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.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Reorganization of Bragg's army

In the reorganization of Bragg’s Army on this date in 1863, the 32nd/45th Mississippi Consolidated, in which Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes was serving, was temporarily commanded by Lieut. Col. R. Charlton. The regiment was in Brig. Gen. Mark P. Lowrey’s Brigade, in Cleburne’s Division, now in Cheatham’s Corps. Also in the Brigade were the 16th Alabama (Maj. Frederick A. Ashford), 33rd Alabama (Col. Samuel Adams), 45th Alabama (Lieut. Col. H. D. Lampley), and 15th Mississippi Battalion Sharpshooters (Capt. Daniel Coleman).

When William J. Hardee was recalled to the Army of Tennessee from his 3-month posting in Alabama, he was given command of Cheatham’s Corps, and Cheatham returned to command a division. Cleburne’s Division was then transferred to Hardee’s Corps. Hardee now has under his command the divisions of Cleburne, Cheatham, Stevenson, and Walker.

With Hardee’s return Bragg now believed he had a rationale for getting rid of his antagonist, James Longstreet.* At President Davis’s suggestion, Bragg, in early November, will send Longstreet to East Tennessee to confront a Federal army under Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside near Knoxville. Bragg even promises to send additional forces to Longstreet later. When Longstreet leaves on November 4th, he will take nearly a third of Bragg's force, leaving the army at Missionary Ridge with only 2 corps under Hardee and Breckinridge, and no more than 37,000 men.

By this same date, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, overall commander of the Federal army in the West, arrived in Chattanooga. A few days earlier, Gen. George "Rock of Chickamauga" Thomas had succeeded Rosecrans as commander of the besieged Army of the Cumberland. Gen. Joseph Hooker's men are arriving to reinforce Thomas, as soon will be 4 divisions commanded by Gen. William T. Sherman from Mississippi.

The timing for sending Longstreet away couldn't have been worse for Bragg's Army of Tennessee.

* Not surprisingly, Longstreet had his own opinion about what to do with Bragg. Following a meeting with some of Bragg's other lieutenants (Polk and Hill, both of whom Bragg fired), Longstreet wrote to Secretary of War Seddon, summing up his (and probably the other generals') concerns about the leadership of the Army of Tennessee: "... I am convinced that nothing but the hand of God can save us or help us as long as we have our present commander." Longstreet's remedy for the leadership crisis was to replace Bragg with Robert E. Lee. Of course, that idea went nowhere with the high command in Richmond.

Sources: Official Records, Vol. 31, Pt. 3; Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; The Army of Tennessee, Stanly, F. Horn; General William H. Hardee: Old Reliable, Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes, Jr.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Battles of Brown's Ferry and Wauhatchie Station, 1863

The Battles of Brown Ferry and Wauhatchie Station* were fought between October 27-29, 1863, between forces of Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg, whose army is on Missionary Ridge and Lookout Mountain, and Union Gen. George Thomas in Chattanooga.

In an effort to relieve Union forces besieged in Chattanooga, Generals Thomas and Grant ordered the “Cracker Line Operation” on October 26, a plan first devised by Rosecrans to open a supply line to Chattanooga from Brown’s Ferry on the Tennessee River. Brown's Ferry was an ideal position from which to control a road through Lookout Valley after a pontoon bridge could be built to replace the ferry. The plan called for a simultaneous advance up Lookout Valley, securing the Kelley’s Ferry Road. 

At 3 AM on today's date in 1863, a Federal brigade under William B. Hazen floated in the fog on pontoons around Tennessee River's Moccasin Bend to Brown’s Ferry. Another brigade took a position on Moccasin Bend across from Brown’s Ferry. There the Federals secured the bridgehead, then assembled the pontoon bridge across the river, crossed, and took position on the other side. Within 20 minutes they succeeded in taking Brown's Ferry in spite of fire from Rebel troops, as well as cannon fire from the Confederates on Lookout Mountain.

Then on the 28th, another Federal force under Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker marched through Lookout Valley and took up a position at Wauhatchie Station, a stop on the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad, to protect the line of communications to the south, as well as the road west to Kelley’s Ferry.

Observing the Federal movements on the 27th & 28th, Confederate Generals James Longstreet and Braxton Bragg decided on a rare nighttime attack on the Federals at Wauhatchie Station. Although the attack was scheduled for 10 PM on the night of October 28, confusion delayed it till midnight. While surprised by the attack, the Federals at Wauhatchie nevertheless held their position. Hearing the battle from Brown’s Ferry, Hooker sent 2 divisions to Wauhatchie Station as reinforcements. As Union troops arrived, the Confederates were forced to fall back to Lookout Mountain. The Union suffered 78 killed, 327 wounded, and 15 missing, while the Confederates lost 34 killed, 305 wounded, and 69 missing.

