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, June 30, 2014

Marietta Confederate Cemetery

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
The Confederate Cemetery in Marietta,1 Georgia was established in 1863 when Mrs. Jane Porter Glover donated a corner of her Bushy Park Plantation for the burial of 20 Confederate soldiers who died in a train wreck just north of Marietta near the Allatoona Pass. It is now the final resting place for more than 3,000 soldiers from every Confederate state, plus Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri. It is the largest Confederate cemetery south of Richmond.2

As Sherman's Atlanta Campaign drew close, a large number of fallen soldiers who fought nearby were buried here. The cemetery experienced even greater expansion after the war as the remains of Confederate soldiers who fell elsewhere in Georgia were brought to Marietta for reburial. In 1866, the Georgia Legislature appropriated $3,500 to collect the remains of soldiers who were killed on Georgia battlefields.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
The white marble "Arch of Tribute," erected in 1911
The recovery effort was led by women of the Ladies' Aid Society and the Georgia Memorial Association. Groups were sent in search of soldiers who were killed on the battlefields at ChickamaugaRinggoldKolb's FarmKennesaw Mountain, and other points north of the Chattahoochee River. These dedicated women helped bring the remains of hundreds of Con-federate soldiers to rest with their comrades in Marietta.

In 1902, the original wooden markers were replaced with plain marble markers that are seen today. 

In 1907, the cemetery was deeded to the Ladies' Memorial Association. The Association, in turn, transferred the property to the state of Georgia in 1908. After the Spanish-American War, this cemetery became the first place in the South where the Confederate flag was allowed to fly. The hillside also became the focal point of the city's Confederate Memorial Day observance in April.

Three men from Great Grandfather Oakes's 32nd Mississippi Infantry are known to be buried here. One was from Company D, company musician Pvt. Miles A. Thomas, who died in the field hospital at Cherokee Springs, near Ringgold, July 21, 1863.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
Mississippi section: Heroes 129
Each Confederate state has a marble monument noting
the section in which its soldiers are buried.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
Wall of Honor in the "Garden of Heroes"

They sleep the sleep of our noble slain,
Defeated, yet without a stain,
Proudly and peacefully.

1Across Powder Springs Street is the Marietta National Cemetery. Originally known as the "Marietta and Atlanta National Cemetery," it was established in 1866 to provide a suitable resting place for the nearly 10,000 Union dead from Sherman's Atlanta Campaign. In a gesture of peaceful reconciliation, a local Unionist, Henry Cole, offered land for a burial ground for both Union and Confederate dead. Not surprisingly, neither side accepted the offer, each preferring to bury its dead with fellow comrades. When his effort failed, 24 acres were offered for use as a national cemetery. By 1870, the cemetery was enlarged to its present size of a little over 23 acres.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
2One of the stirring features of this cemetery is its largest single plot, The Old Slave Lot. Reflecting the realities of a different era, the lot's presence in this cemetery was a rarity in the Old South. No other major cemetery in Georgia had a section devoted to the burial of slaves or free people of African descent. Most other antebellum cemeteries were entirely segregated. Nineteen Christian slaves and freed persons are buried here in unmarked graves. Standing on that spot, I couldn't help but bring to mind the Apostle's words from Galatians 3:26-28—For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. The Christian gospel is the true source of hope for reconciliation.

3Georgia is 1 of 11 states to officially observe a Confederate Memorial Day. Georgia, along with other Southern states, adopted April 26th as the official date, the anniversary of Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's surrender in 1865 to Union Gen. William T. Sherman at Bennett Place, North Carolina (although it is now the last Monday in April). Here in my adopted state, Texans observe "Confederate Heroes Day" on January 19th. In 1973, the Texas legislature combined the previously official state holidays of Robert E. Lee's and Jefferson Davis' birthdays into a single "Confederate Heroes Day" to honor all who had served the Southern Cause.

