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.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Cleburne's war college

In early December, Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne's Division established its winter quarters at Tunnel Hill, 7 miles northwest of Dalton, Georgia, where the rest of the Army of Tennessee is encamped. Cleburne's men, including Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes's 32nd Mississippi Regiment, guarded the crest of Tunnel Hill and the wagon road to Dalton. Since there was no longer an immediate threat from the Federal army at Chattanooga, Cleburne turned some of his attention to training and disciplining his division.

Most of the Confederate army was made up of volunteers or conscripts with little to no experience at being soldiers—except, of course, what they picked up on the job. Cleburne insisted upon military discipline and obedience to orders. Part of maintaining discipline and fighting readiness in his division included regular drilling of his brigades. At the Tunnel Hill outpost, he went so far as to construct a log cabin classroom where he personally instructed his brigade commanders in the art of war. He taught them from Hardee's Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics and listened to their recitations. Cleburne's brigadiers, in turn, taught the officers under their various commands.

Maj. Gen. William Hardee was quite impressed with Cleburne's work and its results. After the war he wrote in the Southern Historical Society Papers about Cleburne's war college at Tunnel Hill and the men he trained:
[Cleburne] devoted the winter months to the discipline and instruction of his troops, and revived a previously adopted system of daily recitations in the tactics and the art of war. He himself heard the recitations of his brigade commandersa quartette of lieutenants worthy of their captainthe stately Granberry [sic], as great of heart as of fame, a noble type of the Texan soldier; Govan, true and brave as he was courteous and gentle; [Polk], young, handsome, dashing and fearless, and Lowry* [sic], the parson soldier, who preached to his men in camp and fought with them in the field with equal earnestness and effect. These brigadiers heard the recitations of the regimental officers. The thorough instruction thus secured, first applied on the drill ground and then tested in the field, gave the troops great efficiency in action.
With such careful attention paid to training his men, it's no wonder that Cleburne's Division earned so much praise for its prowess on the battlefield. And Federal troops were heard to say they dreaded to face the blue battle flag of Cleburne's Division more than any other across the battlefield.

* Brig. Gen. Mark P. Lowrey was the commander of Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes's brigade.

Sources: Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; "Biographical Sketch of Major-General Patrick R. Cleburne," Gen. William J. Hardee, Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 31

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