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, November 26, 2013

Cleburne's Division moves to Ringgold | 32nd Mississippi Infantry is rear guard

Serving as the rear guard for Bragg's fleeing army off Missionary Ridge on the night of the 25th, Patrick Cleburne's Division of Hardee's Corps, crossed the south branch of the Chickamauga Creek1 at the Shallow Ford Bridge. Trailing the division was the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment of Lowrey's Brigade, skirmishing with the enemy at its heels, then serving as the division's rear defense. The men of Great Grandfather Oakes's Company D were sent as skirmishers protecting the rear of the regiment.2 After burning the bridge, the division followed the beaten army along the Western & Atlantic Railroad line to the Chickamauga Station.

Around 11 AM on today's date, a Thursday in 1863, as the last of the Rebel column left the Chickamauga station, the Federals opened fire. The fighting was brief, and Confederate troops were soon on the road to Graysville, a village almost 4 miles ahead. Portions of Cleburne's and Maj. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart's Divisions were attacked along the way. The last skirmish on this date was at Graysville, between Stewart’s Division and the vanguard of Hooker’s corps. Supporting the Confederate infantry were units from Wharton's Cavalry Division, including the 6th Tennessee in which another ancestor, my Great Great Grandfather David Crockett Neal served.

While the shattered main body of Bragg's army retreated on to Ringgold, its ultimate destination was Dalton, Georgia, 29 miles southeast of Chattanooga, on the rail line to Atlanta. Cleburne's men were assigned to slow the pursuing federal forces while Bragg's army continued its retreat. If necessary, Cleburne was to sacrifice his division to protect the lumbering wagons and artillery that were struggling to keep up with the army.

From Tunnel Hill on Missionary Ridge to Ringgold Gap
November 25-27, 1863

South of Graysville, Cleburne's men crossed the winding South Chickamauga at Gray's Mill, then marched another 5 miles before stopping at 10 PM opposite the town of Ringgold. The bridge over the meandering South Chickamauga at this point had already been burned, so rather than having his men cross the icy river to the southern bank as ordered, Cleburne directed them to go into bivouac where they were despite the real possibility that the Federal pursuers might catch them with their backs to the water. The division is now isolated from the rest of the army, which is retreating through Ringgold Gap.

Before dawn on the 27th, Cleburne's men crossed the waist-high Chickamauga to the small north Georgia town of Ringgold at the foot of Taylor’s Ridge. Here is where his division of merely 4,157 men was ordered to hold the Federals' advance until the army had safely evacuated behind them to Dalton.

Once again, Bragg will order Cleburne and his men to save the army.

1 Chickamauga Creek is a tributary of the Tennessee River, which it joins near Chattanooga. There are 2 main branches of the creek, the North Branch and the South Branch. South Chickamauga Creek is a long and winding stream through the valley in the northwest corner of Georgia. It flows north from Ringgold, Georgia, over the border into Tennessee and from there into the city of Chattanooga.
2 According to Co. D's Capt. F.S. Norman's sparse report of events of the 25th-26th: "... built rudeworks of logs under fire of the enemy during the morning of the  25th, was by these works during the day was thrown out as skirmisher at night to hold the enemy in check, while the regiment marched  off, marched that night with the regiment at Chickamauga 7 miles thence to Graysville, Ga. thence to Ringgold 12 miles"

Sources: Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue;  Mountains Touched With fire, Wile Sword; Shipwreck of Their Hopes, Peter Cozzens; Muster Roll of the 32nd Mississippi Infantry, Tommy Lockhart; Official Records, Vol. 31, Pt. 2; 
Huntsville Historical Review, Vol 26, No. 2. 1999: Transcription of Capt. Daniel Coleman Diary, Univ. North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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