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, April 26, 2015

The surrender of the Army of Tennessee, 1865

On today's date in 1865, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston officially surrendered1 his armies to Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman at Bennett Place, on the road from Hillsborough to Durham Station in North Carolina. It was the the largest surrender of the War Between the States.2 Among his forces encamped all around Confederate headquarters at Greensboro3 was the Army of Tennessee, in which my Great Grandfather Nathan Richardson Oakes served throughout the war.

By May 2nd, and with no formal ceremony to conclude the surrender, the Confederate soldiers will be issued their paroles from Greensboro and sent home.

Instead of using the term "surrender," Johnston asserted that the peace agreement was a "military convention... to terminate hostilities." Rather than being received as prisoners of war as in a formal surrender, Johnston felt his men should be permitted to stack their arms, receive their paroles, and march home, which, in fact, they did.
Johnston surrendered the Division of the West under himself, the forces under Gen. Braxton Bragg, the Department of North Carolina under Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, and the Department of Tennessee and Georgia under Lt. Gen. William Hardee, all of which generals had at one time or another commanded the Army of Tennessee. Other Confederate units will surrender in the weeks ahead. The last battle of the war, the Battle of Palmito Ranch, east of Brownsville, Texas, will be fought May 12-13, 1865. On June 23, in Doakesville, Oklahoma, Brig. Gen. Stand Watie, a Cherokee, will be the last Confederate field general to surrender.
The camps of the Confederate army were spread over a wide area, with troops at High Point, New Salem, Jamestown, Salisbury, Trinity College, Bush Hill, and Greensboro.

Sources: Last Stand in the Carolinas, Mark L. Bradley; Narrative of Military Operations During the Civil War, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston; The Chattanoogan.comMilitary Reminiscences of the Civil War, Vol. 2, Jacob Cox; The Confederate Surrender at Greensboro, Robert M. Dunkerly; Mary Ellen Oakes’s Confederate Veteran Pension Application

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Agreement between Johnston and Sherman

Gen. Joseph E. Wheeler
On Monday, April 17, 1865, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston and Union Gen. William T. Sherman met at the Bennett farmhouse, on the road from Hillsborough to Durham Station, to discuss a path toward peace.

A second meeting was held on today's date.* In the course of the discussion, Sherman sat down and wrote out a "Memorandum, or Basis of Agreement" based on his understanding of what he understood President Lincoln would have wanted. This agreement provided for an armistice that could be cancelled at 48-hours notice; disbanding Johnston's armies and surrendering weapons in state arsenals; U.S. recognition of state governments; reestablishment of federal courts; restoration of political and civil rights; and a general amnesty for Southern combatants. Both generals signed the agreement and Sherman sent it off to Washington for approval.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis also approved the terms, but U.S. President Andrew Johnston's cabinet, led by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, rejected them. Stanton had argued forcibly that Sherman did not have the proper authority to reach an agreement with Johnston. Further, he unfairly stated that Johnston was not being sincere in his negotiation with Sherman, but was, in fact, conducting a ruse to gain time for President Davis to escape with the imagined Confederate treasury.

Gen. William T. Sherman
On April 23rd, Grant personally visited Sherman in Raleigh, bringing with him Washington’s decision. He informed Sherman that his terms were disapproved, and ordered him to give Johnston the 48-hour notice required in the terms of the truce, and then proceed to attack the Confederate army. Sherman sent a message to Johnston with a demand for his surrender under the same terms offered to Robert E. Lee .

On the same day, Cheatham's Corps, in which Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes was serving, was ordered to move its camp 9 miles closer to Greensboro. The next day,  the Confederate army was put on alert to move when ordered. Cheatham's Corps was then ordered to hold itself ready to move promptly at 11:00 AM, when the truce expired. At that hour, Cheatham's Corps marched 10 miles on the Center and Thomasville road to the Salem and Fayetteville road.

Thankfully, in spite of the threat of renewed conflict and the bitter feelings in Washington, there was no new outbreak of fighting. Johnston replied to Sherman the same day, agreeing to meet again at the Bennett house. On the 26th, the generals met, and Sherman offered the more stringent terms of a military surrender. Johnston agreed. The negotiations finally resulted in a Confederate surrender.

That afternoon, the news came to Cheatham's Corps that a peace agreement had been reached.

