In honor of Pvt. Nathan R. Oakes, CSA

150 years ago, my great grandfather, Nathan Richardson Oakes, served as a private in Company D of the distinguished 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment in the Army of Tennessee. He participated in the great Civil War campaigns, including the battles of Perryville, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Atlanta, Franklin, Nashville, and Bentonville. I am writing about his engagements as well as some details about fighting for the Lost Cause. I hope to honor him and commemorate the events and individuals that contributed to making this a renowned unit in the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

Thursday, 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

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