The battle of Corinth.
by William S. Rosecrans, Major-General, U. S. V., Brevet Major-General, U. S. A.
Fillmore street, Corinth, from a photograph taken in 1884.|
The battle of Corinth
, which is often confounded in public memory with our advance, under Halleck
, from Pittsburg Landing
in April and May, 1862, was fought on the 3d and 4th of October, of that year, between the combined forces of Generals Earl Van Dorn
and Sterling Price
of the Confederacy
, and the Union
divisions of Generals David S. Stanley
, Charles S. Hamilton
, Thomas A. Davies
, and Thomas J. McKean
, under myself as commander of the Third Division of the District of West Tennessee.
The Confederate evacuation of Corinth
occurred on the 30th of May, General Beauregard
withdrawing his army to Tupelo
, where, June 27th, he was succeeded in the command by General Braxton Bragg
on the day of its evacuation, and May 31st instructed General Buell
, commanding the Army of the Ohio, to repair the Memphis and Charleston railway in the direction of Chattanooga
— a movement to which, on June 11th, Halleck
gave the objective of “Chattanooga
” ; the ultimate purpose being to take possession of east Tennessee
, in cooperation with General G. W. Morgan
To counteract these plans, General Bragg
began, on June 27th, the transfer of a large portion of his army to Chattanooga
by rail, via Mobile
, and about the middle of August set out on the northward movement which terminated only within sight of the Ohio River
The Confederate forces in Mississippi
were left under command of Generals Van Dorn
About the middle of July General Halleck
was called to Washington
to discharge the duties of General-in-chief
He left the District of West Tennessee and the territory held in northern Mississippi
under the command of General Grant
In August, by Halleck
's orders, General Grant
sent E. A. Paine
's and Jeff. C. Davis
's divisions across the Tennessee
to strengthen Buell
, who was moving northward through middle Tennessee
, to meet Bragg
One of these divisions garrisoned Nashville
while the other marched with Buell
In the early days of September, after the disaster of the “Second Bull Run
,” the friends of the Union
watched with almost breathless anxiety the advance of Lee
, of Bragg
, and the hurrying of the Army of the, Potomac northward from Washington
, to get between Lee
and the cities of Washington
, and Philadelphia
The suspense lest McClellan
should not be in time to head off Lee
— lest Buell
should not arrive in time to prevent Bragg
from taking Louisville
or assaulting Cincinnati
, was fearful.
At this time I was stationed at Corinth
with the “Army of the Mississippi,” having succeeded General Pope
in that command on the 11th of June.
We were in the District of West Tennessee, commanded by General Grant
Under the idea that I would reinforce Buell
, General Sterling Price
, who, during July and August, had been on the Mobile and Ohio railway near Guntown
and Baldwyn, Miss.
, with 15,000 to 20,000 men, moved up to Iuka
about the 12th of September, intending to follow me; and, as he reported, “finding that General Rosecrans
had not crossed the Tennessee River
,” he “concluded to withdraw from Iuka
toward my [his] old encampment.”
His “withdrawal” was after the hot battle of Iuka
on September 19th, two days after the battle of Antietam
which had caused Lee
's “withdrawal” from Maryland
During the month of August General Price
had been conferring with General Van Dorn
, commanding all the Confederate
troops in Mississippi
's, to form a combined movement to expel the Union
forces from northern Mississippi
and western Tennessee
, and to plant their flags on the banks of the Lower Ohio
, while Bragg
was to do the like on that river in Kentucky
. General Earl Van Dorn
, an able and enterprising commander, after disposing his forces to hold the Mississippi
from Grand Gulf
up toward Memphis
, late in September, with Lovell
's division, a little over 8000 men, came up to Ripley, Mississippi
, where, on the 28th of September, he was joined by General Price
, with Hebert
's and Maury
's divisions, numbering 13,863 effective infantry, artillery, and cavalry.
This concentration, following the precipitate “withdrawal” of Price
, portended mischief to the Union
forces in west Tennessee
, numbering some forty to fifty thousand effectives, scattered over the district occupying the vicinity of the Memphis and Charleston railway from Iuka
, a stretch of about a hundred and fifteen miles, and located at interior positions on the Ohio
, and at Jackson
, and other places on the Mississippi Central
The military features of west Tennessee
and northern Mississippi
will be readily comprehended by the reader who will examine a map of that region
Provost-Marshal's Office, Corinth.
From a War-time photograph.|
and notice: (1) That the Memphis and Charleston railway runs not far from the dividing lines between the States, with a southerly bend from Memphis
eastward toward Corinth
, whence it extends eastwardly through Iuka
, crosses Bear River
and follows the Tuscumbia Valley
on the south side of that east and west reach of the Tennessee
Thence the road crosses to the north side of this river and unites with the Nashville
road at Stevenson en route
. (2) That the Mobile and Ohio railway, from Columbus
on the Mississippi
, runs considerably east of south, passes through Jackson, Tennessee
, and Baldwyn, Mississippi
, and thence to Mobile, Alabama
（3) That the Mississippi Central
, leaving the Mobile
at Jackson, Tennessee
, runs nearly south, passing by Bolivar
and Grand Junction, Tennessee
, and Holly Springs
, etc., to Jackson, Mississippi
All this region of west Tennessee
and the adjoining counties of Mississippi
, although here and there dotted with clearings, farms, settlements, and little villages, is heavily wooded.
