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.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Plans for a new campaign

During President Jefferson Davis's visit with the Army of Tennessee at Palmetto, he and Gen. John B. Hood developed a plan for what should occur next. It would start with Hood's destruction of Union Gen. William T. Sherman's supply line to Tennessee.

Hood planned to cross the Chattahoochee River west of Marietta on the road from Powder Springs to Rome, Georgia, where he would seize the Western & Atlantic Railroad. He hoped to draw Sherman away from Atlanta for a fight. Should Hood believe he didn't have hope of success, he would move his army to Gadsden, Alabama, and again entice Sherman into a fight. If Hood had a chance to stop Sherman's continued advance into Georgia, this was it.

On today's date in 1864, Hood's army set out on its march north from Palmetto, the men trudging through a cold rain. On October 1st, Hood crossed his army over the Chattahoochee at Moore's Ferry, south of Campbellton, opening his fall campaign to draw out Sherman.

Source: Wikipedia
An excellent animated map of Hood's invasion of Tennessee is available at
the Civil War Trust website

On October 2nd, my Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes, serving in Patrick Cleburne's Division, marched to Powder Springs, 12 miles southwest of Marietta, with the right column of the army. The army camped near Flint Hill Church. Over the next couple of days, while elements of the army destroyed several miles of railroad north of Kennesaw Mountain, the rest of the army moved to New Hope Church, their formal battleground. The rain and elements had exposed many of the shallow graves of earlier battles, and hundreds of soldiers volunteered to shovel dirt over the exposed bodies.

Hood will soon move northeast to strike the railroad. For the next week, Gen. Alexander Stewart's  Corps will destroy the rail line between the Chattahoochee and Etowah Rivers, capturing Federal garrisons at Big Shanty (Kennesaw) and Acworth. Taking the bait, by October 6th, Sherman had his army mobilized and was marching toward the old battleground at Kennesaw.

Perceiving a threatened invasion of Tennessee, Sherman sent Gen. George Thomas's army to Nashville to take command of the Federal troops there.

Sources: Autumn of Glory, Thomas Lawrence Connelly; Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Pudue; Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; Advance and Retreat, John B. Hood; Hood's Campaign for Tennessee, William R. Scaife; Official Records, Vol. 39, Pt. 1

Thursday, September 25, 2014

President Davis visits the army at Palmetto

On today's date in 1864, President Jefferson Davis arrived for a 3-day visit with Confederate Gen. John B. Hood and his army, encamped at Palmetto since the 18th. Unsuccessful in its attempt to hold back Union Gen. William T. Sherman's capture of Atlanta, Davis and the Confederate nation were deeply concerned about the state of affairs with his Army of Tennessee.

One of the serious issues confronting Davis was the bitter relationship Hood had with his subordinate leaders, most notably, with Lt. Gen. William Hardee, Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes's corps commander. Hood was about to sack Hardee. The commanding general unjustly blamed Hardee for the army's defeats since Hood had taken control following Joseph E. Johnston's removal in July. After the Battle of Jonesboro, Hood was angry with Hardee and his men for what Hood perceived as their "disgraceful effort," since only about 1,400 were killed and wounded in that fight. Ironically, in the same battle, Hood's old corps under the command of Lt. Gen. Stephen D. Lee, the force assigned the main attack at Jonesboro, was repulsed. Hood's issue was deeply centered in his personal animosity toward Hardee.

The feeling was mutual. Hardee had only remained in Hood's army to date at the insistence of the president. In his own meeting with the president, Hardee suggested that Hood be removed and that Johnston be returned to his old position. Similar discussions with Gen. Alexander P. Stewart and Stephen D. Lee revealed to the president the same opinion.

This is Davis's third visit to the Army of Tennessee, and the army had never looked so miserable. Thousands of men were without shoes. Food was scarce. Small arms and munitions were in short supply. Hood's depleted army was in dire need of supplies and reinforcements. Morale was at a low ebb. But the greatest problem at the moment was the crisis in leadership. It was obvious to Davis that a change was needed, and Hood urged the president to act.*

After departing Palmetto, on the 28th, Davis telegraphed a formal order for Hardee's release of command and reassignment to command the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Hardee will leave the army 2 days later. Hood immediately promoted Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Cheatham to command Hardee's Corps, bypassing the logical choice of Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne, Great Grandfather Oakes's division commander.

Hood will continue to deny and intentionally misunderstand the situation within his army, and it won't be the last time he will blame others for his own shortcomings as a commander.

* Presiden Davis will appoint Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard to head a new department known as the Military District of the West. While ostensibly Beauregard will be Hood's superior, Hood will retain almost the same level of autonomy he previously had.

