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, March 25, 2013

Forrest's Cavalry at the Battle of Brentwood

On February 2, the 6th Tennessee Cavalry Regimentamong which was serving my great-great grandfather, David Crockett Nealwas assigned to Brigadier General F. C. Armstrong's Brigade. As part of this brigade the 6th Tennessee moved from Montgomery, Alabama, to Spring Hill, Tennessee, in February, to support Bragg's army at Tullahoma. In March, the 6th Regiment was under the command of Lieut. Col. J.H. Lewis, in Brigadier General Nathan B. Forrest's force in the action around Brentwood, Tennessee.

Union troops had occupied Nashville for more than a year. Brentwood, a strategic depot on the Nashville & Decatur Railroad, 9 miles south of Nashville, was held by a force of about 700 Union soldiers, both guarding the depot and the bridge over the Little Harpeth River. In command was Lieut. Col. Edward Bloodgood.

On the 24th, Gen. Forrest had ordered the 2nd Brigade under Col. J.W. Starnes, to Brentwood, to cut the telegraph lines, tear up railroad track, and cut off any retreat. On today's date in 1863, Forrest approached Brentwood with a column of cavalry, including Great-great Grandfather Neal's 6th Tennessee. As Forrest and the 2nd Cavalry Brigade approached the stockade in the early morning, Bloodgood tried to get out a message about Forrest’s attack. However, he discovered that the telegraph lines were cut. Forrest demanded a surrender under a flag of truce, but Bloodgood refused. Within a half-hour, Forrest had artillery in place to shell the enemy position and had surrounded the Federals with Armstrong’s brigadey. Finding himself completely surrounded and shelled by artillery, Bloodgood surrendered his troops, all within about a half-hour of the initial Confederate attack.

Gen. Nathan B. Forrest
Forrest next rode about 2 miles south of Brentwood to the Federal stockade there. Upon finding himself surrounded and shelled, Capt. Elisha Basset also surrendered, leaving the Confederates to burn the bridge over the Little Harpeth and to head westward with several captured supply wagons and as many as 800 Union prisoners.

Nearby, a Union cavalry unit under Brig. Gen. Green Clay Smith, pursued Forrest's Confederates, engaging them a few miles west of the stockade. Over an hour-long engagement the Union troops managed to push back the Confederates and retake many of the captured stores and prisoners. However, Col. Starnes's 2nd Brigade then appeared on the Union right, halting their advance, driving them back, and recapturing troops and supplies. 

In the fighting at Brentwood, the 6th Tennessee under Lieut. Col. Lewis, raided to within 3 miles of Nashville, within view of the capital building, and rode a half-circuit around Nashville. From Gen. Forrest's official after action report:
Before leaving Brentwood to attack the stockade, I ordered Col. Lewis, of the First [Sixth] Tennessee Cavalry, to dash down the pike with his command toward Nashville. He ran their pickets in at Brown's Creek, capturing some negroes and a Sutler's wagon within 3 miles of the city. He there turned to the left with his regiment, making a circuit around Nashville from the Franklin to the Charlotte pike. 
By the 27th, after leading the regiment rejoined its brigade at Spring Hill.

The victory at the Battle of Brentwood gave the Confederate forces temporary control of an important railroad depot outside Nashville.

Sources: That Devil Forrest, John Allan Wyeth; 6th Tennessee Cavalry (unpublished manuscript), John F. Walter; 6th (Wheeler's) Tennessee Cavalry Regiment; CWSAC Battle Summaries; Gen. Nathan B. Forrest's & Col. Lewis's after action reports; Official Records, Vol. 33, Pt. 1;

Monday, March 11, 2013

Lowrey's Regiment heads back to Tullahoma

The 32nd and 45th Mississippi (consolidated), spent 5 days in camp at Huntsville, Alabama. Leaving on today's date in 1863, the regiment traveled by rail via Chattanooga, arriving back in Tullahoma on the 13th. Company D, my great grandfather's, encamped nearby.

