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, January 30, 2013

Refitting Bragg's army

During the months after the Battle of Murfreesboro, both the Union and Confederate armies needed to build up the numbers of troops and materiel. Of course, the Union had the vast population and resources of the Northern states to draw on. Bragg's options, however, were limited.

The Army of Tennessee had been plagued by men leaving the ranks of the Confederate army during the winter of 1863. Many men were simply weary of the war following the retreats from Perryville and Murfreesboro. Numerous soldiers found the hard conditions of camp life too much to bear. Others left the army for homes and families that had fallen behind enemy lines in Kentucky and Tennessee. Of this number of absentees, most would return for service as summer neared. However, the large numbers of furloughs at Tullahoma, had an adverse effect on organization and military discipline. So, by the end of January, Bragg and his superior, Johnston, took action.

Instead of being sent home on furlough, sick and injured troops were assigned to hospitals where their progress could be monitored. Men on furlough were recalled to active service or would face discipline. Gen. Gideon Pillow was assigned to round up recruits covered in the Conscription Act. Many free blacks were also hired to manage assignments to free up fighting troops. In other areas, women were hired to work in clothing factories to outfit the soldiers. By early May, Bragg had brought up his effective fighting army to 52,855. By the time of renewed fighting in June, Bragg will be much stronger than he was on his retreat from Murfreesboro, although his army still will be short ammunition and firearms.

On the Union side, Rosecrans was hardly idle. He used the rest of winter and spring rebuilding his army and building up his armaments, in most ways superior to the Confederate force opposing him at Tullahoma.

Source:  Tullahoma: The 1863 Campaign for the Control of Middle Tennessee, Michael R. Bradley

Monday, January 14, 2013

Leadership in crisis in 1863

"The Murfreesboro campaign and its aftermath destroyed [Confederate Gen. Braxton] Bragg's usefulness as a field commander," writes author Grady McWhiney. Because of the way Bragg had mismanaged his army in the Kentucky Campaign, and his subsequent withdrawal of the army from the battlefield at Murfreesboro, Bragg’s general officers lost confidence in his ability to continue leading the army. Not surprisingly, the retreat from Murfreesboro set off an avalanche of criticism of the army's commander, and according to Civil War historian Peter Cozzens, "a wave of unrest swept over the Army of Tennessee."

Upon arriving at Tullahoma, most of Bragg's high ranking officers agreed that a change in command was necessary. Sensing the lack of support from his generals, Bragg invited their opinion about whether he should resign. Most of the leading officers agreed that he should.* Soon, President Davis intervened and instructed the Western Department commander, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, to proceed to Bragg’s headquarters in Tullahoma to decide what should be done. After investigation and interviewing many of Bragg's high ranking officers, Johnston recommended that Bragg be left in command, which he was. Having received Johnston's and Davis's support, Bragg began retaliatory action against several of his subordinates, further diminishing any respect he may still have have had among them. This would play out badly for Bragg and his army in the coming campaign for Middle Tennessee.

It was also a significant factor in the South's defeat, says McWhiney. "One of the great ironies of Confederate military history is that Jefferson Davis, who prided himself so on his knowledge of the capabilities of those former regular army officers [i.e., Beauregard, Hardee, Polk] who fought for the South, failed in the war to assign Bragg to a position where his talents could be used best. Instead, the President had placed and retained Bragg in a post—as commander of the Confederacy's second most important army—where he made a major contribution to Confederate defeat."


* Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne, in whose division my great grandfather served, added his own view:
I have consulted with all my brigade commanders... and they unite with me in personal regard for yourself, in a high appreciation of your patriotism and gallantry, and in a conviction of your capacity for organization; but at the same time they see, with regret, and it has also met my observation, that you do not possess the confidence of the army in other respects in that degree necessary to secure success.
Source: Tullahoma: The 1863 Campaign for the Control of Middle Tennessee, Michael R. Bradley; Braxton Bragg and Confederate Defeat, Grady McWhiney; This Terrible Sound, Peter Cozzens; Official Records, Vol. 20, Pt. 1

Thursday, January 10, 2013

32nd & 45th Mississippi Consolidated Regiment

While in winter quarters at Tullahoma, Tennessee, probably in mid-January, there was a little reorganization of my great grandfather's brigade, S.A.M. Wood's. Due to troop losses at the Battle of Murfreesboro/Stone's River, and reassignments of some companies in the brigade, Great Grandfather's 32nd Mississippi Regiment was consolidated with the 45th Mississippi. Now known as the 32nd & 45th Mississippi (consolidated), commanded by Col. Mark Lowrey, the regiment remained in Wood's Brigade, Cleburne's Division, in Hardee's Corps. As a consolidated regiment, it will participate in the campaigns and battles of Tullahoma, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Missionary Ridge, and Ringgold Gap. The 32nd & 45th will fight together as a consolidated regiment until July 1864.

