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.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Another missed opportunity

On September 11, Union Gen. Thomas Wood with his 2 brigades was on a reconnaissance at Lee & Gordon's Mills, while Gen. Thomas Crittenden was ordered to occupy Ringgold to report on Confederate activity there. The results of these movements confirmed to Gen. Rosecrans's satisfaction that Bragg's main Confederate force was in the vicinity of LaFayette. He immediately ordered Crittenden and Wood to move as quickly as possible to the Rossville and LaFayette road, near Lee and Gordon's Mills. On the 12th, Crittenden was gathering his command at the mill as ordered.

In the meantime, having failed to crush Thomas's corps at Davis Cross Roads/Dug Gap 2 days earlier, Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg determined to hurl his columns upon Crittenden's divided corps, now approaching him from Chattanooga to the north. Bragg withdrew his troops facing Thomas's Corps toward LaFayette and directed Polk's and Walker's corps to move immediately in the direction of Lee & Gordon's Mills.

On the evening of the 12th, Bragg wrote to Gen. Leonidas Polk, notifying him of Crittenden's position of the previous day, and revealing some of his strategy:
This presents you a fine opportunity of striking Crittenden in detail, and I hope you will avail yourself of it at daylight to-morrow. This division crushed, and the others are yours. We can then turn on the force in the cove. Wheeler's cavalry will move on Wilder so as to cover your right. I shall be delighted to hear of your success.
Later in the evening, 2 additional orders were issued to Polk, urging him to attack promptly at dawn on the 13th. At 11:00 that night, Polk, sensing that there were more Yankees present than Bragg knew, sent a dispatch stating that he had taken a strong defensive position and asked that he be reinforced. Bragg sent him an immediate order, making it clear that Polk was not to delay his attack, believing that Polk's force was numerically superior to Crittenden's.

Early on today's date, a Sunday in 1863, Bragg, at the head of Buckner's command, went to the front, and was shocked to learn that Polk had not advanced as ordered and that Crittenden had united his forces and recrossed the Chickamauga.

Again the Confederates lost a golden opportunity.

Bragg now gave orders to his commanders to concentrate along the east bank of the Chickamauga in position for battle to await Longstreet's reinforcements from Virginia for an attack with Bragg's entire command. In the meantime, Gen. Joseph Wheeler, with 2 cavalry divisions on the army's extreme left, was to engage Thomas's attention in McLemore's Cove, covering the Confederates' main movement. Forrest and and Pegram's cavalry divisions were to cover the right and front.

For the next several days, Cleburne's men, including my Great Grandfather Oakes's 32nd Mississippi, remained in Dug Gap watching the enemy in McLemore's Cove.

Sources: The Army of the Cumberland, Henry Martyn Cist; Civil War Times, David Wait Howe; Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue;  Huntsville Historical Review, Vol 26, No. 2. 1999: Transcription of Capt. Daniel Coleman Diary, Univ. North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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