During the months of March and April, there apparently was nothing to report of the activities of Co. D at Wartrace. However, for several weeks during this period, Capt. Norman, Great Grandfather's uncle, was detailed as a recruiting officer. 

Source: The Third Battalion Mississippi Infantry and 45th Mississippi Regiment: A Civil War History, David Williamson; Company D Return for March-April, 1863; Capt. F.S. Norman's service records, March-April 1863

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Oldest Confederate cemetery: Tullahoma, Tennessee

Civil War historian, Michael R. Bradley, writes an interesting article about the creation of what may be the first Confederate Cemetery. Here is a summary of his article that may be found in its entirety at  the Tennessee Division, SCV website.

When the War Between the States began in 1861, everyone knew there would be deaths, but few could conceive that there would be so many. As soon as training camps were established deaths began to occur and  in larger numbers than were anticipated. A great many of these dead were sent back to grieving families to be buried at local church or family cemeteries. 19th century combat changed the face of death. Instead of a few daily deaths in hospitals, hundreds of men were cut down in a few hours time in a fairly confined place of battle. Comrades hastily buried friends on the battlefield, if they had time and opportunity, while fallen foe were placed in burial pits and numerous other places. Often local church or town cemeteries received the dead.

In the Autumn of 1862, the little village of Tullahoma, Tennessee, was chosen as a location for hospitals by the Confederate Army of Tennessee. The town was situated on the main line of the Nashville & Chattanooga railroad, facilitating the gathering of sick men and supplies for their treatment. Since the main armies were several hundred miles away, struggling for control of Kentucky, all inmates of the Tullahoma hospitals were sick--no battle casualties were being treated--yet death was a daily event.

Because Tullahoma was a very new town, founded in the early 1850s, its churches had no established cemeteries. A pressing issue for the Confederate hospitals, then, was where to bury the dead. Serving with the Army of Tennessee was a semi-disabled officer, Colonel Mathias Martin, a property owner in Tullahoma, was lending whatever help he could as an aide. The need for a burial place moved the Colonel to invite the army authorities to bury its deceased  one of his fields beside one of the roads leading out of town.

In January, 1863, following Bragg's retreat from the Battle of Murfreesboro, Tullahoma became the Headquarters for the Army of Tennessee, and would remain so until it withdrew later that summer. During this time, Col. Martin's cemetery saw increased use. A modern investigation in 1997 with ground penetrating radar, revealed few individual graves. Instead, troops dug a trench to receive the bodies, with the trench being extended day by day as more room was required. In keeping with the common practice of the day, boards with the names of the deceased were placed at the head of each body.

The Army of Tennessee evacuated Tullahoma on July 1, 1863. There is some evidence that Martin's land was used to bury prisoners who died after falling under the custody of the Union Provost Marshal, but the site was generally neglected. In the years following the War local citizens made sporadic efforts to maintain the graves; the grounds, commonly, were cleared of brush once a year on June 3, Tennessee's Confederate Memorial Day (Jefferson Davis's birthday), and crosses of cedar wood were erected. In August, 1889, only days before his death, Col. Martin deeded the burial plot to a self-perpetuating Board of Trustees who would head a group to be called "The Tullahoma Confederate Association." This group was to have perpetual control of the cemetery. In 1912 the Captain Calvin C. Brewer Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy erected wrought iron gates at the entrance to the cemetery.

By the 1920's, other families were buying property outside the Confederate Cemetery to be used as burial plots. The surrounding area became known as Maple Hill Cemetery and, gradually, came under the care of the city. During the same decade the Trustees of the Tullahoma Confederate Association ceased to meet and maintenance for the Confederate graves fell to the city. The cedar wood crossed had mostly disappeared by this time and the graves were assumed to be those of "unknown" Confederate soldiers. The State of Tennessee even erected a historical marker on U.S. Route 41-A stating the cemetery was the last resting place for 407 "unknown Confederates."

In later years, a  fence and 2 flag poles were erected. A monument was also created which, again, stated the burials were "unknown" Confederates who had died in hospitals at Tullahoma. In 1992, a list was discovered in the National Archives giving a roster of most of the "unknown" Confederate dead buried at Tullahoma. An additional monument was installed listing the names of the soldiers. In 1995, a new monument was in the Confederate Cemetery.

In 1996, the Tullahoma Confederate Association held its first meeting in 70 years and appointed Trustees who assumed responsibly for maintaining the cemetery. One of their first acts was to raise the Confederate National flag, the Battle Flag, and the flags of the Polk and Hardee Army Corps over the graves of the men who had fought under these flags, 11 from my great grandfather Nathan Oakes's 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment.* In the Summer of 1997, the State of Tennessee awarded the Association a grant for maintenance of historic cemeteries, and all work of maintaining the cemetery began to be carried out by members of the Tullahoma Confederate Association. The Tullahoma Confederate Cemetery and Maplewood Cemetery is now one of the stops on the Tullahoma Campaign Civil War Trail.

As Bradley notes, although Confederate soldiers were buried in existing cemeteries or on battlefields before Col. Mathias Martin set aside his plot for his comrades in arms, the plot at Tullahoma may be the oldest cemetery in the nation created exclusively for the burial of Confederate soldiers. Today, 150 years later, the cemetery on Maplewood Avenue is apparently a lovely, well maintained, and peaceful spot.


*There is at least one man buried here from Great Grandfather's Co. D, Pvt. John W. Gwynn.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Chasing Van Dorn from Spring Hill

During the spring of 1863, with Bragg's Army of Tennessee entrenched around Tullahoma in Middle  Tennessee, the Confederate cavalry saw most of the action. The Federal force under Rosecrans at Franklin was determined to penetrate and defeat the cavalry force protecting Bragg's troops.

The surrender of Col. Coburn's force at Thompson Station on the 5th weakened the Federal forces and revealed the Confederates in such strong force on the immediate front that Union Gen. Gordon Granger at once ordered Gen. Absalom Baird's division to proceed by rail to Franklin. Granger moved his own headquarters there, and assumed the command in person.

On the 8th, Gen. Philip Sheridan's Division was ordered to the front to reconnoiter the Confederates' position. After Sheridan reached Franklin, the force gathering there was further increased by the arrival of Gen. Robert Minty's cavalry brigade plus another brigade from Nashville. Granger now had a sufficient force to attack Gen. Earl Van Dorn.

On today's date in 1863, Granger advanced his superior numbers upon Van Dorn's Corps encamped at Spring Hill, where Great-Great Grandfather David C. Neal was stationed with the 6th Tennessee Cavalry. Granger drove Van Dorn's Corps from Spring Hill, chasing the Confederates across Rutherford's Creek. A short skirmish ensued on the 10th, but due to the high and rising creek, the Union pursuit was broken off for the day.

On the 11th, Minty's and G. Clay Smith's brigades were ordered across the Rutherford, and prepared to engage the Confederate troops stationed nearby. But the Confederates withdrew, giving up the area along Columbia Pike to the town of Columbia to Federals.

Sources: The Army of the Cumberland, Henry Martyn Cist; Official Records, Vol. 33, Pt. 1

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Alice Thompson, the Heroine of Thompson's Station

17-year old Alice Thompson
"Heroine of the Battle of Thompson Station"
Source: Battles and Sketches of the Army of Tennessee, 1906
There is a fascinating story forever associated with the Battle of Thompson's Station, fought on this date in 1863. The Confederate cavalry, victorious in that battle, received critical help from an unlikely source, a 17-year old named Alice Thompson. No recounting of the battle would be complete without mentioning the heroic role she played.

