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, March 31, 2015

The Consolidated 8th & 32nd Mississippi Infantry

At its new base at Smithfield, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's army numbered about 28,000. Johnston's opponent Gen. William T. Sherman, on the other hand, had 90,000 troops at his disposal. However, if Johnston were to unite with Gen. Robert E. Lee in Virginia, their combined forces would total a formidable 80,000. While Johnston awaited a decision from Lee on this date in 1865, he reorganized his army to accommodate troop losses and the resignations of officers who were now in surplus.

Still serving in the remnants of Lowrey's Brigade,1 now commanded by Lt. Col. J.F. Smith,2 were Great Grandfather Nathan R. Oakes and Great Uncle William D. Turner. Due to its decreased size and strength, the 32nd Mississippi Regiment was forced to undergo a consolidation with the 8th Mississippi. The new 8th and 32nd Regiment was placed under the command of Capt. H.W. Crook. Capt. Joshua Y. Carmack was given command of my great grandfather's Co. D of the consolidated regiment. The brigade was still in Cleburne's Division (commanded by Brig. Gen. James A. Smith) in Cheatham's Corps.

By this point, the once renowned 32nd Mississippi Infantry already had lost most of its identity as combat unit. And in the major reorganization to come on April 9th, it will lose its name, officially ceasing to exist as a unique entity.

The distinctive divisional battle flag, a version of which flew
over Lowrey's Brigade and his formidable and distinguished
32nd Mississippi Infantry from Corinth to Bentonville.

The Official Records, Vol 47, Pt. 3, incorrectly spells the name as "Lowry's" (apparently mistakenly attributed to Robert Lowry) rather than Lowrey's Brigade, so named for their commander, Brig. Gen. Mark P. Lowrey.
Brig. Gen. Mark P. Lowrey had been commanding another division since the Battle of Nashville. In North Carolina, separated from the men of his old brigade and seeing the Cause as all but lost, Lowrey chose to resign his commission.

Sources: Military History of Mississippi, 1803-1898, Dunbar Rowland; Official Records, Vol. 47, Pt. 3; Capt. Joshua Y. Carmack's Service Records

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The army at Smithfield

Having withdrawn his forces from the Bentonville battlefield overnight March 21-22, 1865, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston led them toward Smithfield, North Carolina, about 15 miles to the north. There he planned to rest and refit his men and also ready them for further action against Union Gen. William T. Sherman.

Not looking for another full engagement with Johnston, Sherman chose not to follow up on the retreating Confederate army. So, after moving his Confederates throughout the 22nd, Johnston delayed his march a day to give his exhausted men a brief but welcome rest.

On the march again on today's date, Johnston's men crossed the Neuse River at Turner's Bridge and passed through Smithfield, halting 3 miles north of town, near Mitchener's Station on the North Carolina Railroad. For the next 3 weeks, Smithfield will be the new Confederate base. Its location is strategic for stopping Sherman if, as expected, he advances toward Richmond.

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

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Battle of Bentonville, 1865

The last battle to be fought between the Union army under Gen. William T. Sherman and the Confederate army under Gen. Joseph E. Johnston began on this date in 1865. It lasted through the 21st. Known as the the Battle of Bentonville, it was fought in that North Carolina community.

For almost 7 weeks, Sherman's army had moved from Savannah through the Carolinas, its 2 columns, ravaging the population and the countryside as they passed. While Sherman met some opposition along the way, the scattered Confederate forces had been able only to delay his march.

While Union Maj. Gen. Henry Slocum's advancing left wing was stalled briefly at Averasboro on March 16th by Lt. Gen. William Hardee’s attack, by the next day it had resumed its march toward Goldsboro. The right wing of Sherman’s army under Maj. Gen. O.O. Howard was headed in the same direction on a parallel route.
On March 18th, Johnston received a report from his cavalry commander Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton informing him that Sherman's 2 wings were advancing on Goldsboro and were widely separated. One of the columns, Slocum's, was marching up the road from Averasboro to Bentonville. Hampton suggested the Willis Cole plantation as an ideal place for a surprise attack. Johnston agreed and directed his generals Stewart, Bragg, and Hardee to march for Bentonville.