Gen. John A. Logan was a Union commander who had fought the Army of Tennessee in Georgia. After the war, as the commander-in-chief of the Union Civil War Veterans Fraternity called the Grand Army of the Republic, he launched the Memorial Day holiday, which is now observed throughout the entire United States. He established May 30 as the annual date “for the purpose of strewing flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of Comrades who died in the defense of their country.” First called Decoration Day, then later Memorial Day, the idea actually came from his wife's suggestion. According the John A. Logan Museum website, in March 1868, Mary Logan visited the battlefields around Petersburg, Virginia. While there she visited Blandford Cemetery where she saw wilted flowers and small tattered flags decorating the graves of fallen Confederate veterans. When Mary returned to Washington she told her husband about what she had seen and suggested the North should also honor its fallen soldiers in a similar manner.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, 1864

Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston had carefully arranged his Army of Tennessee in a strong position near Marietta, Georgia, on and around Kennesaw Mountain, awaiting a general attack by Gen. William T. Sherman's Federal army. On today's date in 1864, the 2 armies again clashed, this time in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain.

Sherman, who had been attacking and pushing the Confederates south from Dalton since early May, had at last decided to bring on a large scale frontal attack on the Confederate line. His overall plan was to break through simultaneously at 2 points where he considered the Rebel line vulnerable, thereby preventing one part of Johnston's line from reinforcing the other.

SourceCivil War Maps by Hal Jesperson
Sherman ordered Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield to move his army to the right in the hopes that Johnston would be forced to weaken his line by extending it accordingly. Then he was to attack the Confederate left flank near the Powder Springs Road. His plan for Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson was for his army to make a demonstration on his extreme left to the north of Marietta and the north-eastern end of Kennesaw Mountain, while making a major attack on the southwestern end of Little Kennesaw Mountain. At the same time, Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas was to make the main assault against the Confederate fortifications in the center of their line.

Thomas had the unfortunate task of attacking 2 hardened veteran Confederate divis-ions of Lt. Gen. William Hardee's Corps—Maj. Gens. Benjamin Cheatham's and Patrick R. Cleburne's. My great grandfather, Pvt. Nathan R. Oakes, was in Brig. Gen. Mark Lowrey's Brigade in Cleburne's Division, and would be one of the units to receive the force of Thomas's attack.

These 2 divisions were extended in a single line along a 3-mile rise, now known as Cheatham Hill. Cheatham's Division was posted on the left, with Cleburne's Division assigned to his right, extending to the Dallas Road. Lowery's Brigade was on the left, next to Chatham's Division, Gen. Daniel Govan's in the center, and Gen. Hiram Granbury's on the right. The men had fortified themselves behind a series of strong breastworks. The Federal line was 400 yards away across a small ravine. In front of Lowrey's men were open woods and dense undergrowth, while Govan's troops fronted a field with felled timber scattered on their left.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
By 8 AM, Cleburne's men could see the enemy across the Federal line marching and massing behind their breastworks, readying for an attack. At 8:45, the Federals opened with a fierce artillery barrage. At 9:00, Federal soldiers directed their attack against Cheatham's and Cleburne's line. They were arranged in 2 massed columns, 5 lines deep, with a strong line of skirmishers in the front. Throughout the day, 8,000 Federals would attack the center of the Confederate defenses, aiming much of the attack toward the prominent salient on the south end of Cheatham's line.1

In Cleburne's front, his men held their fire until the enemy was within 75 yards of their defenses. Pouring sustained fire into the ranks of the approaching enemy, the Rebels turned back the advancing wave of bluecoats. At one point, under close fire of the enemy, the bold Gen. Mark Lowrey jumped on the breastworks and moved down his line encouraging his men.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
Confederate cannon covering the direction of the
Federal approach, near where Lowrey's men were posted
The temperature through the day rose to 100 degrees. And the dense woods and thick undergrowth made forward movement toward the Confederate line even more difficult. In some places, exploding shells caused fires to erupt. Flames spread quickly, and many of the Federal wounded were engulfed in the inferno. Unable to watch the horrible scene, one of Cleburne's men, Lt. Col. William Martin, jumped upon the breastworks and waved a white handkerchief as a flag of truce. Immediately, there was a ceasefire while Yankees and Cleburne's men ran forward from their lines to assist the wounded and beat out the flames. The next day, the Union commanders presented the colonel with a matching pair of ivory-handled pistols in gratitude for his action.