Source: The Third Battalion Mississippi Infantry and 45th Mississippi Regiment: A Civil War History, David Williamson

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Bragg's army takes up position at Tullahoma

As Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg's army retreated from Murfreesboro, Gen. Cleburne's Division, which included my great grandfather's 32nd Mississippi Regiment, marched about 55 miles to Estill Springs, Tennessee. Although slowed by extreme fatigue and hunger, and by travel on a cold and muddy road, they arrived at Estill Springs on today's date in 1863. Two days later, they moved 8 miles northwest to Tullahoma, behind the ridge known as the Highland Rim, where Lieut. Gen. William J. Hardee's corps set up winter quarters on the south side of the Duck River, about 35 miles miles south of Murfreesboro. Here the men finally found some relief in tent shelters during the winter.

The 2 opposing armies were separated by a range of foothills, almost mountainous in height. Through these hills ran roads that connected Murfreesboro (where Rosecrans's army was headquartered) and Tullamoma (where Bragg's army was centered). The roads crossed these hills in 3 steep gorges:  Hoover's, Guy's, and Liberty Gaps. These would become strategic points in the coming conflict in June.

Civil War historian, Michael R. Bradley, notes that Bragg didn't seem to have a definite plan for Tullahoma. On retreating from Murfreesboro, he had intended to occupy the line of the Elk River, but when Rosecrans did not pursue the Army of Tennessee, Bragg stopped Polk's corps at Shelbyville, ordered Hardee to send troops forward to Wartrace, and set up his army headquarters and supply dumps at Tullahoma. Small groups of pickets were assigned to protect the passes through the Highland Rim, and cavalry protected each flank, a front of almost 70 miles. Bragg' primary concern was that Union Gen. Rosecrans would advance his army to seize the strategic city of Chattanooga, a vital rail junction and the gateway to northern Georgia. Bragg spread his cavalry over a wide front because he was also concerned that Rosecrans might be able to turn his position, forcing him to retreat or to fight at a disadvantage. He assumed that Rosecrans's would eventually attack his left flank through the easily crossed Guy's Gap in the direction of Shelbyville.

Confederate lines at Tullahoma following the retreat from
the Battle of Stones River
Source: War of the Rebellion Atlas

Bragg should have understood the importance of keeping the enemy off the strategic Highland Rim, a high terrain surrounding the Nashville Basin in all directions. Bragg would have done well to have prepared a second position along the line of the Elk River from Bethpage Bridge to Allisona Rridge. His left then could have projected along the Elk toward Fayetteville, while his right could have been on the Cumberland Plateau, blocking the roads from McMinnville to Chattanooga. This second line could have protected the important rail link to Chattanooga. One of Bragg's mistakes following the Murfreesboro retreat was in choosing Tullahoma as a point of concentration. While Tullahoma had a network of roads and railways, it did not have any natural terrain advantages and could be flanked easily, cutting off the railroad.

Over the next several months, Hardee's Corps will be fortified at Wartrace, a stop on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, 8 miles northeast of Shelbyville, and 15 miles north of Tullahoma. There they are protecting the main road to Chattanooga. Hardee's corps, including Great Grandfather Oakes's regiment, is positioned to reinforce the other 3 passes through the Highland Rim—Bell Buckle Gap, Liberty Gap, and Hoover's Gap.

At the same time, another ancestor, Great-Great Grandfather David Crockett Neal, was serving Gen. Van Dorn's cavalry corps (6th Tennessee), assigned to protect the wings of Bragg's army at Tullahoma. Bragg placed his cavalry to protect the front and flanks of his army, assigning Van Dorn to the left and Wheeler to the right. To Wheeler's command he assigned Morgan's, Wharton's, and Martin's divisions. Forrest's command was assigned to Van Dorn. Some important events took place during the first six months of 1863, that had a bearing on the fortunes of the Army of the Cumberland. At this time, Great-Great Grandfather Neal was serving in Brig. Gen. F. C. Armstrong's Brigade in Van Dorn's Corps.

