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, July 18, 2014

Hood assumes command of the Army of Tennessee

While very popular among the men and officers of his army, and a distinguished war hero in his own right, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston could not achieve the continued support of the president of the Confederacy. So on today's date in 1864, he was replaced by the distinguished and daring Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood. Already possessing the reputation for being one of the best brigade and division commanders in the Confederate army, Hood has already reached the status of genuine hero and Southern patriot.

Born in Kentucky, Hood was educated at West Point. Following graduation in 1853, he began a military career in the U.S. Army in California and then Texas as both an infantry and cavalry officer, under Albert S. Johnston and Robert E. Lee. When war broke out between the North and South, he chose to resign his commission and volunteer for service to his adopted state of Texas, where he received the commission of captain. Soon he was promoted to colonel of the 4th Texas Infantry, from then on known as "Hood's Texas Brigade."

As a Confederate officer he first achieved a reputation for aggressive leadership of the Texas Brigade under Robert E. Lee. After the Seven Days Battles in 1862, he was promoted to division command. He led a division under Gen. James Longstreet in the campaigns of 1862-1863. At the Battle of Gaines's Mill Hood distinguished himself by leading his brigade in a charge that broke the Union line. During the Second Battle of Bull Run, he again led his troops in an attack which led to the near destruction the Union army. In the Battle of Antietam, the success of Hood's Division resulted in his promotion to major general.

Hood was severely wounded in the Battle of Gettysburg, sustaining an injury his left arm that left it useless for the rest of his life. When Longstreet and 2 of his divisions were transferred to the Army of Tennessee at the Battle of Chickamauga, Hood led his division in a successful and decisive assault into a gap in the Union line. However, again he was severely wounded, which required the amputation of his right leg.

A lesser man might have called it quits. However, Hood returned to join the army at Dalton in February 1864, now with the rank of lieutenant general. He lead a corps throughout Johnston's slow retreat through the North Georgia mountains to Atlanta. Now on today's date in 1864, he assumed the role of General of the Army of Tennessee.

Due to his relative age and inexperience (he was only 31) as well as his limited physical abilities, his appointment was controversial. The timing of Johnston's replacement also presented dif-ficulties. But it was his relationship with some of his subordinates that presented the greatest obstacle to his leadership.

Johnston had been well loved by his officers and troops, and his replacement was met with discord and bitterness. Hood's elevation above other arguably more qualified and senior generals, such as William J. Hardee, my Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes's corps commander, was seen by many as ill advised or downright wrong. Indeed, Hood had earlier agreed to be Davis's eyes and ears in Johnston's army, and his reporting to Richmond around his superior officer, had been a serious violation of decency and military protocol.

On the other side of the battle line, Federal Gen. William T. Sherman was delighted in the change of leadership.* Johnston had been able to foil Sherman's attacks by fighting behind formidable fortifications, then withdrawing to other defensive lines. Now, at Atlanta, Sherman had an opponent who he knew would be bold and dangerous, but who also would take audacious risks that could be exploited.

Now, Hood possessed the coveted role for which he had agitated, but with his opponent so near at hand, he had personal reservations about his new position. Hood urged Johnston to postpone his departure until the fate of Atlanta was decided, but he was turned down. For better or for worse, the Army of Tennessee, and the fate of Atlanta, was now in the hands of 31-year-old commander-in-chief.

Hood will conduct the remainder of the Atlanta Campaign with characteristic strong and aggressive action. Sadly for the army, as historian Thomas Connelly notes, "He was the last of that troubled set of officers sent to the West for varied purposes—none beneficial to the western army." Hood will launch 4 major and costly attacks this summer in an attempt to break Sherman's siege of Atlanta, starting almost immediately with the Battle of Peachtree Creek.

* Sherman noted in his article in Battles and Leaders, that after crossing the Chattahoochee, his army
soon confronted our enemy behind his first line of intrenchments at Peach Tree Creek, prepared in advance for this very occasion. At this critical moment the Confederate Government rendered us most valuable service. Being dissatisfied with the Fabian policy of General Johnston, it relieved him, and General Hood was substituted to command the Confederate army. Hood was known to us to be a ‘fighter,’ a graduate of West Point of the class of 1853, No. 44, of which class two of my army commanders, McPherson and Schofield, were No. 1 and No. 7. The character of a leader is a large factor in the game of war, and I confess I was pleased at this change, of which I had early notice. I knew that I had an army superior in numbers and morale to that of my antagonist; but being so far from my base, and operating in a country devoid of food and forage, I was dependent for supplies on a poorly constructed railroad back to Louisville, five hundred miles. I was willing to meet the enemy in the open country, but not behind well-constructed parapets.
Other general officers under Sherman's command held the same view of Hood's appointment. Jacob C. Cox wrote in his Military Reminiscences,
We of the National Army in Georgia regarded the removal of Johnston as equivalent to a victory for us. Three months of sharp work had convinced us that a change from Johnston's methods to those which Hood was likely to employ, was, in homely phrase, to have our enemy grasp the hot end of the poker. We knew that we should be kept on the alert and must be watchful; but we were confident that a system of aggression and a succession of attacks would soon destroy the Confederate army... 
The action of the Confederate government was a confession that Sherman's methods had brought about the very result he aimed at. The enemy had been manoeuvred from position to position until he must either give up Atlanta with its important nucleus of railway communications and abandon all northern Georgia and Alabama, or he must assume a desperate aggressive with a probability that this would fatally reduce his army and make the result only the more completely ruinous. This was the meaning of the substitution of Hood for Johnston.

Sources: Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn; Battles and Leaders, Vol. 4; Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Volume 2 November 1863-June 1865, Jacob B. Cox; Autumn of Glory, Thomas Lawrence Connelly; Official Records, Vol. 38, Pt. 5

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