Concerning Johnston's leadership in the closing 2 months of the war Mark L. Bradley writes, "No other Confederate general—not even Robert E. Lee—could have accomplished more with so few resources in such a brief span." Indeed, when Johnston took command on February 23rd, he believed that the best he could hope for by continuing the war was to obtain "fair terms of peace" for his men and for the Southern people. In spite of that, Johnston managed to consolidate his scattered forces and finally fight his opponent at Bentonville with uncharacteristic boldness. At Smithfield, he reorganized his army into a formidable 30,000-man force. Had he and Lee been successful in uniting their armies, the combined Confederate force would have presented Sherman with a daunting challenge. After Lee's surrender, Johnston also could have chosen to withdraw his army south to continue the war. Rather, he clearly understood the necessity for negotiating a peace with Sherman, ultimately even in defiance of President Davis. Bradley notes finally, "During the final weeks of the war in the Old North State, Johnston's qualities as commander shone forth in their most favorable aspect."

* Confederate Secretary of War, Maj. Gen. John C. Breckenridge, was also present at this meeting. One thing that made this remarkable was that Breckenridge had been Vice President of the United States under James Buchanan. Due to his former status, Sherman advised Breckenridge to flee the country rather than surrender.

Sources: This Astounding close, Mark L. Bradley; Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Vol 2, Jacob Cox; Civil War TrustMemoirs of W.T. Sherman, William Tecumseh Sherman; Official Records, Vol. 47, Pt. 1

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Offer of peace

On today's date in 1865, Good Friday, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston sent a letter under a flag of truce to Union Gen. William T. Sherman seeking an end to the war. In a return letter to Johnston on the same day, Sherman agreed to suspend hostilities and meet with his Confederate counterpart. The generals agreed to meet on April 17th at a point midway between the Federal line at Durham Station and Johnston's headquarters. While Sherman had been urged not to trust Johnston as this could be an attempt to escape, thankfully Sherman chose to believe in Johnston's sincerity and agreed to meet to negotiate a peace.

Incredibility, on this same day, actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth fatally shot President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. Lincoln died the next day. The attack came only 5 days after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Neither Sherman or Johnston was aware of the tragedy while they were arranging their meeting.

On the 17th, just as Sherman was getting ready to leave for Durham Station for his first meeting with Johnston, he received a message informing him of Lincoln’s assassination. Sherman swore the telegraph operator to secrecy so as to not jeopardize the morale of the soldiers nor interfere with the peace talks.

The 2 generals then met alone in the farmhouse of James and Nancy Bennett's (originally "Bennitt") outside Durham Station. After showing Johnston the telegraph, their meeting proceeded under a cloud of uncertainty about the impact Lincoln's death might have on a peaceful surrender. It would take many more days of negotiations before a formal surrender was reached.

There must have been great uncertainty among the soldiers encamped around the Confederate headquarters at Greensboro. Even high ranking officers were in the dark about the war's possible outcome at this point. Maj. Henry Hampton of Gen. Cheatham's staff wrote concerning the days of April 17-19:
Monday, April 17—Ordered to remain where we are until further orders. As the enemy are all around us, both above, below, and behind, the inevitable inference is that the army is to be surrendered. The army remained in a state of suspense and uncertainty until Wednesday, April 19, when it was known that peace had been agreed upon between North and South, or rather, that terms of a peace had been agreed upon between Generals Sherman and Johnston and sent to their respective Governments for ratification.

Sources: This Astounding Close, Mark L. Bradley; Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Vol 2, Jacob Cox; Memoirs of W.T. Sherman, William Tecumseh Sherman; Official Records, Vol. 47, Pt. 1

Friday, April 10, 2015

Marching to Greensboro

Having learned that Union Gen. William T. Sherman's army was marching toward Raleigh, on today's date in 1865, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston ordered his 3 corps to fall back from their encampment at Smithfield and march toward Greensboro.

Lt. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart's Corps headed out first, followed by Lt. Gen. Stephen D. Lee's Corps, in which Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes was now serving in the newly established 8th Mississippi Battalion. They were assigned the Louisburg Road, and they followed it east of the Neuse River until crossing the river at Battle's Bridge, about 10 miles southeast of Raleigh. Gen. Joseph Wheeler's cavalry guarded the rear. William Hardee marched with one of his divisions through Smithfield, crossed the Neuse River, then marched northwest on the Raleigh Road along the North Carolina Railroad. His other 2 divisions followed Stewart's and Lee's Corps, ahead of the advancing Federal army.

