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Chapter 5:

Beauregard now collected and reorganized the army of the Mississippi at Corinth, which became the great rallying point in the central South. Van Dorn came across the Mississippi with his army of the West. Kirby Smith sent all he could spare from East Tennessee, and Pemberton a considerable force from the Atlantic coast. The governor of Mississippi was notified by President Davis on April 10th, ‘Beauregard must have reinforcements to meet the vast accumulation of the enemy before him. The necessity is imminent; the case of vital importance. Send forward to Corinth all the armed men that you can furnish.’

According to the official returns, the aggregate force enrolled previous to Shiloh was 59,774, and the effective total, 38,773. After the return from Shiloh the loss of 10,699 was rapidly repaired, raising the aggregate to 64,500, effective total 32,212. About a month later the aggregate was 112,092, but the effective total was only 52,706, largely on account of the sickness which was terribly prevalent while this great army was held inactive.

The assignment of Mississippi commands in this army was as follows: In Polk's First corps, Maxey's brigade, Twenty-fourth infantry, Stanford's and Smith's batteries. In Bragg's Second corps, Chalmers' brigade, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, Tenth and Thirty-sixth (Blythe's) infantry. In Hardee's Third corps, Wood's brigade, [53] Thirty-third infantry. In Breckinridge's corps, Statham's brigade, Fifteenth and Twenty-second infantry. In Van Dorn's army, Ruggles division, Anderson's brigade, Thirty-sixth infantry; Walker's brigade, Thirty-seventh infantry. On May 6th, General Bragg was given immediate command of the army of the Mississippi, General Beauregard retaining general command of the combined forces.

The Federals, who had been slowly advancing from Shiloh, intrenching as they came to avoid a repetition of April 6th, had been reinforced by General Pope–flushed by the appropriation of the glory which belonged to the gunboats for the capture of Island No.10—and by fresh troops from the North, and finally massed before Corinth 110,000 fighting men, all under the command of General Halleck. The Confederate army had prepared a semi-oval fortified line, covering the town to the northeast; and in front of this, up to where the Mobile & Ohio railroad crosses the State line, Halleck erected an elaborate line of works and posted his great army.

Meanwhile the Confederates were not entirely idle. Active skirmishing had accompanied the advance of the enemy, and on May 8th Gen. Earl Van Dorn marched out of the works and formed a line north of the Memphis & Charleston railroad. On the 10th he advanced and attacked the enemy's right at Farmington; but the Federals retreated with such expedition that an engagement could not be brought on, and nothing resulted but the burning of the bridge, and the capture of a few prisoners and a considerable lot of arms and property. The Thirty-seventh Mississippi was in this action, and was commended by General Ruggles, who particularly complimented its commander, Colonel Benton, and Lieutenant Morgan, who continued to lead a company after being wounded. Gen. Patton Anderson reported of Col. D. J. Brown's regiment: ‘A large portion of the Thirty-sixth Mississippi regiment, although never having formed a [54] line of battle or heard a hostile gun before, behaved with that gallantry and spirit which characterize the troops of that chivalrous State on every field.’ The loss of the regiment was one killed and ten wounded. Col. Samuel Benton, of the Thirty-seventh, wrote of the service of his men: ‘A new regiment recently mustered into service, employed in outpost duty the whole of the preceding night and scantily provided with canteens, they bore this with patience and fortitude, and the heat and fatigue of the day's march, often through thick woods, over fences, ditches and other obstructions. When advancing under fire, their eagerness was such as to require restraint rather than urging forward.’ He particularly noted the bravery of Privates Clifton Dorney and Howard Fulmer of the skirmish line.

It was frequently suggested to Beauregard that Halleck should be attacked or his communications-cut on the Tennessee river; but though Forrest and Wheeler were both with the army, what they could do seems not yet to have been discovered to the superior officers. The general issued an address May 10th, declaring that our motto should be ‘Forward, and always forward;’ but he had already advised the corps commanders of the route they should take in retreat. General Van Dorn's division was ordered to be in line of battle on the morning of the 18th, and the enemy formed a line in opposition, but nothing followed but some skirmishing. An advance was again ordered on the 20th, Van Dorn to move to Farmington and drive the enemy hotly on roads to Monterey and Purdy; Hardee to attack Pope if he attempted to effect a junction with Buell; Polk and Breckinridge to form north of town and take the enemy in flank and rear. Rain compelled a day's postponement.

