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, March 8, 2015

The Battle of Wyse Fork / Kinston, 1865

From his headquarters in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the new commander of the Confederate force, Gen. Joseph Johnston, was supervising the concentration of his troops. Among the forces he was attempting to unite were the 3 corps of the Army of Tennessee, which included my great grandfather Nathan Oakes, and Lt. Gen. William Hardee's troops, which recently had withdrawn from Charleston. Johnston hoped to strike Union Gen. William T. Sherman's army, which was headed his way, while it crossed Cape Fear River.

Gen. Braxton Bragg
As Sherman was advancing toward the North Carolina border, Maj. Gen. Jacob D. Cox1 was marching his division with Gen. John M. Schofield's Corps inland from New Bern in order to control the rail line and link up with Sherman at Goldsboro. However, as Cox approached Kinston, Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg saw an opportunity to defeat him.

On the 6th, Bragg asked Johnston to divert additional troops to him for an attack on Cox. Johnston rushed  the requested troops, under Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill, and instructed him to send them on to Smithfield as soon as possible. Johnston also informed Bragg that Cheatham's Corps, in which Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes was serving, and more than half of Stewart's were in transit by rail from Chesterville to Smithfield under the same orders as Hill's.

On March 7th, Bragg's Confederates blocked Cox's march at Wyse Fork2 along the Southwest Creek, 4 miles east of Kinston. That evening, advanced Union guards skirmished with the Confederates entrenched there, opening a 4-day clash in the fields and woods south and east of Southwest Creek.

Maj. Gen. Jacob D. Cox
On today's date in 1865, Bragg's troops attacked the Union flank. After initial success in routing a portion of the enemy, the Confederate attacks stalled because of faulty communications. Fighting renewed on the 10th, but not before Union reinforcements arrived to repulse Bragg’s attacks. After heavy fighting, and learning that Cox had been reinforced, Bragg withdrew to Goldsboro.

The Battle of Wyse Fork was the second largest battle in North Carolina. In the fighting the Confederates suffered around 1,500 in dead, wounded, or missing. Union casualties were around 1,100.

Bragg's attack had bought only a little more time for Johnston's army. On March 14th, the city of Kinston fell into Union hands. In the days after the battle, the Union forces pushed towards Goldsboro and ultimately to the last major battle at Bentonville on March 19-21.

1 Gen. Cox is credited with saving the center of the Union line in the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, November 30, 1864
2 For an excellent map of the Battle of Wyse Fork, please visit The Civil War Trust website.

Sources: This Astounding Close, Mark L. Bradley; Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Vol. 2, Jacob D. Cox; Official Records, Vol. 47, Pts. 1 & 2

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