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.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Battle of Smyrna, 1864

Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
Overnight on July 2-3, 1864, Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston's Army of Tennessee, victorious in the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain on June 27th, withdrew to a temporary position at Smyrna Camp Ground* in Cobb County, 6 miles south of Marietta and 10 miles north of Atlanta. So skillful was the movement that Gen. William T. Sherman's army was unaware of the withdrawal until it was completed. Sherman immediately occupied the town of Marietta from where he directed his troops in pursuit of Johnston's army.

In an attempt to delay Sherman from marching through to Atlanta, the Confederates formed 2 temporary lines of breastworks across the Western & Atlantic Railroad at Smyrna, facing northwest, and running from the old Smyrna Camp Ground east of the rail line to Nickajack Creek, south of Ruff's Mill.

The Confederate line roughly followed the old Concord Road, within yards of where my family and I lived in the late 1990s. We didn't know it at the time we were living in Smyrna, but Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes, in Patrick Cleburne's Division of William Hardee's Corps, was posted in the center of the Confederate line, over which we drove hundreds of times.

Smyrna Station
Photo by Mike Stroud, August 2007
As the United States marked its 88th anniversary on today's date in 1864, Sherman's army opened the Battle of Smyrna with an attack on both ends of Johnston's Confederate line. A Federal force commanded by Maj. Gen. Oliver Howard attacked the east of the rail line at Smyrna, but failed to break through. At about the same time, another Federal division attacked Maj. Gen. John B. Hood's sector in the southwest, along Nickajack Creek near Ruff's Mill, which also ended in failure. Late the same day, the Yankees again attacked the Confederate left, and this time they seized Hood's first line of works. Recognizing the threat to his flank, on July 5th, Johnston ordered a retreat to a prepared position 5 miles south, at Vinings Station, west of the Chattahoochee. He hoped to make a bold stand at this last natural barrier before Atlanta.

Covered Bridge over Nickajack Creek near Ruff's Mill
Source: Historical marker Database
Photo by David Seibert, March 20, 2000
The fortification on Johnston's River Line was formidable, but once again, Sherman outflanked the Confederate army and crossed the Chattahoochee at 2 other points. On the night of July 9th, Johnston was compelled to abandon his position and cross the river to a new line about 3 miles north of Atlanta.

After taking Smyrna, Sherman burnt the area’s mills, businesses, homes, and the covered bridge over the Nickajack Creek (since rebuilt and still in use today).

* Smyrna, one of the 7 churches which the Apostle John addressed in Revelation 2, was also the name for a popular nondenominational religious campground here in the late 1830s. After the completion of the railroad and a stop here in 1842, the community became a permanent establishment, known by various names. Finally in 1872, the town was incorporated with the name of Smyrna.

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

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