered straw on which to place those who could not be moved and brought water to the suffering. One witness from a sister regiment (33rd Alabama) recalled: “Although we were thoroughly tired… we were up with the wounded boys and assisting the doctors nearly all night… some complained of being cold, their clothing wet with blood. We wrapped our blankets about them." Homes, churches, and barns were converted into hospitals, where men from both sides were treated.*

In the meantime, Bragg ordered Col. Joseph Wheeler to form his cavalry as a rear guard along the Danville Pike, while Col. John A. Wharton, with 2 of Wheeler’s battalions, brought up the rear on the Harrodsburg Pike. Bragg also ordered Smith to rendezvous with him in Harrodsburg. 

Between 1:00 and 2:00 AM on the 9th, Confederate officers began telling the men on the front lines to get up as quickly as possible and prepare to march. Having won decisively, most of the troops believed that they would continue the fight at dawn. But as daylight broke this morning, Bragg led the way in retreat. With most of his army strung out along the Harrodsburg road, Bragg could not believe that Buell would let him get away so easily. 

The Rebel army moved out in 3 columns, wagons and artillery occupying the road, while infantry hugged the edges in 2 parallel columns. The army arrived in Harrodsburg around 12 PM. Intending to engage the Federals, Bragg and Smith placed their forces in an advantageous position, 2 miles south of Harrodsburg, to await the assault. However, by evening, as he was known to do all to often, Bragg vacillated. His uncertainty this time was whether to make a stand at Harrodsburg, move on to Danville to screen his vital supply depot at Bryantsville, or move on to Camp Dick Robinson near Harrodsburg. To his generals, Polk, Hardee, and Smith, Bragg's indecision was “appalling.” But at dawn, Bragg will withdraw to Camp Dick Robinson.


* Of course many of these wounded did not survive and were added to the scores of soldiers who lost their lives in that battle. Civil War historian Kenneth W. Noe writes graphically of the aftermath of the battle in his book, Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle. Following the battle, there was an appalling number of Confederate dead, which the Union army at first refused to bury. The owner of the farm where the battle took place, together with local citizens, were forced to bury the victims, many in a mass grave. Eventually, the memory of the great struggle that took place here almost passed away. Finally, on October 8, 1954, on the 92nd anniversary of the battle, and after years of neglect and degeneration to the place, the Perryville State Battlefield Site was officially opened. By the mid-1970s, the park had grown to 98 acres and designated a National Historic Landmark. Additional property was purchased by the mid-1990s, due to the renewed interest coming from Ken Burns’s series, The Civil War. Author Noe offers a compelling story of the aftermath of the Battle of Perryville, and the park that commemorates it, in his article, “Remembering Perryville: History and Memory at a Civil War Battlefield.” It's worth reading.

Sources: Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle, Kenneth W. Noe; Official Records, Vol. 16, Parts 1 & 2; Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 10; Stone's River: The Turning-Point of the Civil War, Wilson J. Vance

Monday, October 8, 2012

A 32nd Mississippi Infantry soldier's view of the Battle of Perryville

Confederate regiments typically were comprised of 10 companies, A-K (neither side had a Co. J for some reason). Each company had about 100 men, bringing the total in the regiment to approximately 1,000. Most men within a company were recruited from the same town or village. An entire regiment might be made up of men recruited from a single county.

Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes's 32nd Mississippi Infantry (of Wood's Brigade), commanded by Col. Mark P. Lowrey, was a typically-sized regiment of around a 1,000 troops in 10 companies. All but 2 were raised from a single county, Tishomingo. Whole companies of men who fought side-side were also neighbors back home.

My great grandfather (and a great uncle) served in Company D, comprised of men from from the tiny village of Kossuth, Mississippi. One of his neighbors from Tishomingo County, Jesse Cheeves, served in Co. A of the same regiment. At Perryville, these 2 companies fought alongside each other. What Cheeves witnessed would have closely matched my great grandfather's experience. Here are Pvt. Cheeves's own words:
Curlee was killed in the last charge at Perryville. W. H. Rees lost his left arm the same day by a cannot [sic] ball. The man in the rear rank behind Rees was struck in the chest by the same ball and knocked ten or twelve feet and instantly killed. The writer was to the right of Rees, his left arm touching Rees's right, when he fell. We were exposed to a terrible fire of solid shot and shell. The writer noticed one ball that fell just in front of the line, it was about the size and length of a Mason's fruit jar but in the shape of a minnie [sic] ball. We remained an hour under very heavy cannon fire. Sometimes the balls would come as fast as the stroke of a clock. They made all kinds of noise as they passed over. Sometimes it seemed they would dip down after us as they passed over the line. Twelve or fourteen feet behind our line was a large shell bark hickory nut tree full of nuts. Now and then a ball would pass through the top and bark and nuts would fairly rain down. At 2 o'clock p.m. our line of battle moved forward, the enemy being just across an opposite range of hill, the valley between us being from 600 to 800 yards wide. Our cannon ceased firing until the line had advanced far enough for the balls to pass over heads. Our guns behind us and the enemy's in front and the roar of musketry between made such a noise as the boys had never heard. We were in a field all the time and tore the fences down as we advanced. We drove the yanks from behind one rock fence. The writer was talking with a comrade a few months ago who was wounded just before we crossed this fence and lay upon the field until 3 o'clock at night. Our victory was complete. Our brigade captured a battery; Company A lost seven brave men killed and many wounded. We fought close to Co. D., made up at Kossuth, and a fine company it was.* 
Corinth Information Database, Milton Sandy

32nd Mississippi Infantry at the Battle of Perryville, 1862

On today's date in 1862, the opposing armies of Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg and Union Gen. Don Carlos Buell finally meet, but not on a field of their choosing. Both armies were plagued by a lack of water. In fact, the first shots were fired between thirsty enemies over a meager water source. Soon, 16,000 men of Bragg's army were fiercely engaged with Buell's 60,000 men in the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky. When the battle is over the next day, Federal forces will suffer 845 dead, 2,851 wounded and 515 missing. The Confederate toll will be 3,396.

The Battle of Perryville, October 8, 1842
Source: Civil War Trust
In 1899, Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes wrote in a letter to the editor of The Confederate Veteran, that the Battle of Perryville was “the first battle of consequence” in which his regiment participated. His regiment, the 32nd Mississippi Infantry, suffered heavy losses in the battle, although the official reports are sparse. Most of the brigade commanders were wounded. My great grandfather's colonel, Mark Lowrey, had to take command of Wood's Brigade after its commander, Gen. S.A.M. Wood, was seriously wounded in the head while leading his men. Lowrey was also painfully wounded in the left elbow.

Wood's Brigade, part of Buckner's Division, was in line of battle at the left of Cheatham's Division. The brigade joined in a successful charge on the enemy, capturing Lt. Charles C. Parson's battery of Jackson's Division, after repeated charges in which they sustained many casualties (some of these from "friendly fire" from a Florida regiment and a Confederate battery)According to Gen. Hardee's report, "Cheatham and Wood captured the enemy's battery in front of Wood and among the pieces and among the dead and dying was found the body of Gen. James S. Jackson, who commanded a division of the enemy at that point."

Jessee Cheeves, whose company fought alongside my great grandfather's Company D, described how his friend, W.H. Rees, “lost his left arm… by a cannon ball. The man in the rear rank behind Rees was struck by the same ball and knocked ten or twelve feet and instantly killed… We were exposed to a terrible fire of solid shot and shell.”

As a result of its action, the 32nd Mississippi Regiment of Wood's Brigade earned an honorable mention in the official reports. General orders, December 21, 1862 states:
The regiments of the brigade of Brigadier-General Wood, which, on the memorable field of Perryville, participated in the gallant and desperate charge resulting in the capture of the enemy's batteries, will, in addition to the name of the field on their colors, place the cross-cannon inverted
The regiment was entitled to carry this distinguished insignia throughout the remainder of the war. It won't be the last time that this unit will distinguish itself on the battlefield.

Bragg won the battle tactically for the Confederates, but he wisely decided to pull out of Perryville and link up with Gen. Kirby Smith. Once Smith and Bragg joined forces, Bragg decided to leave Kentucky and head back to Tennessee, taking a defensive position at Murfreesboro. The Confederate army will never return, and the Union will continue to control Kentucky for the balance of the war.

Although Buell checked the Confederate advance at Perryville, unfortunately for him, he did not pursue the retreating Confederates quickly enough following that battle on October 8. As a consequence shortly thereafter, Buell was relieved of his command and was replaced by Gen. William Rosecrans.

Sources: The Confederate Veteran, Vol. 7 (1899); Perryville: Mississippi Military History, 1803-1898, Dunbar Rowland; This Grand Havoc of Battle, Kenneth W. Noe; Official Records, Vol. 16, Pts. 1 & 2

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The eve of the Battle of Perryville, 1862


Arriving near Perryville, Kentucky, on today’s date in 1862, Union Gen. Don Carlos Buell's cavalry engaged the Confederate rearguard. When Buell learned that Confederates forces were deploying infantry near the town, Buell resolved to launch an attack the next day. Due to delays in bringing his men forward, Buell was forced to alter his plans and set the attack for October 9. However, his Army of the Ohio suffered a reverse on this date when Buell was thrown from his horse and injured. Unable to ride, he established his headquarters 3 miles from the front and effectively played no role in the approaching battle, which Confederate Gen. Bragg will force by attacking on the 8th.

Perryville, 1862
Source: Civil War Trust

Great Britain and the Civil War

Since the outbreak of war in 1861, U.S. relations with Great Britain were at a low. Fearing foreign involvement in the war in support of the South, the U.S. Navy took to stopping and searching foreign vessels. The stopping of a British ship, the Royal Mail Steamer Trent, in November, 1861, and the removal of the Confederate envoys on board, brought the 2 countries to the brink of war. From the British point of view, the American action was a direct pretext for unfriendly action, a near act of war.

Only through slick U.S. diplomacy were tensions eased between the 2 countries. However, there remained a feeling of British irritation and a tacit determination to do something when a proper opportunity should occur. The Southern government was determined to exploit the rift and engender Britain's support for its war with the Union.

On this date in 1862,  in a general speech, William Ewart Gladstone, a Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer and future Prime Minister, made an interesting observation on the American struggle.
We know quite well that the people of the North have not yet drunk of the cup—they are still trying to hold it far from their lips—which, all the rest of the world see they nevertheless must drink of. We may have our own opinions about slavery; we may be for or against the South; but there is no doubt that Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the South have made an army; they are making, it appears, a navy; and they have made—what is more than either—they have made a nation.
At this point, the war had been going decidedly in the South's favor. The Confederate successes in the summer of 1862 were convincing proofs to British thinking that the independence of the South was only a matter of time. The British Government was on the verge of recognizing the independence of the South, and this inevitably would lead to war between Great Britain and the United States. President Lincoln will require decisive Union victories if he is going to turn European sympathies away from the South.

Source: Stone's River: The Turning-Point of the Civil War, Wilson J. Vance

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Hasty Inauguration

Confederate Ben. Braxton Bragg's hopes to recruit Kentuckians to the Confederate army were waning. Frustrated that he hadn't been able to recruit much needed volunteers to his army, Bragg decided that conscription of the reluctant Kentuckians was his only option for getting the soldiers he needed. Obsessed with the idea that an installation of a provisional Confederate government would permit a conscription act to be rushed through the state's legislature, Bragg decided to install Richard Hawes as governor. Bragg's generals, Kirby Smith and Simon B. Buckner, argued against the scheme in view of the large Union forces known to be nearby.

Kentucky Capital Building Cir. 1862
The capital of Frankfort had been occupied by the Confederates since its capture only a month ago. Bragg arranged for Hawes's installation on this date in 1862. But the inauguration ceremony was brought to a hasty conclusion when Federal artillery from Union Gen. Sill’s division opened up on the town. The attack deceived Bragg into thinking that the main Federal threat was at or near Frankfort. Gen. Kirby Smith rushed his troops 12 miles southeast to Versailles, where he and Bragg believed the Federal attack would be centered.

On this date in 1862, Union Gen. Don Carlos Buell took back the state capital and drove the provisional government that afternoon in exile to TennesseeFrankfort, along with the rest of Kentucky, will remain sympathetic toward the Union for the remainder of the war

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Battle of Corinth, 1862

While my great grandfather, Nathan Oakes, was soon to fight in the great Battle of Perryville on October 8, back home in Northern Mississippi the (Second) Battle of Corinth, was fought on today's date through the 4th, in 1862. For the second time in the Iuka-Corinth Campaign, Union Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans will defeat a Confederate army.

Following defeat in the Battle of Iuka, on September 19th, Confederate Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn moved his army to Corinth, a critical rail junction in northern Mississippi, that had slipped into Union hands after Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard evacuated the city on May 30th. Van Dorn was hoping to cut the Union lines of communications there and and then sweep into Middle Tennessee. The fighting began on this date, as the Confederates pushed the Federal army from the rifle pits that were originally constructed by the Confederates for the Siege of Corinth.

On the second day of battle, the Confederates met heavy artillery fire while storming the Federal inner fortifications. The fight devolved into vicious hand-to-hand fighting. The Confederate advance was repulsed, and Van Dorn was forced to order a general retreat. Thankfully for the Confederates, Rosecrans did not pursue immediately, so the Confederate army escaped destruction.

News of the defeat of Corinth must have had a demoralizing effect on troops from the Corinth area who were fighting with General Braxton Bragg's army in Kentucky. It certainly affected Bragg, who counted on support from Van Dorn's army. Ultimately, the defeat at Corinth will influence Bragg's decision to retreat from his Kentucky campaign.

Sources: Wikipedia; Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle, Kenneth W. Noe

Monday, October 1, 2012

Gen. Polk moves the army

While Confederate Gen. Bragg was away on this date in 1862 in preparation for installing a Confederate governor at Frankfort, he left Gen. Leonidas Polk in command of the army at Bardstown. Polk had been the "Right Wing" corps commander during the Kentucky Campaign and was assigned by Bragg to begin moving his weary army to the capital at Frankfort.

The "Fighting Bishop"
Gen. Leonidas Polk
Born in North Carolina, Leonidas Polk later became a large land owner in Maury County, Tennessee. He was a 1827 West Point graduate who resigned without ever having served as an officer. Believing he was called to the ministry, Polk enrolled in seminary, and then the Episcopal priesthood, rising to the office bishop. When the war came, the ambitious Polk, who was serving his church in Louisiana, contacted his old friend, President Jefferson Davis, to offer his services to the Confederate army. The president appointed Polk a major general without the bishop having ever served in the military. His lack of actual military experience, resulting in poor battlefield decisions and disregard for orders, will form the foundation for many of Bragg's complaints against him, and will lead to his removal from his command after the Battle of Chickamauga. Polk will return the following year to the Army of Tennessee in the long Atlanta Campaign under Joseph Johnston. Then, tragically, on June 14, 1864, while scouting the enemy's position from Pine Mountain near Marietta, Georgia, he was killed by artillery fire ordered by Union Maj. Gen, William T. Sherman.

But on today's date in 1862, Gen. Polk learned that in addition to a Federal column moving east toward Frankfort, 3 columns of Federals were also marching on 3 separate roads southeast from Louisville toward his army's position at Bardstown. Although ordered to move the army to Frankfort, after considering the approach of McCook’s, Gilbert’s, and Crittenden’s Federal corps toward Bardstown, Polk instead marched the army toward Harrodsburg via Perryville.

In the meantime, Union Gen. Don Carlos Buell assumed command over the forces at Louisville. On today's date, he marched out of Louisville with 60,000 troops. Buell sent a small force to Frankfort to deceive Bragg as to his army's direction and location. Bragg was outsmarted. On October 4, the small Federal force attacked Frankfort just as Bragg was installing a new Confederate governor there. Bragg was forced to make a hasty retreat to rejoin his army, now on the move to Bardstown, thinking the entire Federal force was headed for Frankfort.

Source: Six Armies in Tennessee, Steven E. Woodward