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, 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

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