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, July 28, 2014

The Battle of Ezra Church, 1864

Moving on the Confederates' fortifications around the northern portion of Atlanta, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s Union army forced the Battle of Peachtree Creek on July 20, 1864, and the Battle of Atlanta a couple of days later.

While Lt. Gen. John B. Hood failed to defeat the Federal army, so far he had kept Sherman at bay. Now Sherman decided to attack from the west. He ordered McPherson's army, now under the command of Maj. Gen. O.O. Howard, to move from the left to the right and cut Hood’s last railroad supply line between East Point and Atlanta. Hood anticipated the movement and sent 2 corps under Lt. Gen. Stephen D. Lee (Hood's old corps) and Lt. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart to intercept and destroy Howard's force.

On the afternoon of today's date in 1864, the Confederates attacked Howard in the Battle of Ezra Church. Howard, who had already entrenched his men in the Confederates’ path, managed to repulse the determined attack, inflicting severe casualties. For their effort, the Confederates suffered a loss of more 3,000, including the wounding of 4 general officers: Stewart, Loring, Brown, and Johnson. While Hood's objective was not reached,* the Confederates did manage to hold onto the railroad, and thereby thwart Howard's goal.

Hood has tried again to to make his struggling army do more than they are capable of, and he has sacrificed men that he could ill afford to lose.

Sherman decides to hold Hood's forces in a month-long siege of Atlanta.

As he was prone to do when his goals were not achieved, Hood blamed the repulse on a lack of courage displayed by his men in charging the Federal line. In reality any lack of fighting spirit was due to weakened physical strength combined with low morale throughout the army during this difficult period. The latter condition reflects on its commander as much as anyone. Historian Stanley F. Horn comments on Hood's attitude, which was to possess him throughout his tenure as commander of the army:
All through his book [i.e., Hood's Advance And Retreat: Personal Experiences in The United States and Confederate States Armies] is a manifest inclination to evade the responsibility and place the blame elsewhere—on his officers or in his soldiers. This is not only bad sportsmanship; it is grossly unfair to their reputation for bravery under fire and tenacious determination; it is basest ingratitude to an army that loyally fought his battles for him long after it had lost all faith in his competence. It is preposterous for him to allege that the men were unwilling to charge breastworks. The belying fact is that they did charge breastworks wherever and whenever he called on them. They charged the breastworks at Peachtree Creek. They had charged them at the battle on the twenty-second. They charged them at Ezra Church. And at all these places, not once but time after time. A few weeks later, on the suicidal field of Franklin, they gave perhaps the greatest exhibition of cold-blooded, mass courage ever seen on a battlefield when, without preparation or support, they hurled themselves against the Federal works after a long charge across an open field and clung there in a death grapple which was almost their destruction.

Sources: CWSAC Battle Summaries; The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn; Decision in the West, Albert Castel; Official Records, Vol. 38, Pt. 3

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Aftermath of the Battle of Atlanta

Following the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, 1864, Confederate Gen. John B. Hood's Army of Tennessee remained behind their fortifications around Atlanta. My Great Grandfather Oakes’s brigade, Brig. Gen. Mark Lowrey’s of Patrick Cleburne's Division, also remained in their position at Bald Hill for 4 more days, fortifying it as the men were able. On the 27th, Lowrey’s Brigade was moved back to the main line around Atlanta, with the left of the brigade near Chase Street. The brigade remained here for 7 days, spending some of the time improving their defenses. The work was a necessity, for Lowrey’s men were daily targets of Federal artillery and sharpshooters. During this phase, Lowrey reported that 2 of his men were killed and 20 wounded.

It was time to count losses in the assault on Bald Hill on the 22nd. The Confederates received upwards to 10,000 casualties. By contrast, the Federals lost about 3,500 men. From Cleburne's Division alone the loss was 1,388—more than half of those in his division that were engaged in that battle. Hardee's Corps had been so depleted in the battle that Maj. Gen. W.H.T. Walker's Division, whose commander was killed, was broken up, and some of the units were assigned to Hardee.*

Gen. William T. Sherman's Atlanta Campaign, which began in the Battle of Rocky Face Ridge in early May, had been exceedingly costly for both sides. By the time of the aftermath of the Battle of Jonesborough on September 1, the Confederates will lose 35,000 men to a Federal loss of around 32, 000—a nearly inconceivable tragic loss of American life and limb.

On July 25th, Gen. John B. Hood, the new commander of the dwindling Army of Tennessee, issued a new field order. Hood, an aggressive and impulsive leader, was not a fan of fighting behind defensive works as he perceived his predecessor, Gen. Joseph Johnston, had done in the earlier phases of the campaign. In fact, as the next few days will reveal, he believed that valor in battle was demonstrated through high casualty figures. His General Field Orders No. 7 was a heightened call to even more self-sacrifice on the part of his brave men:

Soldiers: Experience has proved to you that safety in time of battle consists in getting into close quarters with your enemy. Guns and colors are the only unerring indications of victory. The valor of troops is easily estimated, too, by the number of these secured. If your enemy be allowed to continue the operation of flanking you out of position, our cause is in great peril. Your recent brilliant success proves the ability to prevent it. You have but to will it, and God will grant us the victory your commander and your country expect. 
His order was a harbinger of the suffering and loss of life to come.

Lowrey reported that his brigade’s losses from the Battles of Atlanta, beginning July 20th, to the end of August, were 710: 115 killed, 491 wounded, and 104 missing.

By the end of July, Lowrey's Brigade will undergo significant reorganization. The casualties suffered forced changes within several regiments and in the command structure under Lowrey. One change that would have affected Great Grandfather Oakes was the consolidation of his 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment with the 8th Mississippi. Capt. Andrew E. Moody, previously with the 8th Mississippi, was placed in command of the consolidated regiment. Lowrey's Brigade was now composed of the 32nd/8th Consolidated under Capt. Moody, along with the 16th Alabama (Lt. Col. Fredrick A. Ashford), 33rd Alabama (Lt. Col. Robert F. Crittenden), 45th Alabama (Lt. Col. Robert H. Abercrombie), and the 3rd Mississippi Battalion/5th Mississippi (Col. John Weir). The fact that almost all of these regiments were now commanded by lower grade officers indicates how severe the casualties were in Lowrey's command. The same was true throughout Cleburne's Division.

