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
Monday, January 14, 2013
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."
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.
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Sunday, January 6, 2013
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
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
John C. Breckenridge
|Maj. Gen. John C. Breckinridge|
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.
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.
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.
* 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
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.
|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
Source: Murfreesboro Post
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.
Source: National Park Service
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.
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.
* 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 River—Bloody 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
|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.
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.
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.*
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.
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.
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.
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.