Sources: The Third Battalion Mississippi Infantry and 45th Mississippi Regiment: A Civil War History, David Williamson; Tullahoma: The 1863 Campaign for the Control of Middle Tennessee, Michael R. Bradley; The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn; The Army of the Cumberland, Henry Martyn Cist

Friday, January 4, 2013

On the lighter side in the 32nd Mississippi Infantry

In the retreat from Murfreesboro, the morale of the Confederate troops was very low. Many wondered about withdrawing from a battlefield where so much had been accomplished. A few men, though, like Jessee Cheeves of my Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes's 32nd Mississippi Regiment, remembered some of the march's lighter side:
Gen'l Bragg moved his army to Tullohoma [sic]; the 32nd left Murfreesboro about dark; it rained all night but we kept moving; the next day we reached Manchester where we drew rashions [sic]: corn meal and beef; it was about dark when we got there. We made our meal up on an oil cloth. The cook left the dish rag in the skillet and when the bread was done and turned out of the skillet there was the rag in the bread, but we eat it all the same. You could have heard some of the boys laughing half a mile.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Vice President, Gen. Breckinridge, CSA

Vice President
John C. Breckenridge
For some, John Cabell Breckinridge is a curiosity in the War Between the States. Born in 1821 to the son of a U.S. Senator and Attorney General, John Breckinridge also became a lawyer, then a state house representative, and later a national politician. He served as a U.S. Representative and Senator before becoming in 1857, the 14th Vice President of the United States of America under James Buchanan. And he did all this by the age of 36!

In the 1860 national campaign, Breckinridge ran for president on the Democrat ticket, coming in 2nd place in electoral votes behind Abraham Lincoln, but ahead of Stephen A. Douglas (of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates fame). Despite losing the presidential bid, his Kentucky state legislature elected him US Senator the same year. As the outgoing vice president, Breckinridge swore in Lincoln's new V.P., Hannibal Hamlin.

Breckinridge remained in the Senate while Southern states began to succeed as the the war approached. Opposing Lincoln's war policies, and fearing arrest for his pro-Southern rhetoric, he fled Washington for the Confederacy in October 1861. The US Senate subsequently declared him a traitor and expelled him from that body.

Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge
He entered the Confederate army as a brigadier general in November of that year. By April of 1862, he was commissioned a major general, and given command of a brigade of Kentucky recruits, the 1st Kentucky Brigade, also known as the "Orphan Brigade," since its home state remained loyal to the Union and, therefore, refused to recognize it.

Breckenridge fought in many campaigns, beginning with the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, where he was wounded. Next, he was sent to Louisiana, where he commanded Confederate forces in the Battle of Baton Rouge in August 1862. While not victorious, Breckenridge did secure Confederate control of Port Hudson and, thereby, the Mississippi River. He was soon called to Kentucky to serve under Braxton Bragg in the Army of Mississippi (later named the Army of Tennessee).

He led his troops in Bragg's Kentucky Invasion in the fall of 1862. Like several of the leading generals who fought under Bragg in Kentucky, Breckenridge did not hold his commander in high esteem. At years's end, during the 2nd day of the Battle of Mufreesboro, Bragg ordered Breckinridge's division to launch a near-suicidal attack on a hill dominated by the Union army, resulting in severe casualties. In fact, he lost nearly 1/3 of his Kentucky troops, mostly men from his beloved Orphaned Brigade.

Although Breckenridge will continue to fight in Bragg's army as a division commander in the months ahead at Chickamauga and on Missionary Ridge,1 like many of Bragg's generals, he will continue to harbor distain for his commander and his leadership. In early 1864, he will be transferred to the Eastern Theater and command forces in the Shenandoah Valley, participating in memorial battles there. In one of the Valley Campaigns in the Summer of 1864, Breckenridge will participate in Jubal Early's Raid on Washington, which will take Breckenridge all the way to within sight of the Capitol dome. In a curious twist of history, President and Mrs. Lincoln were on hand at Fort Stevens (see below) to watch the battle:2 Two former presidential opponents facing one another across battle lines.

