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.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Bragg's departure

On today's date in 1863, Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg took his leave of the Army of Tennessee, which he had led in victory and disaster since assuming command in Tupelo, Mississippi, in June the year before. In an emotional ceremony he surrendered his command of the army, now at Dalton in North Georgia, to Lt. Gen. Hardee. The following is Bragg’s farewell order to his army:
General Order, No. 214. 
Upon renewed application to the President, his consent has been obtained for the relinquishment of the command of this army. It is accordingly transferred to Lieutenant-general Hardee. The announcement of this separation is made with unfeigned regret. An association of more than two years, which bind together a commander and his trusted troops, cannot be severed without deep emotion. For a common cause, dangers shared on many hard-fought fields have cemented bonds which time can never impair. The circumstances which render this step proper will be appreciated by every good soldier and true patriot. The last appeal the general has to make to the gallant army which has so long nobly sustained him is to give his successor that cordial and generous support essential to the success of your arms. In that successor you have a veteran whose brilliant reputation you have aided to achieve. To the officers of my general staff, who have so long zealously and successfully struggled against serious difficulties to support the army and myself, is due, in a great degree, what little success and fame we have achieved. Bidding them and the Army an affectionate farewell, they have the blessings and prayers of a grateful friend. 
Braxton Bragg.
Upon assuming command, Lt. Gen. Hardee issued his own General Order to his men. Considering the unfriendly relations these two men shared, Hardee's remarks about his former commander sound generous and conciliatory.
Soldiers of the Army of Tennessee: 
Gen. Bragg having been relieved from duty with the army, the command has devolved upon me. The steady courage, the unsullied patriotism of the distinguished leader who has shared your fortunes for more than a year, will long be remembered by this army and the country he served so well. 
I desire to say, in assuming command, that this is no cause for discouragement. The overwhelming number of the enemy forced us back from Missionary Ridge, but the army retired intact and in good heart. Our losses are small and will be rapidly repaired. The country is looking upon you. Only the weak need to be cheered by constant success. Veterans of Shiloh, Perryville, Murfreesboro and Chickamauga require no such stimulant to sustain their courage. Let the past take care of itself. We can and must take care of the future.

W. J. Hardee.
Hardee's command will only be temporary, and President Jefferson Davis will soon pick a more permanent replacement. After asking Gen. Robert E. Lee to consider, who declined, Davis appointed Joseph E. Johnston.

Bragg's departure will be mourned by few under his command. As Civil War author Peter Cozzens writes, "Even Bragg's staunchest supporters admonished him for his quick temper, general irritability, and tendency to wound innocent men with barbs thrown during his frequent fits of anger. His reluctance to praise or flatter was exceeded, we are told, only by the tenacity with which, once formed, he clung to an adverse impression of a subordinate. For such officers—and they were many in the Army of the Mississippi—Bragg's removal or their transfer were the only alternatives to an unbearable existence."

Bragg's patriotism and sense of duty are without question. However, his actual leadership skills were a serious mismatch for the demands of a commander-in-chief of an army second to only Robert E. Lee's in Virginia.

Contrary to the warm farewell he delivered to his command, as his official reports and letters demonstrate, it was an embittered Bragg who departed the army on today's date. His own record contains scathing criticisms of his subordinates, and a shifting of blame to them for his own mistakes. He even went so far as to accuse his men of cowardice, which is remarkable considering the actual bravery and indomitable spirit they displayed in their many hardships and sacrifices for this unappreciative general.

So, it is no surprise that many rejoiced to see Bragg go. However, he will soon become the president's  top military advisor, and in that position, continue to wield power and influence over the Army of Tennessee.

Sources: No Better Place to Die, Peter Cozzens; Mountains Touched With Fire, Wiley Sword; Official Records, Vol. 31, Pt. 3

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