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.

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

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