As the War Between the States wore down, Breckenridge was appointed Confederate Secretary of War. In the final weeks of the war, he worked for an honorable surrender of the Confederacy.

Following the war, Breckenridge spent some time in exile, first in Cuba, and then in the UK and Canada. After being granted amnesty, he returned to Kentucky in 1869 to restart his law practice. He died on May 17, 1875, and is buried in Lexington Cemetery.

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Fort Stevens was built in 1861 on land owned in part by a free black woman, Elizabeth Proctor Thomas. Her house was torn down by Union soldiers in 1862, to make room for the fort. Although when he visited the fort, President Lincoln promised to reimburse her for the government's confiscation of her property, there is no record that she was ever compensated.


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1 At the Battle of Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863, Breckinridge commanded the center of Confederate line on the ridge, which collapsed in the Federal assault. The result was the routing of the army. Bragg blamed Breckinridge for the disaster and immediately relieved him of command, and even accused him of being drunk at the time.
2 While observing the battle at Fort Stevens on July 12, 1864, the U.S. President actually came under Confederate fire. A Union surgeon standing next to Lincoln was wounded by Rebel sharpshooters. Due to the strong defensive position of forces at the fort, Jubal Early withdrew after 2 days of skirmishing. Although his force did not take Washington, it did create a lot of fear and panic.

Bragg withdraws his army—A boost for Lincoln, 1863

Although Bragg remains in relative control of positions at Stones River, after learning that Federal reinforcements were moving toward Murfreesboro, he plans a retreat with Generals Polk and Hardee. The wagons and wounded leave that afternoon, with the rest of the army withdrawing before nightfall. Cleburne’s Division, in which my great grandfather served, began its withdrawal at 11:00 PM, and marched all night and throughout the next day with only brief rest stops.

As Bragg withdrew his army overnight from the Stones River battlefield* the morale was very low. The troops believed that they had won great victories at Perryville in October, and now at Murfreesboro, and understandably they were disheartened with Bragg's decision to retreat again. Trudging through intermittent sleet and rain did not help the situation for them.

From Murfreesboro, on this miserable night in 1863, the army marched to Manchester. At the end of the 48-mile march, the troops will pitch their tents on January 6. Two days later, seeing at the enemy  has decided not to pursue, the army will march north to Tullahoma, behind the protection of the Duck River, 35 miles south of Murfreesboro. Hardee’s corps will set up camp at Tullahoma on the south bank of the Duck River. Polk's corps will encamp at Shelbyville, about 15 miles northwest.

Union Gen. Rosecrans's army will remain in control at Murfreesboro. He will use the coming months to refit his army for a summer advance on the Confederates entrenched around Tullahoma.

It had been a bloody encounter. Statistically, Bragg was the clear winner. His troops inflicted 12,906 Union casualties, while his Army of Tennessee received 11,739 killed, wounded, or missing. But because Bragg's army was the one to withdraw, the Union is credited with the victory.

The Union victory at Murfreesboro made Rosecrans famous. It also finally gave President Lincoln the victory he needed to counter anti-war protests and Congressional dissatisfaction in the North and also to engender support his heretofore unpopular Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln estimated the importance of Rosecrans's victory in a telegram he sent to him later in 1863:
I repeat that my appreciation of you has not abated. I can never forget, if I remember anything, that at the end of last year and the beginning of this, you gave us a hard earned victory, which had there been a defeat instead, the country scarcely could have lived over. Neither can I forget the check you so opportunely gave to a dangerous sentiment which was spreading in the North.
Lincoln will need all the good news he can get. For the first 6 months of 1863, the North will see its darkest period during the war. The Union cause will drag on everywhere without serious military campaigning nor decisive victories. The Harper's Weekly editorial, "Have We a General Among Us?" (January 17, 1863), will be the big question in the early months of the new year.

* The Battle of Murfreesboro is also known as the Battle of Stones River.

Sources: Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; The Civil War Almanac, John Bowman; The Army of the Cumberland, Henry Martyn Cist; Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln; Civil War Times, Daniel Wait Howe; Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Vol. 1, Jacob D. Cox

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Battle of Murfreesboro, Day 3 | Breckinridge's Charge


The second day of fighting in the Battle of Stones River took place on this date, Thursday, 1863.* It is remembered as the ill-fated "Breckinridge's Charge," the attack across McFadden's farm to a ford in the river.

General Patrick Cleburne, in whose division Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes served, reports on events pertaining to his division at the Battle of Murfreesboro on today's date:
On Friday morning, January 2, I was satisfied that the enemy was fortifying his position. On consultation with my brigade commanders, I addressed a note to General Hardee, which I requested him to forward to General Bragg, stating this important fact, and that I feared, if my single, and now reduced, line was pushed on the enemy in his fortified position, the result would prove very disastrous, but that I believed I could hold a defensible position against any assault of the enemy.
About noon on the 2nd, Bragg decided that to protect Gen. Leonidas Polk's force from being enfiladed, an enemy force must be dislodged from a low ridge east of the river. Bragg issued the order over the protestations of both Polk and Gen. John C. Breckinridge. Breckinridge was to attack the enemy, which would require a near-suicidal attack against a heavily fortified position. Gen. Hardee, to whom Bragg had given tactical command, had no knowledge that the attack was ordered by his superior. Cleburne was ordered to send 4 of his guns to support the assault on the ridge, but it would make little difference to Breckinridge's men.

Battle of Murfreesboro, 4 PM, January 2, 1863
Source: Civil War Maps by Hal Jesperson

At 4 PM, Cleburne and his division heard firing resulting from Breckinridge’s attack with his 5 brigades, more than 2 miles away. Cleburne's men watched the fighting on the front across the McFadden farm, from their shelter in the line of cedars west of the Nashville Turnpike and the Stones River. One Federal eyewitness, Daniel Wait Howe, wrote that Breckinridge’s men advanced in columns, "cheering as they came.

McFadden Farm: Union View of Breckinridge's Charge
Source: National Park Service
At first, Breckenridge's men seemed to drive the enemy, taking the hill in front of them, pushing on toward the ford. However, Rosecrans, in anticipation of an attack, had massed 58 cannon near the river on a small hill on the west side of the river, which commanded the entire open field. While the massive cannon fire was directed at the hapless Confederates, 3 times the men managed to rally and charge. But they were cut down by the terrible grape shot and canister fire.


McFadden Ford
Source: Murfreesboro Post
Remarkably, some men managed to reach the edge of the river, and a few even crossed it, only to fall in front of the Federal artillery, which had them in their sights. The destruction was dreadful. "With the exception of the charge at Missionary Ridge," wrote Howe, "it was the most magnificent spectacle that I saw during my entire service... No braver charge was made during the war."

But that was not the way Bragg felt about Breckinridge’s results. To him, the attack was failure. In his report of the action Bragg wrote,
The contest was short and severe, the enemy were driven back and the eminence gained, but the movement as a whole was a failure, and the position was again yielded. Our forces were moved, unfortunately, to the left so far as to throw a portion of them into and over Stone's River, where they encountered heavy masses of the enemy, while those against whom they were intended to operate had a destructive enfilade on our whole line. Our reserve line was so close to the front as to receive the enemy's fire, and returning it took their friends in the rear. The cavalry force was left entirely out of the action.
Artillery Monument
Source: National Park Service
In Breckinridge's 45-minute charge, 1,800 of his Confederates were killed or wounded by the the concentrated artillery fire. Union troops counterattacked, pushing back the shattered remnants of Breckinridge’s Division. Bragg immediately sent Anderson's Brigade across the river to form a line on the front of Breckinridge's command. His brigade remained there in position during the night. Bragg also sent Cleburne's Division over, and placed Hardee in command of that side of the river.

Cleburne concludes his report:
About 11 o’clock that night the enemy made a reconnaissance in force in front of my division; he was driven back by my skirmishers. Immediately afterward I received orders to withdraw my pickets and resume the position held by me on the morning of December 30, on the right of the army, in rear of Breckinridge’s division. Here I remained, enduring the incessant cold rain of that night and the next day, until 11 p.m. of the 3d, when I commenced retreating on Manchester.
Hardee ordered Cleburne to quit his position and fall back quietly to the east bank of Stones River, leaving ground which had been taken at great cost. The troops marched back through another cold and drenching rain, fording the Stones River, and back to the same bivouac north of Murfreesboro they had left 48 hours earlier.

