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, January 25, 2015

Reassignment to South Carolina

Having survived Confederate Gen. John B. Hood's disastrous Tennessee Campaign and his army's collapse at Nashville, Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes spent the first few weeks of January 1865 in Tupelo, Mississippi, 50 miles south of his hometown of Kossuth. The army's temporary commander, Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor, used the time to resupply and equip the shattered troops in order to join Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard's forces in South Carolina. Once again they will be opposing Gen. William T. Sherman's victorious army. By January 19th, Taylor had begun the process of transferring the troops under his command to Beauregard.

The Confederate cavalry was sent out overland. A wagon train of the army's supplies followed at a much slower pace. Infantry troops were sent via railroad to speed their arrival ahead of the Yankee invaders moving north from Savannah.

On today's date in 1865, Great Grandfather Oakes departed with around 1,900 others in Benjamin Cheatham's Corps, the second of 3 corps to be shipped off in January to South Carolina. It was a lengthy and grueling 2-week, 500-mile trip to Augusta, Georgia.

After saying farewell to his family in Kossuth, Great Grandfather rejoined his regiment, the 32nd Mississippi, in Cheatham's Corps as it began its journey from Tupelo, Mississippi, marching 50 miles over ruined roads to West Point, arriving on the 27th. In his diary, Maj. Henry Hampton of Cheatham's staff left us a few details of their tortuous itinerary from there.

At West Point, the soldiers boarded railroad cars for the ride to Meridian, arriving there the morning of the 28th. On the same day, they again took the cars for Demopolis, but the train derailed only 14 miles outside of Meridian. That night, the men camped beside the tracks.

On the 29th, a Sunday, they started again for Demopolis, reaching that town late in the afternoon. From that point, they continued on to Selma. However, once again the engine ran off the tracks and they did not reach Selma until the next day. Loading onto the steamboat, Southern Republic, they started for Montgomery that same night.

Arriving in Montgomery in the afternoon on February 1st, the weary men got a day off from traveling. Then the morning of the 3rd, they again boarded railroad cars for Columbus, reaching their destination by the evening. They remained there through the 4th.

Leaving Columbus early on Sunday the 5th, the troops arrived at Macon that afternoon. On the 6th, they marched all day from Macon to Midway, then camped a mile and a half beyond Milledgeville, Georgia's capital until 1868.

Due to a break in the rail line, from Milledgeville on the 7th, they marched in a rainstorm 25 miles toward Sparta. The next morning,  they continued the march another 12 miles along the broken track to Mayfield, where that afternoon, they climbed aboard the railcars, reaching Camak Station at nightfall. Again aboard the train on the 9th, the men finally arrived in Augusta that afternoon, camping that night round the depot.

By February 1, Gen. Sherman's army totaled 60,000 veteran soldiers who had recently completed their march of terror and destruction across Georgia. They were now poised to invade South Carolina. The opposing force of Confederate troops numbered half that, and many of them in the Army of Tennessee were still in transit from Mississippi. To defend Augusta and Charleston against Sherman, Beauregard commanded scattered forces consisting of Georgia militia under Maj. Gen. Gustavus W. Smith as well as veteran fighting units whose ranks had been greatly depleted through the war. At Beauregard's disposal was the Department of South Carolina and Georgia, commanded by Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee, which was falling back from Savannah towards Charleston. He also had Lt. Gen. Joseph Wheeler's Cavalry Corps, which was in near-daily contact with Sherman's army trying to delay its progress as much as possible. In Augusta, Maj. Gen. Daniel Harvey Hill was placed in command of forces in the District of Georgia. And, still on its difficult journey toward Columbia were the trailing corps of the Army of Tennessee.

On the move again on February 10, Cheatham's Corps crossed the river into South Carolina, camping near the bridge. On the 15th, the men will be on the move again, this time under orders north to Columbia, and eventually will reunite with other units from the Army of Tennessee and various Confederate forces as the war drew to a close.

Sources: The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn; Last Stand in the Carolinas, Mark L. Bradley; Military History of Mississippi, 1803-1898, Dunbar Rowland; Official Records, Vol. 45, Pts. 1 & 2

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