Johnston was convinced that he must attack Sherman before he could combine forces with Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield's army, at this moment moving west from Kingston to Goldsboro. Furthermore, Johnston believed that delivering a knockout blow to Sherman would give the South greater leverage for bargaining at war's end. And an attack now would also help Robert E. Lee's army in Petersburg, Virginia, by preventing Sherman from joining Gen. U.S. Grant's army.

On today's date, a Sunday in 1865, the  the Confederates launched their offensive near the village Bentonville.1 The struggle took place between men and units of opposing armies which had been fighting each other for the entire war. My great grandfather Nathan Oakes also saw his last fight here on the 21st, when his brigade (Lowrey's) arrived on the battlefield, the last of Cheatham's troops, and Johnston's last infantry reinforcements to join the battle.

Confederate commanders placed their troops in position to block the path of the Union left wing. By the time Slocum's men realized they were marching into a trap, it was too late. Caught by surprise, they were beaten back down the Goldsboro Road. So far, Johnston's relatively small but concentrated force had been successful. 
Unfortunately for Johnston, however, his force was simply too small to follow up on his initial success. To add to his difficulty, units from other Union corps were rushed to join the battle. On the 20th, Sherman's ranks had swollen to 60,000 men, 3 times the size of Johnston's force.
Nevertheless, the outmatched Confederates launched 5 separate assaults. Each failed to dislodge Slocum's column, however. On the 21st, many of the troops from Cheatham's Corps, plus Gen. Johnston himself, were almost captured when Maj. Gen. Joseph A. Mower's Division of the Union right wing overran Johnston's headquarters. At stake was the Confederates' only line of retreat across Mill Creek. Hardee counterattacked with a hastily assembled force, including Cheatham's Corps (Lowrey's Brigade was probably held in reserve behind Cheatham's attacking troops). His bold action repulsed the Federals and held the Mill Creek bridge. His counterattack also brought the battle to a close.
Faced with overwhelming numbers, and with nothing further to gain by holding his position, overnight on March 21-22, Johnston began withdrawing his troops across Mill Creek toward Smithfield, about 15 miles north. There he planned to rest and refit his men and also ready them to stop Sherman's anticipated march to join Grant against Robert E. Lee in Virginia. His army had just suffered 2,600 casualties to Sherman's loss of 1,500. With the smaller and more depleted force, Johnston's loss had the greater impact, and it will contribute to his decision to surrender a month later.

The Battle of Bentonville succeeded in delaying Sherman, however, it did not seriously cripple his army. Had Sherman determined to crush Johnston at Bentonville, the war in North Carolina would have come to an end here and now. Bentonville served as a reminder to Sherman that the Confederates were still a force to be reckoned with.

With Johnston's withdrawal, the way was now clear for Sherman to move on to Goldsboro, there to unite his forces.

An excellent series of maps of the Battle of Bentonville is available at the Civil War Trust website. Another website provided by North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources website offers an outstanding series of maps detailing the action from March 19-22, 1865.
Lowrey's Brigade, which included 8th/32nd Mississippi RegimentGreat Grandfather Oakes's unitarrived on the battlefield on the 21st along with with Brown's Division. Having experienced serious delays on the rail line, Lowrey's Brigade and Brown's Division arrived at the station at Selma about 5:00 PM on the 20th. According to historian Mark L. Bradley, "Frank Cheatham set a grueling pace on the march to Bentonville the next morning. The men struggled to keep up and many of them dropped out from exhaustion, doubtless the result of two weeks' inactivity caused by the haphazard nature of travel on the North Carolina Railroad." In view of its exhausted condition, the brigade may not have seen serious action on its arrival at Bentonville, but instead held in reserve.

Sources: Last Stand in the Carolinas, Mark L. Bradley; Moore's Historical Guide to the Battle of Bentonville, Mark A. Moore; The Confederate Surrender at Greensboro, Robert M. Dunkerly; Narrative of Military Operations During the Civil War, Joseph E. Johnston; Official Records, Vol. 47, Pt. 1

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Battles of Monroe's Crossroads & Averasboro, 1865

On March 8, 1865, Gen. William T. Sherman's Union army moved into North Carolina. One of his columns, Maj. Gen. Henry Slocum's, aimed for Fayetteville, held by Confederate Lt. Gen. William Hardee.

Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton
On March 10th, Slocum forced Hardee Corps to evacuate the town. The confederate cavalry, commanded by Lt. Gen. Wade Hampton, covered Hardee's march. The next day, one of the last cavalry battles of the war was fought at a spot on the map called Monroe's Crossroads.1 

After several days of skirmishing with each other in North Carolina, the opposing cavalry forces finally met. Despite orders from Sherman not to force the Confederates into a fight, the notorious Maj. Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick tried to block roads to stop the advancing Confederates, then went to bed ignoring any Confederate threat. At dawn on March 10th, Hampton's attack took the Federals by complete surprise. After 3 hours of fierce fighting, he withdrew his triumphant Confederates.

The fight at Monroe's Crossroads gained the additional time needed for Hardee's infantry to cross the Cape Fear River. With their troops and equipment safely across, the Confederates burned the bridges. Hardee then moved to join Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's command, which helped to set the stage for the climactic Battle of Bentonville a few days later.

But first, Hardee's men would have an opportunity to stand and fight before they joined Johnston.

By March 11th, Sherman's army occupied Fayetteville and rested there 4 days while the commanding general made his plans for taking Goldsboro. While Sherman was at Fayetteville, Hardee's Corps arrived at the Smithville Plantation along the Cape Fear River, north of Fayetteville and about 5 miles south of Averasboro. Here Hardee decided to make a stand and possibly buy additional time for Gen. Joseph E. Johnston to concentrate his forces at Smithfield.

Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee
On this date in 1865, Sherman's army was on the march to Goldsboro. Kilpatrick’s cavalry was out ahead of Maj. Gen. Henry Slocum's advancing left column when it came up against Hardee’s Corps, consisting of Maj. Gens. William B. Taliaferro’s and Lafayette McLaw’s infantry divisions and Joseph Wheeler’s dismounted cavalry. The Confederates were deployed across the Raleigh Road near Averasboro. After a brief skirmish, Kilpatrick withdrew and called for infantry support.

The 2-day Battle of Averasboro had begun.2 

At dawn on the second day, the Federals advanced on the first line but were stopped by the main Confederate defense. Later in the morning, a surprise flanking attack routed some of the Confederates on the line. Soon the attackers drove back the second line of defense. Just as the Federals were attempting to outflank Hardee's 3rd line, Wheeler's cavalry arrived to cover the gap. Sherman made the decision to postpone another assault until the next morning. However, by then Hardee had successfully evacuated his position in the darkness and moved toward Smithfield to join Johnston.3 

Hardee's losses were about 500 men, many of whom were captured. Union causalities were 682. Gen. Hardee's action at Averasboro managed to delay Sherman's advance for a day, buying Johnston more time to unify and relocate his forces for his final offensive, the Battle of Bentonville. However, Sherman now had an open road to Goldsboro, his main objective.

1 The Monroe's Crossroads battlefield is now on the grounds of the present day Fort Bragg Military Reservation.
2 For excellent map of the Battle of Averasboro see The Civil War Trust website.
At this moment, my Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes, in Lowrey's Brigade, also was making his way to join Johnston's forces that were concentrating at Smithfield.

Sources: This Astounding Close, Mark L. Bradley; General William J. Hardee, Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes, Jr.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Gen. Lowrey resigns

Brig. Gen. Mark P. Lowrey
The end of the war came earlier for Brig. Gen. Mark Lowrey than for the troops he led since the beginning days of that long conflict. One of the privileges of being an officer was the right to resign a commission. By this point, the war was all but lost for the Confederate armies. In the reorganization of the fragments of the Army of Tennessee, there was a surplus of officers, and Gen. Lowrey accepted the opportunity to officially take his leave. His reasons, in his own words, were as follows:
At Chesterfield, S. C., I got leave of absence and went to Richmond to tender my resignation, which was accepted on the 14th of March, 1865. My reasons for resigning were as follows:
  1. I saw that the cause was lost.
  2. I had been separated from the men and officers with whom I had borne the "burden and heat of the day," and to whom I was endeared by a thousand sacred ties, and although I was ailing to stand with our broken forces until the end of the struggle, I was unwilling to mourne [sic] with strangers at the funeral of 'The Lost Cause.'
  3. Our armies were by an act of Congress, to be reorganized, and there was a surplus of officers of all grades, and I preferred to leave the offices to those who were more ambitious for military honor and position than myself. My highest ambition as a soldier was to do my whole duty, and advance the interest of that cause which was as dear to my heart as life.
In the disaster that swept the Army of Tennessee from Nashville in December, Lowrey had been placed in command of another division. The promotion separated him from the troops he had enlisted and led through almost the entire war. Many of these men, like Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes, had been recruited by Lowrey into "Lowrey's Regiment" at the beginning of the war in Northern Mississippi.

