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.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Nerve-racking wait

On today's date, a Sunday in 1864, my Great Grandfather's division, Patrick R. Cleburne's, which had been temporarily attached to Gen. John B. Hood's Corps in the Battle of Pickett's Mill, was returned to Gen. William Hardee's Corps near Dallas, Georgia. It was assigned to the extreme left of the Confederate army, next to William Bate's Division. The battle lines were close. Men were naturally nervous, and each side was on high alert.

According to authors Howell and Elizabeth Purdue, shortly after midnight, the Union line opened with heavy musketry and cannon. Cleburne's and Bate's men instantly prepared to repeal an expected attack. The Federal fire continued until early morning, but no assault occurred. It was later learned that the Federals started firing because of a false report of a Confederate charge. What instigated the cannonade to follow was that one of Bate's men had mistakenly fired at a flash in the darkness, which turned out to be a firefly. His ball whizzed over the head of a Union picket who fired back, setting off shooting from both sides.

The stalemate will continue for a few more days until Gen. William T. Sherman will attempt a flanking move to cut off Gen. Joseph Johnston's rail line to Atlanta.

Sources: Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; Stonewall of the West, Craig L Symonds

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Battle of Pickett's Mill, May 27, 1864

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
For more than 2 weeks in May 1864, Confed-erate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston executed a series of withdrawals of his Army of Tennessee from Dalton to Allatoona in North Georgia while Union Gen. William T. Sherman's army was in pursuit. When Johnston withdrew his army from Cassville on May 19th, he fell back first to Allatoona Pass and then to the Dallas area where he entrenched his troops. His army would soon be engaged in a series of battles known collectively as the Battle of Dallas or the Battles of New Hope Church (so named for a small Methodist church there), fought between May 26 and June 4, 1864.

Gen. Patrick Cleburne's Division—in which was serving Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes in Mark Lowrey's Brigade—had earlier taken up position about 3 miles south of the Etowah River, and 2 miles east of Allatoona. On May 23rd, Cleburne's Division, with the rest of Gen. William Hardee's Corps, set out on a series of marches in search of the Federal right flank, which had begun to move across the river. Moving from its position on the Pumpkin Vine Creek, the division marched 6 miles to the Dallas-Marietta road. The next day the corps moved again by way of New Hope Church to Powder Springs. Then on the 25th, it made a return march of the day before.

By the 23rd, Johnston knew of Sherman's new position. Believing that his opponent may be attempting to cross the Chattahoochee on the Confederate flank, on the 24th Johnston began shifting his army to a new line stretching 7 miles from Dallas to New Hope Church. Hardee's Corps (sans Cleburne's Division) would occupy the left at Dallas, Gen. John B. Hood's Corps would form the center, and Cleburne's Division would extend Hood's line on the right.

In the evening of the 25th, Cleburne moved his division to the right of the line near New Hope Church, where elements of Hood's Corps had that morning engaged the enemy in sharp skirmishing. Cleburne' Division was now detached from Hardee's Corps and reporting directly to Hood who was in command of the army's right wing. Late that afternoon, the Confederates in the center of Hood's line, Gen. A.P. Stewart's men, repulsed another attack during a severe thunderstorm. Hood's line continued to hold.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010

Overnight, as Hood's men dug entrenchments in the soggy clay, Sherman began pushing a force northeast toward the tiny community of Pickett's Mill, about 2.5 miles away, in hopes of turning the Confederate's right flank and seizing the railroad at Acworth, several miles in the Confederates' rear. However, the Confederates were ready for the attack. Before daylight on the 26th, Cleburne roused his men for a march on the Dallas-Atlanta road to the mill, which they reached a couple of hours later. His men now form the extended right of the Confederate line. In preparation for an anticipated battle, he directed his men to clear paths behind his line and to his front in order to connect his brigades for rapid movement when needed. He also ordered rifle pits to be dug along the line. His foresight would prove essential to the outcome of the battle.

On today's date in 1864, Cleburne's men made their famous stand at Pickett's Mill on the Little Pumkpinvine Creek. It was named for the grist mill and farmland owned by a war widow whose Confederate husband, Malachi, had been killed in the Battle of Chickamauga the year before. The area of Cleburne's defense formed a narrow front in a heavily wooded and tangled forest. The Battle of Pickett's Mill resulted in saving the right wing of the Confederate army and keeping the Sherman from cutting off Johnston's line of communication to Atlanta.

