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.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Battle of Orchard Knob, 1863

On today's date in 1863, after receiving reports of Confederate troops moving off of Missionary Ridge,1 and fearing that Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg was preparing to retreat before a decisive blow could be struck, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant decided that some action was necessary. He needed to keep Bragg's attention away from the planned Federal attack at both ends of the Confederate position on Missionary Ridge. The obvious place to probe Bragg's forces and distract him was the center.

Grant ordered Maj. Gen. George Thomas to advance at least a division to a rise known locally as Orchard Knob,2 a 100-foot knoll about half-way to Missionary Ridge. Thomas was to make a demonstration to determine whether the Rebels were still in position. Though not intended to bring on a general battle, the Federal advance would nevertheless become the first strike that would develop into the Battle of Missionary Ridge on the 25th.

Source: Civil War Maps by Hal Jesperson

Beginning about noon on today's date, Thomas's troops began preparing for their advance on Orchard Knob. The troops leading the advance, Thomas Wood's division, were formed in front of "Fort Wood," an earthwork stronghold named in honor of the general. Many on both sides thought the Yankees were merely preparing for a grand review on the open space in front of the fort. At around 1:30 PM, as the advance began, the real intention was known. So rapidly was the attack made that Orchard Knob was quickly taken and fortified. That night, a Federal battery was planted upon the rise. The loss of the hill forced Bragg to fortify his center while Sherman and Hooker attacked his flanks on the 25th.3

The battle at Orchard Knob moved the Union line a mile closer to the entrenched Rebel Army on top of Missionary Ridge and gave the advantage to the Union. It also gave Grant and his high command a place from which to view the coming Battle of Missionary Ridge.

But first, the Federals will turn their attention to the Confederates on Lookout Mountain.

Orchard Knob
Source: Civil War Trust

1 The troop movement was likely Cleburne's and Buckner's Divisions, which were ordered by Bragg to the Chickamauga Station for rail transport to Longstreet at Knoxville.
2 To view a 360-degree map of Orchard Knob and the Chattanooga battlefield, visit the Civil War Trust website, Chattanooga 360.
3 The Battle of Orchard Knob shook up Gen. Bragg enough to recall Cleburne's Division, on this date at the Chickamauga rail station preparing for transport to support Longstreet in his Knoxville Campaign. The troops will march this afternoon to Bragg's headquarters, about 7 miles from the station, there to bivouac. Tomorrow, Bragg will order them to Tunnel Hill to counter Sherman's offensive on the north end of Missionary Ridge.

Sources: Civil War Times, 1861-1865, Daniel Wait Howe; Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; The Shipwreck of Their Hopes, Peter Cozzens; Six Armies in Tennessee, Steven E. Woodworth; Official Records, Vol. 31, Pt. 2

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