The results from these 2 actions meant that the Federals now had their connection outside Chattanooga. Next, they pushed rapidly forward with constructing the road from Brown's to Kelley's Ferry, which they finished by the 1st of November, thus controlling Lookout Valley. Supplies could now be hauled from Kelly's Ferry and Wauhatchie to Chattanooga. The siege being lifted, the Union army now could receive supplies, weapons, ammunition, and reinforcements via the Cracker Line.

While Bragg's hope of starving the Federals out of Chattanooga has ended, he yet had to contend with extreme shortages in his own starving army. Bragg still had not repaired his rail line to bring supplies from Atlanta. And now, he has lost control of a vital segment of the Tennessee River and valley. The initiative has definitely shifted in favor of Thomas's army.

* To see a 360-degree presentation of the Wauhatchie Station and the Chattanooga battlefield, visit the Civil War Trust Website, Chattanooga 360.

Sources: The Army of the Cumberland, Henry Martyn Cist; Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Jacob Dolson Cox; The Shipwreck of Their Hopes, Peter Cozzens; Mountains Touched With Fire,Wiley Sword; CWSAC Batlte Summaries

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Gen. Mark P. Lowrey is given command of Wood's Brigade

Although he apparently performed well at the Battle of Chickamauga, Brig. Gen. S.A.M. Wood was not mentioned in his superiors' reports after the battle. Taking it as a snub, and in balance with other hard feelings he must have had, the general resigned his position on this date in 1863.

A few days before, Col. Mark P. Lowrey, who commanded Great Grandfather Oakes's 32nd Mississippi Regiment, had been promoted to brigadier general for his brave actions during the Battle of Chickamauga. With Wood's departure, Lowrey was given command of the brigade. Henceforth, it will be known as "Lowrey's Brigade" of Cleburne's Division. Lowrey's Regiment, the 32nd/45th Consolidated, is left in the temporary command of Company D's Capt. F.S. Norman, who is also Acting Major of the regiment. Other commanders will temporary lead the 32nd/45th Consolidated until the arrival of Col. Aaron B. Hardcastle in November.

During this same period, Cleburne's Division is further reorganized. Liddell's Brigade was returned to Cleburne, but after Liddell was transferred, the brigade was placed under the command of Daniel Govan. J.A. Smith was given command of Deshler's Brigade, whose commander was killed on the second day at Chickamauga. Hiram Granbury's Regiment was placed under Smith's reformed brigade. Also, the commander of the corps, Lt. Gen. Daniel Hill, bid his farewell of the Army of Tennessee on the 18th.

In late October, Cleburne's Division, including the reorganized Lowrey's Brigade, was moved about a mile south along Missionary Ridge, between Shallow Ford Road, which crossed the ridge about 4 miles from the north end, and Gen. Bragg's headquarters on the crest of the ridge, 5 miles from the north end.

Sources: 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

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Rosecrans is replaced

Although he doesn't yet know it, on this date in 1863, Union Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans lost his command of the Army of the Cumberland, following his disastrous and humiliating defeat on the Chickamauga battlefield on September 20. The Departments of the Ohio, the Cumberland, and the Tennessee were reorganized into The Military Division of the Mississippi, and placed by President Lincoln under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant. In the same order, Gen. George Henry Thomas, the "Rock of Chickamauga," was assigned to take Rosecrans's command.*

Rosecrans learned of  the order on October 19, hours after his subordinates became aware of it. He immediately made arrangements to leave Thomas in command, then departed Chattanooga that night for his home in Cincinnati to await further orders.

Rosecrans was soon given command of the Department of Missouri from January to December 1864, but ultimately he had no further major role in the War Between the States. Rosecrans retired from military service in March 1867.

In 1864, Rosecrans was a serious consideration as Lincoln's second term running mate, which he declined. In 1868 he was appointed US Ambassador to Mexico, but he was quickly replaced when Grant became president. In the postwar years Rosecrans became involved in the railroad business, and later was elected to Congress in 1880. Remaining in office until 1885, he continued to bicker with Grant over events of the war. He served as Register of the Treasury from 1885-1893, under President Grover Cleveland. Rosecrans died at his ranch in Redondo Beach, California, on March 11, 1898. In 1908, his remains were re-interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

* Apparently, in order to permit Grant the decision whether to replace Rosecrans, two orders were actually written, either of which Grant was free to act upon. One retained Rosecrans as commander, while a second relieved him and placed Thomas in command.

Sources: The Army of the Cumberland, Henry Martyn Cist; Mountains Touched With Fire, Wiley Sword;  Civil War Trust

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

President Davis visits the army

Confederate President Jefferson Davis arrived late at night on this date in 1863 to visit Bragg's Army of Tennessee. His intentions were to see the condition of the army and to follow up on petitions made for Bragg's removal as commander-in-chief.* This is the second time Davis visited the army under similar circumstances.

Davis met with the army's leading generals with Bragg present. Each confirmed his belief that Bragg had mismanaged the army after Chickamauga and that a change in leadership was absolutely essential.

On the 10th, Davis visited the line of entrenched troops around Chattanooga. That evening he stepped out on the porch of Bragg's headquarters and addressed the assembled officers and soldiers. On the 11th, Davis called a council of the senior staff to develop a plan for Chattanooga. He departed on the 13th.