Daughter of Elijah Thompson, the town's eponym, Alice was on her way to visit a neighbor when Confederate and Federal troops collided in her small community. As the fighting approached, she dashed for the nearest safe place, the basement under the Thomas Banks home, where she sheltered with the family. Alice and the frightened family witnessed some of the fiercest fighting of the day, watching through the small windows for several hours as the battle raged around them. Alice looked on as Confederate soldiers charged towards a nearby hill and were repulsed. It was the dismounted 3rd Arkansas Regiment of Armstrong's Brigade. The soldiers charged again, but were repulsed a second time. In this attack, the regiment lost its commander, Col. S.G. Earle, shot in the head while leading his brave men. The regimental color-bearer was also struck. Both events left the troops in obvious disorder.

What Alice did next was simply astounding.

When she saw the regimental color-bearer down, brave Alice bolted from her shelter, snatched up the banner, and began waving it to rally the troops. Seeing such valor displayed by one of their women, the Confederates charged again, and this time they took the hill. Even the enemy cheered her heroism. After the battle, Alice tended many of the wounded who were taken to the Banks's house for care.

Alice's deed that day made quite a lasting impression. It's referenced in a number sources by many witnesses. One such example is that of esteemed cavalry colonel, W.S. McLemore, who years after the war recalled Alice's bravery in the book, Battles and Sketches of the Army of Tennessee. While he admitted that many of the war's details had been forgotten, he could not forget the "heroine at Thompson's Station." For the book's publication in 1906, another vet provided the author with a picture he kept of the young woman.

Alice later married Dr. David H. Dungan, the brigade surgeon she assisted at the hospital set up in the Banks's home after the battle. Alice enjoyed only a short life, dying in 1869 at the age of 23. She is buried in her family's cemetery at Thompson's Station. Their home was just north of the Banks's house (now Homestead Manor) on the opposite side of the road.

Reflecting on Alice's amazing act in such a brief life, I can't help but call to mind Walter Scott's famous verse:
Sound, sound the clarion, fill the fife!
To all the sensual world proclaim,
One crowded hour of glorious life
Is worth an age without a name.
Sources: Eyewitness to the Civil War (from Tennessee Antebellum Trail Guidebook by David R. Logsdon); Battles and Sketches of the Army of Tennessee, Broomfield L. Ridley; Official Records, Vol. 23, Pt. 1

Cavalry battle at Thompson's Station

Following the Confederate army's retreat from Murfreesboro to Tullahoma, and for the first half of 1863, most of the skirmishing and fighting that occurred between the opposing armies in Middle Tennessee involved the cavalry. While Great Grandfather Oakes's 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment was stationed at Wartrace with the Army of Tennessee encamped around Tullahoma, Great-Great Grandfather David Crockett Neal was serving in the 6th Tennessee Cavalry Regiment nearby.

Since January, Great-great Grandfather Neal's 6th Tennessee had been assigned to Brig. Gen. F. C. Armstrong's Brigade, in Brig. Gen. W.H. Jackson's Division, in Van Dorn Corps. It was supporting Bragg's army around Tullahoma. In March, the regiment was commanded by Lieut. Col. James H. Lewis.*

On March 4th, Union Col. John Coburn, under orders by Brig. Gen. Charles C. Gilbert, led his force out of Federally occupied Franklin, heading south to forage for food and reconnoiter any Rebel activity in the area. Further south, Confederate Gen. Nathan B. Forrest, along with fellow brigadier, Gen. W.H. Jackson, had been ordered by Van Dorn to mobilize their troops for a reconnaissance north. A collision of the 2 forces was inevitable. They would clash at a railroad depot called Thompson's Station.

The Battle of Thompson' Station, March 5, 1863
Source: Save the Battle of Franklin, Inc.
About 4 miles out of Franklin on March 4th, Coburn's troops encountered a Confederate force. After a running battle of several hours, at dusk the Confederates withdrew to the hills south of Thompson's Station. The Federal troops camped on the field for the night.

On the 5th, Coburn pushed his men forward, when he encountered a strong Confederate outpost on the hills 1 mile north of the depot. This force was driven back, and the Federals advanced within sight of the town. Here Coburn could see the Confederate forces in position on the hills to the south of the depot, and on both sides of the Columbia Pike. In addition to Gen. Jackson's Division of dismounted cavalry, Brig. Gen. Forrest's Cavalry Division had moved into line during the night.

