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, July 1, 2013

The Tullahoma Campaign concludes, 1863 | Pat Cleburne's Division

On today's date in 1863, while the first shots were being fired on the Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania, Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg began withdrawing his army from Tullahoma, south across the Elk River, covered by Cleburne's Division. When Union General Thomas learned of Bragg's departure, he immediately occupied the town with a portion of his corps. He sent the rest of his force to cut off Bragg before the Confederates crossed the Elk River. Gen. Benjamin Franklin Cheatham was placed in command of the Confederates' river crossing near Estill Springs, with orders to destroy the road and bridges once the troops were across.

On July 2nd, Union Gen. Crittenden's corps moved down the Hillsboro road from Manchester. After a some skirmishing with Confederate cavalry, Crittenden was able to force a crossing there. In the meantime, Bragg ordered his army to continue its retreat to Cowan.

Gen. Ivan Turchin's division made a second Federal attempt at Morris Ferry to stop Bragg's army crossing the Elk River. His advance was forced back by the 51st Alabama Cavalry, the 25th and 26th Tennessee Infantry, and Darden's Battery. The Federals then advanced on Decherd, but arrived too late to prevent the Confederates from crossing there.

On July 3rd, Union Gen. Phil Sheridan's division made a river crossing upstream of the main Confederate force, crossing the Rock Creek, then fording the Elk River near there. A skirmish with Confederate cavalry ensued, but they were driven off. Bragg now must contend with an enemy force (Crittenden's and Sheridan's) on both of his flanks.

Rosecrans's army continued to press forward as the Bragg's army retreated on July 3rd. Sheridan captured Winchester after a small skirmish, then occupied Cowan at the foot of the mountains that offered about the only Confederate hope of a place to make a stand. Instead of fighting, however, Bragg chose to continue his retreat to Chattanooga, now guarded by Wheeler's cavalry.

On the 3rd, after camping overnight at the Episcopal University of the South* at Sewanee, the march order of the day was Hardee's Corps in front with Cleburne's Division leading. The division will begin arriving on July 7, to take up its position at Tyner's Station, 9 miles east of Chattanooga.

Henry Cist, a member of Rosecrans's staff who wrote years after the war, had this to say about the campaign's results:
The Tullahoma campaign... was the most brilliant of the great strategic campaigns carried to a successful issue by General Rosecrans. The movements of the army occupied nine days, during which time the enemy was driven from two strongly fortified positions, with a loss in prisoners captured of 1,634, eleven pieces of artillery, and a large amount of stores and supplies. The result of this campaign gave to Rosecrans possession of Middle Tennessee, and placed the armies back in the relative positions occupied by them prior to Bragg's advance into Kentucky, a little less than one year previous.
Author Stanley F. Horn agrees,
[Rosecrans's] strategy was a masterpiece of offensive strategy. He maneuvered the Confederate army entirely out of Tennessee almost without firing a shot, except in the preliminary cavalry brushes as he unexpectedly pressed through the thinly held mountain passes. Bragg, placing too much reliance on the strong defenses in his front and taking it for granted that Rosecrans would obligingly advance that way, did not realize what was happening to him on his right flank until it was too late to do anything about it. Though he had been in position for six months, he seems never to have thought of the possibility of a flank attack, and in the early stages of the turning movement he showed a fumbling in decision and action that filled his corps commanders with dismay.
Reflecting on the Southern attitude, historian Michael R. Bradley writes:
[Honors] go the enlisted men of the Army of Tennessee. They knew their officers were clueless, had been outsmarted; they knew they were facing an ever increasingly better armed and fed enemy whose leaders were maturing in the art of war; yet they remained faithful to the cause to which they had dedicated themselves, the cause of defending family and fireside and faith, and they went on to shed their blood and to expend their valor at Chickamauga, winning for themselves and their army its finest hour. These men, they endured. Better cannot be said of any.
On July 4th, the last shots were fired in the Tullahoma Campaign as the Federals gave up pursuit. On the same day, Gen. Robert E. Lee began his retreat from the Battle of Gettysburg, and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant accepted the surrender of Gen. John C. Pemberton's Confederate army at Vicksburg. At Tullahoma, "The wave of the Confederate cause had reached and passed its crest. From then on it was all ebb tide" (Horn).

Finally, Cist offers this perspective: "Brilliant campaigns, however, without battles, do not accomplish the destruction of an army. A campaign like that of Tullahoma always means a battle at some other point." Indeed, the next confrontation, Chickamauga, is only a couple of months away.

Union army blowing up
the University's cornerstone
Source: Civil War Travel Blog
* When Union pursuers arrived at the University of the South where the Confederate army had camped, they discovered a 6-ton marble cornerstone, laid down in 1860, and dedicated by Bishop Leonidas Polk, one of the founders, now a corps general in Bragg's Army of Tennessee. Having missed the general at Tullahoma, they blew up the cornerstone instead. The pieces were collected and kept as souvenirs by the soldiers. Later, a few pieces were donated back to the university, and a large fragment was eventually installed in a wall of the university's All Saints' Chapel. Apparently, there also is a stained glass window installed in the chapel that depicts Union troops blowing up the University’s cornerstone.

Buried in the chapel cemetery are several prominent Confederate generals and soldiers, including Lieut. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith and Brig. Gen. Francis Shoup. Bishop Charles Quintard, who served in the Army of Tennessee as chaplain, is buried there, too. There are also unmarked graves in the cemetery belonging to Confederate soldiers killed during the Tullahoma Campaign.

After the war, the university offered Robert E. Lee the position of vice-chancellor, but he declined, choosing instead the same position at Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) in his beloved Virginia.

Sources: Tullahoma: The 1863 Campaign for the Control of Middle Tennessee, Michael R. Bradley; The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn; Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell and Elizabeth Purdue; The Stones River and Tullahoma Campaigns, Christopher L. Kolakowski; The Army of the Cumberland, Henry Martyn Cist

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