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.

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

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