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.

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.

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