Sources: Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; Autumn of Glory, Thomas Lawrence Connelly; Decision in the West, Albert Castel; Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Volume 2 November 1863-June 1865, Jacob D. Cox; Official Records, Vol. 32, Pt. 3

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The army moves to Palmetto

On today's date in 1864, having given up Atlanta in a long series of destructive battles, Confederate Gen. John B. Hood began marching his depleted army to Palmetto Station, 20 miles west of Jonesboro, on the Atlanta & West Point Railroad. There the army went into camp while Hood considered what to do next. Partick Cleburne's Division, in which Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes was serving, encamped 5 miles northwest of the town. The army will remain here until the 29th.

Source: Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"Call upon me in the day of trouble"

Following the Battle of Lovejoy's Station, the Army of Tennessee encamped in Jonesboro for 10 days. Observing a day of prayer and fasting on this date in 1864,* Patrick Cleburne's Division, in which my Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes was serving, held an outdoor worship service. Brig. Gen. Mark P. Lowrey, Great Grandfather's brigade commander and Baptist minister, preached to the assembled troops. He wrote about that service in his autobiography:
While our division was in camp at Jonesboro, Ga., the 16th of September 1864, having been set apart by the President as a day of fasting and prayer, on that day I preached to a large congregation of soldiers from this text: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee and thou shalt glorify me" (Psalm 50:15).
Lowrey's exhortation was timely. The Army of Tennessee certainly had been experiencing days of trouble. Gen. John B. Hood's men were demoralized and defeated when Atlanta fell. With Hood in command, the troops had an inexperienced and ungrateful leader, eager for success, even if it called for unrealistic sacrifice. To improve morale, or so he thought, Hood offered an offensive strategy to keep up the spirit and vitality of his men. He believed that to heal his discouraged and despondent troops, aggressive and continuous fighting was required. And when his soldiers could not be made to repeat the assaults he ordered, he unjustly blamed them and their commanders.

Two days later, Gen. Hood led his beleaguered army to its new camp at Palmetto, 20 miles west of Jonesboro. From there, they soon will set out on a forlorn campaign to take back Tennessee.

* A few days before on September 3rd, Union President Abraham Lincoln, exuberant over victories in the Eastern and Western theaters of the war, issued a special Thanksgiving Proclamation. It stands in sharp contrast to the contrition evident in the South's observance of a day of prayer and fasting.
The signal success that divine Providence has recently vouchsafed to the operations of the United States fleet and army in the harbor of Mobile, and the reduction of Fort Powell, Fort Gaines, and Fort Morgan, and the glorious achievements of the army under Major-General Sherman, in the State of Georgia, resulting in the capture of the city of Atlanta, call for devout acknowledgement to the Supreme Being in whose hands are the destines of nations. It is therefore requested that on next Sunday, in all places of worship in the United States, thanksgiving be offered to him for his mercy in preserving our national existence against the insurgent rebels who have been waging a cruel war against the Government of the United States for its overthrow; and also that prayer be made for divine protection to our brave soldiers and their leaders in the field, who have so often and so gallantly periled their lives in battling with the enemy; and for blessings and comfort from the Father of mercies to the sick, wounded, and prisoners, and to the orphans and widows of those who have fallen in the service of their country, and that he will continue to uphold the Government of the United States against all the efforts of public enemies and secret foes.
Earlier in 1863, Lincoln had proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving. His September 3rd, proclamation was one of several additional days of thanksgiving declared during his presidency. Part of the reason for his exultation on this particular date, was, no doubt, a renewed confidence in what the capture of Atlanta would mean for his 1864 reelection campaign.

Sources: Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; Brig. Gen. Mark P. Lowrey's AutobiographyA Light on a Hill: A History of Blue Mountain College, Robbie Neal Sumrall; Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Volume 2, November 1863-June 1865, Jacob D. Cox; Life and Works of Abraham Lincoln: State Papers, 1861-1865

Friday, September 12, 2014

Expelled from Atlanta

Having made up his mind to expel the civilian population of Atlanta now under his control, on this date in 1864, Union Gen. William T. Sherman began a forced removal of the citizens of that city. His report to Washington reveals his attitude:
I propose to remove all the Inhabitants of Atlanta, sending those committed to our cause to the rear and the Rebel families to the front. I will allow no trade, manufactories or any citizens there at all, so that we will have the entire use of railroad back, as also such corn & forage as my be reached by our troops...
If the people raise a howl against my barbarity & cruelty, I will answer that war is war and not popularity seeking. If they want peace, they and their relations must stop war.
Confederate Gen. John B. Hood protested, writing, "it transcends, in studied and ingenious cruelty, all acts ever before brought to my attention in the dark history of war." But his plea was soundly rejected. Mayor James M. Calhoun's pleas also were rebuffed by Sherman: "You might as well appeal against the thunderstorm as against these terrible hardships of war."