On the 21st there was a brisk fight at the Widow Serratt's house, the center of the Federal lines, resulting from the advance of the Confederates in that direction, which if pushed would have thrown us between Thomas' [55] command, lately Grant's, and the corps of Buell and Pope. At the same time Polk and Breckinridge took position fronting the Purdy road. But Van Dorn, having been sent on a circuitous route toward Farmington, was not heard from until the next morning, when he reported that he had been delayed by bad management, the stupidity of officers and the difficulty of the country, and was ‘sick with disappointment and chagrin,’ but ‘felt like a wolf and would fight like one.’ It was still intended to attack, when a telegram from Van Dorn was received stating that at noon, after a conference with Hardee and Price, he had determined to return to his intrenchments, finding difficulties that had so delayed him that it was too late to begin a general engagement.

On the 25th, after a consultation with General Beauregard, General Hardee, an officer whose fighting qualities and sound judgment have never been questioned, sent to the general-in-chief his views in writing, saying that: ‘The situation at Corinth requires that we should attack the enemy at once, or await his attack, or evacuate the place. Assuming that we have 50,000 men and the enemy nearly twice that number, protected by intrenchments, I am clearly of opinion that no attack should be made. Our forces dare inferior, and the battle of Shiloh proves, with only the advantage of position, it was hazardous to contend against his superior strength; and to attack him in his intrenchments now would probably inflict on us and the Confederacy a fatal blow. Neither the number nor instruction of our troops renders them equal to the task. I think we can successfully repel any attack on our camp by the enemy, but it is manifest no attack is meditated. It will be approached gradually, and will be shelled and bombarded without equal means to reply.’ In conclusion, he advised an immediate evacuation. Upon this document Beauregard indorsed: ‘I concur fully in the above views, and already [56] all needful preparations are being made for a proper and prompt evacuation of this place.’

Gen. Robert E. Lee, being advised of the emergency, wrote to Beauregard expressing confidence in the wisdom of his arrangements; but expressing the hope, in case retreat was inevitable, that Beauregard would be able ‘to strike a successful blow at the enemy if he follows, which will enable you to gain the ascendency and drive him back to the Ohio.’

On the 28th, Col. Joseph Wheeler, then in command of an infantry brigade, being ordered to the front on the Monterey road found Lieutenant-Colonel Mills, with about 200 men from the Seventh, Ninth, Tenth and Twenty-ninth Mississippi, and two guns of Robertson's battery, stoutly contesting an advance of the enemy in force. ‘Colonel Mills,’ General Wheeler reported, ‘had been driven back about half a mile by a superior force, who had established themselves in a densely-wooded swamp so favorable that this gallant officer had been baffled in repeated attempts to permanently re-establish his line of pickets.’ On the next day the united force of the Confederates drove the enemy from their position and then retreated in the night to Corinth. General Beauregard, having sent out nearly everything of value by the railroad to Tupelo, skillfully evacuated the town on the night of May 29th, leaving cavalry pickets to send up signal rockets at three o'clock the next morning.

A correspondent of a Northern journal, in his report of the event, writing on the 30th, said that on the 29th advances were made by Thomas and Pope, with heavy cannonading, but not a response of any kind was elicited from the enemy. ‘During that night we could hear teams being driven off and boxes being nailed in the rebel camp. Deserters, however, I understand, reported that they were making a stand and would fight the next day. Considerable cannonading was done by our forces and yet no response, and yesterday the same. Last night [57] the same band sounded retreat, tattoo and taps all along the rebel lines, moving from place to place, and this morning suspicion was ripened into certainty when we saw dense volumes of smoke arise in the direction of Corinth and heard the report of an exploding magazine. Corinth was evacuated and Beauregard had achieved another triumph. I do not know how this matter strikes abler military men, but I think we have been fooled. The works are far from being invaluable, and the old joke of quaker guns has been played off on us. They were real wooden guns, with stuffed ‘paddies’ for gunners. I saw them. We approached clear from Shiloh in line of battle and made preparations to defend ourselves, compared with which the preparations of Beauregard sink into insignificance. This morning we could have poured shot and shell from our 300 guns into works that never saw the day when General McCook could not have taken his division into them.’