Lowrey's Brigade may have missed much of the serious illness that took its toll on the army in July and August. During July there were over 40,000 soldiers in hospital. Fewer than 10,000 of these were from battle wounds. Most of the rest succumbed to yellow fever, smallpox, measles, typhoid, or dysentery.

Sources: Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; Atlanta, Jacob B. Cox; Autumn of Glory, Thomas Lawrence Connelly; Official Records, Vol. 38, Pts. 3 & 5

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The death of Capt. F. S. Norman, 1864

In the various battles for Atlanta in 1864, my Great Grandfather Nathan Richardson Oakes fought in Company D of the 32nd Mississippi Infantry, a renown regiment in the famous Patrick R. Cleburne's Division in William Hardee's Corps. Great Grandfather's uncle, Flemming S. Norman, was his captain.

Now in Atlanta, the Army of Tennessee's aggressive new commander, Lieut. Gen. John Bell Hood, had a daring plan for striking Union Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson's armyAs the determined Hood envisioned it, Hardee's Corps would strike the south flank of the Federal line at dawn and, together with Benjamin Cheatham's Corps, drive enemy back to the Chattahoochee River. The bold plan would decide the outcome of Atlanta. However, it was doomed to failure.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
Early in the morning of today's date, a Friday in 1864, Hardee sent his divisions to attack McPherson's line. Cleburne deployed Daniel Govan's Brigade on the left and James A. Smith's Brigade on the right. He placed Mark P. Lowrey's Brigade, in which was Capt. Norman's Co. D, 500 yards behind in a second line as a reserve.

At about 12:45 PM, Cleburne ordered his men forward. The division struck the left flank instead of the rear of McPherson's army as had been planned due to a curve eastward in the enemy's line at this point. Beyond that curved line a Federal division was posted on a round, bald hill.

Govan’s Brigade was first to meet the enemy, and after a 20-minute struggle, drove its skirmishers back to a line of breastworks. His brigade took severe casualties for the effort. Smith’s Brigade caught the enemy by surprise, and his men pursued the fleeing Federals. One of their successes was overtaking the commander of the army, Gen. McPherson, and killing him when he refused to surrender.

To this point, it seemed that the attack was going according to Hood's plan. But by 2 PM, the heat and exhaustion began to take a toll on the Confederates, thinning their ranks.

About 2 hours into the battle, Govan had encountered another line of formidable works, so Cleburne ordered Lowrey to move up his brigade, which to this point was behind Govan, to storm the enemy breastworks. At the same time a gap opened on the line, which, if left uncovered would threaten the 2 engaged Confederate divisions. So, Lowrey took it upon himself to order his brigade into the fight on Govan’s right.

Meanwhile, the fight on Cleburne's front continued. With the help of his artillery, Cleburne's men forced the Federals to fall back to fortifications on the round hill. From the base of that hill, known as Bald Hill (or Leggett's Hill today), Cleburne renewed the attack on a third line of Yankee breastworks. The determined Yankees, however, fought off this new assault.

Lowrey’s shattered brigade, along with another division, was added to the force of this attack. Despite their exhaustion, the Rebels made a furious and magnificent charge. But, just as determined, the enemy drove them back. For 45 minutes, the opposing sides fought across the entrenchments in a savage hand-to-hand struggle. However, in the end, Cleburne’s men were forced to fall back to the second line of Federal entrenchments and there dug in for the night.

There was little time to count the Confederate casualties, but they were severe.

Concerning this final charge, Gen. Lowrey later recalled that his brigade was, "cut to pieces, having lost half its number." Historian Dunbar Rowland,1 says that Lowrey's 32nd Mississippi Infantry "had to cross a miry glade and advance through another brigade that had been repulsed." Lowrey wrote, "The Thirty-second Mississippi rushed forward almost to the works, when one-third of the command fell at one volley and two color bearers were killed in quick succession." He managed to rally his mangled brigade for another charge. Later he stated, "he never saw a greater display of gallantry than the charge of the brigade; they failed only because a thin line of exhausted men cannot take breastworks held by twice their numbers." The 32nd Regiment's casualties were 18 killed, 45 wounded, 23 missing.

It is likely that in this assault Acting Lieutenant Colonel of the 32nd Mississippi Regiment, Capt. Flemming S. Norman, was killed. Seven other men from Co. D, which by then was commanded by Lieut. B.F. Dilworth, also were killed and 38 were wounded. In fact, every company in the 32nd had captains and/or officers who were killed, wounded, captured, or missing. The 32nd's Col. William H.H. Tison also was wounded in the battle, and therefore, out of action. So, in the midst of so many other killed or wounded officers, it would have fallen to Acting Lieut. Col., Capt. F.S. Norman to lead the regiment in that doomed assault.

Flemming S. Norman was born in Virginia, to a Revolutionary War veteran, William Norman. Raised in Tennessee, he moved across the state line to Boneyard, Mississippi, which neighbored the small community of Kossuth where Great Grandfather Oakes lived and where Mark Lowrey pastored a church. He resided there with his wife, Susan, their 3 children, and his widowed mother. Norman was a saddler by profession, in a tiny township now extinct, that also boasted a tanyard, blacksmith, cabinet maker, and a Post Office.2 

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
Confederate Obelisk at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta
Approximately 6,900 Confederate dead are buried in the cemetery.
Great Grandfather Oakes and his Uncle Norman knew Mark Lowrey prior to the war. Indeed, both had seen prior service under him in the state militia. In the early months of 1861, the governor of Mississippi had called for 10,000 troops from his state to defend it against an anticipated Yankee invasion. This militia of 60-Day Troops served until it was incorporated into the newly formed Confederate Army of Mississippi. Norman enlisted as a lieutenant and helped Lowrey organize a company of men, Co. G, nicknamed "Lowrey Guards." When Capt. Lowrey was elected colonel of the regiment, Norman was promoted to captain.

With the outbreak of the War Between the States, Lowrey recruited a new regiment. It is a testament to the respect he held among his men and the community that many of the men from his old regiment enlisted in the new army and again elected him their colonel. Norman was also elected captain of the new Company D. Given his relationship with the colonel, it is no surprise that Norman borrowed the old moniker to name his new company "Lowrey Guards."

During his Civil War service, Capt. Norman frequently performed special temporary assignments for the regiment. At least twice he was detailed as recruiting officer. From time to time, he also served as major of the regiment. Following the victory at Chickamauga, and Lowrey's promotion to brigadier general of Wood's Brigade, Norman was put in command of the 32nd Regiment as its acting major, a position he held from October through December 1863. This stretch of command included the famous Battle of Missionary Ridge and the division's incredible defense of Ringgold Gap in November 1863.

