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.

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

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