Coburn, unwisely deciding to attack the Confederates, positioned his force on the northern hills and on both sides of the Columbia Pike, with cannons east and west of that road. His men west of the pike advanced across a field near the station, pushing back the Rebel skirmishers into the town. The dismounted Confederate cavalry then countercharged and drove the Federals back to their starting position on the northern hills. The Confederates made 2 more charges, advancing across the field. In the final charge, a civilian, 17-year old Alice Thompson, appeared suddenly, waving a fallen regimental flag, and stirred the troops to push back the enemy to a final position on another hill.

After several hours of severe fighting, Forrest led his command around the Federal position, capturing the enemy's supply train and cutting off any hope of withdrawal to Nashville. With no line of retreat left, Coburn surrendered his entire infantry force.

Coburn's losses were 48 killed and wounded, and 1,500 captured. Van Dorn reported his losses of 357 killed, wounded, and missing.

While  not a strategically important affair, the Battle of Thompson's Station did weaken the Federal force at Franklin. It was significant for showing to the Federals that the Rebels in Middle Tennessee continued to be a dangerous foe. Also, the Confederate cavalry action here and elsewhere helped tie up Union resources for months to come. And the spontaneous action of brave, young Alice Thompson, who survived unscathed, continues to be remembered whenever this battle is discussed.


* Compiling a history of the 6th Tennessee Cavalry is difficult because accurate records either were not kept or didn't find their way into the records. According to the Official Records and other sources, in the capture of Thompson’s Station, Armstrong's Brigade, including the 6th Tennessee Regiment, was assigned to Brig. Gen. W.H. Jackson's Division. However, the regiment was not mentioned in the report. It must have been on assignment elsewhere. Jackson's units that were listed as engaged at Thompson's Station included Col. J.W. Whitefield’s Brigade, King’s Battery of 4 guns, and Gen. Cosby’s Brigade of Martin’s Division.

Historian James D. Porter (Confederate Military History) does mention the 6th Tennessee Cavalry in events immediately following the Thompson's Station affair:
After the surrender [i.e., Thompson's Station], Forrest detached Colonel Lewis, First [6th] Tennessee, to make a demonstration on Nashville and he made important captures and returned safely to headquarters. [On the 25th] General Forrest, with the Tenth Tennessee and one gun of Freeman’s battery, dashed down the road toward Franklin and demanded the surrender of the garrison occupying the stockade provided as a defense of the railroad bridge. To Maj. C.W. Anderson, of his staff, the surrender was refused, but one shot from Freeman’s gun brought out a white flag and the surrender of 230 prisoners.
Sources: Official Records, Vol. 23, Pt. 1; Save the Battle of Franklin, Inc.Confederate Military History, Vol. 8, James D. Porter; The Army of the Cumberland, Henry Martyn Cist

Friday, March 1, 2013

Ministering to soldiers' spiritual needs

Through the early months of 1863, the Army of Tennessee, entrenched around Tullahoma, Tennessee, had been recuperating from extensive fighting at Murfreesboro in the last months of the previous year. The health of the men improved as they were better fed, clothed, and received needed medical care (although all of the above remained in short supply). Their fighting readiness also improved as commanders regularly drilled their men and instilled military discipline in the ranks.

