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.

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

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