Cleburne's report of the battle provides a clear and compelling narrative. He sets up the situation this way:
Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne
About 2 or 3 o'clock of the afternoon of the 26th I arrived with my division on the extreme right of the then line of the army, when I was sent to support Major-General [Thomas C.] Hindman. At that point our lines, the general bearing of which was north and south, retired for a few yards to the east. In continuation of this retiring line I placed [Brig. Gen. Lucius] Polk's brigade (of my division) in and diagonally across it, upon a ridge in echelon by battalion to avoid an artillery enfilade from a neighboring position held by the enemy. Resting on Polk's right I placed [Maj. Thomas R.] Hotchkiss artillery, consisting of four Napoleons, four Parrott guns, and four howitzers. Supporting on the right was one regiment of [Brig. Gen. Daniel C.] Govan's, of my division. The remainder of my division was disposed in rear as a second line in support of Hindman's right brigades and my first line. Intrenchments were thrown up in the afternoon and night of the 26th and in the morning of the 27th. The position was in the main covered with trees and undergrowth, which served as a screen along our lines, concealed us, and were left standing as far as practicable for that purpose. On the morning of the 27th, at about 7 o'clock, Govan was sent to the north front on a reconnaissance, with directions to swing to the left in his advance. From time to time, while engaged in this reconnaissance, Govan sent me word that the enemy was moving to the right—his own left.
Source: Civil War Maps by Hal Jesperson
The terrain over which the enemy would have to approach was dense and jungle-like. Cleburne arranged his guns to fire directly into the thick woods in his front. By late afternoon, having made his final arrangements, holding Lowrey's Brigade in reserve and placing Govan to the right of Polk, and Brig. Gen. Hiram Granbury's Regiment to Govan's right, Cleburne was ready to receive the inevitable assault. His line stretched along on a low ridge above the valley of Little Pumpkinvine Creek.

It was just in time. At 4:30 PM, Gens. Thomas J. Wood's and Richard W. Johnson's divisions of Gen. O.O. Howard's corps started their advance towards Govan's and Granbury's front, beginning their fire at the edge of a field within 400 yards of the Confederate line. They were aiming for the top of the slope where Cleburne's distinctive blue divisional flags could be seen clearly. While the Federals were determined to move around the Confederate right flank, they were attempting this feat without the support of Federal artillery. Throughout the battle, 8 solid lines of Federal soldiers assaulted Cleburne's line.

From the edge of the field the fighting was uphill for the Federals. Cleburne remarked that the enemy displayed "courage worthy of an honorable cause—pressing in steady throngs to within a few paces of our men." Their determined advance up the slope was hampered by rocks and thick undergrowth, making their progress slow and deadly under the Confederate fire. During their attack, Cleburne's men "slaughtered them with deliberate aim," the general wrote in his report, leaving their dead in piles. Hotchkiss’s artillery ended up being out of position for using the guns to fire into the enemy approaching through the ravine. But, Capt. Thomas J. Key had moved 2 guns from his Arkansas Battery forward by hand and added to the murderous slaughter.

Slightly to the right of Granbury's front was a cornfield abut 300 yards square, which the enemy crossed, but was met by a detachment from Govan's Regiment (Col. George F. Baucum's) sent to counter this new emergency. The men charged down the ridge toward the attacking Federals and drove them back.

Brig. Gen. Mark P. Lowrey
As this counterattack was taking place, Cleburne ordered Brig. Gen. Mark P. Lowrey to move his men up to the right of Granbury to prolong Granbury's threatened line holding the ridge. Lowrey marched his men "about a mile and a half, most of the way in double-quick," he wrote. Along the way, Cleburne met Lowrey and personally explained the situation with the encouragement to move rapidly and to secure Granbury's right. "Granbury was hotly engaged," wrote Lowrey, "and the enemy had already passed to the rear of his right flank, and was pressing on."