In camp that night near Battle's Bridge, Johnston learned of Robert E. Lee's surrender the day before at Appomattox Courthouse. He clearly understood that the end was at hand.

The next morning, army continued its westward march, camping outside of Raleigh. On the morning of the 12th, they marched through Raleigh and continued on the Hillsborough and Chapel Hill roads. Stewart's and Lee's men bivouacked that night in the woods near the railroad tracks, about 9 miles beyond the city. Hardee's Corps bivouacked 3 miles east of Raleigh.

Overnight at Raleigh, Johnston received a telegram from President Jefferson Davis with instructions to meet him at Greensboro. Having evacuated Richmond with his cabinet on April 2nd, Davis was making his way south by rail. Leaving Gen. Hardee in command, Johnston left to meet with the president and there to learn from him that, incredibly, Davis intended to continue the war.

In the meantime on the 13th, Lee's Corps continued its march, camping that night at Hillsborough. On the 14th, Good Friday, the men marched to Haw River and camped near the bridge east of Graham, their crossing delayed by rains and the swollen river. Taking the Greensboro Road the next day through Graham and Company Shops, the troops marched another 15 miles before finally reaching their campsite. Marching another 12 miles along the New Salem road on Easter Sunday, April 16th, they reached their final destination about 15 miles outside of Greensboro.

Two days day before Great Grandfather's arrival near Greensboro, Gen. Johnston sent an offer of peace to Gen. Sherman. It was also the same day Union President Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot.

Sources: This Astounding Close, Mark L. Bradley; General Joseph E. Johnston, Gilbert Govan & James Livingwood; Narrative of Military Operations During the Civil War, Joseph E. Johnston; The Confederate Surrender at Greensboro, Robert M. Dunkerly; Official Records, Vol. 47, Pt. 1

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Consolidated within the 8th Mississippi Battalion

On March 31stGen. Joseph E. Johnston reorganized the Army of Tennessee near Smithfield, North Carolina. The remnants of Mark P. Lowrey’s Brigade, which then was commanded by Lt. Col. J.F. Smith, was consolidated with the 8th Mississippi Regiment and placed under the command of Capt. H.W. Crook. Capt. Joshua Y. Carmack, former captain of Co. H of the 32nd, was given command of Co. D of the consolidated regiment, in which Great Grandfather Nathan R. Oakes and Great Uncle William D. Turner still served.

On today's date in 1865, the entire Confederate army under Johnston underwent a major reorganization. The new consolidation of regiments effectively marked the end of Great Grandfather's 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment, in existence since since its formation at the start of the war. There were too many understrength regiments and too many general officers to command them. These facts were already apparent to brigadiers like the valiant Gen. Lowrey, who earlier felt comipelled to resigned his commission.

In the reorganization, 3 regimentsthe 5th, 8th, and 32nd Mississippialong with the 3rd Mississippi Battalion, were consolidated into a single and much reduced unit, renamed the 8th Mississippi Battalion. Capt. Carmack was placed in command. The new 8th Mississippi Battalion was far smaller than any of its combined regiments had been separately. Together with other consolidated regiments, the newly formed 8th Mississippi Battalion was placed in Brig. Gen. Jacob H. Sharp's Brigade, in Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill’s Division, of Lt. Gen. Stephen D. Lee’s Corps. The 32nd Regiment remained consolidated in the 8th Mississippi Battalion through the army's surrender on April 26th.

The few surviving volunteers from the once proud 32nd Mississippi Regiment now served in a single battalion. No doubt it affected the morale of the troops. Where once the regiment had been comprised of men who were neighbors back home and who had fought together for years, now they were assigned with soldiers they did not know personally.

As it turned out however, the reorganization hardly mattered. On this same date in 1865, Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. By the end of the month, the war finally will be over for the dedicated and long-suffering survivors of the old 32nd Mississippi Regiment, too.