Essentially, this was the end of the Battle of Murfreesboro. There will be a little skirmishing on the 3rd, but by evening, faced with this disaster and the approach of Union reinforcements, Bragg will begin the evacuation of his army. Two days later, Rosecrans's battered army will march into Murfreesboro and declare victory.

As the close of his report, Cleburne commends various officers in his division, including Gen. Wood and his brigade, in which my great grandfather's 32nd Regiment served.

Battle of Murfreesboro, end of day, January 2, 1863
Source: Civil War Maps by Hal Jesperson

Bragg took 37,317 soldiers into the fight at Murfreesboro, and Rosecrans 43,400. Of the 80,717 soldiers from both sides who began fighting on the first day, 24,645 were either killed, wounded, or captured by battle's end on January 2. In terms of percentage of casualties, the Battle of Murfreesboro was one of the worst.

One writer, Capt. Wilson J. Vance, a Medal of Honor recipient for his valor in this battle, had this to say about the outcome for the Southern army:
It was at Stone’s River that the South was at the very pinnacle of confidence and warlike power; and it was here that she was halted and beaten back, never again to exhibit such strength and menace. It was here that the tide of the Confederacy passed its flood, henceforth to recede; here that its sun crossed the meridian and began its journey to the twilight and the dark. Southern valor was manifested in splendid lustre on many a field thereafter, but the capacity for sustained aggression was gone. After Stone’s River, the Southern soldier fought to repel rather than to drive his foe.
Today, the Stones River National Battlefield includes only 650 of the 4,000 or so acres that comprised the original battle grounds.


* My Great Grandfather's 32nd Regiment (Col. Mark P. Lowrey's), was recalled from guard duty on bridges south of Nashville, and participated in some of the after-battle skirmishing while Bragg withdrew his army from Stones River. The brigade was guarding bridges south of Nashville, and then assisted Gen. Wharton’s cavalry in retarding McCook's advance of his right wing towards Bragg's main position on the river.

Sources: Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell and Elizabeth Purdue; Stones RiverBloody Winter in Tennessee, James Lee McDonough; Civil War Times, 1861-1865, Daniel Wait Howe; The Army of the Cumberland, Henry Martyn Cist; Stone's River: The Turning-Point of the Civil War, Wilson J. Vance; Official Records Vol. 20, Part 1; National Park Service: Stones River National Battlefield

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Free at last

On today's date in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued an executive order emancipating all slaves in the Confederate States of America. From this moment on the war will be a crusade to free slaves.

First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln
Francis Bicknell Carpenter, 1864

Most Americans have been schooled to think of the Civil War as having been fought over slavery. But that was not the case, at least at the beginning of that great conflict. Even after more than a year into the War Between the States, the abolition of slavery was not a key political or military objective of the Union, nor of President Lincoln himself. Many people, North and South, opposed slavery but did not favor emancipation. They were willing to let slavery die on its own over time. They were not willing to let the slavery issue bring on a war.

Lincoln felt differently. While he had personal and moral convictions about the institution of slavery, his political views were conflicted. In his first inaugural address in 1861, he stated:
Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States that by the accession of a Republican Administration their property and their peace and personal security are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you. I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that—
I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.
However, in his second inaugural speech, 4 bloody years later, Lincoln clearly stated his belief that slavery had been "the cause of the war."

According to Civil War author, Michael R. Bradley, Lincoln was on the right track about slavery being a major cause of the war, at least in part. Many believe that all other causes or contributing factors to the rebellion could have been mitigated. However, extremist views on both sides destroyed all hope of reaching consensus about a process to bring the institution of slavery to an end, facts Lincoln alluded to in his second inaugural address.

To the extent that Lincoln was right about slavery being a major cause of the war, he was wrong about it being a motivation for Northerners and Southerners to fight each other.

At the time of the war, few Southerners actually owned slaves—less than 10 percent. Only the rich could afford slaves, and few, if any Southern soldiers were willing to risk their lives for the advantage of the wealthy class. For the Confederate soldier, the loss of slaves meant nothing to him.