The end result of the president's visit was that Davis continued his support of Bragg and retained him in his position as the army's Commander-in-chief. But there were some changes made in his high command: D.H. Hill was relieved of command and his corps (Great Grandfather Oakes's) was given to John C. Breckinridge; Leonidas Polk was sent to Mississippi to take William J. Hardee's command, while Hardee was brought back to replace Polk; Nathan B. Forrest was sent to Mississippi. The shake-up had some benefits, but overall it hurt the effectiveness and morale of the Rebel army encircling the enemy at Chattanooga.

* Relations between Bragg and his subordinates had become so bad following Chickamauga that 12 of his senior generals signed a petition calling for Bragg's removal. 

Sources: This Terrible Sound, Peter Cozzens; Mountains Touched With Fire, Wiley Sword; The Papers of Jefferson Davis, October 1863-August 1864, Jefferson Davis

Friday, October 4, 2013

Mark P. Lowrey is promoted

On today's date in 1863, Col. Mark P. Lowrey, who commanded Great Grandfather Oakes's 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment since its formation in Corinth in 1862, was promoted at Gen. Cleburne's recommendation1 to brigadier general for his action during the Battle of Chickamauga. In a few days, Brig. Gen. S.A.M. Wood will resign, and Lowrey will be given command of the brigade.

From Mark P. Lowrey's informal autobiography after the war:
I was again complimented by Gen. Clebourne [sic], and I and my command were favorably noticed in his official report,2  as you are aware. My promotion immediately followed this engagement, with the circumstances of which you are well acquainted. My appointment as brigadier-general was on the 4th of October 1863. I had then served as colonel 18 months besides my 60 days' service with State troops. I count from the time of my election; but under authority of the War Department I had raised and organized the regiment, acting in the capacity and with the rank of colonel. You remember that after my promotion to brigadier-general I was assigned to the command of the old brigade [i.e., Wood's Brigade] with which I had served from the beginning, and which I had often commanded. From the foregoing you will observe, also, that I had never commanded less than a brigade.
Lowrey will continue his faithful and distinguished service in the Army of Tennessee until the closing days of the Lost Cause in the Carolina Campaign in 1865.

1 Gen. Cleburne commended Col. Lowrey to Gen. Hardee as the “bravest man in the Confederate Army.”
2 After the war, in his informal account of the battle, Lowrey was generous in his praise for the role his men had. Referring to the complimentary praise from Cleburne in his official report of the Battle of Chickamauga, Lowrey wrote, "the gallantry displayed was not mine, but that of my men." Indeed, as Peter Cozzens notes in his book, This Terrible Sound,
Lowrey could count on his men to obey his orders, no matter how quixotic they might seem. The Thirty-second and Forty-fifth Mississippi was a crack regiment. At Tullahoma that spring, General Hardee had judged it the best-drilled regiment in the brigade and complimented the Mississippians in a general order. Lowrey himself was a man of tremendous personal magnetism. He radiated self-assurance... Lowrey became a Baptist minister, deeply loved by his congregation in the little Mississippi village of Kossuth. Lowrey continued his ministry in the army, preaching actively to his men. They dutifully yielded to his ministrations, and Lowrey baptized fifty members of the regiment in one two-week revival alone.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Wheeler's October Raid, 1863

Lt. Gen. Joseph Wheeler
With the Federal army encircled within Chattanooga, Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg next strategic concern was to keep his enemy from being resupplied. On this date in 1863, Bragg's cavalry commander, Gen. Joseph Wheeler, led an expedition of 4,000 to hit the Federal supply lines to the besieged army. While my great grandfather, Nathan Oakes, was posted with Cleburne's infantry on Missionary Ridge, another ancestor, Great-Great Grandfather David Crockett Neal, was serving in the James H. Lewis's 6th Cavalry Regiment, which departed with Wheeler on his raid today.*

Wheeler's cavalry started out on October 1, on what turned out to be a long and destructive operation in the rear of the Federal army. Wheeler forded the river below Chattanooga and rode up the Sequatchie Valley. His first action was an encounter with a long train of 800 wagons and 4,000 mules. Burning the wagons and killing the mules, he pushed on to McMinnville, capturing it and destroying its supplies. Then his men fought a running, day-by-day battle with various Federal cavalry units on a wide raid that took them on to Murfreesboro and nearly to Nashville. Wheeler pushed his men down through Middle Tennessee as far as Pulaski. Finally, on October 8, they crossed the Tennessee River near Decatur.

The raid caused untold damage, but by now Wheeler's force was so disorganized and exhausted by the hard riding and fighting that it was some time before it could be reorganized and refitted for further service.

* 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. Wheeler, and the regiment was reassigned to the 2nd Brigade of John A. Wharton's First Division in Wheeler's Corps.

Sources: The 6th Tennessee Cavalry (unpublished manuscript), John F. Walter; The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn