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Hamilton's division at Corinth.

by Charles S. Hamilton, Major-General, U. S. V.
The following order, issued about 9 A. M. on the first day of the battle of Corinth, fixed the position of my division:
Corinth, Oct. 3d, 1862. Brigadier-General Hamilton, Commanding Third Division. General: The general commanding directs that you cover with your division the Purdy road, from the swamp on the railroad to where the road runs through the rebel works. By command of Major-General Rosecrans.--Goddard, A. A. A. General.

P. S. You may perhaps have to move farther out, as Davies does not find good ground until he gets near the old rebel works, and he proposes to swing his right still farther around. By order of Major-General Rosecrans.--Goddard, A. A A. General.

Again at 2 P. M. the same day the following circular was sent to both Hamilton and Davies:

For fear of a misunderstanding in relation to my orders, I wish it distinctly understood that the extreme position is not to be taken until driven to it. By order of Major-General Rosecrans.--S. C. Lyford, Acting Aide-de-Camp.

The extreme position mentioned was not understood by either Davies or myself, but probably meant an advanced position. But how we could be driven to it by an enemy in our front is difficult to understand. Just following the circular, this order was received by me:

The general commanding desires me to say to you not to be in a hurry to show yourself. Keep well covered and conceal your strength. The enemy will doubt-less feel your position, but do not allow this to hasten your movements.--S. C. Lyford, Acting Aide-de-Camp.

About 3:30 P. M. the following was received:

General Hamilton: Davies, it appears, has fallen behind the works, his left being pressed in. If this movement continues until he gets well drawn in, you will make a flank movement, if your front is not attacked, falling to the left of Davies when the enemy gets sufficiently well in so as to have full sweep, holding a couple of regiments looking well to the Purdy road. Examine and reconnoiter the ground for making this movement. By order of Major-General Rosecrans.--I. G. Kennett, Colonel and Chief of Staff.

On the back of this order I indorsed the following:

Respectfully returned. I cannot understand it.--C. S. Hamilton, Brigadier-General.

Rosecrans returned it to me indorsed as follows:

Ducat has been sent to explain it. W. S. Rosecrans, Major-General.--S. C. Lyford, Acting Aide-de-Camp.

Now bearing in mind that Davies's division was to the left and in front of mine, if this order meant anything it was that my division should abandon its position on the right of the army entirely, and pass either to the rear or front of Davies in order to reach the place indicated, and would therefore have destroyed every possible chance of attacking the enemy in the flank, and would also have left the right of Davies's exposed, and the way into Corinth open to the enemy. Now this order, which is the one Rosecrans claims as his order to attack the enemy, was given as follows in his article on this engagement, in “The century” for October, 1886 [see p. 746]:

Colonel Ducat, acting chief-of-staff, was sent with an order to General Hamilton, to file by fours to the left and march down until the head of his column was opposite Davies's right. He was ordered then to face his brigade west-south-west and to move down in a south-westerly direction.


The order, as I have given it, is all exact copy of the original now in my possession, and General Rosecrans's statement of it in “The century” was made from a defective memory after twenty-three years had elapsed.

At 5 P. M. I received the following order:

headquarters, Army of the Mississippi, October 3d, 1862.
General Hamilton, Commanding Third Division:
Rest your left on General Davies, and swing around your right and attack the enemy on their left, reinforced on your right and center. Be careful not to get under Davies's guns. Keep your troops well in hand. Get well this way. Don't extend 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 this 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.

As a simple order to attack the enemy in flank could have reached me by courier from General Rosecrans, any time after 2 P. M., in 15 minutes, the verbosity of the above is apparent. I construed it as an order for attack, and at once proceeded to carry it out. Sullivan's brigade of my division had been ordered some time previously to move toward the enemy's left in preparation for an attack, and Buford's brigade was now ordered down on Sullivan's right to support him.

The brigades were some distance apart, and having been concealed in the woods had not been discovered by the enemy. The moment that Buford began to move a detached force of the enemy was seen some distance in his front. They opened on him with a single piece of artillery, and he, taking it for granted he was beset by the enemy in force, moved to his front to drive them out of the way. In thus moving he went almost in an opposite direction to the one necessary to support Sullivan. I sent an officer with a positive order to change his course. His reply was, “Tell General Hamilton, the enemy is in my front and I am going to fight him.” Meantime his brigade had been moving toward what he supposed to be the enemy, and was a half mile from Sullivan. I sent a second order to change his course instantly, and move to Sullivan's support. This order he obeyed, first detaching the 4th Minnesota regiment, under Colonel J. B. Sanborn, to attack the enemy. He then moved down to the position indicated, but, meantime, a precious hour had been lost, the sun had gone down, and the attack having to be made through a forest of dense undergrowth, it was too late to execute the flank movement with any chance of success. The enemy's fire on Davies's division had ceased. Waiting a few moments in expectation of its renewal, night closed down upon us, and the battle for the day was over.

General Rosecrans first intended the troops to pass the night in the position now held, as shown by the following order, received about 7:30 P. M.:

headquarters, Army of the Mississippi, October 3d, 1862, 7 P. M. General Hamilton: Throw out promptly vedettes, grand guards, scouts, and a line of skirmishers in rear of abatis on your front and flanks. Pick up all the prisoners you can. Get all the information possible, which report promptly and often to these headquarters. Furnish brigade commanders with a copy of this order as soon as possible. During the night and coming daylight, much will depend on the vigilance of outposts and guards. Our cavalry is on the south-west front toward Bridge Creek. By order of Majorgeneral Rosecrans.--Arthur C. Ducat, Lieutenant-Colonel, Chief of Grand Guards and Outposts.

Between 8 and 9 P. M. a staff-officer brought me the following order:

“Place your batteries on the Purdy road at 10 P. I. and play them two hours in a north-west direction with shot and shell, where the enemy is massed, and at midnight attack them with your whole division with the bayonet.--W. S. Rosecrans, Major-General.”1

I was astounded, and turning to the officer said: “Tell General Rosecrans I cannot execute that order till I see him personally, and explain to him the difficulties in the way and what the result must be if carried out.” An hour passed, when the officer who brought the order returned, bringing General Rosecrans with him. General John B. Sanborn, of Minnesota, and others heard the following conversation which then took place:

General Rosecrans [savagely]: “General Hamilton, what do you mean by disobeying my order to attack the enemy?”

General Hamilton: “General Rosecrans, I am ready to execute your order, but there is too much at stake here to be risked by a night attack. The ground between us and the enemy is a dense forest, with a thick undergrowth in which the troops cannot move ten minutes without breaking their formation. It is dark in the forest — too dark to distinguish friend from foe. If my division is once disorganized it cannot be re-formed until daylight comes. We are ignorant of the enemy's exact position and must feel around in the darkness of the forest to find him. Let me say that your lines are too long. My division is not in supporting distance of any other division, and when the town is assaulted in the morning your army will be cut in two and destroyed. Davies's division has withdrawn so far that the skirmishers of the enemy occupy his last position in line. Your position is a false one. The troops should be withdrawn and placed within the earth-works of the town. Place them within the fortifications and in support of each other. It is a strong position and insures a victory. But as we are now you cannot make a strong defense, and the battle which is certain for the morning will surely be a defeat for us.”

General Rosecrans [after a few moments of reflection without reply]: “Hamilton, you are right. Place your division as you suggest, and the others shall be placed accordingly.”

The change of my division was accomplished by 3 A. M., and the troops sought their rest on the morrow's battle-field, full of hope and sure of victory. Thus closed the operations of the day. And thus was brought about the change that led to victory on the following day, but from that time to this no public writing or utterance on the part of General Rosecrans has ever acknowledged the services so-rendered.

1 The “Official Records” do not contain this order or any allusion to the subject of it.--Editors.

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