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.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Battle of Columbia, South Carolina

In a meeting with his generals on February 2, 1865, Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard decided to defend South Carolina against Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman's 60,000-man army by dividing his force. He had only half Sherman's strength to hold the key cities of Augusta and Charleston. On today's date in 1865, his strategy proved to be the wrong one for keeping Sherman out of the state.

Source: Civil War Maps by Hal Jespersen

While threatening both cities, Sherman managed to move the 2 columns of his army between the Confederate's western and eastern commands and head for the state capital. When he reached the outskirts of Columbia on today's date, he found the city to be defended by an inferior Confederate force, mostly cavalry under Gen. Joseph Wheeler and Maj. Gen. Matthew C. Butler, along with a portion of Stephen D. Lee's infantry corps of the Army of Tennessee.

By the next day, Columbia had fallen to Sherman's army. Upon their retreat, Confederate cavalrymen set cotton bales on fire. Drunken Federal soldiers added to the conflagration by setting the town ablaze.

Sherman had now cut off the port city of Charleston from the interior of the state, which in turn forced the evacuation of the garrison there under Gen. William J. Hardee. Hardee’s troops withdrew to Cheraw, near the North Carolina border, and then to Fayetteville where Beauregard hoped to unite his forces and make a stand against Sherman. The Confederates essentially were giving up South Carolina, the first state to secede and where the first shots of the war had been fired.

During the Battle of Columbia, Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes was marching with his 32nd Regiment in Benjamin Cheatham's Corps toward that city. Having only recently arrived in Augusta, Georgia, completing a torturous 500-mile trip from Northern Mississippi, Gen. Beauregard ordered Cheatham's Corps on to Columbia on the 13th.

Learning along the way on the 17th that Sherman's army had gotten between it and Columbia, Cheatham's Corps was ordered to Newberry, about 40 miles northwest of the capital city. That night, the troops were across the Saluda River, and the next day they arrived at Frog Level Station (Prosperity) on the Greenville Railroad. On the morning of the 19th, they marched 8 miles to Newberry, there to await further orders from Beauregard as to where he planned to concentrate his scattered army.

Sources: Last Stand in the Carolinas, Mark L. Bradley; Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 8; Official Records, Vol. 47, Pt. 1

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