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, December 29, 2012

Objective: Murfreesboro & Nashville

Murfreesboro, Tennessee, 1863, from Harper's Weekly
The town of Murfreesboro was situated on the railroad to Chattanooga, 30 miles southeast of Nashville, in the midst of the great plain stretching from the base of the Cumberland Mountains toward the Cumberland River. It was surrounded by a gently undulating and highly cultivated country.

Leading in every direction from the town were numerous turnpikes. Stones River—named after an early settler—was formed there where the middle and south branches of the stream united, and flowed north between low steep banks of limestone, difficult to cross, and emptied into the Cumberland River. At the time of the battle the stream was so low that it could be crossed by infantry everywhere. The Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad crossed the river about 200 yards above the turnpike bridge. 500 yards beyond, the railroad intersected the Nashville Turnpike at a sharp angle, then ran 800 yards between the pike and the river, at which point the stream turns abruptly to the east and passes to the north.

At the time, open fields surrounded the town, fringed with dense cedar-brakes. These brakes provided excellent cover for approaching infantry, but were almost impervious to artillery due to their density. They would prove to be a significant obstacle in the coming conflict.

The center of Bragg's army was at Murfreesboro, under Gen. Leonidas Polk. The right was at Readyville, under Gen. John McCown. The left at Triune and Eaglesville, was under Gen. William Hardee. Three brigades of Hardee's Corps from John C. Breckenridge's Division were at Murfreesboro. Gen. Patrick Cleburne's Division (in which Great Grandfather Oakes served, although presently stationed at Triune) and Adams's Brigade of Breckinridge's Division were under the immediate command of Hardee, near Eaglesville, about 20 miles west of Murfreesboro. Joseph Wheeler's cavalry brigade was also attached to Hardee's Corps at this time.

Battle of Murfreesboro, Dec. 30, 1863
Source: Civil War Maps by Hal Jespersen

Bragg placed Breckinridge's Division on his extreme right, across Stones River, to protect that flank and cover the town. Adams's brigade rested on the Lebanon road, about a mile and a half from town. Breckinridge's Division formed the first line, facing north, and was posted in the edge of the forest. To the left of Adams the line was broken by a field about 300 yards in width, which apparently was left unoccupied; but it and the fields in front were covered by the 20th Tennessee and Wright's Battery. Preston's Brigade rested with its right in the woods, and extended along the edge with its left toward the river. On the left of Preston, Palmer's Brigade was formed, and on his left Hanson's completed that portion of the line, including a hill about 600 yards in front of his center. Jackson's Brigade was placed on the east side of the Lebanon road, in front and the right of Adams's men. On the other side of the river the right of Withers's Division rested at the bank, near the intersection of the turnpike with the railroad, in front and to the right of Hanson's. It extended south across the Wilkinson Pike to the Triune-Franklin road. In the rear of Withers's Division, Cheatham's was posted as a supporting force. McCown's Division, also under Hardee's commanded, was placed on Wither's left. Cleburne's Division was placed on the left, 500 yards to rear as support for that division.

Bragg's main line of battle was in the edge of the woods, with open ground to the front. There he formed his troops in two lines, the first line protected by entrenchments, and his second line formed some six hundred yards to the rear. He awaited Rosecrans's attack on Tuesday the 30th, and not receiving it, made his arrangements for an advance and attack in force on the next morning. His troops remained in line of battle, ready to move with the early Wednesday dawn.

Bragg's plan of battle was, as Providence would have it, a mirror image of  Rosecrans's plan. Hardee on the left, with McCown's and Cleburne's Divisions, was to advance against the Federal right, which being forced back, Polk and Withers's and Cheatham's Divisions were then to push the center. The movement would be made by a steady wheel to the right, with Polk's command as a pivot. Bragg planned to drive the enemy's right and center back against its left on Stones River and across the Nashville Turnpike, seizing this line of communication with Nashville, thereby cutting the Federal army from its base of operations and supplies. In so doing, hoped Bragg, he would secure the objective of his campaign, Nashville.

Bragg's plan was equally as bold as that of his opponent, whose command was slightly smaller in strength to the Rebel force. The success of either army depended largely on the degree of success in the opening moves of the battle. Rosecrans's orders were for his troops to breakfast before daylight and attack at 7:00 AM. Bragg issued orders to attack at daylight.

The 2 armies are now arrayed only some 500 yards apart, facing each other and eager for the fight to finally begin.

Sources: The Army of the Cumberland, Henry Martyn Cist; Civil War Times, Daniel Wait Howe; Stone's River: The Turning-Point of the Civil War, Wilson J. Vance

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