On the other side of the battle lines, most of those soldiers were fighting to preserve the Union, not to free slaves. They were in agreement with Lincoln's previous sentiments, expressed in an open letter to Horace Greeley on August 22, 1862:
My paramount object is to save the Union, and not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it—if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it—and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save this Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save this Union.*
Now, many of these same brave soldiers felt betrayed and insulted, their cause to preserve the Union now supplanted by Lincoln's expanded goal for saving it. It is true—a sad truth—that 19th century white men of both sides of the conflict held long-standing convictions about their supremacy over the black race. Northern soldiers certainly did not see themselves as the Lord's mighty army bringing freedom to the captive Negro. This was not why they had joined to fight in the Union cause.

Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was about to change that. Interestingly, it only affected territory under the Union's actual control. Those slaves in territory Lincoln actually controlled, he left enslaved. Furthermore, slaveholders in Northern states continued to own slaves after Lincoln's order. The political value of emancipation was what was important to Lincoln.

The true nature of the proclamation was not lost on the Union army commanders. They ordered only slaves of Confederate owners to be pressed into labor for the Union army. Slaves of "loyal" men were left in place, under the authority of their masters. It was now illegal to help slaves of loyal owners run away or to prevent any loyal slaveholders from reclaiming their slaves. According to Bradley, "Rosecrans and his subordinates perceived the Emancipation Proclamation not to be a means of freeing slaves so much as a device by which their labor could be denied to the Confederate armed forces and their supporters. Slaves were not seen so much as human beings to be supported and cherished as brothers but as an economic commodity... to be denied an enemy."

For my Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes, serving on this date in the Confederate Army of Tennessee in the midst of the Battle of Murfreesboro, Lincoln's Proclamation had little impact. Even in the areas in which the army operated in the months ahead, Lincoln's order did little to affect the Confederates. However, many Southerners had been thinking already about how to resolve the slavery issue. One novel idea soon would be put forward by the commander of Great Grandfather's division, Patrick Cleburne: Why not enlist black men to fight for their liberation on the side of the Confederacy? It would be a controversial proposal, and not seriously considered again until the South's near defeat.

On the other hand, the Union army already was utilizing freed slaves as laborers, then as soldiers. By May 1863, the U.S. government established the Bureau of Colored Troops to manage the swelling numbers of black soldiers within its ranks. By the end of the war, roughly 179,000 black men (10% of the Union Army) will serve as U.S. soldiers and another 19,000 in the service of the Navy.

Lincoln’s Proclamation didn't actually outlaw slavery. Neither did it make the freed slaves citizens of the United States. What it did accomplish was to make the destruction of slavery an explicit goal of the war in addition to reuniting the severed Union through military force and occupation. Also, by making the abolishment of slavery a war goal, Lincoln's executive order had the effect of turning foreign opinion in favor of the Union. That shift doomed the Confederacy's hopes of gaining official recognition from European countries, particularly Britain, which had abolished slavery 30 years earlier.

* Actually, Lincoln had an even more concise war aim in 1864: My enemies pretend that I am now carrying on this war for the sole purpose of abolition. So long as I am President it shall be for the sole purpose of restoring the Union. Pretty clear. The rest of the quote adds: But no human power can subdue this rebellion without the use of the emancipation policy, and every other policy calculated to weaken the moral and physical forces of the rebellion. Apparently, these words are inscribed in stone in the interior walls of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. The quote is also contained in Lincoln's collected works.

Sources: Tullahoma: The 1863 Campaign for the Control of Middle Tennessee, Michael R. Bradley; National Archives website; The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 7: 1863-1865 (Kindle Edition)

The Battle of Murfreesboro, Day 2

My Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes's 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment (Lowrey's), which was a part of Wood's Brigade, was a few miles away from the battle on the Stones River. The brigade's assignment for the past few weeks had been to guard bridges south of Nashville to prevent Rosecrans from resupplying his troops stationed in that city. Most recently the brigade had been assisting Gen. Wharton’s cavalry in retarding the advance of Gen. McCook's right wing of the Federal army. The 32nd regiment did not rejoin its division at Stones River until after the worst of the fighting at Murfreesboro was over.*

In the first day of fighting, Union Gen. Rosecrans was so badly whipped that he was on the verge of retreating. But he decided to hold on. That night, the Federals withdrew to consolidate their lines, and Confederate Gen. Leonidas Polk occupied their evacuated line the on the morning of the 1st of January. Gen. Braxton Bragg had expected Rosecrans to retreat, and was perplexed when he had not done so. He was at a loss as to how to force the enemy to evacuate the field.

