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.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Johnston assumes command

On today's date in 1863, Gen. Joseph Eggleston Johnston took over command of the Army of Tennessee, currently under the temporary command of Gen. William J. Hardee. His announcement to his troops was simple: "By order of His Excellency, the President, I have the honor to assume command of this army." His appointment was well-received by the soldiers encamped in and around Dalton, Georgia.

Born to scottish emigrants in Virginia in 1807, Johnston graduated from West Point in 1829, ranking 13th of 46 in his class. His first appointment was as second lieutenant in the 4th U.S. Artillery. In 1837, he resigned his commission to study civil engineering. Rejoining the army in 1838, he served with honors in the Mexican-American War, the Seminole Wars, and as a quartermaster general in California in 1860.

When his home state seceded in 1861, Johnston became the highest-ranking U.S. Army officer to resign his commission. He was appointed brigadier general in the Confederate army and was assigned the post at Harpers Ferry in May of 1861. He soon organized the Army of the Shenandoah, later consolidated with P.G.T. Beauregard's army as the Army of the Potomac. Johnston was the senior Confederate commander at First Manassas/First Battle of Bull Run. During the 1862 Peninsula Campaign he defended the Confederate capital of Richmond, withdrawing under the pressure of a superior force commanded by Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan. He suffered severe wounds at the Battle of Seven Pines, after which he was replaced by his West Point classmate, Robert E. Lee, who led the now renamed Army of Northern Virginia throughout the rest of the war.

After recovering from his wounds, Johnston went on to command in the western theater, ascending to command over John C. Pemberton's Department of Mississipi and East Louisiana, and more importantly, the Army of Tennessee following Braxton Bragg's resignation. Johnston was criticized by Richmond for his failures in the Vicksburg Campaign, of which he was not completely at fault since he was not entirely in control. After assuming direct command of the Army of Tennessee on today's date, he was engaged in a series of defensive battles against Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman from Dalton through most of the Atlanta Campaign. Critical of his series of retreats to Atlanta, President Davis relieved Johnston of command on the eve of the defense of that city in July of 1864.

Yielding to political pressure, the president reinstated Johnston in February 1865 as commander of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Soon, the remnants of the Army of Tennessee were transferred to Johnston in the Carolinas Campaign. By now the consolidated army was outnumbered and undersupplied, but it did experience one last success at the Battle of Bentonville. Robert E. Lee's surrender on April 9 led Johnston to finally surrender his department and the Army of Tennessee to Sherman on April 26, 1865. It was the largest single surrender of the war—89,270 soldiers.

After the war, Johnston worked in business and as railroad commissioner under President Grover Cleveland. Later, he served a term in the U.S. Congress. He also became close friends with his old opponent, William T. Sherman. In fact, Johnston was a pallbearer at Sherman's funeral in 1891, when he contracted pneumonia and died several weeks later. He is buried in the Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.

Now in command of the Army of Tennessee at Dalton, Georgia, Gen. Johnston started preparing his force for the coming spring campaign. He began by improving morale, which had reached its low following the rout at Missionary Ridge in late November. He improved his rail supply line from Atlanta and increased rations for his 39,000-man army. He made efforts to provide shoes and uniforms for his tattered soldiers. He strengthened discipline while also creating a system for granting furloughs to his weary men. His new measures worked, and thousands of absentees returned and reinforcements were added to the ranks. By April, the army had increased to 54,000. As the men began to trust their new commander, order and a sense of confidence were restored, returning the Army of Tennessee to a formidable force over the next few months.

Read more here:

Johnston did some reorganization to his army about this time. But apparently he was satisfied with the organization of Cleburne's Division, in which my Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes was serving in Lowrey's Brigade, stationed on today's date outside of Dalton, since he made no important changes. Neither was there any significant military activity while the division was stationed at Tunnel Hill.

Joseph E. Johnston monument in Dalton, Georgia
Source: Hal Jespersen | Wikimedia Commons

Sources: The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn;  Civil War Trust

No comments:

Post a Comment