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, December 12, 2012

Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne

Maj. Gen. Patrick Ronayne Cleburne
President Davis visited the Army of Tennessee stationed at Murfreesboro on this date in 1862. Among other urgent business, he commissioned the rising star, Patrick R. Cleburne, as Major General (recommended by Gens. Bragg, Buckner, and Hardee) and appointed him to fill the vacancy left by Simon B. Buckner’s transfer to another department. In so doing, Davis promoted Cleburne over 2 other senior brigadier generals, S.A.M. Wood and Bushrod Johnson.  

Maj. Gen. Cleburne’s division now consisted of his old brigade (now commanded by the newly appointed Brig. Gen. Lucius E. Polk), Liddell’s Arkansas brigade, Bushrod Johnson’s Tennessee brigade, and S.A.M. Wood’s Alabama and Mississippi Brigade (including my great grandfather's 32nd Mississippi Regiment). Attached to this division are Calvert’s Arkansas Battery, Swett’s Mississippi battery, Darden’s Mississippi Battery, and Henry Semple’s Alabama Battery.

Born in County Cork, Ireland, Patrick Cleburne was an orphan by the age of 15. He served in a Welsh regiment in the British Army, rising to the rank of corporal. After 3 years of army life, he emigrated to the United States, eventually settling in Helena, Arkansas, where he became a pharmacist. By 1860, he was a naturalized citizen, a practicing lawyer, and a well respected citizen of his adopted town.

At the beginning of the War for Southern Independence, Cleburne sided with the Southern nation that had adopted him as one of its own. Enlisting as a 33-year old private in the local militia, he quickly rose in rank. In January 1861, he led his company in the seizure of the U.S. Arsenal in Little Rock. When Arkansas left the Union, his militia unit became part of the 1st Arkansas Infantry, later designated the 15th Arkansas, of which he was elected Colonel. He was promoted to brigadier general in March 1862.

Wiley Sword, agreeing with fellow Civil War historian Thomas Connelly's assessment, wrote that while Cleburne had a mild-mannered personalty, he was also "a ferocious fighter, perhaps the best infantry general of the Confederacy's Western armies." Sword also observes that "Cleburne was an overachiever with a driving zeal for success." He also was possessed with "uncompromising integrity... Unwilling to compromise principle or personal dignity for political expediency."

Cleburne monument at Ringgold Gap
Cleburne's first serious engagement in the Army of Mississippi, was at the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862. Later that August, in the Battle of Richmond, Kentucky, he was wounded in the face. After receiving his current promotion to Major General at Murfreesboro, Cleburne will lead his division, among which was my great grandfathers 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment, in the upcoming Battle of Murfreesboro (Stones River). He will go on to achieve military success, even while the army looses some of its engagements. His strategic ability and the admiration of his men earned him the nickname "Stonewall of the West." Sadly, Gen. Cleburne will not survive the war. He will fall at the Battle of Franklin in 1864.

Interestingly, in early 1864, Cleburne wrote a proposal to emancipate slaves and enlist them in the Confederate Army. This proposal was not well received by the rest of the army's leadership and was largely ignored. Toward the end of the war, though, even the Confederate Congress came around to the idea. However, by then it was too late to make any difference in the war's outcome.

Sources: Official Records, Vol 20, Part 2; Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell and Elizabeth Purdue; Autumn of Glory, Thomas Lawrence Connelly; Mountains Touched With Fire, Wile Sword

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