After the wounding Col. W. H. H. Tison in Atlanta, command would have fallen to Acting Lt. Col., Capt. Norman. Once again he led the 32nd Regiment, on this date in its assault on Bald Hill in the Battle of Atlanta. Capt. Flemming S. Norman was 39 when he was killed on this famous battlefield. In addition to leaving a wife and children in Mississippi, he also had a brother, Lafayette Norman, who was at the moment of Norman's death fighting nearby in the 33rd Alabama, also in Lowrey's Brigade.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
The beautiful and moving "Lion of the Confederacy" in Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery,
commemorating the unknown Confederate fallen, some 3,000 of which lie nearby.

Sadly, this is about all the information I have uncovered about this brave soldier of the Southern Cause. I am indebted to Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes who in 1900, published a short letter to the editor of the Confederate Veteran. It was in that brief note that Great Grandfather mentioned that Capt. Norman was his uncle.3 Beginning with that single statement, then later Norman's service records and census information, I have been able to reconstruct this simple history of that valiant officer.

I have been unable to locate Norman's grave. Perhaps his body was one of those hundreds that were quickly buried on the field during the brief truce and never identified. Or possibly he lies among the 3,000 Confederate "Unknown" in Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery. I can only hope that some kindly person marked his grave and that it will one day be revealed. Until then, I can think of no more fitting tribute than these lines from Henry A. Wise,
The blessed and ever-glorious dead are not here to defend their memories from the taint of the reproach of rebellion and treason. Alas! I am alive and here, and am bound at every hazard to declare that these men were no rebels and no traitors; that they were patriots, loyal citizens, well-tried and true soldiers, brave, honest, devoted men, who proved their faith in their principles by the deaths which canonized them immortal heroes and martyrs.
1 In his authoritative volume, Military History of Mississippi, 1803-1898, Dunbar Rowland includes the organization in the Battle of Atlanta and lists the various officers killed and wounded in the 32nd Regiment. Co. D is incorrectly listed as Company "G." He records: "Captain F.S. Norman, Acting Lieutenant-Colonel (killed); Lieutenant B.F. Dilworth, commanding company; First Sergeant J.L. McLean (wounded).” Regrettably, Norman's sacrifice was not mentioned in any of the Official Records.
2 Boneyard was founded in in Tishomingo County in the 1830s. It was destroyed by occupying Federal troops and never rebuilt. The 1860 census indicated that Flemming S. Norman and his family were all residing there.
3 Unfortunately, the editors published his name incorrectly as "S.F." instead of F.S. Norman. I have since learned that Norman was the half-brother of Great Grandfather's full uncle, James Oakes.

Sources: Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue;  Military History of Mississippi, 1803-1898, Dunbar Rowland; Brig. Gen. Mark P. Lowrey's AutobiographyConfederate Veteran, Vol. 8 (1900); Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, Vol. 5, Franklin Lafayette Riley; F.S. Norman Service Records; N.R. Oakes Service Records

The Battle of Atlanta, 1864

Having fought in 2 battles over the past couple of days in 1864, Lt. Gen. William Hardee's Corps, including Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne's Division in which Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes was serving in the 32nd Mississippi Infantry, was called back from Bald Hill to the inner line of Atlanta's defenses. Leaving skirmishers behind to conceal the movement, Cleburne began pulling his men back after midnight on July 21st. The division was ordered to ready for yet another attack on the Federal line.

Now within the city's inner fortifications, Cleburne’s weary men had a short rest while he met with Hardee for new orders. Cleburne learned that the army's commander, Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood, planned for Hardee to lead his corps on a lengthy and circuitous march east of the city to launch a surprise attack in the rear of Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson’s army approaching from Decatur. As Hood envisioned it, Hardee would strike at dawn and would "roll up" the south of the Federal line and drive it in confusion into the center. Then Gen. Benjamin F. Cheatham’s (Hood's old corps) and Alexander P. Stewart's Corps would follow up with a final strike on the front and drive enemy back to the Chattahoochee River.

The fate of Atlanta rested on the outcome of this attack. But Hood's plan was doomed to failure.

Hood was relying on exhausted men who had not slept for 2 days and had seen near-constant marching and fighting. It was unrealistic for him to require these men to make a 15-mile night march through a panicked and crowded city, before launching a dawn attack. Hardee objected, so Hood agreed that instead of striking the Federal rear, he could turn north at a moment of his choosing and hit the enemy flank.

Source: Historical Markers Across Georgia

In the early morning hours on today's date in 1864, Hardee's Corps, accompanied by Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler's cavalry, and stretching several miles long, marched under a bright full moon, south on the McDonough Road, then southeast, and finally northeast toward Decatur. About an hour before dawn, they halted near William Cobb’s Mill, 3 miles from McPherson's line, where the men got a couple of hours’ rest by the side of the road. Each man was issued an additional 20 rounds of ammunition in preparation to move northward toward the enemy's line.

After meeting with Gens. W.H.T. Walker and Joseph Wheeler to discuss the attack, Cleburne and Hardee decided they could delay no longer. About a mile beyond Cobb's Mill on the Fayetteville Road, Hardee split his corps. He sent the troops on another 2 miles toward the Federal line. Gens. William Bate's and Walker's Divisions would continue northwestward to Sugar Creek, then face left and move against the presumed Federal flank. Cleburne and Brig. Gen. George Maney (commanding Cheatham's Division1) would move northward along the east side of Flat Shoals Road. Maney, traveling on the east side of the road would attack the center. Cleburne on the west side of the road would deploy on Walker’s left and flank the enemy, attacking in the rear

With the exception of that short rest by the side of the road, Cleburne’s men had now marched or fought continuously for 48 hours. They had almost marched in a complete circle and would be assaulting the south flank of the forces they had resisted throughout the previous day.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
Cleburne's Division, with Mark Lowrey's Brigade (Great Grandfather Oakes's) trailing 500 years behind, encountered rough terrain on its march along Flat Shoals. The division was not in position until nearly midday, so Cleburne's attack came a little later than Walker's and Bate's, who were east of him about a mile away. Cleburne deployed his 3 brigades just to the west of Flat Shoals Road, with Brig. Gens. Daniel Govan's Brigade on the left of the division and James A. Smith's (Polk's) Brigade on the right. He placed Lowrey's Brigade 500 yards behind in a second line as a reserve.

