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.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Reenlistment in the 32nd Mississippi Regiment

Sometime in January 1864, the Army of Tennessee began a reenlistment drive among its troops. Many, like my Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes, had enlisted for 3 years, and enlistment for these men was soon to expire. It was a difficult time for the army. Having experienced a disastrous defeat at Missionary Ridge, and now encamped around Dalton, Georgia in bleak winter conditions, many a man's mind and heart turned towards family back home, so many of these also enduring terrible circumstances under Federal occupation.

Inspired by Gen. Patrick Cleburne's exceptional leadership and profound sense of duty to his country, almost all of his men reenlisted for the war's duration (as did most of the troops at Dalton). It was an amazing display of patriotism on the part of his dedicated troops, among whom were Great Grandfather Oakes and his future brother-in-law, William D. Turner, serving in Gen. Mark Lowrey's 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment.

Source: Patrick Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; Huntsville Historical Review, Vol 26, No. 2. 1999: Huntsville Historical Review, Vol 26, No. 2. 1999: Transcription of Capt. Daniel Coleman Diary, Univ. North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Camp Life at Dalton, 1864

During its encampment in and around Dalton, Georgia, over the winter of 1863-64, the Army of Tennessee under Joseph E. Johnston, experienced much needed improvement in condition and morale. Johnston saw to his troops' needs of clothing, equipment, and supplies. In time, the depleted army was restored and a sense of pride also returned. Pvt. Sam Watkins, who was stationed at Tunnel Hill near where Great Grandfather Oakes was camped, wrote in his famous memoir, 
A new era had dawned; a new epoch had been dated... [Johnston] restored the soldier's pride; he brought manhood back to the private's bosom... We soon got proud; the blood of the old Cavaliers tingled in our veins. We did not feel that were serfs and vagabonds. We felt we had a home and country worth fighting for, and, if need be, worth dying for.
Discipline had returned to the army, especially as commanders saw to reestablishing routine and structure in daily camp life.

Craig L. Symonds, in his book, Stonewall of the West, about Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes's division general, Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne, provides some insight into camp life at Tunnel Hill.
[C]amp life resumed its orderly routine. Reveille was at daylight, followed by roll call and breakfast. Cleburne supervised drill from 10 to 11:30, when the troops had their lunch, or what was then called dinner. Then it was more drill from 2:30 to 4:00, often followed by a dress parade at sunset. Tattoo was at 8:00, and taps at 9:00. Meals were dominated by corn bread, often seasoned with red peppers and supplemented by beef when it was available, and potatoes. Occasionally the men were issued bacon, which was especially welcome. At night, the companies often engaged in singing while gathered about the fires. They preferred maudlin and sentimental tunes like “Annie Laurie” and “Do They Miss Me at Home.” Another favorite was “Silence, Silence, Make No More Noise nor Stir.”
Provision was made in the daily schedule for the soldiers' spiritual needs, too. Pvt. Watkins also writes that chaplains now had freedom to return to their work of ministering to the troops. "[They] held divine services every Sabbath, prayer was offered every evening at retreat, and the morale of the army was better in every respect." Lt. Thomas Stokes, also in Cleburne's Division, also noted that some companies established evening prayer meetings. "Religion is the theme," he wrote home to his sister, Mary Gay. Everywhere, you hear around the camp-fires at night the sweet songs of Zion. This spirit pervades the whole army."

Sources: Stonewall of the West: Patrick Cleburne and the Civil War, Craig L. Symonds; Co. Aytch, Sam R. Watkins; Life in Dixie During the War 1861-1862-1863-1864-1865, Mary A.H. Gay

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Proposal to enlist Southern salves

Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne
(Library of Congress)
On today's date in 1864, Confederate Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne made a startling proposal to his fellow officers. In a formal letter he recommended arming slaves in exchange for their freedom. By now it was obvious to Cleburne that the Confederacy was losing the war due to the growing limitations of its manpower and resources. Recruiting slaves into the ranks seemed an obvious way to increase the size of the Confederate army.

For Cleburne, Southern independence was more important than preserving slavery. Besides, as he saw the issue, slavery was the South's “most vulnerable point, a continued embarrassment, and in some respects an insidious weakness.” In other words, he argued, slavery had become the South's liability. Slaves were a military hazard for the Confederacy because they were being recruited into the Union army as it took control of Southern territory. And European governments would not likely ever recognize the Confederacy unless slavery were abolished.

Cleburne's argument had a certain moral appeal regarding abolishing slavery:
… we can give the negro not only his own freedom, but that of his wife and child, and can secure it to him in his old home. To do this, we must immediately make his marriage and parental relations sacred in the eyes of the law and forbid their sale. The past legislation of the South concedes that a large free middle class of negro blood, between the master and slave, must sooner or later destroy the institution. If, then, we touch the institution at all, we would do best to make the most of it, and by emancipating the whole race upon reasonable terms, and within such reasonable time as will prepare both races for the change, secure to ourselves all the advantages, and to our enemies all the disadvantages that can arise, both at home and abroad, from such a sacrifice.
And then there's the political logic of his argument: "It is said slavery is all we are fighting for, and if we give it up we give up all. Even if this were true, which we deny, slavery is not all our enemies are fighting for. It is merely the pretense to establish sectional superiority and a more centralized form of government, and to deprive us of our rights and liberties."

Cleburne had the support of many of his subordinates. His letter was signed by 14 of the division's officers, including Gen. Mark Lowrey, Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes's brigade commander, as well as the colonel of his 32nd/45th Mississippi Infantry Regiment, Aaron B. Hardcastle.

Almost all the other generals present at the meeting were politely, but strongly opposed. At least one, W.H.T. Walker, was downright horrified. He considered Cleburne's proposal so dangerous that he forwarded it around the chain of command to the President. Davis then ordered it to be suppressed, "Deeming it to be injurious to the public service that such a subject should be mooted, or even known to be entertained by persons possessed of the confidence and respect of the people…" So effective was the suppression that Cleburne's controversial proposal wouldn't resurface for another 30 years.

Photo by David Seibert, July 14, 2011, Dalton, Georgia
Ironically though, in March 1865, with defeat looming, the Confederate Congress approved recruiting slaves. A small number actually were enlisted, but none saw combat. In the North, however, nearly 200,000 free African Americans and escaped Southern slaves served as soldiers and sailors in the U.S. military.

In 2011, Gen. Cleburne finally received recognition at Dalton for his radical idea. A marker commemorating his proposal was placed by the Georgia Historical Society on the site where he first delivered it.

Sources: Autumn of Glory, Thomas Lawrence Connelly; "Biographical Sketch of Major-General Patrick R. Cleburne," Gen. William J. Hardee, Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 31; "Patrick Cleburne's Proposal to Arm Slaves," Civil War Trust