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

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.


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.


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.

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