Sources: Military History of Mississippi, 1833-1898, Dunbar Rowland; Official Records, Vol. 47, Pts. 1 & 3; Capt. Joshua Y. Carmack's Service Records

Lee surrenders, 1864

Robert E. Lee at home in Richmond, April 1865
Source: Brady Civil War Collection
On the morning of today's date in 1865, Palm Sunday, the Battle of Appomattox Court House in Virginia was fought. It proved to be Gen. Robert E. Lee's last engagement with Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

Relentlessly pressed by Grant's army and cut off from turning south to possibly join Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's force in North Carolina, Lee arrived in Appomattox County on April 8th. On his way for the South Side Railroad at Appomattox Station where supplies awaited his army, Lee's Confederates were cut off and nearly surrounded by Federal troops near the village of Appomattox Court House. Tapped, Gen. Lee surrendered his remaining troops to Gen. Grant at the McLean House on the afternoon of today's date.

While the war was over for Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, it took 2 more weeks for the end to finally come for Great Grandfather Nathan R. Oakes and his dedicated and forebearing comrades serving under Gen. Johnston in Greensboro.

To make matters worse for Johnston's army, many of Lee's men who were paroled at Appomattox began making their way home through Greensboro, passing through the camps of Johnston's disheartened men. Not knowing what their own fate may be, demoralization in Johnston's army gave way to desertion in increasing numbers. One more reason in a few days for Johnston to extend an offer of peace to his opponent, William T. Sherman.

Sources: Civil War Trust; The Confederate Surrender at Greensboro, Robert M. Dunkerly

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The last grand review of the army

To keep Gen. Joseph Johnston's Confederate army busy and disciplined while encamped around Smithfield, North Carolina, the commanding officers drilled their units regularly. To show off their marching skills, at least 2 public Grand Reviews of the assembled armies were held. One of these, on April 4th, was for the benefit of displaying the newly reassembled Army of Tennessee in which my great grandfather Nathan Oakes served.

Then 3 days later on this date in 1865, a final review of Gen. William J. Hardee's army was held on the plantation property of Everitt P. Stevens in Selma, near Smithfield. In attendance were Gens. Joseph E. Johnston, William J. Hardee, Governor Zebulon Baird Vance, and other army officers. Also attending were a few dozen of Raleigh's young ladies who traveled by rail to witness the military parade. Gen. Hardee hosted a reception that followed where a military band provided music and Gov. Vance delivered a speech.

At the time, few of the soldiers probably imagined that this was their army's final review or that the war for them would be over before the end of the month.

Within days of the grand procession, the troops will be on the move again. On the 10th, Johnston learned that Gen. William T. Sherman's army had begun a march toward Raleigh. The Confederate general ordered his army to move west towards Greensboro.

Source: This Astounding Close, Mark L. Bradley; Official Records, Vol. 47, Pt. 1

Monday, April 6, 2015

The death of Brig. Gen. John A. Wharton

John Austin Wharton (July 23, 1828 – April 6, 1865) was a lawyer, plantation owner, delegate to the Texas Secession Convention, and a Confederate cavalry major general during the War Between the States. In that conflict, he was considered one of the Confederacy's best tactical cavalry commanders.

Photo by Mark Dolan, March 2015
Maj. Gen. John A. Wharton Monument
Texas State Cemetery, Austin, Texas
When the war began, Wharton was elected captain of Company B of 8th Texas Cavalry, better known as Terry's Texas Rangers. He rose to command the regiment after the deaths of Col. Benjamin F. Terry and Lieut. Col. Thomas S. Lubbock. Wharton led his troops with distinction at the Battle of Shiloh where he was wounded. His leadership during Bragg's 1862 Kentucky invasion earned him a promotion to the rank of brigadier general in November 1862. His actions at the Battle of Chickamauga in the fall of 1863, earned him another promotion, to the rank of major general. In February 1864, Gen. Wharton was transferred to Richard Taylor's Trans-Mississippi Depart-ment in Louisiana. Upon his arrival he was assigned to lead the cavalry and took part in the closing scenes of the 1864 Red River Campaign in Louisiana.

But on April 6, 1865—three days before Robert E. Lee surrendered his army—while visiting Gen. John B. Magruder's headquarters at the Fannin Hotel in Houston, Wharton was killed by fellow officer George W. Baylor in a personal quarrel. Even though Wharton was found to have been unarmed, Baylor was acquitted of murder charges in 1868.

Wharton was originally buried at Hempstead, but was later moved to the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.

Maj. Gen. John A. Wharton is one of the 2 major generals—both cavalry officers that one time or another commanded Great-Great Grandfather David C. Neal’s 6th Tennessee Regiment—who died violently, but not from enemy action. The other was Major General Van Dorn, shot by a jealous husband on May 7, 1863.