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.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The eve of the Tullahoma Campaign, 1863

On the eve of the fighting known as the 9-day Tullahoma Campaign, Union Gen. William S. Roscrans’s army was 60,000 strong. Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg had an army whose effective strength was about 43,000 troops, of whom about 14,000 were cavalry.

The 2 opposing armies were separated by a range of foothills, almost mountainous in height. Through these hills ran roads that connected Murfreesboro (where Rosecrans's army was headquartered) and Tullamoma (where Bragg's army was centered). The roads crossed these hills in 3 steep gorges:  Hoover's, Guy's, and Liberty Gaps. These gaps in the mountains soon will become strategic points in the imminent conflict. It will be through Hoover's and Liberty Gaps that Rosecrans's main force will strike the right and rear of Hardee's Corps in which Great Grandfather Oakes was serving.

To the east of Bell Buckle (Railroad Gap), the range of hills terminates a little beyond Hoover’s Gap. The narrow road through Hoover’s Gap continued narrow and winding to Manchester, 20 miles southeast. West of Bell Buckle, that chain of hills begins to level off north of Shelbyville and terminates a short distance northwest of town. 

In view of the favorable terrain and wide turnpikes between Murfreesboro and Shelbyville, Bragg expected Rosecrans to advance toward Shelbyville, or at least he hoped to draw him there. Bragg arranged his troops accordingly. The larger part of his army, 3 of Gen. Leonidas Polk’s corps, remained at Shelbyville. Gen. Wheeler moved his cavalry division to Shelbyville where he heard heavy Federal strength had been reported, leaving the right wing almost without cavalry cover. Cleburne’s Division of Hardee’s Corps, in which my great grandfather's 32nd Mississippi Regiment served, held Wartrace on the railroad, as well as Bell Buckle and Liberty Gaps. Gen. Stewart’s troops were placed along a stretch of several miles from the south end of Hoover’s Gap past the village of Fairfield (5 miles northeast of Wartrace). Bragg hoped to attack Rosecrans’s flank as he passed through Hoover’s Gap.

Rosecrans's strategy was to advance simultaneously toward Shelbyville, Liberty Gap, and Hoover’s Gap. The advance against Shelbyville was to be a feint, and Liberty Gap was merely to be seized and held. The main body of the Federal army would move through Hoover’s Gap, with one corps going around the eastern end of the range of hills. From Hoover’s Gap they would push on to Manchester, where all of Rosecrans’s forces would be consolidated.

Sources: Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell ad Elizabeth Purdue; The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn; Autumn of Glory: The Army of Tennessee, 1862-1865, Thomas Lawrence Connelly; The Stones River and Tullahoma Campaigns, Christopher L. Kolakowski

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