Following are the events as they unfolded for Wood's Brigade of Cleburne's Division at the river near Murfreesboro on Wednesday of the second day of the battle.

It's New Years Day along Stones River. Bragg sends word to Gen. Cleburne to move his men forward to discover whether the enemy's line is still in force. Cleburne sends Liddell’s Brigade ahead to reconnoiter, and after hearing the sound and receiving the report of heavy fighting, sends Wood’s Brigade to cover Liddell’s flank. By the time Wood’s Brigade moves forward, Liddell is forced to fall back, so that Wood’s men find themselves outgunned. They, too, will have to fall back to the cover of the cedar break, taking heavy losses and leaving some 100 casualties in enemy hands.

From Gen. Cleburne’s report of this fight:
On the morning of January 1, there were rumors that the enemy was retreating. I was ordered by General Hardee to push forward, feel the enemy, and ascertain the true state of affairs in our front. Liddell’s brigade was moved forward and to the left, and drove the enemy’s skirmishers back at least a quarter of a mile, and beyond a white house used as a Federal hospital, and situated on the small dirt road near which our last fight of the day before occurred...
Liddell again swept the Nashville turnpike with his artillery, and greatly disturbed the enemy’s trains, which could be seen on and near it. Receiving another message from General Hardee to the effect that he had ordered me to feel the enemy, and could not hear my guns, and at the same time receiving information from General Liddell that he was in line of battle near the hospital just mentioned, and needed immediate support on his right, I ordered General Wood to move his brigade forward cautiously, and support Liddell on the right, but I also informed him that the object was merely to ascertain whether the enemy was still in force in our front, not to bring on a general battle. Wood’s brigade moved forward, and I moved Johnson’s skirmishers forward en echelon on Wood’s right flank, so as to protect him as much as possible. Wood’s brigade formed line close to the dirt road last mentioned, immediately became hotly engaged with a large force of the enemy, which advanced on him out of the cedars where our repulse of the day before occurred. He found that Liddell was not on his left, as expected, having previously fallen back; he also discovered that the enemy were flanking him on the left with another heavy force. At this time he received an order direct from General Hardee not to bring on a general battle. He ceased firing and fell back, leaving several killed and wounded on the ground. Some of the men of the Forty-fifth Mississippi Regiment had gone so far ahead that retreat was impossible; they remained where they were, and fell into the hand of the enemy. Wood must have lost nearly 100 in killed, wounded, and prisoners in this fight. It was now clear the enemy was still in force in my front, and I so reported it.
For the rest of the day, Cleburne’s men were largely inactive, watching the front from the shelter of the line of cedars west of the Nashville Turnpike. That night, the men settled down to another freezing night without campfires. They waited throughout the next day.

In an after-battle report, Gen. Hardee provided his reasons for why Cleburne’s success failed to send the enemy in retreat:
If, at the moment when the enemy were driven from the thick woods north of the Wilkinson turnpike, a fresh division could have replaced Cleburne’s exhausted troops and followed up the victory, the rout of Rosecrans’ army would have been complete. The interval required to collect and reform our lines, now shattered by four successive conflicts, was occupied by the enemy in planting heavy batteries and massing fresh columns of infantry to oppose our further advance. I sent for re-enforcements. The commanding general [Bragg] replied he had none to give me.

In fairness to Bragg concerning his decision not to send reinforcements to Cleburne, earlier that morning, he had called for Gen. Breckinridge to send 2 brigades to reinforce Hardee. However, he countermanded the order when Breckinridge, misunderstanding the unfolding situation, told Bragg that a heavy force was advancing on him. In reality, in Cleburne’s front the Federal right wing was doubled back upon the center of the Union army. In front of Withers’s and Cheatham’s divisions, commanded by Leonidas Polk, the Federal right wing and part of the Union center finally were driven back; but at the angle where the Union center joined the left wing, the Federal lines remained intact.


* The toll on Wood’s Brigade in the fighting at the Battle of Murfreesboro was staggering. He lost almost half his force504 of 1,100 men. The 32nd Regiment would participate in some of the after-battle skirmishing while Bragg withdrew his army over the next couple of days.


Sources: Official Records, Vol. 20, Part 1; Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell and Elizabeth Purdue; Stones RiverBloody Winter in Tennessee, James Lee McDonough