Granbury's men indeed were having a difficult time holding their position. At the critical moment, Lowrey threw his regiments into the fight as each arrived. Then on horseback he personally assisted Col. Samuel Adams in his brigade's fight to hold the hill. From Cleburne's report:
[Lowrey's] arrival was most opportune, as the enemy was beginning to pour around Baucum's right. Colonel Adams, with the Thirty-third Alabama, which was the first of Lowrey's regiments to form into line, took position on Baucum's right and advanced with him, his seven left companies being in the field with Baucum, and his other four in the woods to the right. Baucum and Adams, finding themselves suffering from the enemy's direct and oblique fire, withdrew, passing over the open space of the field behind them. The right companies of Adams, which were in the woods, retired to a spur which rises from the easterly edge of the field about 200 yards from its southerly edge, where Baucum's and Adams' left companies rested. Here they halted. Captain [William E.] Dodson, with fine judgment perceiving the importance of the position—it would have given the enemy an enfilading fire upon Granbury, which would have dislodged him—and making his company the basis of alignment for the remainder of Lowrey's, now coming into position. This retrogade movement across the field was not attended with loss as might have been expected, the enemy not advancing as it was made. It was mistaken, however, for a repulse, and some of my staff officers hearing that my line had broken hastened forward [Brig. Gen. William A.] Quarles' brigade, of [Maj. Gen. A.P.] Stewart's division, just then providentially sent up by General Hood to re-establish it. Lowrey, being under the same impression, detached his two right regiments (which had not been engaged) under Colonels [W.H.H.] Tison [Great Grandfather Oakes's regiment] and [A.B.] Hardcastle, and had them quickly formed in support of Baucum and Adams. The error, however, was soon discovered, and my line being ascertained to remain in its integrity, Quarles' brigade was conducted to the rear of Lowrey, and formed as a second line. The Fourth Louisiana, Colonel [S.E.] Hunter, finding itself opposite an interval between the two regiments of Lowrey's line (caused by Baucum's resting closer upon Granbury on his return from the advance, than he had done at first), under the immediate superintendence of General Quarles, advanced with great spirit into the field, halted, and delivered a very effective fire upon the enemy in his front. After some minutes Quarles withdrew this regiment and formed it behind the field, where they continued their fire across it. General Quarles and his brigade have my thanks. During these movements the battle continued to rage on Granburys front, and was met with unflagging spirit. About the time of Quarles getting into position night came on, when the combat lulled. For some hours afterward a desultory dropping fire, with short, vehement bursts of musketry, continued, the enemy lying in great numbers immediately in front of portions of my line, and so near it, that their footsteps could be distinctly heard. 
Lowrey's men, pouring fire from the ridge into the Federal flank, provided the blow the Confederate right needed to stop a further advance. Concerning the importance of his troops' action at the climax of this battle, Lowrey wrote,
Here, again, a victory was secured by a dash, that could have been secured in no other way. Granbury's gallant Texans fought as but few troops would have fought, and the destruction of the enemy in their front was perhaps the greatest that occurred during the whole war, considering the number engaged and the length of time. But the position could not have been held had not the right flank been secured, and I am quire sure this could not have been held if I had waited to put my whole brigade in position, and move them all up at once. Indeed, it was one of those times in which the victory trembled in the scale, and the lives of many men, and probably the destiny of an army hung upon a moment of time.
Later around 10 PM, Cleburne sent forward Granbury's and Lowrey's men as scouts to determine what lay in their front. Cleburne writes:
Granbury, finding it impossible to advance his skirmishers until he had cleared his front of the enemy lying up against it, with my consent, charged with his whole line, Walthall, with his brigade, from Hindman's division, whom I sent to his support, taking his place in the line as he stepped out of it. The Texans, their bayonets fixed, plunged into the darkness with a terrific yell, and with one bound were upon the enemy, but they met with no resistance. Surprised and panic-stricken many fled, escaping in the darkness, others surrendered and were brought into our lines. It needed but the brilliancy of this night attack to add luster to the achievements of Granbury and his brigade in the afternoon. I am deeply indebted to them both. My thanks are also due to General Lowrey for the coolness and skill which he exhibited in forming his line. His successive formation was the precise answer to the enemy's movement in extending his left to turn our right. Time was of the essence of things, and his movement was the quickest. His line was formed under heavy fire, on ground unknown to him and of the most difficult character, and the stern firmness with which he and his men and Baucum's regiment drove off the enemy and resisted his renewed attacks without doubt saved the right of the army, as Granbury had already done before.
As the sun came up the next day, Cleburne's men looked out upon a scene of terrible destruction with hundreds of dead and dying men everywhere. Lt. Thomas J. Stokes of Cleburne's Division, who participated in this final charge, wrote home in May 1864 to his sister, Mary Gay, about the dreadful aftermath of the battle:
The next morning I had the privilege of walking over the whole ground, and such a scene! Here lay the wounded, the dying, and the dead, hundreds upon hundreds, in every conceivable position; some with contorted features, showing the agony of death, others as if quietly sleeping. I noticed some soft beardless faces which ill comported with the savage warfare in which they had been engaged. Hundreds of letters from mothers, sisters, and friends were found upon them, and ambrotypes, taken singly and in groups. Though they had been my enemies, my heart bled at the sickening scene. The wounded nearly all expressed themselves tired of the war.
About 24,000 soldiers participated in the fierce fighting. The struggle was often face-to-face with many of the Federal attackers falling within 10 feet of Cleburne's line. Despite the ferocity of the battle, Cleburne stated that his division's casualties were but "few." He reported 85 killed and 363 wounded out of 4,683 armed men he took into the fight. These were mostly from Granbury's, Govan's, and Lowrey's Regiments (Lowrey's received the most casualties at 1831) since Polk's men, who were on the left of the line, were not engaged. The total loss for the Confederates was around 500. The Federals lost 1,600 in killed, wounded, and missing, fulfilling what one Yankee soldier and writer Lt. Ambrose Bierce later called a "criminal blunder" in the "Crime at Pickett's Mill."

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
Plaque at New Hope Church
There will be much more fighting to come in the Atlanta Campaign. But on this date in 1864, Cleburne's brilliant stand at Pickett's Mill, repulsed the attack of Howard's corps and saved the right wing of the Confederate army. Just as importantly, his division kept Sherman from cutting off Johnston's supply line to Atlanta. Gen. Hood later wrote about Cleburne and his division at Pickett's Mill: “He was for the first time under my immediate command at New Hope Church where his Division... achieved the most brilliant success of Johnston’s campaign.” Historian Craig L. Symonds observed that "Cleburne’s success at Pickett’s Mill proved that Missionary Ridge and Ringgold Gap had not been flukes. For a third time, his command had decisively repelled an attack by a much larger force, and for a third time he had saved the army from potential disaster."

On the morning of the 28th, Johnston sent Bate's Division on the left against the Federals near Dallas. This time it was the the Confederates' turn to be repulsed. After that attack, there were no other general engagements in the Dallas/New Hope Church vicinity. By June 4th, Sherman managed to concentrate his 3 armies around New Hope Church and move part of his force eastward around the Confederate right. Johnston had no choice but to evacuate overnight to a new position 10 miles south. Heavy rains prevented Sherman from immediately pursuing.

