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 15, 2015

The Battles of Monroe's Crossroads & Averasboro, 1865

On March 8, 1865, Gen. William T. Sherman's Union army moved into North Carolina. One of his columns, Maj. Gen. Henry Slocum's, aimed for Fayetteville, held by Confederate Lt. Gen. William Hardee.

Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton
On March 10th, Slocum forced Hardee Corps to evacuate the town. The confederate cavalry, commanded by Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton, covered Hardee's march. The next day, one of the last cavalry battles of the war was fought at a spot on the map called Monroe's Crossroads.1 

After several days of skirmishing with each other in North Carolina, the opposing cavalry forces finally met. Despite orders from Sherman not to force the Confederates into a fight, the notorious Maj. Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick tried to block roads to stop the advancing Confederates, then went to bed ignoring any Confederate threat. At dawn on March 10th, Hampton's attack took the Federals by complete surprise. After 3 hours of fierce fighting, he withdrew his triumphant Confederates.

The fight at Monroe's Crossroads gained the additional time needed for Hardee's infantry to cross the Cape Fear River. With their troops and equipment safely across, the Confederates burned the bridges. Hardee then moved to join Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's command, which helped to set the stage for the climactic Battle of Bentonville a few days later.

But first, Hardee's men would have an opportunity to stand and fight before they joined Johnston.

By March 11th, Sherman's army occupied Fayetteville and rested there 4 days while the commanding general made his plans for taking Goldsboro. While Sherman was at Fayetteville, Hardee's Corps arrived at the Smithville Plantation along the Cape Fear River, north of Fayetteville and about 5 miles south of Averasboro. Here Hardee decided to make a stand and possibly buy additional time for Gen. Joseph E. Johnston to concentrate his forces at Smithfield.

Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee
On this date in 1865, Sherman's army was on the march to Goldsboro. Kilpatrick’s cavalry was out ahead of Maj. Gen. Henry Slocum's advancing left column when it came up against Hardee’s Corps, consisting of Maj. Gens. William B. Taliaferro’s and Lafayette McLaw’s infantry divisions and Joseph Wheeler’s dismounted cavalry. The Confederates were deployed across the Raleigh Road near Averasboro. After a brief skirmish, Kilpatrick withdrew and called for infantry support.

The 2-day Battle of Averasboro had begun.2 

At dawn on the second day, the Federals advanced on the first line but were stopped by the main Confederate defense. Later in the morning, a surprise flanking attack routed some of the Confederates on the line. Soon the attackers drove back the second line of defense. Just as the Federals were attempting to outflank Hardee's 3rd line, Wheeler's cavalry arrived to cover the gap. Sherman made the decision to postpone another assault until the next morning. However, by then Hardee had successfully evacuated his position in the darkness and moved toward Smithfield to join Johnston.3 

Hardee's losses were about 500 men, many of whom were captured. Union causalities were 682. Gen. Hardee's action at Averasboro managed to delay Sherman's advance for a day, buying Johnston more time to unify and relocate his forces for his final offensive, the Battle of Bentonville. However, Sherman now had an open road to Goldsboro, his main objective.

1 The Monroe's Crossroads battlefield is now on the grounds of the present day Fort Bragg Military Reservation.
2 For excellent map of the Battle of Averasboro see The Civil War Trust website.
At this moment, my Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes, in Lowrey's Brigade, also was making his way to join Johnston's forces that were concentrating at Smithfield.

Sources: This Astounding Close, Mark L. Bradley; General William J. Hardee, Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes, Jr.

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