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 20, 2013

With Forrest's Corps at Chickamauga

While this blog is devoted mainly to the history of the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment, in which my Great Grandfather Nathan Richardson Oakes served, I also had another ancestor, Great-Great Grandfather David Crockett Neal who on this date was part of the victorious Confederate army that routed the Army of the Cumberland. Great-great Grandfather Neal served in James H. Lewis's 6th Tennessee Cavalry Regiment,1 which fought in Gen. Nathan B. Forrest's Corps with the Confederate infantry.

In July of 1863, after seeing fighting in the Tullahoma Campaign, Great-Great Grandfather's 6th Tennessee was transferred to the First Brigade of Forrest's Corps in Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee. The regiment saw some skirmishing in North Georgia (Summerville and Ringgold) before joining in the battle at Chickamauga from September 18-20.

At Chickamauga, portions of Forrest's Corps fought as dismounted cavalry alongside infantrymen on the Confederate right flank,2 in the area where Great Grandfather Oakes fought. After helping to drive Rosecrans's army from the field on September 20, Forrest's men vigorously pursued the retreating enemy, taking hundreds of prisoners. Noting the obvious panic and disorder of the retreating Federal army, Forrest advised Gen Braxton Bragg that he should follow up the victory with an immediate attack to recapture Chattanooga, which Bragg had vacated weeks earlier. Urging Bragg into action, he wrote the next day,"Every moment lost is worth the life of a thousand men." But the commander-in-chief remained indecisive about pursuit.

Nathan Bedford Forrest
The inaction provoked Forrest openly criticized Bragg, who he believed had failed to capitalize on the Confederate victory. Frustrated with his commanding officer (some accounts say that Forrest threatened Bragg with his life, while others recall that it was Bragg that persecuted Forrest), Forrest requested a new assignment, and in October 1863, he was given independent command in Mississippi.

Promoted to major general in December 1863, Forrest fought a series of small engagements in Tennessee before defeating a much larger Union force at the Battle of Okolona in February 1864, and again shattering the Federals at Brices Crossroads in June. Forrest will be credited with several successes before he rejoins the Army of Tennessee in its ill-fated Battle of Franklin in November 1864. A master of cavalry deployment, Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest will continue to distinguish himself throughout the remainder of the war.

1 In the Battle of Chickamauga, the 6th Tennessee was commanded by Lt. Col. James H. Lewis. It fought in Nathan B. Forrest's Cavalry Corps in Frank C. Armstrong's Division, in Armstrong's Brigade, which was commanded by Col. James T. Wheeler. On September 28, Forrest was ordered to turn over his forces to Gen. Joseph Wheeler, and the regiment was reassigned to the 2nd Brigade of John A. Wharton's First Division in Wheeler's Corps.
2 Fighting with D.H. Hill's infantrymen (Great Grandfather's Oakes's corps), the lieutenant general was uncharacteristically impressed. Author Stanley F. Horn writes, that while the battle progressed Lt. Gen. Hill took of his hat to Forrest and said: "General Forrest, I wish to congratulate you and those brave men moving across the field like veteran infantry upon their magnificent behavior. In Virginia I made myself extremely unpopular with the cavalry because I said that so far I had not seen a dead man with spurs on; but no one can speak disparagingly of such troops as yours." Horn also notes that coming from the Virginian army, Hill was unfamiliar with how Western cavalry fought. Riding into position in a battle, every fourth man in the ranks would be assigned the duty of holding the 4 horses in the rear, while his comrades moved up to attack on foot. The horse-holders would keep up with the fighting as it developed so that the horses were available for quick transportation when needed.

Sources: The 6th Tennessee Cavalry (unpublished manuscript), John F. Walter; That Devil Forrest, John Allan Wyeth; The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn; Mountains Touched With Fire; Wiley Sword

No comments:

Post a Comment