previous next

No. 29.-reports of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, U. S. Army, commanding Fifth Division, of operations from May 18 to June 10.

Hdqrs. Fifth Division, Army of the Tennessee, Camp near Corinth, Miss., May 30, 1862.
Sir: On the 19th instant I reported the operations of this division in taking from the enemy the position at Russell's.1 After driving [741] the enemy away we found it one of great natural strength, and we proceeded to fortify it. Lines were laid off by the engineer, Captain Kossak, and a very excellent parapet was constructed by the men in a style that elicited the approval of General Halleck. Men worked day and night, and as soon as it was done and the dense trees and undergrowth cleared away in front, to give range to our batteries, I directed our pickets to drive the enemy farther back behind a large open field to our front and right. This was handsomely executed by the regular detail of picket guard, under the direction of the field officer of the day, Lieutenant-Colonel Loudon, of the Seventieth Ohio.

We remained in that intrenched camp at Russells until the night of the 27th, when I received from Major-General Halleck an order by telegraph “to send a force the next day to drive the rebels from the house in our front on the Corinth road, to drive in their pickets as far as possible, and to make a strong demonstration on Corinth itself,” authorizing me to call on any adjacent divisions for assistance. I asked General McClernand for one brigade and General Hurlbut for another, to co-operate with two brigades of my own division. General John A. Logan's brigade, of General Judah's division, of MeClernand's reserve corps, and General Veatch's brigade, of Hurlbut's division, were placed subject to my orders, and took part with my own division in the operations of the two following days; and I now thank the officers and men of these brigades for the zeal and enthusiasm they manifested and the alacrity they displayed in the execution of every order given.

The house referred to by General Halleck was a double log building, standing on a high ridge on the upper or southern end of the large field, before referred to as the one to which we had advanced our pickets. The enemy had taken out the chinks and removed the roof, making it an excellent block-house, from which with perfect security he could annoy our pickets. The large field was perfectly overlooked by this house, as well as by the ridge along its southern line of fence, which was covered by a dense growth of heavy oaks and underbrush.

The main Corinth road runs along the eastern fence, whilst the field itself, about 300 yards wide by about 500 long, extended far to the right into the low land of Phillips' Creek, so densely wooded as to be impassable to troops or artillery. On the eastern side of the field the woods were more open. The enemy could be seen at all times in and about the house and the ridge beyond, and our pickets could not show themselves on our side of the field without attracting a shot. The problem was to clear the house and ridge of the enemy with as little loss as possible. To accomplish this I ordered General J. W. Denver, with his brigade (Third) and the Morton battery of four guns, to march in perfect silence from our lines at 8 a. m., keeping well under cover as he approached the field; General Morgan L. Smith's brigade (First), with Barrett's and Waterhouse's batteries, to move along the main road, keeping his force well masked in the woods to the left; Brigadier-General Veatch's brigade to move from General Hurlbut's lines through the woods on the left of and connecting with General Morgan L. Smith's brigade, and General John A. Logan's brigade to move down to Bowie Hill, cut off the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, and thence forward and to the left, so as to connect with General Denver's brigade on the extreme right; all to march at 8 a. m., with skirmishers well to the front, to keep well concealed, and at a signal to rush quickly on to the ridge, thus avoiding as much as possible the danger of crossing the open field exposed to the fire of a concealed enemy. [742]

It was impossible for me beforehand to ascertain the force of the en. emy, and nothing is more embarrassing than to make dispositions against a concealed foe occupying, as this was, a strong natural position. I then supposed, and still think, this position was held by a small brigade of the enemy.

My preliminary arrangements having thus been made, two 20-pdr. Parrott rifled guns, of Silfversparre's battery, under the immediate supervision of Major Taylor, chief of artillery, were moved silently through the forest to a point behind a hill, from the top of which could be seen the house and grounds to be contested. The guns were unlimbered, loaded with shell, and moved by hand to the crest. At the proper time I gave the order to Major Taylor to commence firing and demolish the house or render it decidedly uncomfortable to its occupants. About a dozen shells well directed soon accomplished this. Then designating a single shot of the 20-pounder Parrott gun of Silfversparre as a signal for the brigades to advance, I waited till all were in position, and ordered the signal, when the troops dashed forward in fine style, crossed the field, drove the enemy across the ridge and field beyond into another dense and seemingly impenetrable forest.

The enemy was evidently surprised, and only killed 2 of our men and wounded 9. After we had reached the ridge he opened on us with a two-gun battery on the right and another from the front and left, doing my brigades but little harm, but killing 3 of General Veatch's men. With our artillery we soon silenced his, and by 10 a. m. we were masters of the position. Generals Grant and Thomas were present during this affair and witnessed the movement, which was admirably executed, all the officers and men keeping their places like real soldiers. Immediately throwing forward a strong line of skirmishers in front of each brigade, we found the enemy re-enforcing his front skirmishers, but the woods were so dense as completely to mask his operations. An irregular piece of cleared land lay immediately in front of General Denver's position, and extended obliquely to the left in front of and across Morgan Smith's and Veatch's brigades, which were posted on the right and left of the main Corinth road, looking directly south.

For some time I was in doubt whether the artillery fire we had sustained had come from the enemy's fixed or field batteries, and intended to move forward at great hazard to ascertain the fact, when about 3 p. m. we were startled by the quick rattle of musketry along our whole picket line, followed by the cheers and yells of an attacking column of the enemy. Our artillery and Mann's battery of Veatch's brigade had been judiciously posted by Major Taylor, and before the yell of the enemy had died away arose our reply in the cannon's voice. The firing was very good, rapid, and well directed, and the shells burst in the right place. Our pickets were at first driven in a little, but soon recovered their ground and held it, and the enemy retreated in utter confusion. On further examination of the ground, with its connection on the left with General Hurlbut and right resting on the railroad near Bowie Hill Cut, it was determined to intrench. The lines were laid off after dark, and the work substantially finished by morning.

All this time we were within 1,300 yards of the enemy's main intrenchments, which were absolutely concealed from us by the dense foliage of the oak forest, and without a real battle, which was at that time to be avoided, we could not push out our skirmishers more than 200 yards to the front. For our own security I had to destroy two farm houses, both of which had been loop-holed and occupied by the enemy. By 9 a. m. of yesterday (29th) our works were substantially [743] done, our artillery in position, and at 4 p. m. the siege train was brought forward, and Colonel McDowell's brigade (Second) of my division had come from our former lines at Russells and had relieved General John A. Logan's brigade. I feel under special obligations to this officer (General Logan), who during the two days he served under me held the critical ground on my right extending down to the railroad. All the time he had in his front a large force of the enemy, but so dense was the foliage that he could not reckon their strength save from what he could see in the railroad track. He will doubtless make his own report, and give the names of the wounded among his pickets. I had then my whole division in a slightly curved line, facing south, my right resting on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad near a deep cut, known as Bowie Hill Cut, and left resting on the main Corinth road at the crest of the ridge, there connecting with General Hurlbut, who in turn on his left connected with General Davies, and so on down the whole line to its extremity. So near was the enemy that we could hear the sound of his drums and sometimes of voices in command and the railroad cars arriving and departing at Corinth were easily distinguished.

For some days and nights cars had been arriving and departing very frequently, especially in the night-time, but last night (29th) more so than usual, and my suspicions were aroused. Before daybreak I instructed the brigade commanders and the field officers of the day to feel forward as far as possible, but all reported the enemy's pickets still in force in the dense woods to our fronts but about 6 a. m. a curious explosion, sounding like a volley of large siege pieces, followed by others singly and in twos and threes, arrested our attention, and soon after a large smoke arose from the direction of Corinth, when I telegraphed to General Halleck to ascertain the cause. He answered that he could not explain it, but ordered me to advance my division and feel the enemy if still in my front. I immediately put in motion two regiments of each brigade by different roads, and soon after followed with the whole division-infantry, artillery, and cavalry. Somewhat to our surprise the enemy's chief redoubt was found within 1,300 yards of our lines of intrenchments, but completely masked from us by the dense forest and undergrowth.

General Morgan L. Smith's brigade moved rapidly down the main road, entering the first redoubt of the enemy at 6.30 a. m. It was completely evacuated, and he pushed on into Corinth and beyond to College Hill, there awaiting my orders and arrival. General Denver entered the enemy's lines about the same time, 6.30 a. m., at a point midway between the wagon and rail roads, and proceeded on to Corinth about 3 miles from our camp, and Colonel McDowell kept farther to the right, near the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. By 8 a. m. all my division was at Corinth and beyond.

On the whole ridge, extending from my camp into Corinth and to the right and left, could be seen the remains of the abandoned camps of the enemy-flour and provisions scattered about, and everything to indicate a speedy and confused retreat. In the town itself many houses were still burning, and the ruins of warehouses and buildings containing commissary and other Confederate stores were still smoldering; but there still remained piles of cannon balls, shell and shot, sugar, molasses, beans, rice, and other property, which the enemyhad failedto carry off or destroy. Major Fisher, of the Ohio Fifty-fourth, was left in Corinth, with a provost guard, to prevent pillage and protect the public stores still left. From the best information picked up from the few citizens who remained at Corinth it appeared the enemy had for some days been [744] removing their sick and valuable stores, and had sent away on railroad cars a part of their effective force on the night of the 28th, but of course even the vast amount of their rolling stock could not carry away an army of 100,000 men. The enemy, therefore, was compelled to march away, and began the march by 10 o'clock on the night of the 29th, the columns filling all the roads leading south and west all night, the rear guard firing the train which led to the explosion and conflagration, and gave us the first real notice that Corinth was to be evacuated. The enemy did not relieve his pickets that morning, and many of them have been captured, who did not have the slightest intimation of the purpose.

Finding Corinth abandoned by the enemy, I ordered General Morgan L. Smith to pursue on the Ripley road, by which it seemed they had taken the bulk of their artillery. Captain Hammond, my chief of staff, had been and continued with General Smith's brigade, and pushed the pursuit up to the bridges and narrow causeway by which the bottom of Tuscumbia Creek is passed. The enemy opened with canister on a small party of cavalry and burned every bridge, leaving the woods full of straggling soldiers. Many of these were gathered up and sent to the rear, but the main army had escaped across Tuscumbia Creek, and farther pursuit by a small party would have been absurd, so I kept my division at College Hill until I received General Thomas' orders to return and resume our camps of the night before, which we did slowly and quietly in the cool of the evening.

The evacuation of Corinth at the time and in the manner it was done was a clear back-down from the high and arrogant tone heretofore assumed by the rebels. The ground was of their own choice. The fortifications, though poor and indifferent, were all they supposed necessary to our defeat, as they had had two months to make them, with an immense force to work at their disposal. If with two such railroads as they possessed they could not supply their army with reenforcements and provisions, how can they attempt it in this poor, arid, and exhausted part of the country I I have experienced much difficulty in giving an intelligent account of the events of the past three days, because of the many little events, unimportant in themselves, but which in the aggregate form material data to account for results.

My division has constructed seven distinct intrenched camps since leaving Shiloh, the men working cheerfully and well all the time night and day. Hardly had we finished our camps before we were called on to move forward and build another, but I have been delighted at this feature in the character of my division and take this method of making it known. Our intrenchments here and at Russell's, each built substantially in one night, are stronger works of art than the much-boasted forts of the enemy at Corinth. I must also in justice to my men remark their great improvement on the march, the absence of that straggling which is too common in the volunteer service, and, still more, their improved character on picket and as skirmishers. Our line of march has been along a strongly-marked ridge, followed by the Purdy and Corinth road, and ever since leaving the “Locusts” our pickets have been fighting-hardly an hour night or day for two weeks without the exchange of hostile shots; but we have steadily and surely gained ground, slowly to be sure, but with that steady certainty that presaged the inevitable result. In these picket skirmishes we have inflicted and sustained losses, but it is impossible for me to recapitulate them. These must be accounted for on the company muster rolls. We have taken many [745] prisoners, which have been sent to the Provost-Marshal-General, and with this report I will send some 40 or 50 picked up in the course of .the past two days. Indeed, I think if disarmed very many of these prisoners would never give trouble again, whilst, on the other hand, the real secessionists seem more bitter now than ever.

I will send the reports of brigadiers and colonels as soon as completed and handed in.

Inclosed is a sketch2 made by Captain Kossak, without which, I fear, my descriptions and history of movements would not be understood.

I am, with much respect, your obedient servant

W. T. Sherman, Major-General, Commanding Division. Capt. George E. Flynt Assistant Adjutant-General.

Hdqrs. Fifth Division, Army of the Tennessee, Camp at Chewalla, June 10, 1862.
Sir: I have the honor to report that on the 2d instant, about 2 p. m., in camp before Corinth, I received General Halleck's orders, “You will immediately move with your division and that of General Hurlbut through Corinth, and dislodge the enemy from their position near the Memphis and Charleston Railroad.” On inquiry by telegraph of the major-general commanding, I learned the enemy in question was supposed to be at or near Smith's bridge, across the Tuscumbia Creek, 7 miles southwest of Corinth. The division was immediately put in motion, followed by that of Brigadier-General Hurlbut. We marched into and through Corinth in a violent rain-storm, and took the road toward the west. The rain made the road so heavy that we only made 4 miles, when darkness overtook us, and we lay in mud and rain that night by the road-side; but I directed Colonel Dickey, of the Fourth Illinois Cavalry, to proceed 3 miles farther on the road, and to send out a party to Smith's Bridge to ascertain the position of the enemy, his strength, &c.

At daybreak of the 3d I put the column in motion, and soon met Colonel Dickey, whose command had been down to Smith's Bridge, which had been burned and destroyed by the enemy. Satisfied that no enemy was there to dislodge, I then proceeded to carry out the second part of my instructions, viz: “Assist in getting up and repairing all the locomotives and cars you can find.” Stationing General Hurlbut's division near Young's Station, on the Memphis and Charleston road, which covered the approach from Smith's Bridge,. I then conducted my own division to the high ridge back of Chewalla, and there bivouacked. Large working parties were at once sent forward on the railroad about 3 miles west of Chewalla, where the enemy had prematurely burned the bridge over Cypress Creek, thereby preventing the escape of 7 locomotives and trains of cars filled with their own stores. They had destroyed all, or nearly all, this property by fire, and the burned mass of wreck encumbered the railway track for a mile. We set to work forthwith to clear the track, repair the locomotives, and the few platform cars which had not been utterly ruined, with the vast amount [746] of truck-wheels, couplings, and iron work. In this we have saved 7 locomotives, one of which was fiat on its side in the ditch, about a dozen platform cars, and over 200 pairs of truck-wheels, with the iron work of about 60 cars, all of which has been sent to Corinth or remains at Chewalla on a side track. This work has been prosecuted night and day till yesterday afternoon, when orders were received from Major-General Halleck to discontinue it, and move with my own and General Hurlbut's division farther west.

All the bridges to the west, whether on the railroad or common roads, have been burned and the roads otherwise obstructed, but I have already sent forward parties to make the necessary repairs, and shall to-morrow move the whole command to Pocahontas and beyond.

In the vast amount of labor done here the Fifty-second Indiana, known as the railroad regiment, under the command of Major Main, has done a leading part, and is entitled to the credit of having saved for the use of the army the rolling stock, so much needed in the railroads now subject to our use and control.

I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,

W. T. Sherman, Major-General, Commanding Division and Expedition. Capt. George E. Flynt, Assistant Adjutant-General.

1 May 17. See report No. 74, following.

2 Not found.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
June 10th, 1862 AD (1)
May 30th, 1862 AD (1)
June 10th (1)
May 18th (1)
May 17th (1)
29th (1)
28th (1)
27th (1)
19th (1)
2nd (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: