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, June 27, 2013

Tullahoma Campaign, Day 5 | Pat Cleburne's Division

While the fighting had been going on for 4 days in the right flank of the Army of Tennessee in what became the 1863 Tullahoma Campaign, Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg was completely unaware of the main action at Hoover's and Liberty Gaps. His lack of information led him to conclude that the earlier fighting at Shelbyville was the major Union movement, so he continued to focus his attention on Lieut. Gen. Leonidas Polk's Corps in position there. Ultimately, his ignorance will lead to ordering his army's withdrawal from Tullahoma, leaving Middle Tennessee in the hands of his enemy, Gen. William S. Rosecrans.

On this date, Sunday, in 1863, Shelbyville is the center of fierce fighting.

Earlier on Wednesday, Rosecrans had deployed forces to feign an attack on Shelbyville, while massing his main force against Bragg's right at 2 key gaps in the Highland Rim: Hoover's and Liberty. Having successfully taken both of these gaps, Rosecrans now can focus on Gen. Leonidas Polk's position at Shelbyville. Faced with the loss of Hoover's Gap, Bragg ordered Polk's Corps to fall back to Tullahoma.

As Union forces were approaching Shelbyville, the Confederates were withdrawing. Outside of town Gen. Joseph Wheeler's Confederate cavalry held off the Union advance for a couple of hours, but then withdrew to a ring of defensive works around Shelbyville. There they attempted to make a stand, only to be forced back into town.

Wheeler next formed his men on the courthouse square. Using his 4 cannons to anchor his defense, his men faced the Yankee advance through the center of town. The battle was fought in the courthouse square, with Wheeler taking heavy losses in men and artillery. The Confederates made another stand outside of the village, but they were flanked by Federal units. Soldiers had it out with each other in hand-to-hand saber and clubbed rifle fighting, down to the muddy banks of the Duck River. Wheeler, himself, escaped by famously jumping his horse into the river and making for safety on the other side.

Nearby, Confederate Maj. Gen. Alexander Stewart, under orders from his corps commander, Lieut. Gen. William J. Hardee, not to contest the Manchester Pike, had withdrawn his division from the Manchester front while Union forces penetrated to within 6 miles of that town. By this evening, Manchester will fall into Union hands, and Bragg's Duck River line will be essentially flanked.

At Bell Buckle Gap on this same day, near where the fighting took place at Liberty Gap, and northeast of Shelbyville, Great Grandfather Oakes in Wood's Brigade is waiting to withdraw. After 3 days of fighting to hold Bell Buckle and Liberty Gaps, Bragg orders Cleburne to withdraw his division to Tullahoma, which he did in the morning of today's date, without any loss of life. Capt. J.N. Scalley's Co. E covered the 32nd Regiment in its retreat through Liberty Gap. According to Scalley, it was a 2-day, 23-mile march to Tullahoma.

Cleburne writes in his report that his troops
. . . were much wearied by the watching and fighting in the front of the gaps, for it rained incessantly during most of that the time. The men had no changes of clothing, no tents, and could not even light fires to dry themselves. Many had no shoes, and others left their shoes buried in the deep mire of the roads.
By now Federals were aware of the fact that Bragg had abandoned his strong line of defence at Shelbyville, and the question remaining to be answered was whether he would accept battle at Tullahoma, or retire with his entire command across the Cumberland Mountains and the Tennessee River, fighting as he fell back.

Sources: Tullahoma: The 1863 Campaign for the Control of Middle Tennessee; Autumn of Glory: The Army of Tennessee, 1862-1865, Thomas Lawrence Connelly; The Stones River and Tullahoma Campaigns, Christopher L. Kolakowski; The Army of the Cumberland, Henry Martyn Cist; Muster Roll of Co. E; Official Records, Vol. 23, Pt. 1

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