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.

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

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