At 12:45 PM, Cleburne gave the command, and the men moved forward. Very soon, the dense woods and thick underbrush broke up the attack formation. Lowrey's Brigade, and probably the others, too,  were forced into a column, 4-men wide, until about a mile forward Cleburne called a halt so his brigade commanders could correct their alignment. This consumed valuable time before the advance resumed.

Cleburne's men struck the left flank of McPherson's army where its line bent eastward in a fishhook of fortified works, beyond which a division was posted on a round hill, known locally as "Bald Hill," from which the Confederates had been forced the day before. Govan’s Brigade was first of the division to meet the enemy, and after a 20-minute struggle, drove its skirmishers back to a line of breastworks, which his men eventually captured along with an entire regiment. His brigade took severe casualties for the effort.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
Gen. McPherson's monument marking the spot where he was killed.
Location is present day Monument & McPherson Avenues. His body
was removed and buried in the McPherson Cemetery in Clyde, Ohio.
On Govan’s right, Smith’s Brigade caught the enemy by surprise, and his men pursued the fleeing Federals. Rebel troops met face-to-face with a mounted Federal officer on the wrong side of his line, who was clearly startled to see them. Refusing to surrender as ordered, and touching his hat in salute, he attempted to gallop off. However the soldiers opened fire, mortally wounding the commander of the Army of the Tennessee, Gen. James Birdseye McPherson, the only Union army commander to be killed during the war.Smith's and some of Govan's men then forced the enemy back to their defenses on the hill.

To this point, it seemed that the attack was going according to Hood's plan. But by 2 PM, the heat, lack of sleep, and exhaustion, began to take a toll on the Confederates, and their ranks were thinning.

About 2 hours into the battle, Smith encountered another line of formidable Federal works, so he sent a request for support. Lowrey then was ordered to move up his brigade, which had been held in reserve behind Govan's men, and to storm the enemy breastworks. Lowrey marched his troops eastward through deep woods, which he couldn't see through more than 100 yards, and came into the fight on Govan’s right wing. Here, Lowrey reported, his thin line "rushed forward with great impetuosity, as though they bade defiance to Yankee breast-works." Many of his officers were cut down or captured at this point of the attack.

Meanwhile, the fight on Govan’s front continued. Cleburne ordered his artillery to advance with the infantry, and ordered Capt. Thomas J. Key to bring his battery up to within 200 yards of the Federal line. The Federals wavered under Key's fire, and when Granbury’s Regiment came in on their left, the troops fled. Key reported to Cleburne and Govan who were watching the fight that the Federals were falling fall back to Bald Hill which, because of its height, dominated the battlefield and became vital to the outcome of the fight.

From the base of Bald Hill, Cleburne renewed the attack on a third line of Yankee breastworks positioned on the crown of the Federal line. But this time the Yankees didn’t run. Instead, they fought off Cleburne's renewed assault. About 4 PM, Lowrey’s shattered brigade added its force to this attack, while Maney/Cheatham's Division came into the fight on Cleburne’s left. Despite their exhaustion, the Rebels made a furious and magnificent charge across 40 yards of open ground. Many of Lowrey's men were cut down, while the rest plunged on into the enemy. A hand-to-hand struggle ensued.

The enemy was just as determined as Lowrey's men. After 45 minutes of savage fighting, the Federals drove back their attackers. Though some of the of the Confederates gained a temporary hold, night closed with the Federals still in possession of Bald Hill. Cleburne’s men fell back to the second line of Federal entrenchments, which they had captured earlier, and there dug in. What was left of Lowrey’s Brigade withdrew with the division into the dense woods and out of range of enemy fire.

Captured Confederate entrenchments, Atlanta 1864
From the Matthew Brady Collection

Concerning this charge on Bald Hill, Gen. Lowrey recalled that his brigade was "cut to pieces, loosing half its number." According to Mississippi historian, Dunbar Rowland, the 32nd Mississippi Infantry, in which Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes was fighting in Co. D, "had to cross a miry glade and advance through the remnants of [Smith's Brigade], that had been repulsed." Lowrey reported, "The Thirty-second Mississippi rushed forward almost to the works, when one-third of the command fell at one volley and two color bearers were killed in quick succession." He continues:
All the regiments acted well. Taking the brigade all together, I never saw a greater display of gallantry; but they failed to take the works simply because the thing attempted was impossible for a thin line of exhausted men to accomplish. It was a direct attack by exhausted men against double their number behind strong breast-works. The history of this war can show no instance of success under such circumstances.
Lowrey said that he lost about one-half the men in his brigade in that charge: Col. W. H. H. Tison was wounded and 578 men were either killed, wounded, or captured. "Many of the captured," he wrote, "were first wounded, but some charged over the breast-works and were captured, while others went to the works and could not get away."

Confederate entrenchments, possibly looking east toward Bald Hill, 1864
From the Matthew Brady Collection

In that assault, the 32nd Regiment lost 18 in killed, 45 wounded, and 23 missing. It is possible that in this fight Acting Lieutenant Colonel of the 32nd Mississippi Regiment, Capt. Flemming S. Norman, was killed. Norman was captain of Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes's Co. D3 since its formation in Corinth, Mississippi in 1861. Norman's death hit even closer to home for Great Grandfather Oakes, for Norman was also his uncle.4 Also, Lieut. B.F. Dilworth from his hometown of Kossuth, was killed while leading Co. D in this attack, as were many others. In fact, every company in the 32nd Mississippi had captains and/or officers who were killed, wounded, captured, or missing.

Around 5 PM, Cleburne personally led Govan's and Smith's Brigades, Maney's Division, and Mercer's Brigade, in an another attack, this time along Flat Shoals Road and Bald Hill. The Confederates captured a line of works and forced the Federal line on the crest of the hill to retire east of its original position. To the east of this fighting, other Confederate units attacked the Federal line, but without success.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
Gen. Hardee later reported that the battle was "one of the most desperate and bloody of the war, and... won the only decided success achieved by the army at Atlanta." Indeed, his corps suffered severely receiving 3,300 casualties. The partial success of Cleburne’s Division on Bald Hill on this date was the high point of the Confederate assault. However it was largely in vain. On his right, Bate and Walker had been slowed by difficult terrain and suffered a repulse. Walker had been shot dead before the attack was barely under way.Cheat-ham’s Corps was not ordered into the fight until late afternoon, after Cleburne’s attack was losing its momentum. Hood had delayed ordering Cheatham forward in the hope that Hardee’s assault would drive the Federals north of Decatur Road, in which event Cheatham’s attack would have proved decisive. But Hood unleashed Cheatham's force too late in the day. While the men fought furiously, the attack was halted. A Federal counterattack restored the enemy's line.

Despite the heroic sacrifices of his soldiers, and even Hardee's success in inflicting heavy losses on the enemy, Hood's goal of a coordinated attack to drive McPherson's army back to the Chattahoochee was not achieved.

That night, Cleburne’s Division improved their new defenses and prepared to defend the ground they had won. There was little firing overnight, so for the first time in 48 hours, Cleburne’s men were able to grab some sleep. When the sun came up on the 23rd, both armies remained in place, unwilling to renew the fight. At midnight, they agreed on an armistice to remove the dead and wounded from between the lines.

The Army of Tennessee, with Cleburne’s and Maney’s support, had managed to carry the left wing of the Federal army to its breastworks. As evidence of its progress in its sector, Cleburne’s men captured 1,600 prisoners, numerous wagons, ammunition, artillery, mules and horses, hundreds of small-arms, 8 pieces of artillery, and 4 stand of colors. In spite of this, the battle for the Confederates ended indecisively.6 It failed to halt Gen. William T. Sherman’s tightening siege on Atlanta. It also resulted in many more Confederate casualties than the army could afford. Confederate losses numbered upwards to 5,000. By contrast, the Federals lost about 3,600 men. Among the Confederate's loss were 1,388 from Cleburne's Divisionmore than half of those engaged in the battle.

Atlanta will soon fall to Sherman's victorious army. Sherman's successful conclusion to his Atlanta Campaign will boost President Abraham Lincoln's bid for re-election, assuring that he will retain the presidency until the eve of the Confederacy's defeat in 1865.

Brig. Gen. George Maney commanded Cheatham's Division, while Cheatham led Hood's Corps at Peachtree Creek and the Battle of Atlanta.
Gen. McPherson's death was mourned by officers on both sides. In fact, Confederate Gen. Hood, who had been McPherson's roommate at West Point, wrote,
I will record the death of my classmate and boyhood friend, General James B. McPherson, the announcement of which caused me sincere sorrow. Since we had graduated in 1853, and had each been ordered off on duty in different directions, it has not been our fortune to meet. Neither the years nor the difference of sentiment that had led us to range ourselves on opposite sides in the war had lessened my friendship; indeed the attachment formed in early youth was strengthened by my admiration and gratitude for his conduct toward our people in the vicinity of Vicksburg. His considerate and kind treatment of them stood in bright contrast to the course pursued by many Federal officers.
3 Dunbar Rowland incorrectly indicated that Norman was captain of Co. "G" rather than Co. D.
Capt. Norman had a brother, Pvt. Lafayette Norman, fighting in this same battle in the 33rd Alabama of Cleburne's Division.
Maj. Gen. Walker was killed by a Federal sniper while he as scouting the position assigned to him near Terry's Mill Pond. Following the battle, Walker's Division, which had suffered terrible losses, was reassigned to other Confederate commands. Division command on the field fell to Brig. Hugh Mercer. Walker's death was a personal loss to Gen. Hood, a close friend. 
Hood ultimately blamed Hardee for the outcome of the battle, although his assertion is much disputed. In his memoirs years later he wrote, 
A considerable time had elapsed when I discovered, with astonishment and bitter disappointment, a line of battle composed of one of Hardee’s divisions advancing directly against the entrenched flank of the enemy. I at once perceived that Hardee had not only failed to turn McPherson’s left, according to positive orders, but had thrown his men against the enemy’s breastworks. Thereby occasioning unnecessary loss to us, and rendering doubtful the great result desired. In lieu of completely turning the Federal left and taking the entrenched line of the enemy in reverse, he attacked the retired wing of their flank, having his own left almost within gunshot of our main line around the city 
Historians Albert Castel and Howell and Elizabeth Purdue are some who disagree with Hood's assessment. Hood’s greatest mistake was in failing to carry out his plan for Gens. Cheatham and Stewart who would take up action as soon as Hardee became engaged. By not ordering the 2 other corps forward, Hood failed to make a coordinated attack, which was essential to success. He delayed nearly 3 hours before ordering Cheatham to attack, and Stewart's force was never committed to action.

Sources: Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue;  Decision in the West, Albert Castel; Autumn of Glory, Thomas Lawrence Connelly; Atlanta, Jacob D. Cox; Military History of Mississippi, 1803-1898, Dunbar Rowland; Brig. Gen. Mark P. Lowrey's AutobiographyAdvance and Retreat, J.B. Hood; Official Records, Vol. 38, Pts. 3 & 5

Monday, July 21, 2014

Cleburne's Defense of Bald Hill, 1864

Overnight on July 20-21, 1864, Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne was ordered to assist Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler's dismounted cavalry holding on the right of the Confederate line, extending from the outer defense works up the slope of Bald Hill.* Wheeler was facing 2 Federal divisions, which were attempting to dislodge him from his strategic position.

Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne
Cleburne marched his division from the fight at Peachtree Creek, south through Atlanta, along the Decatur Road, until at 1 AM on today's date, his troops, including Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes in Brig. Gen. Mark Lowrey's Brigade, arrived at their new position. Lowrey's Brigade took up position on the left of the division, on the left of the railroad.

There in the darkness Cleburne’s men filed into line of battle, expecting enemy fire. Cleburne placed a single regiment north of the railroad, with the rest of his 3 brigades as far south as feasible. He placed 2 regiments of Granbury's Brigade, led by Brig. Gen. James A. Smith, south on the northern edge of the crest of Bald Hill. The rest of the line on the crest of the hill was held by 3 cavalry brigades totaling 2,000 men, commanded by Wheeler. Wheeler’s orders were to extend the line south of the hill.

Cleburne's men were mainly exposed, and proper defenses had to be dug out of the hard clay as quietly as possible. Almost at once, the sound of their work alerted the Federals gunners, and the artillery at a higher elevation about 600 yards away, opened fire on them. One enemy battery was able to enfilade Cleburne’s line, and 40 men were killed by the unseen enemy, even as the rest hurried to build breastworks.

Daylight on the morning of today's date in 1864, revealed how exposed Cleburne’s position really was. With no possibility of choosing better ground, the Confederates came under cannon and fire from sharpshooters. Lowrey reported: "I found on all my line, except a small portion of my right, light works, which had been constructed by the cavalry on ground badly selected. The enemy was in our immediate front and soon commenced sharpshooting and shelling, which, in consequence of his advantageous position, were very annoying and dangerous to my men." About 9:30 AM, Col. Samuel Adams of the 33rd Alabama in Lowrey's Brigade was conducting an inspection of his line when he was killed.

Source: Atlanta and Environs: A Chronicle of Its People and Events, Volume 1, Franklin M. Garrett

About 8 AM, the enemy launched its assault on the Cleburne/Wheeler line, preceded by a furious cannonade of canister and solid shot. Wheeler's men on the hill on Cleburne’s right fired off a single volley, then broke and ran, yelling to Cleburne's men to do the same. When the cavalry fled the Federals were able to reach the top of Bald Hill and gain the confederate breastworks. With his flank now exposed, Cleburne ordered Gen. James A. Smith's Brigade to counterattack on the north slope and regain the lost ground. Together with regiments from Lowrey's and Govan's Brigades, plus the reorganized cavalry, the Confederates temporarily recovered the 200 yards of lost works. However, they were forced to retreat before reinforcements could arrive.

Cleburne sent a message to Gen. John B. Hood for support. Hood sent Cheatham’s Division, now commanded by Brig. Gen. George Maney. Cleburne ordered Maney to extend his right flank. With his position now reinforced, Cleburne fought off a series of Federal attacks that lasted all day. The woods and terrain afforded some opportunity for Cleburne's sharpshooters to pour in enfilading fire into the extreme right of the Federal line. However the Federals soon moved up a battery onto the hill and shelled the woods, effectively silencing the sharpshooters.

Throughout the rest of the long, hot day, Cleburne’s Division continued its struggle under constant pressure along its entire front but managed to repulse Federal assaults probing for weak spots. Enemy artillery continued to sweep their flanks and shelled the front of their meager defenses, thus removing any opportunity to advance or countercharge. The terrain provided no advantage to Cleburne's troops who were caught in a crossfire. Cleburne later reported to Hardee that it was the bitterest fight of his life. Considering the viciousness of the battle the next day, one can only imagine the severity for his men on this date.

Ultimately, the Federals were able to secure their lodgment on Bald Hill, soon to name it Leggett's Hill in honor of the general in command. They threw up a line of works facing Atlanta, with their line running northeasterly to protect their flank. Their defenses on the hill also extended a half mile to the south, along Flat Shoals Road, on a continuation of the ridge. From this forward position they could shell the city and would make a stubborn defense in the Battle of Atlanta tomorrow.

Cleburne's Division suffered severely, being harassed by constant rifle and cannon fire, and it sustained some 300 casualties. The Federals suffered, too, receiving 728 causalities in their capture of Bald Hill. Lowrey again reported for his brigade: "The brigade remained in this position during the day, improving their works and continually in readiness to resist an assault of the enemy, which was threatened all the day long. My loss during the day was 6 killed and 42 wounded."

At the sun set, and the exhausted men settled into their shallow trenches. They had been marching and fighting continuously since the morning of the previous day. But their work was not yet over. Fearing that Gen. McPherson might move his entire army toward Atlanta, Hood pulled his army back to his inner fortifications. That evening, Cleburne received orders to abandon his line and fall back into the city. There they would ready for another attack tomorrow.

Cleburne pulled his troops back in silence, the last men leaving the line by midnight. Lowrey's Brigade withdrew under the cover of a detail of about 180 skirmishers deployed in front of the regiment's position. The fight on Bald Hill on the 21st was over. Tomorrow, Cleburne's men will be reassigned to assault the same hill from the rear.

* Sadly, there is little left of Bald Hill today, although a rise east of the city is still visible. Only a state marker indicates its location. Bald Hill, now known as Leggett's Hill, was located on the present day Moreland Avenue, along Interstate 20. When the Interstate was completed by the 1960s, the hill had been leveled, obliterating much of the ground where the fiercest fighting took place on July 20-22, 1864.

Sources: Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Howell; Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn; Decision in the West, Albert Castel; Official Records, Vol. 38, Pts. 3 & 5

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Battle of Peachtree Creek, 1864

Having forced the Confederate Army of Tennessee to withdraw across the Chattahoochee River, by today's date in 1864, Gen. William T. Sherman had pushed the last of his troops across the river northwest of Atlanta in pursuit. Sherman began to move his 3 armies to capture the city. He sent Gen. James B. McPherson in a wide sweep southeast to destroy the Georgia Railroad near Decatur. He sent Gen. John Schofield's army west of McPherson, and Gen. George Thomas's army west toward Peachtree Creek.

Source: House Divided

As if to complicate matters for the Confederates, their commander, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston was removed from command on the 17th and replaced by Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood. While inheriting the largest Confederate army at that time, which may have numbered nearly 63,000, Hood faced a superior force totaling 100,000 men, anxious to take Atlanta as its prize.

Hood, known for his bold fighting abilities, felt he knew just the remedy for the low morale following Johnston's removal: A battle victory at Atlanta. On today's date in 1864, he will have the opportunity to deal a significant blow to Sherman, or so he hopes.

By July 19th, Hood's battle line now had the Confederate left resting near the Pace’s Ferry Road, and the right covering Atlanta. He was informed that Sherman had divided his forces, offering Hood, in his words, "one of the most favorable occasions for complete victory which could have been offered; especially as it presented an opportunity, after crushing his right wing, to throw our entire force upon his left.” Accordingly, he planned a major, decisive attack.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
Hood held council with his corps commanders and issued orders for battle the next day. He told them that Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry would fend off federal forces approaching from the east, while Lt. Gen. William Hardee's and Maj. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart's Corps (2 divisions each) would attack Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland after it crossed the Peachtree Creek. From there these 2 corps would drive Thomas along the south bank of the creek into the cul-de-sac it formed with the Chatta-hoochee River. Hardee was ordered to launch the attack, striking Thomas on his left flank. The battle was ordered to begin at 1 PM the following day.

Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne’s Division, in which Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes was serving in Brig. Gen. Mark P. Lowrey's Brigade, was to be held in reserve. At the start of the battle, his brigade was on left of the division in front of Peachtree Creek, with his left resting on the Peachtree Road, about a mile from the creek and about 4 miles from Atlanta. His men were positioned in a line of works which his brigade had built the day before.

Cleburne was to hold his 3 brigades in readiness to reinforce and exploit the anticipated breakthrough. Cleburne deployed his brigades behind Maj. Gen. William H.T. Walker’s Division, moving his artillery to the front where it could fire over the heads of the attackers and into the Federal lines.

Peachtree Creek Battlefield, 1864
From the Matthew Brady Collection

At noon, on today's date in 1864, only an hour before the attack was to begin, Cleburne received orders to shift his position a mile to the right. Hood also ordered Cheatham to move toward his right flank where Wheeler was calling for reinforcements for help in the fight with McPherson. To avoid opening a gap in his line by these movements, Hood also ordered Hardee to move to the right to close the opening. This was a difficult move involving thousands of men, and the changes caused confusion and delay. As a result, the attack along Peachtree Creek was not only late, it ended up taking place over ground that the unit commanders had had no opportunity to examine. Consequently, the attack on Thomas's line was weak. Maj. Gen. William B. Bate, commanding Hardee’s Division on the right, never found the enemy. For Walker, directly in front of Cleburne, the delay had given the Federals an opportunity to prepare breastworks, from which he was driven back.

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
A section of the picturesque Peachtree Creek today, near where the fighting
occurred. During the battle, it was a difficult muddy and marshy channel to cross.

Concerning his brigade's part in the battle Lowrey reported,
Early in the afternoon I followed the remainder of [Cleburne's] division in the trenches about one mile to the right, relieved a line of skirmishers in front of the position where I halted, and then, with the remainder of the division, moved back to our original position. The enemy having crossed Peach Tree Creek in force and advanced his lines some distance toward our works, and Granbury’s brigade having changed position and formed on my left, I advanced with the balance of the division in support of Walker’s division. My brigade was immediately in rear of Stevens’ brigade, which attacked the enemy in his works and was repulsed. After a little skirmishing with the enemy, in which I lost 2 killed, 39 wounded, and 4 captured (total 45), I was relieved by Mercer’s brigade, and again returned to my original position.
Though some other units had partial success, particularly Maj. Gen. William W. Loring’s Division of Stewart’s Corps, Hardee’s attack went nowhere. He also soon learned that Walker's attack had been repulsed. He then ordered Cleburne to commit his division to the fight. But at that moment, a order came from Hood informing him that the enemy was turning the army’s right, directing Hardee to send a division there at once. Hardee changed Cleburne’s orders and sent him instead to the right to support Wheeler and Cheatham. Of course that meant that the attack along Peachtree Creek would lose what little momentum it had. Without Cleburne’s troops, the weak attack at the creek had little chance of success. Nightfall ended the assault.

As ordered, Cleburne marched his division away from the battle, south through Atlanta, traveling along the Decatur Road. About midnight, he rested his men for a couple of hours on the edge of town along the railroad before continuing on to reinforce Wheeler's dismounted cavalry about 2 miles outside of Atlanta. They took up position outside the outer defenses in a line up the slope of Bald Hill.

By now, unable to press his attack against Thomas, Hood consequently ordered the troops to withdraw, leaving Thomas the victor at Peachtree Creek. Hood would later blame the defeat on Hardee for his lack of timeliness and boldness, when, in fact, the battle had been mismanaged by Hood.* In fact, under the circumstances, Hardee and his men seemed to do everything that could have been expected of them.

* Later in his report, Hood unjustly maligned Hardee's men, claiming claimed that the troops “did nothing more than skirmish with the enemy. Instead of charging down upon the foe as Sherman represents [in his Memoirs] Stewart’s men to have done, many of the troops, when they discovered that they had come into contact with breastworks, lay down and, consequently, this attempt at pitched battle proved abortive.”

Sources: Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn; Advance and Retreat, John B. Hood; Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; Autumn of Glory, Thomas Lawrence Connelly;  Decision in the West, Albert Castel; Atlanta, Jacob. D. Cox; Military History of Mississippi, 1803-1898, Dunbar Rowland; Official Records Vol. 38, Pts. 3 & 5

Friday, July 18, 2014

Hood assumes command of the Army of Tennessee

While very popular among the men and officers of his army, and a distinguished war hero in his own right, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston could not achieve the continued support of the president of the Confederacy. So on today's date in 1864, he was replaced by the distinguished and daring Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood. Already possessing the reputation for being one of the best brigade and division commanders in the Confederate army, Hood has already reached the status of genuine hero and Southern patriot.

Born in Kentucky, Hood was educated at West Point. Following graduation in 1853, he began a military career in the U.S. Army in California and then Texas as both an infantry and cavalry officer, under Albert S. Johnston and Robert E. Lee. When war broke out between the North and South, he chose to resign his commission and volunteer for service to his adopted state of Texas, where he received the commission of captain. Soon he was promoted to colonel of the 4th Texas Infantry, from then on known as "Hood's Texas Brigade."

As a Confederate officer he first achieved a reputation for aggressive leadership of the Texas Brigade under Robert E. Lee. After the Seven Days Battles in 1862, he was promoted to division command. He led a division under Gen. James Longstreet in the campaigns of 1862-1863. At the Battle of Gaines's Mill Hood distinguished himself by leading his brigade in a charge that broke the Union line. During the Second Battle of Bull Run, he again led his troops in an attack which led to the near destruction the Union army. In the Battle of Antietam, the success of Hood's Division resulted in his promotion to major general.

Hood was severely wounded in the Battle of Gettysburg, sustaining an injury his left arm that left it useless for the rest of his life. When Longstreet and 2 of his divisions were transferred to the Army of Tennessee at the Battle of Chickamauga, Hood led his division in a successful and decisive assault into a gap in the Union line. However, again he was severely wounded, which required the amputation of his right leg.

A lesser man might have called it quits. However, Hood returned to join the army at Dalton in February 1864, now with the rank of lieutenant general. He lead a corps throughout Johnston's slow retreat through the North Georgia mountains to Atlanta. Now on today's date in 1864, he assumed the role of General of the Army of Tennessee.

Due to his relative age and inexperience (he was only 31) as well as his limited physical abilities, his appointment was controversial. The timing of Johnston's replacement also presented dif-ficulties. But it was his relationship with some of his subordinates that presented the greatest obstacle to his leadership.