After the brief truce, the fighting resumed.2 Aother Federal charge was launched against Cleburne's line, but the Confederates drove it back. Unable to pierce the Rebel position, within a half-hour, the last attack was called off. A thousand Federal soldiers were killed on Cheatham Hill. In Cleburne's  Division there were only 2 killed and 9 wounded. Cheatham lost 194.

To the east, as at Cheatham Hill, the battle did not go well for Sherman. Except for some success in Schofield's front, the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain was a tactical defeat for his army. 6,000 soldiers on both sides lost their lives on this day. Sherman's losses were 3 casualties for every 1 in Johnston's army. In front of Cleburne's men, the Federal loss was more than 9 to 1. The battle would be Sherman's last attempt at a major frontal assault against a fortified position. Going forward, Sherman will return to his flanking strategy. He will move part of his army around Johnston, forcing the Confederates to withdraw. The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain is judged a failure for Sherman, who squandered his numerical superiority and the courage of his soldiers. 

For Johnston and his Confederates, the Battle of Kennesaw was the most clear-cut victories in the Atlanta campaign. However, the victory brought little actual advantage for the Southerners. Sherman continued to be well supplied by his rail line, and his force remained large and able to absorb his loss. Johnston was soon to recognize that while victorious in this battle, his strategic situation remained the same. Indeed, his line was stretched dangerously thin. He soon learned that some of Sherman's force had pushed beyond his left flank and was actually closer to the Chattahoochee River than his own army, thus potentially threatening his connection to Atlanta. So, on the night of July 2nd, he will withdraw his army from the Kennesaw line.

Within 5 days, Sherman will be ready to advance again upon Johnston's army.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
Illinois Monument at "Dead Angle" on Cheatham Hill
Desperate Illinois men who made it to within 20 yards of the Rebel line, tried
unsuccessfully to dig a tunnel to blow up the entrenchments above them.

 Gen. Cheatham's men held the south end of the hill and the salient which extended outwards toward the advancing enemy. Wave after wave of Federals advanced towards the salient on Cheatham's line. Relentless gunfire killed hundreds of Federal troops, most from Illinois. Incredibly, their leader, Brig. Gen. Daniel McCook, and some of his men made it up the hill to the Rebel line, only to be killed or captured. McCook was one of those mortally wounded here (397 from his brigade were lost). Later, because of the ferocity and tremendous loss of life, both sides would refer to this salient as “The Dead Angle," by which name it still is known today.
On June 30th, men from both armies joined to remove the dead. Bodies that had lain exposed for 3 days were buried in trenches. Men were forbidden to rifle the dead. When they were finished, men from both sides chatted, exchanged newspapers, and traded for coffee and tobacco. By late afternoon, many of the men shook hands, wishing each other "good luck" before returning to their respective trenches. Along some parts of the battle line opposing pickets reached an agreement not to shoot at each other, although that night musketry and artillery fire erupted along Cheatham's and Cleburne's line.
Sherman barely mentioned the sacrifices of his own men in the battle. However, in Gen. Johnston's postwar memoirs he freely acknowledged the courage of the Federal troops who attacked his line in the battle: "The characteristic fortitude of the northwestern soldiers held them under a close and destructive fire long after reasonable hope of success was gone.” 

Sources: Patrick Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; Decision in the West, Albert Castel; The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn; A Light on a Hill, Robbie Neal Sumrall; War So Terrible, James Lee McDonough & James Pickett Jones; Narrative of Military Operations During the Civil War, Joseph E. Johnston; Official Records, Vol. 38, Pt. 1

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Battle of Kolb's Farm, 1864

Fearing becoming surrounded by Federal Gen. William T. Sherman's army, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston moved his Army of Tennessee to a new position straddling Kennesaw Mountain in order to protect his railroad supply line. While Federals fired on the Kennesaw line, Sherman sent James B. McPherson to attack Johnston’s right flank in an attempt to cut the railroad and force the Confederates off Kennesaw. From the 19th to the 21st, McPherson’s men fought a series of fierce skirmishes, but accomplished little.