Its surface consists of low, rolling, oak ridges of diluvial clays, with intervening crooked drainages traversing narrow, bushy, and sometimes swampy, bottoms.
The streams are sluggish and not easily fordable, on account of their miry beds and steep, muddy, clay banks.
Water in dry seasons is never abundant, and in many places is only reached by bore-wells of 100 to 300 feet in depth, whence it is hoisted by rope and pulley carrying water-buckets of galvanized iron pipes from 4 to 6 inches in diameter, and 4 to 5 feet long, with valves at the lower end. These matters are of controlling importance in moving and handling troops in that region.
Men and animals need hard ground to move on, and must have drinking-water.
The strategic importance of Corinth
, where the Mobile
crosses the Memphis
, ninety-three miles east of Memphis
, results from its control of movements either way over these railways, and the fact that it
is not far from Hamburg
, and Pittsburg Landing
on the Tennessee River
, to which points good freight steamers can ascend at the lowest stages of water.
is mainly on low, flat ground, along the Mobile and Ohio railway, and flanked by low, rolling ridges, except the cleared patches, covered with oaks and undergrowth for miles in all directions.
With few clearings, outside of those made by the Confederate
troops in obtaining fuel during their wintering in 1861-2, the country around Corinth
, in all directions, was densely wooded.
While General Halleck
was advancing on Corinth
, the Confederates
had extended a line of light defensive works from the Memphis
road on the west, about two and a half miles from the town, all the way round by the north and east to the same railway east.
When the Union
forces took possession, General Halleck
ordered a defensive line to be constructed about a mile and a half from the town, extending from the Memphis and Charleston railway on the west around southerly to cover the Union
front in that direction.
After the departure of General Buell
's command toward Chattanooga
this work was continued, although we had no forces to man it adequately, and it was too far away to afford protection to our stores at Corinth
During August I used to go over from my camp at Clear Creek
to General Grant
Corona College, Corinth.
From a War-time photograph.|
headquarters at Corinth
, and after the usual greetings would ask: “How are you getting along with the line?”
He would say: “Well, pretty slowly, but they are doing good work.”
I said to him: “General, the line isn't worth much to us, because it is too long.
We cannot occupy it.”
He answered, “What would you do?”
I said, “I would have made the depots outside of the town north of the Memphis
road between the town and the brick church, and would have inclosed them by field-works, running tracks in. Now, as the depot houses are at the cross-road, the best thing we can do is to run a line of light works around in the neighborhood of the college up on the knoll.”
So, one day, after dining with General Grant
, he proposed that we go up together and take Captain Frederick E. Prime
with us, and he gave orders to commence a line of breastworks that would include the college grounds.
This was before the battle of Iuka
I was ordered to command the district, and General Grant
moved his headquarters to Jackson, Tennessee
Pursuant to this order, on the 26th of September I repaired to Corinth
, where I found the only defensive works available consisted of the open batteries Robinett, Williams, Phillips, Tannrath, and Lothrop
, established by Captain Prime
on the College Hill
ordered them to be connected by breastworks, and the front to the west and north to be covered by such an abatis as the remaining timber on the ground could furnish.
I employed colored engineer troops organized into squads of twenty-five each, headed by a man detailed from the line or the quartermaster's department, and commanded by Captain William B. Gaw
, a competent engineer.
I also ordered an extension of the line of redoubts to cover the north front of the town, one of which, Battery Powell, was nearly completed before the stirring events of the attack.
No rifle-pits were constructed between Powell
and the central part covering the northwest f ront of the town, which was perfectly open north-east and south-east, with nothing but the distant, old Confederate works between it and the country.
To add to these embarrassments in preparing the place to resist a sudden attack, Grant
, the general commanding, had retired fifty-eight
miles north to Jackson
, on the Mobile and Ohio railway, with all the knowledge of the country acquired during the four months in which his Headquarters were at Corinth
, and I, the new commander, could not find even the vestige of a map of the country to guide me in these defensive preparations.
During the 27th, 28th, 29th, and 30th of September, the breastworks were completed joining the lunettes from College Hill
on the left.
A thin abatis made from the scattering trees, which had been left standing along the west and north fronts, covered the line between Robinett and the Mobile
; thence to Battery Powell the line was mostly open and without rifle-pits.
To meet emergencies, Hamilton
's and Stanley
's divisions, which had been watching to the south and south-west from near Jacinto
, were closed in toward Corinth
within short call.
Railway Station and Tishomingo Hotel, Corinth.
From a War-time photograph.|
On the 28th I telegraphed to General Grant
at Columbus, Kentucky
, confirmation of my report of Price
's movement to Ripley
, adding that I should move Stanley
's division to Rienzi
, and thence to Kossuth
, unless he had other views.
Two days later I again telegraphed to General Grant
that there were no signs of the enemy at Hatchie Crossing, and that my reason for proposing to put Stanley
at or near Kossuth
was that he would cover nearly all the Hatchie Crossing
, as far as Pocahontas
, except against heavy forces, and that Hamilton
would then move at least one brigade, from Rienzi
I asked that a sharp lookout be kept in the direction of Bolivar
October 1st, I telegraphed General Grant
that we were satisfied there was no enemy for three miles beyond Hatchie; also, that prisoners reported that General John C. Breckinridge
, of Van Dorn
's command, had gone to Kentucky
with three Kentucky
regiments, leaving his division under the command of General Albert Rust
The combined forces under Van Dorn
were reported to be encamped on the Pocahontas
road, and to number forty thousand.1
Amid the numberless rumors and uncertainties besetting me at Corinth
during the five days between September 26th, when I assumed command, and October 1st, how gratifying would have been the knowledge of the following facts, taken from Van Dorn
's report, dated Holly Springs
, October 20th, 1862:
Surveying the whole field of operations before me, . . . the conclusion forced itself irresistibly upon my mind that the taking of Corinth was a condition precedent to the accomplishment of anything of importance in west Tennessee.
To take Memphis would be to destroy an immense amount of property without any adequate military advantage, even admitting that it could be held without heavy guns against the enemy's gun and mortar boats.
The line of fortifications around Bolivar is intersected by the Hatchie River, rendering it impossible to take the place by quick assault. . . . It was clear to my mind that if a successful attack could be made upon Corinth from the west and north-west, the forces there driven back on the Tennessee
and cut off, Bolivar and Jackson would easily fall, and then, upon the arrival of the exchanged prisoners of war, west Tennessee would soon be in our possession, and communication with General Bragg effected through middle Tennessee.
I determined to attempt Corinth.
I had a reasonable hope of success.
Field returns at Ripley showed my strength to be about 22,000 men. Rosecrans at Corinth had about 15,000, with about 8000 additional men at outposts, from 12 to 15 miles distant. I might surprise him and carry the place before these troops could be brought in. . . . It was necessary that this blow should be sudden and decisive. ...
The troops were in fine spirits, and the whole Army of West Tennessee seemed eager to emulate the armies of the Potomac and of Kentucky.
No army ever marched to battle with prouder steps, more hopeful countenances, or with more courage than marched the Army of West Tennessee out of Ripley on the morning of September 29th, on its way to Corinth.
But of all this I knew nothing.
With only McKean
's and Davies
's divisions, not ten thousand men, at Corinth
on the 26th of September, by October 1st I had gradually drawn in pretty close Stanley
's and Hamilton
They had been kept watching to the south and south-west of Corinth
Our forces when concentrated would make about 16,000 effective infantry and artillery for defense, with 2500 cavalry for outposts and reconnoitering.
On October 2d, while Van Dorn
was at Pocahontas
, General Hurlbut
telegraphed the information, from an intelligent Union man of Grand Junction
, that “Price
, Van Dorn
, and Villepigue
were at Pocahontas
, and the talk was that they would attack Bolivar
Evidence arriving thick and fast showed that the enemy was moving, but whether on Corinth
, or whether, passing between, they would strike and capture Jackson
, was not yet clear to any of us. I knew that the enemy intended a strong movement, and I thought they must have the impression that our defensive works at Corinth
would be pretty formidable.
I doubted if they would venture to bring their force against our command behind defensive works.
I therefore said: The enemy may threaten us and strike across our line entirely, get on the road between us,and Jackson
and advance upon that place, the capture of which would compel us to get out of our lines; or he may come in by the road from Tupelo
so as to interpose his force between us and Danville
But all the time I inclined to the belief that it would not be for his interest to do that.
I thought that perhaps he would cross the Memphis
road and, going over to the Mobile
road, force us to move out and fight him in the open country.
October 2d, I sent out a cavalry detachment to reconnoiter in the direction of Pocahontas
They found the enemy's infantry coming close in, and that night some of our detachment were surprised, and their horses and a few of the men were captured.
Those that escaped reported the enemy there in force.
This was still consistent with the theory that the enemy wished to cross the Memphis
road, go north of us, strike the Mobile
road and manoeuvre us out of our position.
To be prepared for whatever they might do, I sent Oliver
's brigade of McKean
's division out to Chewalla
, ten miles north-west in Tennessee
On the morning of the 3d the enemy's advance came to Chewalla
, and Oliver
's brigade fell back fighting.
I sent orders to the brigade commander to make
Map: battle of Corinth, Oct. 3rd and 4th, 1862.|
a stiff resistance, and see what effect it would have, still thinking that the attack was probably a mask for their movement for the north.
I ordered Stanley
to move in close to town near the middle line of works, called the “Halleck line,” and to wait for further developments.
An order dated 1:30 A. M., October 3d, had set all the troops in motion.
The impression that the enemy might
find it better to strike a point on our line of communication and compel us to get out of our works to fight him or, if he should attempt Corinth
, that he would do it, if possible, by the north and east, where the immediate vicinage was open and the place without defenses of any kind, governed these preliminary dispositions of my troops.
The controlling idea was to prevent surprise, to test by adequate resistance any attacking force, and, finding it formidable, to receive it behind the inner line that had been preparing from College Hill
around by Robinett.
To meet all probable contingencies, 9 o'clock on the morning of the 3d found my troops disposed as follows: Hamilton
's division, about 3700 strong, on the
Purdy road north of the town, to meet any attempt from the north; Davies
's division, 3204 strong, between the Memphis
railways, north-west of the town; McKean
's division, 5315 strong, to the left of Davies
's and in rear of the old Halleck line of batteries; and Stanley
's division, 3500 strong, mainly in reserve on the extreme left, looking toward the Kossuth
Thus in front of those wooded western approaches, the Union
troops, on the morning of October 3d, waited for what might happen, wholly ignorant of what Van Dorn
was doing at Chewalla
, ten miles away through thick forests.
Of this General Van Dorn
At daybreak on the 3d, the march was resumed . . . Lovell's division, in front, kept the road on the south side of the Memphis and Charleston railroad.
Price, after marching on the same road about five miles, turned to the left, crossing the railroad, and formed line of battle in front of the outer line of intrenchments and about three miles from Corinth.
The intrenchments referred to were old Confederate works, which I had no idea of using except as a cover r fora heavy skirmish line, to compel the enemy to develop his force, and to show whether he was making a demonstration to cover a movement of his force around to the north of Corinth
During the morning this skirmish work was well and gallantly accomplished by Davies
's division, aided by McArthur
with his brigade, and by Crocker
, who moved up toward what the Confederate
commander deemed the main line of the Union
forces for the defense of Corinth
Upon this position moved three brigades of Lovell
's, and Rust
's,--in line, with reserves in rear of each; Jackson
's cavalry was on the right en échelon,
the left flank on the Charleston railroad; Price
's corps of two divisions was on the left of Lovell
Thus the Confederate
general proceeded, until, “at 10 o'clock, all the Union
skirmishers were driven into the old intrenchments,” and a part of the opposing forces were in line of battle confronting each other.
There was a belt of fallen timber about four hundred yards wide between them, which must be crossed by the Confederate forces before they could drive this
View on the railway, looking North-West from the Corinth depot.
From a War-time photograph.|
stubborn force of Davies
's, sent to compel the enemy to show his hand.
says: “The attack was commenced on the right by Lovell
's division and gradually extended to the left, and by 1:30 P. M. the whole line of outer works was carried, several pieces [two] of artillery being taken.”
Finding that the resistance made by Oliver
's little command on the Chewalla
road early in the morning was not stiff enough to demonstrate the enemy's object, I had ordered McArthur
's brigade from McKean
's division to go to Oliver
It was done with a will.
's Scotch blood rose, and the enemy being in fighting force, he fought him with the stubborn ferocity of an action on the main line of battle, instead of the resistance of a developing force.
The same remark applies to the fighting of Davies
's division, and as they were pushed and called for reinforcements, orders were sent to fall back slowly and stubbornly.
The Confederates, elated at securing these old out-works, pushed in toward our main line, in front of which the fighting in the afternoon was so hot that McKean
was ordered to send further help over to the fighting troops, and Stanley
to send “a brigade through the woods by the shortest cut” to help Davies
, whose division covered itself with glory, having Brigadier-General Hackleman
killed, Brigadier-General Oglesby
desperately wounded, with nearly twenty-five per cent of its strength put out of the fight.
Watching intently every movement which would throw light on the enemy's intentions, soon after midday I decided that it was a main attack of the enemy.
's division had been sent up the railroad as far as the old Confederate works in the morning, and formed the right of our line.
At 1 o'clock his division was still there watching against attack from the north.
When the enemy prepared to make the attack on our first real line of battle, word was sent up to Hamilton
to advise us if any Confederate force had gotten through, on the Mobile
At 3 o'clock when the fighting began and became very heavy, Stanley
was ordered to move up from his position and succor McKean
's and Davies
's divisions that had been doing heavy fighting.
, acting chief of staff
, was sent to direct General Hamilton
to file by fours to the left, and march down until the head of his column was opposite the right of Davies
's, then to face his brigades south-westerly, and move down in that direction.
The enemy's left did not much overpass the right of Davies
, and but few troops were on the line of the old Confederate works.
's movement, the brigades advancing en échelon,
would enable the right of Buford
's brigade to far out-lap the enemy's left, and pass toward the enemy's rear with little or no opposition, while the other brigade could press back the enemy's left, and by its simple advance drive him in and attack his rear.
told Colonel Ducat
that he wanted a more positive and definite order before he made the attack.
explained the condition of the battle and urged an immediate movement, but was obliged to return to me for an order fitted to the situation.
I sent the following:
headquarters, Army of the Mississippi, October 3d, 1862. Brigadier-General Hamilton, Commanding Third Division: Rest your left on General Davies and swing round your
right and attack the enemy on their left flank, reenforced on your right and center.
Be careful not to get under Davies's guns.
Keep your troops well in hand.
Get well this way. Do not extend to your right too much.
It looks as if it would be well to occupy the ridge where your skirmishers were when Colonel Ducat left, by artillery, well supported, but his may be farther to right than would be safe.
Use your discretion.
Opposite your center might be better now for your artillery.
If you see your chance, attack fiercely.--W. S. Rosecrans, Brigadier-General.
Memphis and Charleston railroad, looking toward Corinth-remains of Fort Williams on the right.
From a photograph taken in 1884.|
I added a sketch of the line on a bit of paper.
The delay thus caused enabled the enemy to overpass the right of Davies
so far that while Ducat
was returning he was fired on by the enemy's skirmishers, who had reached open ground over the railway between Hamilton
Two orderlies sent on the same errand afterward were killed on the way. Upon the receipt of these explanations Hamilton
put his division in motion, but by sunset he only reached a point opposite the enemy's left; and after moving down a short distance Sullivan
's brigade, facing to the west, crossed the narrow flats flanking the railway, went over into the thickets, and had a fierce fight with the enemy's left, creating a great commotion.
's brigade had started in too far to the west and had to rectify its position; so that Hamilton
's division thus far had only given the enemy a terrific scare, and a sharp fight with one brigade.
Had the movement been executed promptly after 3 o'clock, we should have crushed the enemy's right and rear.
's excuse that he could not understand the order shows that even in the rush of battle it may be necessary to put orders in writing, or to have subordinate commanders who instinctively know or are anxious to seek the key of the battle and hasten to its roar.2
At nightfall of the 3d it was evident that, unless the enemy should with-draw, he was where I wished him to be — between the two railroad lines
and to the south of them — for the inevitable contest of the morrow.
I had been in hopes that one day's operations would end the contest and decide who should be the victors on this bloody field; but a ten miles' march over a parched country on dusty roads without water, getting into line of battle in forests with undergrowth, and the more than equal activity and determined courage displayed by the enemy, commanded by one of the ablest generals of the United States army, who threw all possible obstacles in our way that an active mind could suggest, prolonged the battle until I saw with regret the sun sink behind the horizon as the last shot of our sharp-shooters followed the retreating foe into their innermost lines.
One hour more of daylight and victory would have soothed our grief for the loss of the gallant dead who sleep on that lost but not dishonored field.
The army slept on its arms within six hundred yards of Corinth, victorious so far.
Alas, how uncertain are our best conclusions!
General Van Dorn
, in his subsequent report as above, bewails the lack of one hour of daylight at the close of October 3d, 1862.
I bewailed that lack of daylight, which would have brought Hamilton
's fresh and gallant division on the Confederate
left and rear.
That hour of daylight was not to be had; and while the regretful Confederate general lay down in his bivouac, I assembled my four division commanders, McKean
, and Hamilton
, at my Headquarters and arranged the dispositions for the fight of the next day. McKean
's division was to hold the left, the chief point being College Hill
, keeping his troops well under cover.
was to support the line on either side of Battery Robinett, a little three-gun redan with a ditch five feet deep.
was to extend from
's right north-easterly across the flat to Battery Powell, a similar redan on the ridge east of the Purdy
was to be on Davies
's right with a brigade, and the rest in reserve on the common east of the low ridge and out of sight from the west.
Colonel J. K. Mizner
with his cavalry was to watch and guard our flanks and rear from the enemy, and well and effectively did his four gallant regiments perform that duty.
As the troops had been on the move since the night of October 2d, and had fought all day of the 3d (which was so excessively hot that we were obliged to send water around in wagons), it became my duty to visit their lines and see that the weary troops were surely in position.
I returned to my tent at three o'clock in the morning of October 4th, after having seen everything accomplished and the new line in order.
It was about a mile in extent and close to the edge of the north side of the town.
About 4 o'clock I lay down.
At half-past 4 the enemy opened with
a six-gun battery.
Our batteries, replying, soon silenced it, but I had no time for breakfast.
The troops got very little.
They had not been allowed to build fires during the night, and were too tired to intrench.
The morning opened clear and soon grew to be hot. It must have been ninety-four degrees in the shade.
The enemy began to extend his infantry line across the north of the town.
I visited the lines and gave orders to our skirmishers to fall back the moment it was seen that the enemy was developing a line of battle.
About 8 o'clock his left, having crossed the Mobile and Ohio railroad, got into position behind a spur of table land, to reach which they had moved by the flank for about half a mile.
When they began to advance in line of battle they were not over three hundred yards distant.
I told McKean
on the left to be very watchful of his front lest the enemy should turn his left, and directed General Stanley
to hold the reserve of his command ready either to help north of the town or to aid McKean
I visited Battery Robinett and directed the chief of artillery
, Colonel Lothrop
, to see to the reserve artillery, some batteries of which were parked in the public square of the town; then the line of Davies
's division, which was in nearly open ground, with a few logs, here and there, for breast-works, and then on his extreme right Sweeny
's brigade, which had no cover save a slight ridge, on the south-west slope of which, near the crest, the men were lying down.
Riding along this line, I observed the Confederate forces emerging from the woods west of the railroad and crossing the open ground toward the Purdy
Our troops lying on the ground could see the flags of the enemy and the glint of the sunlight on their bayonets.
It was about 9 o'clock in the morning.
The air was still and fiercely hot. Van Dorn
says that the Confederate
preparations for the morning were:
that Hebert, on the left, should mask part of his own division on the left, placing Cabell's brigade en échelon on the left — Cabell having been detached from Maury's division for that purpose, move Armstrong's cavalry brigade across the Mobile and Ohio road, and, if possible, to get some of his artillery in position across the road.
In this order of battle, Hebert was to attack, swinging his left flank toward Corinth, and advance down the Purdy ridge.
On the right, Lovell, with two brigades in line of battle and one in reserve, with Jackson's cavalry to the right, was ordered to await the attack on his left, feeling his way with sharp-shooters until Hebert was heavily engaged with the enemy.
Maury was to move at the same time quickly to the front directly at Corinth; Jackson to burn the railroad bridge over the Tuscumbia during the night.
The left of General Van Dorn
's attack was to have begun earlier, but the accident of Hebert
's sickness prevented.
The Confederates, from behind a spur of the Purdy ridge
, advanced splendidly to the attack.
The unfavorable line occupied by Davies
's division made the resistance on that front inadequate.
The troops gave way; the enemy pursued; but the cross-fire from the Union batteries on our right soon thinned their ranks.
Their front line was broken, and the heads of their columns melted away.
Some of the enemy's scattered line got into the edge of the town; a few into the reserve artillery, which led to the impression that they had captured forty pieces of artillery.
But they were soon driven out by Stanley
's reserve, and fled, taking nothing away.
At this time, while going to order Hamilton
's division into action on the enemy's left, I saw the L-shaped porch of a large cottage packed full of
The defense of battery Robinett.
From a War-time sketch.
Captain George A. Williams, 1st U. S. Infantry, who commanded the siege artillery, says in his report: |
About 9:30 or 10 A. M. the enemy were observed in the woods north of the town forming in line, and they soon made their appearance, charging toward the town.
As soon as our troops were out of the line of fire of my battery, we opened upon them with two 30-pounder Parrott guns and one 8-inch howitzer, which enfiladed their line (aided by Maurice's battery and one gun on the right of Battery Robinett, which bore on that part of the town), and continued our fire until the enemy were repulsed and had regained the wood.
During the time the enemy were being repulsed from the town my attention was drawn to the left side of the battery by the firing from Battery Robinett, where I saw a column advancing to storm it. After advancing a short distance they were repulsed, but immediately re-formed, and, storming the work, gained the ditch, but were repulsed.
During this charge eight of the enemy, having placed a handkerchief on a bayonet and calling to the men in the battery not to shoot them, surrendered, and were allowed to come into the fort.
They then re-formed, and, re-storming, carried the ditch and the outside of the work, the supports having fallen a short distance to the rear in slight disorder.
The men of the 1st U. S. Infantry, after having been driven from their guns (they manned the siege guns), resorted to their muskets, and were firing from the inside of the embrasures at the enemy on the outside, a distance of about ten feet intervening; but the rebels having gained the top of the work, our men fell back into the angle of the fort, as they had been directed to do in such an emergency.
Two shells were thrown from Battery Williams into Battery Robinett, one bursting on the top of it and the other near the right edge.
In the meanwhile the 11th Missouri Volunteers (in reserve) changed front, and, aided by the 43d and 63d Ohio Volunteers with the 27th Ohio Volunteers on their right, gallantly stormed up to the right and left of the battery, driving the enemy before them.--Editors.
Confederates. I ordered Lieutenant Lorenzo D. Immell
, with two field-pieces, to give them grape and canister.
After one round, only the dead and dying were left on the porch.
's division I ordered him to send Sullivan
's brigade forward.
It moved in line of battle in open ground a little to the left of Battery Powell.
Before its splendid advance the scattered enemy, who were endeavoring to form a line of battle, about 1 P. M. gave way and went back into the woods, from which they never again advanced.
Meanwhile there had been terrific fighting at Battery Robinett.
The roar of artillery and musketry for two or three hours was incessant.
smoke filled the air and obscured the sun. I witnessed the first charge of the enemy on this part of the line before I went over to Hamilton
The first repulse I did not see because the contestants were clouded in smoke.
It was an assault in column.
There were three or four assaulting columns of regiments, probably a hundred yards apart.
The enemy's left-hand column had tried to make its way down into the low ground to the right of Robinett, but did not make much progress.
The other two assaulting columns fared better, because they were on the ridge where the fallen timber was scarcer.
I ordered the 27th Ohio and 11th Missouri to kneel in rear of the right of Robinett, so as to get out of range of the enemy's fire, and the moment he had exhausted himself to charge with the bayonet [see p. 759]. The third assault was made just as I was seeing Sullivan
into the fight.
I saw the enemy come upon the ridge while Battery Robinett was belching its fire at them.
After the charge had failed I saw the 27th Ohio and the 11th Missouri chasing them with bayonets.
The head of the enemy's main column reached within a few feet of Battery Robinett, and Colonel Rogers
, who was leading it, colors in hand, dismounted, planted a flag-staff on the bank of the ditch, and fell there, shot by one of our drummer-boys, who, with a pistol, was helping to defend Robinett.
I was told that Colonel Rogers
was the fifth standard-bearer who had fallen in that last desperate charge.
It was about as good fighting on the part of the Confederates
as I ever saw. The columns were plowed through and through by our shot, but they steadily closed up and moved forward until they were forced back.
Just after this last assault I heard for the first time the word “ranch.”
Passing over the field on our left, among the dead and dying, I saw leaning against the root of a tree a wounded lieutenant of an Arkansas regiment who had been shot through the foot.
As I offered him some water he said, “Thank you, General; one of your men just gave me some.”
The ground in front of battery Robinett.
From a photograph taken after the battle.|
“Whose troops are you?”
