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.

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.


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

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