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, September 22, 2013

Cleburne's Division at Chattanooga

On today's date in 1863, from his advanced position on Missionary Ridge overlooking Rosecrans's disheartened Federal army, Gen. Patrick Cleburne pushed forward his skirmishers to within 200 yards of the Federal earthworks in front of Chattanooga. Establishing a line of battle, Cleburne's men skirmished with the enemy, driving them back about a mile. Cleburne was willing to turn his advance into a full-scale assault, but the divisions on either side of him fell back. By the next day, he had little choice but to do likewise, again taking position on Missionary Ridge.

Author Craig L. Symonds summarizes that on the surface the Confederate position on Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain looked nearly impregnable. However, a number of factors made it more insecure than it seemed: 1) Gen. Braxton Bragg’s reduced army occupied lines that were far too extended for his depleted forces. 2) The difficult terrain made it tough to shuttle forces from one point to another; each division had to rely largely on its own assets to beat off an enemy attack in its sector. 3) No defensive position is any stronger than its flanks; and if the Federals could seize either Lookout Mountain on the left or Tunnel Hill on the right, there was no way Bragg could hold Missionary Ridge.

Unable or unwilling to perceive these weaknesses, in the days ahead Bragg will merely stretch his weakened army to cover his front and continue to behave as if the Federals in Chattanooga were still under siege. On the other hand, what else was he to do? Bragg believed, rightly, that his army was in no condition for a prolonged offensive. He faced a severe food shortage and his supply line was stretched. His transportation system was in a near state of collapse. And Bragg's own physical and mental state was in serious question.

So, due to his delinquent pursuit and follow-up after the Battle of Chickamauga, resulting in throwing away his chance to flank the city, Bragg determined that he had no alternative now but to settle down to a siege.

During this period, Co. D of the 32nd Mississippi Infantry (Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes's company) was placed on picket duty. From Capt. F.S. Norman's terse report of Co. D's actions: "From [Chickamauga] to Missionary Ridge Sept. 24, have been on picket and encampment duty up to the present date.” The men of Co. D will continue the same through November. From the end of September through the end of the year, their Captain Norman will be the Acting Major, commanding the 32nd Regiment.

Sources: Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; This Terrible Sound, Peter Cozzens; Company D Muster Roll for September-October 1863; Huntsville Historical Review, Vol 26, No. 2. 1999: Transcription of Capt. Daniel Coleman Diary, Univ. North Carolina at Chapel Hill

1 comment:

  1. Sir, in Ben Settle's letter after Chicamauga, he mentioned Jeff Murley as being slightly wounded, do you have any other mentions of Jeff Murley, he is my great grandfather, also, I am related to the Settle's(Suttle's) through my grandmother, Minnie Myrtle Bartlett Murley, her father James K. Bartlett was C. H 34th Miss was shot and captured at Lookout Mountain 11/24/63 and sent to Rock Island Prison for the duration!
    Larry Murley,