Another Northern correspondent wrote: ‘The retreat of the enemy was conducted in best of order. Before our men had entered the place all had got off safely. General Halleck has thus far achieved one of the most barren triumphs of the war. In fact, it was tantamount to a defeat. It gives the enemy an opportunity to select a new position as formidable as that at Corinth, and in which it will be far more difficult for us to attack him, on account of the distance our army will have to transport its supplies. * * * I look upon the evacuation there as a victory for Beauregard, or at least as one of the most masterly pieces of strategy that has been displayed during this war. It prolongs the contest in the Southwest for at least six months.’

This modest estimate of the prolongation of the war is an evidence of the prevalent idea at times both South and North. Jackson had not yet concluded his campaign in the Shenandoah valley, nor had Lee driven McClellan from before Richmond. [58]

Halleck, meanwhile, sent north dispatches of the most remarkable character. He first telegraphed that ‘the enemy's position and works in front of Corinth were exceedingly strong. He cannot occupy a stronger position in his flight. This morning he destroyed an immense amount of public and private property, stores, provisions, wagons, tents, etc. For miles out of town the roads are filled with arms, haversacks, etc., thrown away by his fleeing troops. A large number of prisoners and deserters have been captured, estimated by General Pope [a romantic authority] at 2,000.’ Next day he sent word that Colonel Elliott had struck Booneville at 2 a. m. on the 30th, torn things up generally, and captured and paroled 2,000 prisoners. And on June 4th, he telegraphed: ‘General Pope, with 40,000 men, is 30 miles south of Florence, pushing the enemy hard. He already reports 10,000 prisoners and deserters from the enemy, and 15,000 stand of arms captured. Thousands of the enemy are throwing away their arms. A farmer says, that when Beauregard learned that Elliott had cut the railroad on his line of retreat he became frantic, and told the men to save themselves the best way they could. We captured nine locomotives and a number of cars.’

The statement of Colonel Elliott himself, about the affair at Booneville, was that he struck the station on the morning of the 30th as the result of a movement which he had begun on the 27th, and found there about 2,000 convalescent and sick Confederates, and a guard of something less than 1,000. The depot was filled with military stores and wounded, and a train was standing loaded with military stores. These he destroyed, after removing the wounded to a place of safety, and tore up the track, Col. P. H. Sheridan and Capt. R. A. Alger assisting in the work. A few hundred Confederate infantry were captured and paroled, and the cavalry fought the Federals during their operations and escaped without much loss. [59]

The greatest loss during the retreat occurred between Booneville and Corinth, at Cypress Creek, where Confederates themselves had burned the railroad bridge, cutting off the way for seven trains mostly loaded with supplies of all sorts. Charles S. Williams, assistant superintendent of the Memphis & Charleston railroad, himself ordered the destruction of the locomotives and sixty-two cars, and his orders were carried out.

The truth about Beauregard's ‘frantic’ retreat was that he made such a stand on the way to Tupelo that Pope dared not attack him, and though reinforced by Buell, did not venture further than Booneville. Beauregard, after reaching Tupelo, finding himself undisturbed, turned his command temporarily over to Bragg, and on account of poor health went to Mobile.

Col. Wm. Preston Johnston, aide-de-camp to the President, who was sent by Mr. Davis to interview General Beauregard and obtain information regarding the situation, reported that the field return of the army prior to the evacuation of Corinth showed an effective total of 52,--706, and the field return at Tupelo an effective total of 45,365, the reduction being caused in part by the detachment of Breckinridge's corps. ‘General Beauregard in his conversation with me referred me, for further and more detailed information of the events and circumstances attending the retreat from Corinth, to his subordinates. The information derived from them and their concurrent opinion fully sustains his view as to the necessity of the evacuation of Corinth at the time it was performed. Another day's delay might have proved fatal to the army. The letter of General Hardee, approved by General Beauregard, expresses the well-settled conviction of the most intelligent officers of the army. Bad food, neglect of police duty, inaction, and especially water, insufficient and charged with magnesia and rotten limestone, had produced obstinate types of diarrhoea and typhoid fever. No sound men were left. The attempt to bore artesian [60] wells had failed.’ With an aggregate of 112,092, the effective total had wasted away to 52,706 men. The sick and absent numbered 49,590, including officers. No sudden epidemic had smitten the camp; the sickness was the effect of causes evident from the day of the occupation of the position, and increased with an accelerated ratio. The value of Corinth as a temporary base from which to attack the enemy was vast; but as it was untenable for permanent occupation on account of its unhealthfulness, it seems unfortunate that the army should have been retained there until a wreck only remained, to be crowded out by the steady pressure of the advancing but cautious foe. There was a time when the experiment of Shiloh might have been repeated with success. Our army had suffered at Shiloh, but they had won back their former prestige. The demoralization of troops flushed with victory could not have been so great as that of the retreating columns which were gathered at Corinth, and precipitated on the Federals with such splendid results on Sunday, April 6th.