He replied, “Cabell
I said, “It was pretty hot fighting here.”
He answered, “Yes, General, you licked us good, but we gave you the best we had in the ranch.
Before the enemy's first assault on Robinett, I inspected the woods toward our left where I knew Lovell
's division to be. I said to Colonel Joseph A. Mower
, afterward commander of the Seventeenth Army Corps, and familiarly known as “Fighting Joe Mower
” : “Colonel
, take the men now on the skirmish line, and find out what Lovell
He replied, “Very well, General.”
As he was turning away I added, “Feel them, but don't get into their fingers.”
He answered significantly: “I'll feel them!
” Before I left my position Mower
had entered the woods, and soon I heard a tremendous crash of musketry in that direction.
His skirmishers fell back into the fallen timber, and the adjutant reported to me: “General, I think the enemy have captured Colonel Mower
; I think he is killed.”
Five hours later when we captured the enemy's field-hospitals, we found that Colonel Mower
had been shot in the back of the neck and taken prisoner.
Expressing my joy at his safety, he showed that he knew he had been unjustly reported to me the day before as intoxicated, by saying: “Yes, General, but if they had reported me for being shot in the neck to-day instead of yesterday, it would have been correct.”
About 2 o'clock we found that the enemy did not intend to make another attack.
Faint from exhaustion I sought the shade of a tree, from which point I saw three bursts of smoke and said to my staff, “They have blown up some ammunition wagons, and are going to retreat.
We must push them.”
I was all the more certain of this, because, having failed, a good commander like Van Dorn
would use the utmost dispatch in putting the forests between him and his pursuing foe, as well as to escape the dangers to him which might, arise from troops coming from Bolivar
Even at this distant time memory lingers on the numerous incidents of distinguished bravery displayed by officers and men who fought splendidly on the first day, when we did not know what the enemy was going to do. Staff as well as line officers distinguished themselves while in action.
The first day my presence was required on the main line, and the fighting in front of that did not so much come under my eye, but on the second day I was everywhere on the line of battle.
of my staff was shot through the breast.
strap was cut by a bullet, and my gloves were stained with the blood of a staff-officer wounded at my side.
An alarm spread that I was killed, but it was soon stopped by my appearance on the field.
Satisfied that the enemy was retreating, I ordered Sullivan
's command to push him with a heavy skirmish line, and to keep constantly feeling them.
I rode along the lines of the commands, told them that, having been moving and fighting for three days and two nights, I knew they required rest, but that they could not rest longer than was absolutely
I directed them to proceed to their camps, provide five days rations,, take some needed rest, and be ready early next morning for the pursuit.
, sent from Jackson
with five good regiments to help us, arrived and bivouacked in the public square a little before sunset.
Our pursuit of the enemy was immediate and vigorous, but the darkness of the night and the roughness of the country, covered with woods and thickets, made movement impracticable by night and slow and difficult by day. General McPherson
's brigade of fresh troops with a battery was ordered to start at daylight and follow the enemy over the Chewalla
road, and Stanley
's and Davies
's divisions to support him. McArthur
, with all of McKean
's division except Crocker
's brigade, and with a good battery and a battalion of cavalry, took the route south of the railroad toward Pocahontas
followed on this route with the rest of his division and Ingersoll
's cavalry; Hamilton
with his entire force.
The enemy took the road to Davis's Bridge on the Hatchie
, by way of Pocahontas
Fortunately General Hurlbut
, finding that he was not going to be attacked at Bolivar
, had been looking in our direction with a view of succoring us, and now met the enemy at that point [Hatchie Bridge]. General Ord
, arriving there from Jackson, Tennessee
, assumed command and drove back
Group of Union soldiers at Corinth.
From a War-time photograph.|
the head of the enemy's column.
This was a critical time for the Confederate forces; but the reader will note that a retreating force, knowing where it has to go and having to look for nothing except an attack on its rear, always moves with more freedom than a pursuing force.
This is especially so where the country is covered with woods and thickets, and the roads are narrow.
Advancing forces always have to feel their way for fear of being ambushed.
The speed made by our forces from Corinth
during the 5th was not to my liking, but with such a commander as McPherson
in the advance, I could not doubt that it was all that was possible.
On the 6th better progress was made.
, on October 7th, I telegraphed General Grant
Do not, I entreat you, call Hurlbut back; let him send away his wounded.
It surely is easier to move the sick and wounded than to remove both.
I propose to push the enemy, so that we need but the most trifling guards behind us. Our advance is beyond Ruckersville.
Hamilton will seize the Hatchie crossing on the Ripley road to-night.
A very intelligent, honest young Irishman, an ambulance driver, deserted from the rebels, says that they wished to go together to railroad near Tupelo, where they will meet the nine thousand exchanged prisoners, but he says they are much scattered and demoralized.
They have much artillery.
From the same place, at midnight, after learning from the front that McPherson
was in Ripley
, I telegraphed General Grant
General: Yours 8:30 P. M. received.
Our troops occupy Ripley.
I most deeply dissent from your views as to the manner of pursuing.
We have defeated, routed, and demoralized the army which holds the Lower Mississippi Valley.
We have the two railroads leading down toward the Gulf through the most productive parts of the State, into which we can now pursue them with safety.