Next Sherman extended his right wing by sending John Schofield's and Joseph Hooker's corps to envelop the Confederate flank and take Marietta. Johnston countered on the 22nd, by moving John B. Hood’s Corps from his right flank to the left to protect William Hardee's flank in the south where Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes was posted in Patrick Cleburne's Division.

Arriving in his new position at Mt. Zion Church on today's date in 1864, Hood ran into 2 Federal regiments and ordered an immediate attack. Forcing the Federals to withdraw, Hood ordered a pursuit, which quickly ran up against Schofield's and Hooker's entrenched position. Rather than pull back and without informing Johnston, Hood pressed his attack, but it was thwarted. He lost 1,000 men to a Union loss of less than 300.

Although Hood claimed a victory, his fight at Kolb’s Farm accomplished little. As historian Craig L. Symonds notes, "Hood had his moment of glory and reclaimed his reputation as an aggressive commander, but at a cost the Confederacy could ill afford." Hood's bold and rash attack was a harbinger of his policies to come after he takes command of the army in Atlanta.

Sources: War So Terrible, James Lee McDonough & James Pickett Jones; Joseph E. Johnston: A Civil War Biography, Craig L. Symonds; Official Records, Vol. 38, Pt. 1

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Deployed at Kennesaw

Source: Civil War Maps by Hal Jesperson
During the night of today's date in 1864, the corps in which Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes served, William J. Hardee's, was ordered to move again, this time back toward Kennesaw Mountain. Gen. Joseph Johnston, fearing becoming surrounded, was forming a new Confederate position, an 8-mile long line west along the crest of Kennesaw Mountain, curving southwest to the base of Little Kennesaw, then southward 3 miles across the Dallas Road. There it extended over a hill, now known as Cheatham Hill, and ended north of a fork in Ward Creek. This final 3-mile stretch was assigned to Hardee's Corps. Cheatham's Division was posted on his namesake hill, with Cleburne's Division assigned to his right. Cleburne's line extended to the Dallas Road.

Cleburne ordered Gen. Mark Lowery's Brigade, Great Grandfather's, on the left (south), Gen. Daniel Govan's in the center, and Gen. Hiram Granbury's on the right (north). Cleburne ensured that his men were fortified behind strong breastworks with head logs. However, because of the distance to the Dallas Road, he had but only a single line of soldiers.

Four hundred yards away, with a small ravine between, was the opposing Federal line. In Lowrey's front were open woods and dense undergrowth. Govan's men fronted a field with felled timber scattered on his left. Cleburne's troops further fortified their position by driving logs into the ground with sharpened ends pointing outward, interspersed with rails. It was a formidable position, and although the Federals shelled the line constantly, except for heavy skirmishing, they did not attack.

Here Cleburne's men waited for several days for Sherman's general assault, which would develop on the 27th in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain.

Sources: Patrick Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; Decision in the West, Albert Castel

Monday, June 16, 2014

Cleburne's Division at Mud Creek/Darby's Farm

For the past couple of weeks of 1864, Confederate Gen. Patrick Cleburne's Division, Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes's, had been stationed on the northeastern side of Kennessaw Mountain at Gilgal Church. On the 15th, the division skirmished with Hooker's corps of Thomas's army, which soon retreated.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
On today's date in 1864, William Hardee's Corps, which included Cleburne's Division, was ordered to a new position about 2.5 miles southeast along Mud Creek, facing Darby's Farm. There Cleburne ordered his men to dig rifle pits on the ridge with embrasures for his batteries.

Soon, a Federal force moved up to Darby's Farm and began shelling Cleburne's troops. A fierce cannonade followed between the lines. While establishing his new line on the 17th, one of Cleburne's generals and close friend, Lucius Polk, was seriously wounded by an exploding shell. Polk, whose uncle, Gen. Leonidas Polk, was killed 2 days earlier on nearby Pine Mountain, was unable to return to service. Polk's Brigade was broken up and reassigned to other units in the army.

