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, October 8, 2012

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

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