The effect of our return to old position will be to pen them up in the only corn country they have west of Alabama, including the Tuscumbia Valley, and to permit them to recruit their forces, advance and occupy their old ground, reducing us to the occupation of a defensive position, barren and worthless, with a long front, over which they can harass us until bad weather prevents an effectual advance except on the railroads, when time, fortifications,
and rolling stock will again render them superior to us. Our force, including what you have with Hurlbut, will garrison Corinth and Jackson, and enables us to push them.
Our advance will cover even Holly Springs, which would be ours when we want it. All that is needful is to continue pursuing and whip them.
We have whipped, and should now push them to the wall and capture all the rolling stock of their railroads.
Bragg's army alone, west of the Alabama River, and occupying Mobile, could repair the damage we have it in our power to do them.
If, after considering these matters, you still consider the order for my return to Corinth expedient, I will obey it and abandon the chief fruits of a victory, but, I beseech you, bend everything to push them while they are broken and hungry, weary and ill-supplied.
Draw everything possible from Memphis to help move on Holly Springs, and let us concentrate.
Appeal to the governors of the States to rush down some twenty or thirty new regiments to hold our rear, and we can make a triumph of our start.
As it was, Grant
telegraphed to Halleck
at 9 A. M. the next day, October 8th:
Rosecrans has followed rebels to Ripley.
Troops from Bolivar will
Quarters at Corinth occupied by the 52d Illinois Volunteers during the winter of 1862-3.
from a War-time photograph.|
occupy Grand Junction to-morrow, with reinforcements rapidly sent on from the new levies.
I can take everything on the Mississippi Central road.
I ordered Rosecrans back last night, but he was so averse to returning that I have directed him to remain still until you can be heard from.
Again on the same day, October 8th, Grant
telegraphed to Halleck
Before telegraphing you this morning for reenforcements to follow up our victories I ordered General Rosecrans to return.
He showed such reluctance that I consented to allow him to remain until you could be heard from if further reenforcements could be had. On reflection I deem it idle to pursue further without more preparation, and have for the third time ordered his return.
This was early in October.
The weather was cool, and the roads in prime order.
The country along the Mississippi Central
, and especially below that place, was a corn country — a rich farming country — and the corn was ripe.
had not stopped us, we could have gone to Vicksburg
judgment was to go on, and with the help suggested we could have done so. Under the pressure of a victorious force the enemy were experiencing all the weakening effects of a retreating army, whose means of supplies and munitions are always difficult to keep in order.
We had Sherman
with two divisions, and we had Hurlbut
with one division and John A. Logan
at Jackson, Tennessee
, with six regiments.
With these there was nothing to save Mississippi
from our grasp.
We were about six days march from Vicksburg
, and Grant
could have put his force through to it with my column as the center one of pursuit.
Confederate officers told me afterward that they never were so scared in their lives as they were after the defeat before Corinth
I have thus given the facts of the fight at Corinth
, the immediate pursuit, the causes of the return, and, as well, the differing views of the Federal
commanders in regard to the situation.
Let the judgments of the future be formed upon the words of impartial history.
In a general order
announcing the results of the battle to my command, I stated that we killed and buried 1423 officers and men of the enemy, including some of their most distinguished officers.
Their wounded at the usual rate would exceed 5000.
We took 2268 prisoners, among whom were 137 field-officers, captains
, and subalterns.3
We captured 3300 stand of smallarms, 14 stand of colors, 2 pieces of artillery, and a large quantity of equipments.
We pursued his retreating column forty miles with all arms, and with cavalry sixty miles. Our loss was 355 killed, 1841 wounded, 324 captured or missing.
In closing his report General Van Dorn
A hand-to-hand contest was being enacted in the very yard of General Rosecrans's Headquarters and in the streets of the town.
The heavy guns were silenced, and all seemed to be about ended when a heavy fire from fresh troops from Iuka, Burnsville, and Rienzi, who had succeeded in reaching Corinth, poured into our thinned ranks.
Exhausted from loss of sleep, wearied from hard marching and fighting, companies and regiments without officers, our troops — let no one censure them-gave way. The day was lost. . . . The attempt at Corinth has failed, and in consequence I am condemned and have been superseded in my command.
In my zeal for my country I may have ventured too far without adequate means, and I bow to the opinion of the people whom I serve.
Yet I feel that if the spirits of the gallant dead, who now lie beneath the batteries of Corinth, see and judge the motives of men, they do not rebuke me, for there is no sting in my conscience, nor does retrospection admonish me of error or of a reckless disregard of their valued lives.
And General Price says in his report:
The history of this war contains no bloodier page, perhaps, than that which will record this fiercely contested battle.
The strongest expressions fall short of my admiration of the gallant conduct of the officers and men under my command.
Words cannot add luster to the fame they have acquired through deeds of noble daring which, living through future time, will shed about every man, officer and soldier, who stood to his arms through this struggle, a halo of glory as imperishable as it is brilliant.
They have won to their sisters and daughters the distinguished
honor, set before them by a general of their love and admiration upon the event of an impending battle upon the same field, of the proud exclamation, ‘ My brother, father, was at the great battle of Corinth.’
Camp of the 67th Illinois infantry at Corinth.
From a War-time photograph.|