The Campaign for Corinth
Located in the hills of Northeast Mississippi is a small area with a significant past: Corinth and Old Tishomingo County. This region played an important role in the American Civil War. During 1860, the political situation in the state of Mississippi as well as the Nation deteriorated. As a result of Abraham Lincoln’s election, Mississippi Governor John Pettus called for a convention to take place in Jackson, the state capitol.
Setting the Stage
Prior to the convention in Jackson, the citizens of Old Tishomingo County were opposed to secession, but when the majority of the state’s delegates voted to secede, the Tishomingo delegates signed the Article of Secession. In spite of their earlier feelings, the number of soldiers from Tishomingo County equaled, if not exceeded, that of any other county in the South.
The Campaign Begins
During 1861, Corinth served as a mobilization center for Confederate troops. After the fall of Tennessee Forts Henry and Donelson in February 1862, Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston made the Memphis-Charleston railroad his line of defense. It was believed that if this east-west supply line were cut, the upper South would be divided and the Western Theater would probably be lost.
Gen. Johnston ordered Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, his second in command, to gather troops at Corinth. By the end of March, nearly 44000 men, most of whom were “green’ were organized into four corps under Generals Leonidas Polk, Braxton Bragg, W.J. Hardee and J.C. Breckinridge.Federal Gen, H.W. Halleck also realized Corinth’s value, stating that the railroad centers in Corinth and Richmond were “the greatest strategic points of the war, and our success at these points should be insured at all hazards.” He ordered Federal troops to meet at Savannah, on the east side of the Tennessee River.
Confederate Generals Earl Van Dorn and Sterling Price had not reached Corinth, but Gen. Johnston decided to strike Gen. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee before the Army of the Ohio, under Gen. Carlos Buell, could reinforce the troops at Pittsburg Landing. The Confederate troops left Corinth April 3, but did not reach Shiloh until early morning April 6, due to rain, mud and inexperience.
Before dawn April 6, the Confederates attacked the Union forces who had not entrenched. Although the Confederate Army made a strong showing on the first day of battle, it experienced a terrible loss when Johnston was mortally wounded. Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard assumed command and halted the attack late in the day. During the night and early morning, 25,500 reinforcements joined Gen Grant, forcing the Confederates back, and by 4 p.m., they began their painful trek back to Corinth. The two-day battle, named for Shiloh Church, was the bloodiest Civil War battle up until that time.
Corinth became a hospital center as the wounded were brought back. Many men died following the battle, not only from injuries sustained in battle, but childhood diseases, dysentery and fevers. Boxcar loads of wounded were sent to Okolona, Columbus and Oxford. The Union army took a month to travel the 22 miles to Corinth. The weather was bad, the water was not good and disease was rampant. Halleck, being cautious by nature, entrenched every night. Eventually there were seven progressive lines and forty miles of trenches.
The Engagement at FarmingtonBy May 4, the Union Army was within 10 miles of Corinth. The Confederates began a series of small scale attacks. Skirmishes occurred on May 3, 4 and 8, but May 9 brought a fierce engagement to Farmington, a small town just east of Corinth. Gen. Pope had moved his two brigades into Farmington. Confederate Gen. Paine, commanding 6 regiments, engaged them. Fierce fighting took place for six hours. The Union troops were ordered to fall back to their former camp one mile away and the Confederate troops fell back over 7 Mile Creek.
The Siege of Corinth
By May 25, the Union Army was entrenched on high ground within a few thousand yards of the Confederate fortifications. From there, Union guns shelled defensive earthworks, supply bases and the railroad facilities in Corinth. The Union troops outnumbered the Confederate troops two to one. Because of an inadequate supply of clean water, the health of Beauregard’s men was worsening. At a council of war, Confederate officers came to the conclusion that they were not able to hold the railroad crossing.
A hoax saved Beauregard’s army. During the last week of May, soldiers removed the army’s artillery and replaced them with “Quaker guns,” logs painted black to give the appearance of real weapons. During the night of May 29, the Confederate army moved out using the Mobile and Ohio Railroad to carry tons of supplies, heavy artillery and the sick and wounded. When a train arrived, the troops cheered, camp fires burned and instruments played, making the Union think that reinforcements had arrived. The rest of the men slipped away undetected. When Union patrols entered Corinth, they found the Confederates gone.
After the Confederate evacuation of Corinth, Union soldiers occupied the town. During the long hot summer, they dug wells to find good water and constructed additional fortifications. Gen. Halleck ordered a series of batteries to be built (A through F.) Maj. Gen. Rosecrans built an inner series of batteries (Madison, Lothrop, Tannrath, Phillips, Robinett, Powell, Williams) on the ridges around town which he felt would better protect the railroads. Trenches for infantrymen connected the batteries and abates strengthened the line.
The Battle of Iukafter the evacuation of Corinth, the Confederate army underwent significant change. Beauregard suddenly abandoned his army in Tupelo for health reasons. Bragg succeeded Beauregard and committed the bulk of his army to an invasion of Tennessee and Kentucky. The remaining Confederate forces in Mississippi were under the command of Generals Van Dorn and Price. In September, many of the men in Corinth went off to fight a bloody battle at Iuka. Confederate Gen. Sterling Price was in Iuka. Grant, worried that the Confederates would move into Tennessee to join Bragg, devised a plan to trap Price. Rosecrans’ Army of the Mississippi approached Iuka from the southwest. Maj. Gen. O.C. Ord brought three divisions of the Army of the Tennessee from the northwest. Grant ordered Ord to attack when they heard the sounds of Rosecrans’ attack, but an acustic shadow suppressed the sound and prevented their knowing that the battle had begun. After an afternoon of fighting entirely by Rosecrans’ men, the Confederates withdrew to meet up with Van Dorn while the Federal soldiers marched back to camp at Corinth.
The Battle of Corinth
On October 2, Gen Rosecrans learned that the Confederates were approaching Corinth from the northwest. He positioned his advance guard about three miles beyond the town limits. On October 3, Confederate and Union forces fought initially at the old Confederate earthworks, then Battery F. The Confederates then pushed the Union army back about two miles towards town and heavy fighting was concentrated around the White House, just north of Battery Robinett. About 6:00 p.m., Maj. Gen. Van Dorn, Confederate commander, called a halt to the fighting, certain he could win an overwhelming victory in the morning.
During the night, Union commanders moved their men in a more compact position closer to Corinth. The partially entrenched line was less than two miles long and was strengthened at key positions by the cannons located along the College Hill batteries; Batteries Williams and Robinett, overlooking the Memphis-Charleston Railroad; and an unfinished Battery Powell, on the northern outskirts of Corinth.
About 9:00, the Confederated opened a savage attack on the Union line. Some Confederates fought their way into town to the railroad crossing. About 10:00, four columns of Confederates advanced on Battery Robinett. They charged three times, each time being mowed down by fire from the battery cannons and the muskets from the men in adjoining fields. After desperate fighting, a Union bayonet charge broke up the enemy columns. By noon, Van Dorn was in retreat.
Davis’ BridgeEarly in the morning of October 5, the retreating Confederates at Chewalla, Tennessee, were concerned about what lay ahead of them at the Hatchie River. Grant had sent Ord and Gen. Stephen A. Hurlbert from Boliver, Tennessee, to reinforce Rosecrans at Corinth. This force clashed with the Confederates at Davis’ Bridge on the Hatchie River. A fierce fight raged over four hours. Despite great losses the Federals took and held the bridge. Meanwhile Federal troops from Corinth were approaching from the rear. The Confederate army was in danger of being trapped, but managed to find another crossing of the river near Crum’s Mill. By midnight, the entire Confederate army had crossed the river ahead of the pursuing Federals.
Corinth and the Remainder of the WarThese battles were last major Confederate offensive in Mississippi. Likewise, victories in these battles enabled Grant to turn his attention toward Vicksburg. However, military activity did not end in 1862. The Union occupied Corinth for the next 15 months, using it as a base for raiding northern Mississippi, Alabama and southern Tennessee. The Union troops left Corinth on January 25, 1864. The Confederates returned, but it was too late. The South had not built a locomotive since 1861 and could not use what had once been a critically important rail line. The only cars moving on the patched-together tracks were pulled by mules.
- During the Siege of Corinth, conditions were miserable: daily temperatures hovered around 100 degrees; six inches of dust covered the streets from lack of rain; water and soil were polluted from the wastes of 200,000 soldiers and their horses causing many people to suffer from illness called “the evacuation of Corinth.”
- The crossing of the Memphis-Charleston and the Mobile-Ohio Railroads was considered for a while in 1862 to be the 16 most important square feet in the Confederacy. Today the tracks are in the same beds
- At least 300,000 troops were in or around Corinth during the course of the war, making it the largest aggregate number of troops ever assembled in the Western Hemisphere.
- Approximately 200 top Confederate and Union generals were stationed in or near Corinth during the war years.
- Major General Earl Van Dorn (army of West Tennessee) was court-martialed for his neglect in taking care of logistical details and forcing his army to march and fight the Battle of Corinth with insufficient water and food. The charges were dropped.
- Firing on both sides was so inaccurate that soldiers estimated it took a man’s weight in lead to kill a single enemy in battle.
- A Federal expert said that each Confederate who was shot required 240 pounds of powder and 900 pounds of lead.
- Northern casualties in the Battle of Corinth: 355 killed, 1841 wounded, 324 missing. Casualties from the South numbered: 473 killed, 1997 wounded, 1763 captured or missing.
- Battle of Corinth Congressional Medal of Honor recipients: James W. Archer, Army, 1st Lt. & Adjutant, Second Battle of Corinth, Oct. 4, 1862. William H. Horsfall, Army, Drummer, Siege of Corinth, May 21, 1862. William W. McCammon, Army, 1st. Lt, 2nd Battle of Corinth, Oct. 3, 1862. Denis J.F. Murphy, Army, Sergeant, 2nd Battle of Corinth, Oct. 3, 1862. Wager Swayne, Army, Lt. Col., 2nd Battle of Corinth, Oct. 4, 1862..
- Shiloh, site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War to that date, means “place of peace.”
- Lewis Wallace, Union General, lost his way at Shiloh and his force took little part in the battle. After the war, he was governor of New Mexico and minister to Turkey, but he is best known for writing Ben Hur.