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
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
|Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010|
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.
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.
Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne
|Source: Civil War Maps by Hal Jesperson|
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.
|Brig. Gen. Mark P. Lowrey|
[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.
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.
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.
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.
Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010Plaque at New Hope Church
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.
2 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.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
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.
Monday, May 19, 2014
|Source: Civil War Maps by Hal Jesperson|
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.
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.
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
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.
Friday, May 16, 2014
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.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010WPA map of the Battle of Resaca, May 13-15, 1864*
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.
Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010Cemetery at Resaca, final resting place for some 400 Confederate fallen,
many of whom are unknown
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|
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.
Monday, May 12, 2014
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.
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
|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
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.
|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.
|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.
Thus began Sherman's Atlanta Campaign of 1864.
2 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.