Johnston had been well loved by his officers and troops, and his replacement was met with discord and bitterness. Hood's elevation above other arguably more qualified and senior generals, such as William J. Hardee, my Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes's corps commander, was seen by many as ill advised or downright wrong. Indeed, Hood had earlier agreed to be Davis's eyes and ears in Johnston's army, and his reporting to Richmond around his superior officer, had been a serious violation of decency and military protocol.

On the other side of the battle line, Federal Gen. William T. Sherman was delighted in the change of leadership.* Johnston had been able to foil Sherman's attacks by fighting behind formidable fortifications, then withdrawing to other defensive lines. Now, at Atlanta, Sherman had an opponent who he knew would be bold and dangerous, but who also would take audacious risks that could be exploited.

Now, Hood possessed the coveted role for which he had agitated, but with his opponent so near at hand, he had personal reservations about his new position. Hood urged Johnston to postpone his departure until the fate of Atlanta was decided, but he was turned down. For better or for worse, the Army of Tennessee, and the fate of Atlanta, was now in the hands of 31-year-old commander-in-chief.

Hood will conduct the remainder of the Atlanta Campaign with characteristic strong and aggressive action. Sadly for the army, as historian Thomas Connelly notes, "He was the last of that troubled set of officers sent to the West for varied purposes—none beneficial to the western army." Hood will launch 4 major and costly attacks this summer in an attempt to break Sherman's siege of Atlanta, starting almost immediately with the Battle of Peachtree Creek.

* Sherman noted in his article in Battles and Leaders, that after crossing the Chattahoochee, his army
soon confronted our enemy behind his first line of intrenchments at Peach Tree Creek, prepared in advance for this very occasion. At this critical moment the Confederate Government rendered us most valuable service. Being dissatisfied with the Fabian policy of General Johnston, it relieved him, and General Hood was substituted to command the Confederate army. Hood was known to us to be a ‘fighter,’ a graduate of West Point of the class of 1853, No. 44, of which class two of my army commanders, McPherson and Schofield, were No. 1 and No. 7. The character of a leader is a large factor in the game of war, and I confess I was pleased at this change, of which I had early notice. I knew that I had an army superior in numbers and morale to that of my antagonist; but being so far from my base, and operating in a country devoid of food and forage, I was dependent for supplies on a poorly constructed railroad back to Louisville, five hundred miles. I was willing to meet the enemy in the open country, but not behind well-constructed parapets.
Other general officers under Sherman's command held the same view of Hood's appointment. Jacob C. Cox wrote in his Military Reminiscences,
We of the National Army in Georgia regarded the removal of Johnston as equivalent to a victory for us. Three months of sharp work had convinced us that a change from Johnston's methods to those which Hood was likely to employ, was, in homely phrase, to have our enemy grasp the hot end of the poker. We knew that we should be kept on the alert and must be watchful; but we were confident that a system of aggression and a succession of attacks would soon destroy the Confederate army... 
The action of the Confederate government was a confession that Sherman's methods had brought about the very result he aimed at. The enemy had been manoeuvred from position to position until he must either give up Atlanta with its important nucleus of railway communications and abandon all northern Georgia and Alabama, or he must assume a desperate aggressive with a probability that this would fatally reduce his army and make the result only the more completely ruinous. This was the meaning of the substitution of Hood for Johnston.

Sources: Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn; Battles and Leaders, Vol. 4; Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Volume 2 November 1863-June 1865, Jacob B. Cox; Autumn of Glory, Thomas Lawrence Connelly; Official Records, Vol. 38, Pt. 5

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Gen. Joseph Johnston is relieved of command

From Chattanooga in early May of 1864, Union Gen. William T. Sherman began his campaign against the Army of Tennessee commanded by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. The Confederate army, significantly outnumbered, fought a series of battles, which beginning in Dalton, resulted each time in a withdrawal. Johnston repeatedly build strong defensive positions, only to have Sherman maneuver around them in skillful flanking movements. The result caused Johnston to fall back in the direction of Atlanta, where on this date in 1864, his army is ensconced behind lines of fortifications around the city.

Throughout Sherman's Atlanta Campaign Johnston placed the highest goal on the preservation of his army while it kept the enemy away from Atlanta. He understood that to attack Sherman's superior lines would result in a Confederate disaster. Therefore, he conducted a very cautious and defensive campaign, drawing the Federal army further and further from its supply base. Handling his army admirably, he succeeded in slowing the Union advance and inflicting heavier losses on the enemy than his own army sustained.

However, for President Davis and his council in Richmond, that was not an acceptable strategy. From their point of view, in just 2 months Johnston had ceded to the Yankee invaders more than 100 miles of defensible mountainous terrain, and now the key city of Atlanta was under threat. Davis and his War Department were angry and frustrated and, more importantly for them, this was the last straw.

While he had the unqualified support of his soldiers, nevertheless, Johnston had few friends in high places to come to his aid. So on today's date in 1864, on the eve of the battles for Atlanta, the War Department wired Johnston to relieve him of command. Davis replaced Johnston with Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood, a fearless corps leader known for his aggressive, although often reckless decisions. Davis's decision will have dire consequences for the army and will create the worst command crisis since Chickamauga.

Upon Johnston's departure, the gracious commander issued his final General Orders No. 14:
In obedience to orders of the War Department, I turn over to General Hood the command of the Army and Department of Tennessee. I cannot leave this noble army without expressing my admiration of the high military qualities it has displayed. A long and arduous campaign has made conspicuous every soldierly virtue, endurance of toil, obedience to orders, brilliant courage. The enemy has never attacked but to be repulsed and severely punished. You, soldiers, have never argued but from your courage, and never counted your foes. No longer your leader, I will still watch your career, and will rejoice in your victories. To one and all I offer assurances of my friendship, and bid an affectionate farewell.
This isn't the end of Johnston's military career, however. Yielding to political pressure, Davis will reinstate Johnston in February 1865 as commander of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Not long after, Great Grandfather Oakes and the remnants of the Army of Tennessee will be transferred to Johnston's command in the Carolinas Campaign. His consolidated command, though outnumbered and undersupplied, will experience one final success at the Battle of Bentonville before surrendering to Sherman on April 26, 1865.

Sources: Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; Autumn of Glory, Thomas Lawrence Connelly; Official Records, Vol. 38, Pt. 5