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

The cost of victory

With the Federal Army of the Cumberland routed from the Chickamauga battlefield and driven to Chattanooga, Bragg's Army of Tennessee won a critical victory on this date in 1863. There was just one flaw to this triumph, though: Victories aren't ultimately decisive unless the enemy is vanquished; and, while defeated, Rosecrans's army was not destroyed at Chickamauga.

Due to an overwhelming lack of Confederate coordination between the 2 wings of Bragg's army, the Union army was not held in place for either complete destruction or its surrender. Instead, Bragg lost tactical control of the various elements of his force, and his indecisiveness and detachment precluded him from altering his plans as the battle dynamics changed. His poorly coordinated assaults of heavily fortified positions led to needless waste of life and limb. At least 12 of his regiments lost more than half their numbers in the battle.

Indeed, the cost for both sides was horrific, making the Battle of Chickamauga the bloodiest of any fought in the Western Theater in the entire war. The total losses (killed, wounded, and missing) for the Federals were 16,170; for the Confederates, 18,454. Each army lost nearly a third of the men it took into the fight.

For Patrick Cleburne's Division, in which Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes served in the 32nd Mississippi, the losses were severe. According to the Official Records, of the 5,115 men in the division, a total of 1,743 were officially listed as killed or wounded—1 out of every 3. In spite of a fight of over 2 days, partly at night and in thick woods, only 6 men were listed as missing.

While Chickamauga is counted as a clear Confederate win since Rosecrans's army fled the field, in the larger picture of the Chattanooga Campaign, the results today are indecisive.* Because Bragg did not follow up his victory, the Federals were allowed time to fortify Chattanooga and reorganize their army while the Confederates lay siege. In the weeks ahead, the defeated army will grow stronger while the victors will be weakened by the wait. The Union army that will sweep up the slope at Missionary Ridge on November 25th will be much stronger than the one than ran away from Chickamauga today.

* Though clearly defeated on the battlefield, Rosecrans will eventually consider his retreat to Chattanooga a kind of win. His reasoning was that since possession of Chattanooga had been his original plan, now that his army was in control of the town, his ignoble retreat had turned into a success. At least one Union general and army historian, Henry Martyn Cist, apparently agreed: "At seven o'clock on the morning of the 22d, the Army of the Cumberland, again united, was in position, holding the coveted prize, still strong enough to prevent the enemy from attempting further to dispute our possession of the town."

Sources: Official Records, Vol. 30, Pt. 2; Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; This Terrible Sound, Peter Cozens; The Army of the Cumberland, Henry Martyn Cist

No comments:

Post a Comment