Cleburne's men will remain on duty, skirmishing along Mud Creek, until the 18th, when they will be moved to the slopes of Kennesaw Mountain.

Sources: Patrick Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; Official Records, Vol. 38, Pt. 1

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The death of Bishop Gen. Leonidas Polk

On the morning of today's date in 1864, Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston and Gen. William Hardee planned a ride up the heights at Pine Mountain* to observe firsthand his corps's position in relation the Union batteries in the valley below. Gen. Leoindas Polk was asked to join them.

The Confederate line formed an arc from Lost Mountain and Dallas on the Confederate left to Kennesaw Mountain and Marietta on the right. The left center of the curve was situated at Pine Mountain, which protruded from the main line in a salient on that line.* Rising only 300 feet above the surrounding countryside, the little ridge was cleared of timber and provided an excellent spot from which to observe Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard's corps below. The 3 commanders, with a conspicuous group of aides and subordinates, gathered on the knoll, ignoring warnings that the position was too exposed for the generals.

From the Union battery below, the Confederate generals also were being watched. Sherman was on hand among the Federal troops observing the large crowd of Confederates standing near a battery on the crest only some 600 yards away. He ordered Howard to fire 3 artillery rounds. At the first round, Johnston and Hardee took cover with Polk following behind. But another shot hit Gen. Polk, striking him in the left arm, passing through his chest and right arm before exploding beyond. One of the army's most beloved generals was killed. Johnston and Hardee were overcome with grief.

Later, while examining the body in Marietta, in the pocket of Polk's coat was found his personal copy of the Book of Common Prayer, plus 4 bloodied copies of Chaplain C.T. Quintard's Balm for the Weary and the Wounded. Three of these had been inscribed as gifts to Gens. Johnston, Hardee, and Hood—each of whom Polk, in his capacity as Episcopal Bishop, had recently baptized or confirmed in the church—"with the compliment of Lieut. General Leonidas Polk, June 12, 1864." Apparently, Polk had intended to present them to his fellow generals.

Later that day, Gen. Johnston issued the following communication to his Army of Tennessee:
Comrades, you are called upon to mourn your first captain, your oldest companion in arms, Lieutenant General Polk. He fell to-day at the outpost of this army, the post of duty; the army he raised and commanded, in all of whose trials he shared, to all of whose victories he contributed. In this distinguished leader we have lost the most courteous of gentlemen, the most gallant of soldiers. The Christian, patriot, soldier, has neither lived nor died in vain. His example is before you, his mantle rests upon you.
Much less reverently, Sherman reported to Washington the next day, "We killed Bishop Polk yesterday, and have made good progress today."

* The mountain was just east of Patrick Cleburne's Division, near Gilgal Church, in which Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes and Great Uncle William D. Turner were serving.

Sources: Decision in the West, Albert Castel; "Leonidas Polk: Southern Civil War General," Russell S. Bonds; The Great Revival in the Southern Armies, W.W. Bennett; Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn; Official Records, Vol. 31, Pt. 2

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Withdrawal to Kennesaw

For several days after the Battles of New Hope Church, near Dallas, Georgia, Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston held his army in position against Gen. William T. Sherman's opposing force. On today's date in 1864, certain that Sherman was attempting to flank his army and take the Western & Atlantic Railroad, his lifeline to Atlanta, Johnston ordered his army to withdraw southeast to a position where his communications with Atlanta could be protected.

At 1:00 AM on the 5th, Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes's division, Patrick R. Cleburne's, marched in a downpour on dark and muddy roads to a new Confederate line, which included Kennesaw, Lost, and Pine Mountains. Cleburne's Division was ordered to the line on the northwestern edge of Kennesaw Mountain, near Gilgal Church. On the 8th, Johnston will again shift his line to cover the roads leading south from Ackworth. Cleburne's Division, however, remained at Gilgal Church until the 16th.

Sources: Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn; The Confederate Veteran,Vol. 5, 1897