Through the long war, Gen. Lowrey proved himself a valiant leader and heroic fighter on battlefields like Perryville, Chickamauga, Ringgold Gap, Pickett's Mill, Peachtree CreekAtlantaFranklin and Nashville. But his men also loved him for his Christian faith and character. In addition to being a commissioned officer, Lowrey also was an ordained minister who never shied from shepherding his flock of soldiers, a fact recalled years later in 1900 by Great Grandfather Oakes in a letter he wrote to the editor of the Confederate Veteran. Lowery was a leader in the well-documented spiritual revival that swept the Confederate armies during the war, most notably at Dalton, Georgia. He frequently preached to the men under his command as well as to crowds of soldiers from other regiments. Many of these were baptized personally by the general.

After the war, Lowrey returned to Mississippi and took up the task of reorganizing and rebuilding churches that had been destroyed during the fighting. He eventually founded a Christian women’s college, which still exists as the Blue Mountain CollegeHe also was elected president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention, serving that organization from 1868-1877. Following years of teaching at the college, Lowrey developed a serious heart condition. He died suddenly in 1885.
Sources: Mark P. Lowrey AutobiographyA Light on a Hill: A History of Blue Mountain College, Robbie Neal Sumrall; The Confederate Veteran, Vol. 8 (January 1900 -December 1900)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Battle of Wyse Fork / Kinston, 1865

From his headquarters in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the new commander of the Confederate force, Gen. Joseph Johnston, was supervising the concentration of his troops. Among the forces he was attempting to unite were the 3 corps of the Army of Tennessee, which included my great grandfather Nathan Oakes, and Lt. Gen. William Hardee's troops, which recently had withdrawn from Charleston. Johnston hoped to strike Union Gen. William T. Sherman's army, which was headed his way, while it crossed Cape Fear River.

Gen. Braxton Bragg
As Sherman was advancing toward the North Carolina border, Maj. Gen. Jacob D. Cox1 was marching his division with Gen. John M. Schofield's Corps inland from New Bern in order to control the rail line and link up with Sherman at Goldsboro. However, as Cox approached Kinston, Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg saw an opportunity to defeat him.

On the 6th, Bragg asked Johnston to divert additional troops to him for an attack on Cox. Johnston rushed  the requested troops, under Maj. Gen. D.H. Hill, and instructed him to send them on to Smithfield as soon as possible. Johnston also informed Bragg that Cheatham's Corps, in which Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes was serving, and more than half of Stewart's were in transit by rail from Chesterville to Smithfield under the same orders as Hill's.

On March 7th, Bragg's Confederates blocked Cox's march at Wyse Fork2 along the Southwest Creek, 4 miles east of Kinston. That evening, advanced Union guards skirmished with the Confederates entrenched there, opening a 4-day clash in the fields and woods south and east of Southwest Creek.

Maj. Gen. Jacob D. Cox
On today's date in 1865, Bragg's troops attacked the Union flank. After initial success in routing a portion of the enemy, the Confederate attacks stalled because of faulty communications. Fighting renewed on the 10th, but not before Union reinforcements arrived to repulse Bragg’s attacks. After heavy fighting, and learning that Cox had been reinforced, Bragg withdrew to Goldsboro.

The Battle of Wyse Fork was the second largest battle in North Carolina. In the fighting the Confederates suffered around 1,500 in dead, wounded, or missing. Union casualties were around 1,100.

Bragg's attack had bought only a little more time for Johnston's army. On March 14th, the city of Kinston fell into Union hands. In the days after the battle, the Union forces pushed towards Goldsboro and ultimately to the last major battle at Bentonville on March 19-21.

1 Gen. Cox is credited with saving the center of the Union line in the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, November 30, 1864
2 For an excellent map of the Battle of Wyse Fork, please visit The Civil War Trust website.

Sources: This Astounding Close, Mark L. Bradley; Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, Vol. 2, Jacob D. Cox; Official Records, Vol. 47, Pts. 1 & 2