My Great Grandfather recalled in a letter to the editor of the Confederate Veteran, Vol. 7 (1889), that his close comrade in Co. D, Miley Steele, “was never wounded until the engagement at New Hope, Ga., where he was wounded in the thigh.” Steele would recover and continue to fight in Co. D through the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee.
In his memoirs Gen. Sherman made scant mention of the Battles of New Hope Church. He also failed even to acknowledge his soldiers' honorable sacrifice in the Battle of Pickett's Mill.

Sources: Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; Brig. Gen. Mark P. Lowrey's AutobiographyThe Battles of New Hope Church, Russell W. Blount, Jr.; War So Terrible, James Lee McDonough & James Pickett Jones; Advance and Retreat, John Bell Hood; Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn; Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce, Vol 1; Life in Dixie during the War 1861-1862-1863-1864-1865Mary A. H. Gay; Memoirs of Gen. William T. ShermanOfficial Records, Vol 38, Pts. 3 & 4

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The destructive effects of Sherman's army

After Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston's withdrawal from Cassville on May 20, 1864, Federal Gen. William T. Sherman's overall plan for continuing his campaign through Georgia was to move his army in several columns to Dallas, and then along the ridge between the Etowah and Chattahooche Rivers to Marietta. Sherman planned to move his force away from its rail supply line, so he ordered his army to carry 20-days' supply of rations in their march. His decision effectively turned his men into looters and marauders in their destructive march through the north Georgia countryside. Union Maj. Gen. Jacob D. Cox writes apologetically of his army during this phase of the campaign:
The tendency of war to make men relapse into barbarism becomes most evident when an army is living in any degree upon the enemy's country. Desolation follows in its track, and the utmost that discipline can do is to mitigate the evil. The habit of disregarding rights of property grows apace. The legitimate exercise of the rules of war is not easily distinguished from their abuse. The crops are trampled down, the fences disappear, the timber is felled for breastworks and for camp-fires, the green forage is used for the army horses and mules, barns and houses may be dismantled to build or to floor a bridge,—all this is necessary and lawful. But the pigs and the poultry also disappear, though the subsistence officers are issuing full and abundant rations to the troops; the bacon is gone from the smoke-house, the flour from the bin, the delicacies from the pantry. These things, though forbidden, are half excused by sympathy with the soldier's craving for variety of food. Yet, as the habit of measuring right by might goes on, pillage becomes wanton and arson is committed to cover the pillage. The best efforts of a provost-marshal with his guard will be useless when superior officers, and especially colonels of regiments, encourage or wink at license. The character of different commands becomes as notoriously different as that of the different men of a town. Our armies were usually free from the vagabond class of professional camp-followers that scour a European battlefield and strip the dead and the wounded. We almost never heard of criminal personal assaults upon the unarmed and defenceless; but we cannot deny that a region which had been the theatre of active war became desolate sooner or later. A vacant house was pretty sure to be burned, either by malice or by accident, until, with fences gone, the roads an impassable mire, the fields bare and cut up with innumerable wagon-tracks, no living thing to be seen but carrion birds picking the bones of dead horses and mules, Dante's "Inferno" could not furnish a more horrible and depressing picture than a countryside when war has swept over it. 
The orders issued from our army headquarters in Georgia forbade soldiers from entering houses or stripping families of the necessaries of life. Most of the officers honestly tried to enforce this rule; but in an army of a hundred thousand men, a small fraction of the whole would be enough to spoil the best efforts of the rest. The people found, too, that it was not only the enemy they had to fear. The worse disciplined of their own troops and the horde of stragglers were often as severe a scourge as the enemy. Yet I believe that nowhere in the world is respect for person and property more sincere than among our own people. The evils described are those which may be said to be necessarily incident to the waging of war, and are not indications of ferocity of nature or uncommon lack of discipline.
Source: Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Jacob Dolson Cox

Monday, May 19, 2014

Clash at Cassville, May 18-19, 1864

Withdrawing from his position near Adairsville on May 18, 1864, Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston moved his Army of Tennessee further south to Cassville. His plan was to deceive Gen. William T. Sherman and destroy a portion of his advancing army.

Source: Civil War Maps by Hal Jesperson
There were 2 roads leading south from Adairsville, one was along the Western and Atlantic Railroad to Kingston and the other to Cassville. Johnston's strategy assumed that Sherman would divide his army in order to use both roads. This would give the Confederates an opportunity to attack one column before the other could come to its aid.

Johnston ordered William Hardee's Corps to move to Kingston as the decoy, while he with Gens. Leonidas Polk's and John B. Hood's Corps fell back toward Cassville. He hoped that Sherman would believe that the larger Confederate force was in Kingston and would, therefore, concentrate his forces there. Hardee was to hold up the Federals at Kingston while Johnston prepared the rest of his army to destroy the other column moving to Cassville.

Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne, in whose division my Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes was serving, wrote in his report that his division was the last of Hardee's to withdraw from the battle line at Adairsville in the early hours of May 18th. Leaving skirmishers behind to cover their withdrawal, and moving in a dense fog, his division followed Hardee's Corps down the road to Kingston. At this point there was nothing between Cleburne's men and the pursuing enemy.

Cleburne's Division reached Kingston later that morning, where he rested his men for several hours. As per Johnston's plan, on today's date, he then marched 3 of his brigades, including Great Grandfather's (Lowrey's Brigade), to Cassville, arriving there by mid-afternoon. He left Lucius Polk's Brigade in Kingston as a rear guard to hold the enemy in check, which would follow later.

Gen. Johnston had guessed correctly. When Sherman arrived on site at Adairsville, he wrongly interpreted the tracks he saw as those of Johnston's whole army on its way to Kingston. This confirmed to him his decision for sending Gen. James McPherson's and most of Gen. George H. Thomas's army to Kingston. He ordered only Gen. John Schofield's and a single corps of Thomas's army to Cassville.

Earlier in the morning of the 18th, McPherson and his corps, which was camped 4 miles northwest of Kingston, began the march to that town, ready for battle with the Confederates there. At the same time, Thomas's army, accompanied by Sherman, was 3.5 miles north of Kingston, and was also moving on the town. When the generals converged on Kingston they were surprised to find that the Confederate army was not there, but instead was 5.5 miles away at Cassville.

The morning of today's date brought an opportunity for a Confederate offensive. Federal Gen. Joseph Hooker's corps was marching on the road to Cassville, looking to find the railroad between Kingston and Cassville and to ultimately hook up with Thomas on his right. At the same time, Johnston, who thought that Sherman must have learned by now the location of his Confederate army, did not know that Sherman was still in the dark, and therefore concluded that Sherman was heading to Cassville.

The aggressive Gen. Hood volunteered his corps for an immediate attack on the Federal column heading in his direction. Hood marched his men along a country road a mile or so east of the Cassville road and formed them facing west to strike the enemy's left flank. At the same time, Polk's Corps would attack the head of the column. The Confederate's position for this attack was a good one. However, as Hood was moving into position, he encountered Federal soldiers to the east, which he feared would attack his corps's exposed flank and rear. So after only a brief skirmish, Hood fell back, and the Confederate advantage was lost. Johnston, understanding that it was too late to regroup and resume the offensive, ordered Hood and Polk to move to a new line east and south of Cassville, where they would be joined by Hardee's Corps, now pulling back from Kingston. Here he believed the army could make its stand.

By the afternoon, Johnston had arranged his army to deliver a fight from a wooded ridge below Cassville. It was a strong position from which to offer battle to Sherman. He placed Hood's Corps on the right. Polk's army was placed in the center across the Adairsville road. He positioned Hardee on the left to cover the route from Kingston, with Cleburne's Division across the rail line before it passes Cass Station.

In the meantime, not finding Johnston at Kingston and assuming he was retreating further south, Sherman ordered Thomas to move his column east on the Cassville road to join Hooker and Schofield. As Thomas pushed towards Cassville in the afternoon, he met advanced units from Hardee's Corps in his path. He mistakenly interpreted this Confederate force as a single division, and reported such to Sherman. Thomas was unaware that he had run into the whole Confederate army. 

At this point, the situation for Johnston looked promising. He had the defensive advantage, and his army had now been strengthened to over 70,000 troops, the largest force the Army of Tennessee would ever see again. Perhaps best of all for Johnston, Sherman had fallen for his ruse.

In the late afternoon, Sherman arrived on the scene and ordered a bombardment of the Confederate line to provide cover for the advance of his infantry, which he planned to use in an attack in the morning.

While nightfall brought an end to the cannonade, the attack demonstrated to the Confederates that the enemy could effectively enfilade their position. Alarmed by the effectiveness of the artillery against them, Hood and Polk went to inform Johnston. They insisted that their positions were too vulnerable to defend. Hardee was of a different opinion, but he could not convince his fellow generals to change their minds. So, in the end, Johnston gave in and ordered a retreat through Cartersville across the Etowah River. In his own memoirs, Johnston later wrote that he never ceased to regret the decision.*

Between midnight and 2 AM on the 20th, the disappointed Confederates pulled out of their works and marched across the Etowah River toward Allatoona, 8 miles to the rear. Cleburne's Division crossed over a bridge near the railroad crossing. On the heights about 3 miles south of the river and 2 miles east of Allatoona, his division along with the rest of Hardee's Corps, stopped to guard the army's withdrawal. They remained there for several days before marching on to Dallas.

The decision at Cassville was a frustrating disappointment to most of the rest of Johnston's officers and men who had been led to believe that they were done with retreating.


The original town of Cassville founded in 1833, is no more, having been destroyed by Sherman's cavalry in November 1864. Only a simple stone cenotaph with a commemorative iron plaque marks its location. However, in 1899, the Cassville Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy honored the 300 or so unknown Confederate soldiers who died of wounds or disease in hospitals located in Cassville. The hospitals operated from late 1861 until they were evacuated with Johnston's retreating army. One of the markers from 1899 in the cemetery has this inscription:
So long as breathes a Southern woman, so long as time shall last, so long will Southern women cherish and honor the memory of the Confederate soldier and meet annually to strew their resting place with choicest garlands.

Photos by Mark Dolan, June 2010

* Even Johnston's opponents recognized this fact. Union general, Maj. Gen. Jacob B. Cox, wrote in his memoirs, "The order to fight had been published, and even a defeat might be less mischievous than the sudden retreat in the night without joining the battle which had been so formally announced. Either the order had been an error or the retreat was one. Every soldier in the army knew this, and the morale of the whole was necessarily affected by it."