By the 21st, all but a handful of Atlanta's residents and most of the liberated slaves, were forced to flee. Those with nowhere else to go, traveled by rail cars and wagons to Rough and Ready where they were transferred to wagons bound for Lovejoy's Station. From there, they were sent by train to Macon or a refugee camp at Dawson named Fosterville.

Over the next several weeks, Sherman will assemble a massive amount of supplies in Atlanta. He will also order a systematic destruction of the city to prevent the Confederates from recovering anything once the Yankees had abandoned it. Before departing on November 15 on his March to the Sea, Sherman's forces will leave little behind but a smoking ruin. It is a dress rehearsal for the destruction he will bring to Georgia as he marches to Savannah.

Sources: Decision in the West, Albert Castel; Official Records, Vol 45

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Second Battle of Lovejoy's Station, 1864

Following the Battle of Jonesboro from August 31st to September 1st in 1864, and the loss of his railroad, Gen. John B. Hood's Army of Tennessee withdrew from Atlanta, south to join William Hardee's Corps at Lovejoy’s Station. Trainloads of wounded and supplies were being transported from Atlanta through the station and on to Griffin.

Source: House Divided

On today's date in 1864, there was fighting with the enemy all along the Flint River to McDonough. Union Gen. J. M. Schofield followed after the retreating army, probing the Confederate defenses. On September 3rd, he confronted Confederate Gen. Stephen D. Lee's Corps at the Flint River, along and northwest of Lee’s Mill Road. Lee's men engaged in heavy skirmishing in this action, defending the Confederate position there.*

On the same day, my Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes, withdrew from Jonesboro with Mark P. Lowrey's Brigade in Patrick Cleburne's Division of Hardee's Corps, arriving near the same railroad station. Hardee's troops, about 10,000, form a line of battle along a low ridge called Cedar Bluffs, running east to west. About 2 PM, the Federals approached Hardee's line. By late afternoon, they had repulsed the Federal attack, directed in person by Gen. William T. Sherman. Gen. Lowrey reported the action of his brigade:
I arrived one mile east of Lovejoy’s Station, upon the McDonough road, at 6 o’clock on the morning of the 2nd of September. I formed line, with Mercer’s brigade upon my left and Granbury’s upon my right. The general direction of my line was east and west. At 10 a. m. I had my line formed in single rank, and went to throwing up breast-works. At 3 p. m. the enemy made their appearance in front of my pickets. A sharp skirmish commenced, which was kept up until 4 p. m. The enemy advanced upon my picket-line with a strong line of skirmishers and two lines of battle; drove in my pickets, broke the picket-line to my right, and captured some of my pickets. The ground was so situated that the enemy, after breaking the picket-line to my right, was in rear of some of my pickets before they could be observed by them. After breaking my picket-line, they made a charge upon my works (they not being completed) with their first line, coming within 250 yards of my works, but were handsomely repulsed. They attempted to bring up a second line, but with no better success than the first. From their graves, that were in my front, and from the report of two officers from the brigades that were captured upon the picket-line (who have since been exchanged), their loss was very heavy, considering the time that we were engaged. The officers captured report that their pickets wounded 1 brigadier-general and several line officer and privates...

My pickets fought the enemy, driving back the skirmish line, and until their line of battle was within forty steps of their barricades and in rear of a part of my picket-line. My loss was 1 killed, 9 wounded, and 39 missing.
With Atlanta now in Federal hands, Gen. Sherman decided to conclude his campaign, which began on May 7, near Dalton in the Battle of Rocky Face Ridge. He will now devise other plans for the destruction of the Southern homeland. On the 3rd, he telegraphed Washington the famous words, "Atlanta is ours, and fairly won." Almost immediately, he cruelly expelled the citizens of that city and transformed it into a military garrison.

On the 3rd and 4th, Hardee's Corps at Lovejoy Station was joined by 2 other corps, Lee's and A.P. Stewart's. Deciding not to press his advantage, on the 6th, Sherman withdrew his force to Atlanta. Had he wanted to, he likely could have dealt a decisive blow here to Hood's army. On the 8th, Hardee moved back to Jonesboro.

By the conclusion of Sherman's 1864 Atlanta Campaign, the Army of Tennessee had lost upwards of 9,000 men. Sherman sustained about 24,000 casualties. Of course, there was incalculable destruction of civilian life and property over the 2 months of near constant fighting.

* The First Battle of Lovejoy Station was fought on August 20, 1864, between Cleburne's Division and a raiding party of Federal cavalry.

Sources: Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn; Decision in the West, Albert Castel; Official Records, Vol. 38, Pts. 3, 4, & 5