Brig. Gen. Mark P. Lowrey
often preached to his troops.
Morale improved, too, as soldiers' spiritual needs were addressed. Army chaplains and local pastors regularly preached to gathered troops. Bibles and Christian publications were freely distributed. Tullahoma and its surrounding camps were but one example of several locations of great spiritual revival as the Christian gospel was regularly preached. A fascinating and edifying account of the teaching and evangelistic work of these godly ministers is contained in W.W. Bennett's, The Great Revival in the Southern Armies. Here is one excerpt about the ministry among Gen. S.A.M. Wood's Brigade, in which Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes, served. On this and many other occasions, his own commander, Baptist minister Col. Mark Lowrey, participated:
In General Wood’s brigade a meeting of great interest has for several weeks been under the supervision of Rev. F. A. Kimball, chaplain of the 16th Alabama, assisted mainly by Colonel Reed, Chief of Provost Marshal Department, in Hardee’s corps, and Col. Lowery, of the 45th and 32d Mississippi, the result of which has been one hundred conversions. In the same brigade, Chaplin Otkin, of Col. Lowery's regiment, has been conducting religious services, which, from the best information received, has been productive of great good in restoring many wanderers to their former enjoyments and inducting abut forty-five souls into the kingdom of Christ. 
On another occasion, British observer Col. Arthur Fremantle, who published a journal of his tour of the Southern army in his Three Months in the Southern States, April-June, 1863, witnessed a similar meeting, this time another service in Gen. Wood's camp, led by Episcopal Bishop Stephen Elliot:1 
I was present at a great open-air preaching at General Wood's camp. Bishop Elliott preached most admirably to a congregation composed of nearly 3000 soldiers, who listened to him with the most profound attention. Generals Bragg, Polk, Hardee, Withers, Cleburne, and endless brigadiers, were also present. It is impossible to exaggerate the respect paid by all ranks of this army to Bishop Elliott; and although most of the officers are Episcopalians, the majority of the soldiers are Methodists, Baptists, &c.
In one of these Christian services, no less than the commander of the Army of Tennessee, Gen. Braxton Bragg, came under the influence of Bible teaching and was baptized at the First Presbyterian Church in Shelbyville.

It is also well documented that (Reverend) Col. Lowery frequently exhorted his 32nd Mississippi Regiment from the Scriptures, often in the moments before leading them into battle. I have read such accounts, not only referenced here around Tullahoma, but also in the Atlanta Campaign, and again at the Battle of Franklin, the latter two occasions as a brigadier general.2 How different from the secular pre-battle scenes in America's present War on Terror!

But evangelistic preaching wasn't the only means of spreading the Christian gospel throughout the army. According to one author and observer, James D. Porter (Vol. 9 of Confederate Military History), during the war, Bible societies were organized for the publication, sale, and gift of Bibles for dissemination in the Confederate army. Christian newspapers were published in many places and thousands of copies were regularly circulated. Tens of thousands of religious tracts and books of "Camp Hymns"were also distributed. Even the American Bible Society, headquartered in New York, donated thousands of Bibles and smuggled them through a Confederate agent to Rebel troops.

With the presence of many Christian denominations represented in pastors and chaplains in the Confederate army a trans-denominational institution was established whereby preachers of different denominations could administer the sacraments and receive new members into the fellowship of the church. The organization was named "The Army Church," and its articles of faith represented a charitable attempt toward spiritual unity among the disparate Christian groups. In "The Army Church," professions of Christian faith—or "joining the church" as many soldiers at the time referred to Christian conversion—were recognized by all ministers as authoritative and acceptable, regardless of denominational preference. Sunday schools and Bible classes abounded to train men in the faith. In these classes many men also learned to read and write with the Bible as their text.

Is it any wonder, then, that in the midst of the disappointments and deprivations of war, morale in the Southern army actually improved.

1 Capt. Daniel Coleman probably described this meeting in his diary for Sunday, May 31, 1863: "Heard a fine sermon today from Bishop Elliot of the Methodist Episcopal Church - It was full of deep piety & lofty patriotism - Our whole brigade was present - Genl Bragg - Genl Polk -Genl Hardee & other Generals were there - I pray that it may yield much fruit - to the honor and glory of our Heavenly Master" (Huntsville Historical Review, Vol 26, No. 2. 1999: Transcription of Diary, Univ. North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
2 Gen. William J. Hardee once commended Lowrey for being "the parson soldier, who preached to his men in camp and fought with them in the field with equal earnestness and effect."