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.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

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

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