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.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

32nd Mississippi Infantry and the Battle of Davis Cross Roads/Dug Gap, 1863

On September 10 and 11, the Battle of Davis Cross Roads, or Dug Gap, was fought between elements of the armies of Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg and Union Gen. William Rosecrans.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
By September 8th, Bragg became aware that Rosecrans's dispersed army was in a hurry to pursue, under the impression that the Confederates were in full retreat. When he learned that a Federal column was entering McLemore's Cove, a V-shaped valley formed by Lookout Mountain and a spur named Pigeon Mountain, he turned to attack. The northern end of the valley was open, and several gaps provided access to it from the east. With his army screened behind Pigeon Mountain, Bragg saw an opportunity to destroy the Federals in the cove before they could receive assistance.

That evening Bragg ordered Gen. Thomas C. Hindman to prepare his division to move against the Federals. He also ordered Gen. D.H. Hill, whose corps was currently guarding gaps in the Pigeon Mountain, to send Cleburne's Division, which included Great Grandfather Oakes's 32nd Regiment of Wood's Brigade, into the cove toward Davis Crossroads. Hindman was to enter the cove from the north and drive the enemy toward Davis Crossroads. The planned attack was aimed at Gen. James S. Negley's division of Thomas's corps, which had been ordered to move from Steven's Gap into McLemore's Cove through Dug Gap, and then on to LaFayette.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010

Upon receiving his orders, Gen. Hill uncharacteristically failed to obey, complaining that his part of the movement was impracticable, as Cleburne was sick, and that both gaps—Dug and Catlett's—had been closed by downed trees, which the Confederates had felled to slow the enemy. In his judgment, it would require 24 hours to remove the obstacles. The basis for Hill's excuses proved to be flimsy and inaccurate.

Source: Civil War Maps by Hal Jesperson
Hindman was of less use to Bragg than was Hill. Hindman marched 10 miles during the night of the 9th, and took position, 3 miles from Negley in McLemore's Cove. But without Hill's support, he refused to go farther. Bragg, not wishing to lose so favorable an opportunity, sent Gen. Simon Buckner's Corps to join Hindman in the cove, arriving in the late afternoon of the 10th. After these commands had united, the generals held a conference and determined that Bragg's plan was not practicable, and then deliberately waited for further orders even though they outnumbered Negley 3 to 1.

Bragg refused to make any change and sent an oral order to Hindman to proceed at once to carry out his previous instruction. At the same time, Bragg sent written orders by courier to Hindman, updating him of the enemy's movements and informing him of Polk's assignment to cover his rear. Bragg then ordered Hindman to attack and fight his way through Negley's force to LaFayette at the earliest hour in the morning, adding, "Cleburne will attack in front the moment your guns are heard."

On the morning of the 10th, about 500 men from Col. Mark P. Lowrey's 32nd Regiment—including Great Grandfather's Co. D—were deployed as skirmishers in front of the Confederate force at Dug Gap and were, therefore, first to engage the Federal force.* The enemy advanced to within three-quarters of a mile from the gap before withdrawing. Overnight, Wood's Brigade cleared all obstructions from the gap in preparation for Cleburne's advance. 

By daylight on the 11th, Cleburne was reinforced with the rest of his division and Gen. W.H.T. Walker's Corps. Amassed in the area were a total of 30,000 Confederate troops positioned to crush Negley along with Gen. Absalom Baird's support division. Bragg's trap was set.

At daylight on the 11th, Cleburne, with 2 of his brigades at the edge of the cove, was waiting for the sound Hindman's guns to open—the signal for his attack—on the flank and rear of Negley and Baird's divisions. Well past noon, and with no word or sound of Hindman's guns, Bragg ordered Cleburne and Walker to attack. Cleburne's attack, with Wood's Brigade in advance, drove back the Union pickets and skirmishers. In fact, his whole battle line advanced across the Chickamauga Creek and to the base of Lookout Mountain, when a courier arrived from Bragg telling him to halt.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010

Negley, having been warned by local citizens of the size of the Confederate force facing him, fell back to Steven's Gap. As he was retiring his division, Hindman finally attacked, joined by a few Confederate cavalry and a battery. At dusk, Cleburne united with Hindman at Davis Crossroads, but by now the enemy was behind Steven's Gap. Bragg then ordered most of his command to LaFayette, while leaving Cleburne's Division to guard the gaps through Pigeon Mountain. His men now guarded against Federal Maj. Gen. Thomas's entire corps on the other side of the mountain.

Sadly for the Confederates, another opportunity was lost.

* Several official reports and records confirm these facts:
  1. According to Col. John. T. Morgan's report on September 10, Col. Mark Lowrey (32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment) had an infantry force of about 500 men at Dug Gap (Official Records, Vol. 30, Pt. 1, p. 633).
  2. In his company report for September 10-11, Capt. Norman writes that Company D "was engaged in skirmish with the enemy 10th and 11th in McElmore [sic] Cove" (Company D Record of Events, July-August 1863).
  3. Brig. Gen. S.A.M. Wood reported to division headquarters that at 12:20 PM, "The enemy are in three-quarters of a mile of me, advancing. All the cavalry has gone to the right. I should like to have two pieces light artillery. I am now deploying to fight them. They have infantry, artillery, and cavalry. Charged once on our cavalry and broke it. Infantry deployed in front... I think it an advance in force, and we should be supported" (Official Records, Vol. 30, Part 2, pp. 299-300). 
  4. Union Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas reported on September 10: I have just returned from General Negley's division in front of Dug Gap, or 1 mile west of Dug Gap, which place has been heavily obstructed by the enemy, and which is also occupied by a strong picket line; could not discover what force they have supporting their pickets. An officer of the Thirty-second Mississippi who was on picket guard lost his way, came into our pickets, and was captured. He was not very communicative, but was generous enough to advise General Negley not to advance or he would get severely whipped…” (Official Records, Vol. 30, Part 3, p. 510).
Sources: The Army of the Cumberland, Henry Martyn Cist; Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; Six Armies in Tennessee, Steven E. Woodworth; Chickamauga: Bloody Battle in the West, Glenn Tucker;  National Park Service; Official Records, Vol. 30, Pts. 1-4; Huntsville Historical Review, Vol 26, No. 2. 1999: Transcription of Capt. Daniel Coleman Diary, Univ. North Carolina at Chapel Hill

No comments:

Post a Comment