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.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

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

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