Sources: Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn; Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864, Albert Castel; Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Jacob Dolson Cox; Narrative of Military Operations During the Civil War, Joseph E. Johnston; Official Records, Vol. 38, Pts. 3 & 4

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Battle of Adairsville, 1864

Following the Battle of Resaca, May 13-15, 1864, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston hoped to fight Gen. William T. Sherman's pursuing army near Adairsville in the valley of the Oothcalooga Creek.

Shortly after midnight on today's date in 1864, Gen. Patrick Cleburne, in whose division was serving Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes in Lowrey's Brigade, withdrew his troops along with other divisions from Gen. William J. Hardee's Corps, from Calhoun, south to a new position north of Adairsville, arriving there about daylight. Hardee's men, together with Gen. Joseph Wheeler's cavalry, held the Federals in check all along the way.

Throughout the day and into the evening of the 17th, the opposing forces skirmished with each other. About 2 miles north of Adairsville Gen. Oliver O. Howard’s Corps ran into Hardee’s entrenched divisions. Gen. Benjamin Cheatham's Division was first to meet the attack near the Saxon House, which came at 3 PM. Cleburne's Division was entrenched behind rifle pits about 800 yards in Cheatham's rear. Polk's and Granbury's Brigades formed his first line, and Govan's and Lowrey's were in the second. Cheatham's men received the brunt of the attack, which resulted in heavy losses for the Federals. Cleburne's Division was spared any serious action in this conflict.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010    
The Robert Saxon ("Octagon") House was one of the landmarks in Hardee's
sector. Pvt. Sam Watkins recalled it in his famous book where his regiment
held off a Federal attack here, receiving 30 casualties, before abandoning it
to the enemy. The Federals burned the house the next day.
The Oothcalooga Valley, which Johnston chose for the engagement, proved too wide to adequately defend. Therefore, he decided at midnight to pull his army further back towards Cassville. The fighting at Adairsville by Hardee's Corp and Wheeler's cavalry provided the delaying action Johnston needed to pull his army further back. Johnston had a new strategy for Cassville, one he hoped would lead to the destruction of a part of Sherman's forces.

Sherman by now had concentrated his men in the Adairsville area to attack Johnston on the 18th, but Johnston had already withdrawn.


At Adairsville on the 18th, Gen. Johnston found some time to be the object of a simple religious ceremony. In deference to a request by his wife, the general asked to be baptized. In a small ceremony in Johnston's tent, Gen. Leonidas Polk, who was also an Episcopal Bishop, baptized the general in the presence of Gens. Hood (whom he had baptized at Dalton a week before), Hardee, and the senior staff. The great Christian revival, which swelled at Dalton, has now reached to the supreme Confederate commander in the West.

Sources: Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864, Albert Castel; Company Aytch, Sam R. Watkins; Leonidas Polk: Bishop and General, W.M. Polk; Official Records, Vol. 38, Pt. 3

Friday, May 16, 2014

Skirmishing at Calhoun

Having been forced to withdraw from Resaca, Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston positioned his Army of Tennessee at Calhoun on this date in 1864.

Late the night of the 15th, Gen. Patrick Cleburne had withdrawn his division from Resaca. With Cleburne's Division, Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes crossed the Oostenaula River, halting with the army north of Calhoun. On the morning of today's date, Cleburne formed his men in a defensive line of battle along the road to the town before being ordered to face a Federal force seeking a way through or around it. Joining Walker's and Bate's Divisions, his Confederates formed the rear guard and skirmished with the enemy while the main of the army rested for a few hours. Great Grandfather's 32nd Regiment was posted on a hill, supporting the artillery.

Source: Historic Markers Across Georgia

Since Calhoun did not offer an acceptable defensive position, Johnston planned instead to make a stand 8 miles south, just north of Adairsville, in the valley formed by the Oothcalooga River. He moved the army in the early hours of the 17th, while his cavalry under the command of Gen. Joseph Wheeler, fought a skillful rearguard action south of town.

Sources: Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; Autumn of Glory, Thomas Lawrence Connelly; Military History of Mississippi, 1803-1898, Dunbar Rowland; Official Records, Vol. 38, Pt. 3

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Cleburne's Division at the Battle of Resaca, 1864

When Gen. William T. Sherman's 100,000-man Union force flanked him at Rocky Face Ridge, Confederate, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston was forced to withdraw his Army of Tennessee to the hills around Resaca, Georgia. Here he will make a stand in the Battle of Recaca, fought on May 13-15, 1864.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
WPA map of the Battle of Resaca, May 13-15, 1864*
Gen. Patrick Cleburne marched his division (in which Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes was serving in the 32nd Mississippi) with William J. Hardee's Corps to the ridge above Camp Creek Valley where his men built rifle pits to defend against the advancing enemy. Har-dee's Corps was in the center of the line, Polk's Corps was on the left, and Hood's Corps was placed on on the right, extending across the rail line to the Conasauga River. Johnston intended to defend Resaca in the hopes that Sherman will make a costly frontal assault or leave himself open to a counterstrike.

