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James Allen Oakes

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Posted: Date Tuesday, April 17th 2007, 8:18 PM Icon 7796 Date 0

1822 - 1863
Co. B, 38th Va. Infantry

James Oakes was born about 1822 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. He was the seventh child of William O. and Ruth (Smith) Oakes. His siblings were: Joab, born about 1804, George W., born about 1805; Sabry Sarah, born 12 December 1808; Catherine, born about 1810; Daniel Warner, born 1 September 1813; and William Burl, born 15 October 1816. The family lived in the Callands area of Pittsylvania County, known as Museville, Virginia.

Shortly after the birth of James, Ruth died and William married Sallie Phraley on 11July 1824.
James married on 1 December 1842 to Margaret Catherine Hutson. It is not known if he had any children.

He enlisted on 10 March 1862 at Callands, as a private in Company B, 38th Virginia Infantry. Under the command of General Jubal A. Early, on May 1, the unit participated in action that aided General James Longstreet at Fort Magruder, a pivotal defensive position on the peninsula which was under attack by the troops of General Winfield Scott Hancock. Unfortunately, a combination of poor leadership and bad luck lead to a rather inconsequential encounter with the Union army, as the “Pittsylvania regiment” became tangled in dense woods and was ordered to retire just as the rest of the Brigade was ordered to withdraw. After this engagement, the unit was reassigned to the command of General Samuel Garland Jr., another VMI graduate.

On May 28, the 38th found itself on the Williamsburg road on picket duty and skirmishing with the Union Army of the Potomac. Orders came to hit the Union army before they could consolidate. Garland’s brigade hit part of the Union Fourth Corps at the Battle of Seven Pines. Confederates had to attack through swampy woods and were “hotly engaged “, slowly driving the enemy back when their ammunition began to run low. The colors of the 104th Pennsylvania volunteers was captured during this battle before the withdrawal. Casualties were very high: of the original 350 men and officers of the 38th Virginia, 16 were killed, 117 wounded and 14 missing in action for a casualty rate of 42%. The 38th was then placed under the command of General Lewis Armistead, of Huger’s Division where it remained for the rest of the war. Marching and counter-marching found the 38th in Pennsylvania 2 miles north of Chambersburg on the York Road in late June. For the first time in awhile, there was plenty to eat. When Gettysburg loomed as a major battle, Lee ordered Pickett’s division to the front early in the morning on July 3. After two day’s of fighting, Pickett’s newly arrived troops were the freshest and were ordered, supported by Pettigrew’s and Thimble’s divisions, to take the center of the Federal line on Cemetery Ridge. Approximately 10,500 men were involved in the ill-fated Pickett’s charge. In minutes, 40% of the 38th were casualties and the battle flag was captured during a flanking movement by the 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Colonel Edmonds, who presided over the initial organization of the 38th lay dead on the field.

James was wounded by a cannonball when it shattered his leg. He was taken prisoner and carried to a Yankee hospital near Gettysburg where his leg was amputated. He died there on 15 July 1863. Neither his wife or his family were notified of his death and nothing more was heard from him. When he failed to return home after the war, Margaret filed an official inquiry with the War Department and it was then that she learned of his death. He is buried in an unmarked grave at Gettysburg. Margaret died in 1909.

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