For his part, Sherman is under the impression that Johnston is merely stalling to gain time to retreat further south across the Ostanaula River. With that in mind, Sherman ordered a pontoon bridge to be assembled across the river at Lay's Ferry, which he planed to use in order to cut of Johnston's retreat. In the meantime, he will try to keep Johnston's army in place.

Soon on the 13th, Federal soldiers began skirmishing with the Confederates, probing the army's strength. Full-scale fighting commenced early the following morning. Sherman ordered the attacked  to begin on what he assumed to be the Confederate right. Due to the difficult terrain Sherman's assault accomplished little, and by mid-afternoon it ground to a halt with significant losses. Changing strategies, he he ordered an artillery bombardment of the Confederate position.

Cleburne reported that during the afternoon, "the enemy made several attempts to charge, but uniformly they were unhappy failures." In this afternoon struggle, Cleburne's sharpshooters had the major role. They repeatedly silenced the Union batteries firing from 800 yards away, and also destroyed a line of Federal skirmishers. On Hood's front, his men made a successful charge before darkness brought it to a halt. Union troops were generally repulsed along the line.

On the 15th, the battle continued with no advantage to either side. Sherman was learning that direct assaults were too costly, so he attempted a tactic that worked for him at Rocky Face Ridge, and one he will employ throughout the Atlanta Campaign: He ordered a flanking movement. Having numerical superiority of nearly 2 to 1, he was able to leave a large force at Resaca to threaten Johnston's front while using his right wing to turn the Confederate left. He also sent a force over the Oostanula River behind Johnston and towards his railroad lifeline to Atlanta.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
Cemetery at Resaca, final resting place for some 400 Confederate fallen,
many of whom are unknown

Unable to halt this Union turning movement, Johnston employed one of his own tactics that he will use often in the campaign: Defend a position until the advantage is lost, then withdraw to fight again. Because Johnston did not have sufficient forces both to hold the Resaca position and men enough to detach for the threat to his rear, he was forced to retire. For the second time Johnston has escaped disaster, but also has abandoned another strategically strong defensive position, thus permitting Sherman to push further towards Atlanta.

The battle's outcome was indecisive. For its part, the 32nd Mississippi Regiment suffered 5 killed and 7 wounded. As a whole the army received 2,800 casualties to a Union loss of over 4,000.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
Late in the evening of the 15th, Cleburne withdrew his division with the rest of the corps under the protection of skirmishers left behind for cover. They crossed the Ostenaula River over a trestle bridge, and marched to within a few miles of Calhoun. The battle for Cleburne's men at Recaca had been relatively light. That will change almost immediately, and in the weeks ahead, his men will be called upon to defend the army in near ceaseless fighting.

Johnston will rest his army at Calhoun before marching them on the 17th to a new defensive position at Adairsville.

* An excellent map of the battle is available at the Civil War Trust website.

Sources: Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn; Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864, Albert Castel; A Different Valor: Joseph E. Johnston, Gilbert Govan & James Livingwood; Military History of Mississippi, 1803-1898, Dunbar Rowland; Official Records, Vol. 38, Pt. 3

Monday, May 12, 2014

Prepositioning for the Battle of Resaca

Having his plans for the defense of Dalton spoiled by Gen. William T. Sherman's attacks over the previous days along Rocky Face Ridge, and the enemy's movement around him, Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston was forced to give up his strong position and begin falling back to Resaca. On the morning of May 11, 1864, Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne, in whose division Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes was serving, marched his men from Dug Gap on the Sugar Valley road to a new position 10 miles south, near Resaca. There Cleburne ordered his men, now the rear guard of the army, to build breastworks to defend against the enemy advancing in his direction.

Early morning on today's date in 1864, Cleburne's pickets were driven in by advancing Federal soldiers. His men reported a strong enemy division nearby. Cleburne prepared his man for the anticipated attack. However, the cavalry force opposing him chose to avoid a confrontation.

By now, Sherman had fortified Villanow and was massing his Federal troops in Snake Creek Gap. By noon, Sherman and most of his army had passed through the gap and were skirmishing with the Confederate rear guard along the small Camp Creek. In the meantime, Cleburne collected reconnaissance about the enemy and passed on the information.

Cleburne's men were able to hold up Sherman's advance until the remainder of Johnston's troops arrived at Resaca from Dalton.

Having planned to make a stand at Resaca, Johnston formed his army along a ridge west of town facing Gen. William T. Sherman's approaching army.

Sources: Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; Official Records, Vol. 38, Pt. 3

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Cleburne's Division at the Battle of Rocky Face Ridge, 1864

William T. Sherman's Atlanta Campaign of 1864 kicks off with an attack on
Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee at Rocky Face Ridge/Dalton, GA.
SSource: Civil War Maps by Hal Jesperson
By May 5, 1864,1 Confed-erate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston was alerted to a Federal force moving on his Army of Tennessee en-trenched around Dalton, Georgia. He, therefore, ar-ranged his army to meet the enemy, now under the com-mand of Gen. William T. Sherman.

Johnston formed his main infantry line across Mill Creek Gap, known locally as Buzzard Roost Pass, and from there north for about a mile on the crest of Rocky Face Ridge. His line then continued across Crow Valley. He placed Patrick R. Cleburne's Division north, in front of Dalton, behind Mill Creek Gap. Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes was serving in the 32nd Mississippi Regiment, which was commanded by Col. William H.H. Tison, in Mark P. Lowrey's Brigade of Cleburne's Division.

On today's date, a Saturday in 1864, forces under Gen. George H. Thomas took Tunnel Hill, opening the Battle of Rocky Face Ridge, May 7-13. The next day, his troops attacked Johnston's main line where they encountered well entrenched Confederate forces. Although outnumbering the Rebels here 10 to 1, they were turned back. Surprised by the defeat of his larger force Thomas decided to probe the line further north, near Buzzard Roost, defended in part by Cleburne's Division, while Gen. James McPherson moved his army south in the direction of Resaca in an attempt to outflank the Confederate's position. Thomas ordered 5 five full-scale attacks against the defenders at Mill Creek Gap, but ultimately met with defeat.

Mill Creek Gap/Buzzard Roost Pass, Georgia, 1864
From the Matthew Brady Collection

Elsewhere on the line, Union Gen. John Schofield was moving his army south from Red Clay, when he was attacked by Confederate Gen. Joseph Wheeler's cavalry. While Thomas was moving his attack further north to Buzzard Roost, Schofield skirmished with Wheeler's men. On the 9th, Wheeler attacked a portion of Shoffield's cavalry force at Prater's Mill and delivered Sherman his first defeat of the campaign.

In the late afternoon of the 8th, an urgent situation for the Confederates developed at Dug Gap—it was under attack. Dug Gap was a vital pass through the Rocky Face Ridge, 5 miles southwest of Dalton. Its defense was critical. Part of Cleburne's Division was ordered from Mill Creek Gap to reinforce Dug Gap, defended by only 2 small regiments of dismounted cavalry. Cleburne led Lowrey's and Hiram Granbury's Brigades in a rapid march in extreme heat up the steep ridge, arriving at the gap around sundown. While the attack was continuing, Cleburne arranged his brigades to relieve the defenders, which were struggling to hold their position. For a while, the Federals shelled the ridge, but as night fell, the enemy withdrew, leaving behind many of its dead and wounded along with many small arms. Historian Albert Castel notes about the action of Cleburne's men at Dug Gap: "The fight—the first real one of the campaign—is over, and what could have been, against less resolute resistance, a calamitous Union breakthrough has turned out to be a one-sided Confederate victory."

Fighting at Dug Gap, sketched by A.R. Waud
Source: The Civil War Trust

Federal success was to come elsewhere on the battle line. Earlier, on the morning of the 8th, Gen. James B. McPherson's army had crossed Taylor's Ridge at Ship's and Gordon's Springs Gaps, then marched through Villanow and took the important Snake Creek Gap—a narrow 4-mile gorge through the ridge—with little opposition.2 On the 9th, his army passed through the gap to within a mile of Resaca, threatening the railroad there. If he could take control of the town and the railroad, Sherman would have the Confederates trapped between enemy forces in the north and south.

To counter McPherson's surprise move, in the early hours of the 10th, Cleburne with Lowrey's and Granbury's Regiments, along with and 2 other divisions, were ordered toward Resaca. But, while waiting near the town, Cleburne received orders to return to Dug Gap due to a change in the enemy's movements. Fearful of being cut off from the rest of the Federal army, the nervous McPherson turned back. While he had managed to secure Snake Creek Gap, which provided the opening through the ridge Sherman needed, his undue caution ultimately allowed Johnston to escape down the rail line, thus ensuring another confrontation on May 13-15.

Despite McPherson's decision to pull back, together with the Federal repulse at Dug Gap and other points along the Confederate line, Sherman's attacks had managed to upset the Confederate plan to defend Dalton. Johnston was compelled to withdraw.

Leaving Thomas to attack the the main Confederate line on the 10th, Sherman moved the rest of his army south. Thomas's demonstrations were weak against the Confederates that had resisted several earlier frontal assaults over the previous 2 days. But they did give the rest of Sherman's force time to advance along the west side of Taylor Ridge undetected by Johnston's army.

On the11th, Gen. Leonidas Polk arrived at Dalton from Rome, Georgia, with a force of 15,000, bringing up the strength of the Army of Tennessee to nearly 65,000 men. However, with a superior enemy force now in his rear, Johnston withdrew on the 12th, and fell back to Resaca.

Thus began Sherman's Atlanta Campaign of 1864.

On the same date, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant launched his simultaneous Overland Campaign against Gen. Robert E. Lee's army in the Battle of the Wilderness. While both armies suffered heavy casualties, on May 7, it was Grant who disengaged and moved southeast for another battle at Spotsylvania on May 8.
Gen. Wheeler was assigned to defend Snake Creek Gap with his cavalry. However, on May 7, he removed his pickets for fighting to the north. Failing to maintain reconnaissance in this area of Taylor's Ridge left the Confederates unprepared for the Federal advance. Of course, Johnston should have understood the importance of defending the gap with a sufficient force to hold it.

Sources: Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn; Autumn of Glory, Thomas Lawrence Connelly; Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864, Albert Castel; Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Jacob Dolson Cox; Official Records, Vol. 38, Pt. 3