‘When General Van Dorn's army arrived, his effective total was estimated at 17,000 men, which, added to the 32,212 then reported, made an army of nearly 50,000 effective Southern soldiers. If this army, one-third larger than that which fought at Shiloh, had been led against the disintegrated and demoralized battalions of the enemy before he recovered from the shock of Shiloh or received his reinforcements of reserves and took his subsequent intrenched position at Farmington, his columns might again have been compelled to huddle under cover of their gunboats. When this opportunity had passed no other occurred. The enemy refused the offer of battle, preferring his own plan of campaign, by which he slowly, but surely, forced us from our chosen position. It appears evident, therefore, that Corinth could only be held by beating the enemy, and that as soon as he was allowed to take position at Farmington in such manner [61] that we could not compel him to fight, Corinth was no longer tenable. Hence, not only does the retreat of General Beauregard appear to have been at the time a necessity, but also that it might have been made with propriety a month earlier.’

While the Confederate army is resting at Tupelo, we will glance at some of the characteristics of the people among whom it is encamped, and their efforts in behalf of the cause. Mississippi, having seen to the establishment and maintenance of hospitals at home and abroad for her own volunteer soldiers, next looked after their families. The distribution of the State military relief tax, 1862, to destitute families, on August 1, 1863, was $198,754. 19; while that under another relief act, approved January 3, 1863, amounted to $500,000.

Col. Wm. Preston Johnston, in his report above referred to, has this to say of our people: ‘The broad hospitality and unwavering kindness of the people of Mississippi were extended to our sick soldiers with a liberality so bountiful that the thanks of our whole people are due to them. No eulogy could do them justice.’ The Daily Southern Crisis, a newspaper published at Jackson, Miss., by that staunch patriot, J. W. Tucker, in its issue of March 28, 1863, says: ‘The wheat crop in Mississippi looks very promising—in fact it could not be better. There is a large surface of our soil in wheat, promising flour in abundance after the May harvest. If there are no more frosts this State will furnish wheat enough to supply half the Confederacy in flour for the next year; * * * but a small crop of cotton planted, which shows the good sense of our people.’

On April 29, 1863, the corporate authorities of Columbus wrote to President Davis: ‘We beg to say that our patriotic planters had, to a large extent, anticipated your recent proclamation, and have planted their broad prairie acres in grain and other articles for the subsistence of the army. In fact, sir, our country is one vast cornfield [62] which if protected from the enemy will, under the smiles of Providence, furnish an amount of provisions that will relieve the western army from all fear of want.’

Says The Mississippi, a newspaper published at Jackson, in March, 1863, in an editorial: ‘The subsistence, the clothing and the camp equipage for a tremendous army have been exclusively drawn from the State of Mississippi, and this too, when several of her most populous and productive counties have been under the control of the enemy. Mississippi manufacturers have made nearly all the material used for the army in the whole department. * * * The Jackson manufactory makes 5,000 garments weekly. The material is cut out in the city by experienced and industrious tailors, and distributed over the country in Hinds and adjoining counties to be made up. Soldiers' wives and destitute families are always supplied with work first, thus enabling them to support themselves while lending a helping hand to the cause. Similar factories at Bankston, Choctaw county, Columbus, Enterprise, Natchez and Woodville make up 500 per week, the sewing of which is distributed in the same way. The hat factories at Jackson and Columbus make 200 hats per day. We also have a manufactory at Jackson which turns out 50 blankets per day. The Pemberton works at Enterprise, and Dixie works at Canton, make not less than 60 wagons and ambulances per week. * * * Arrangements are now being made to start an extensive government shoe-shop, with a capacity of turning out 6,000 pairs of shoes per month. * * * The most extensive tannery in the Confederacy is situated at Magnolia, and supplies 600 hides daily. Tents manufactured from Mississippi cloth are the best in the Confederacy, and enough of them are made at Jackson and Columbus to supply the army.’

The legislature of Mississippi had already recognized the devotion and loyalty of the women of the State to the cause in the following resolution, adopted January [63] 28, 1862: ‘That the women of the State of Mississippi, for their exertions in behalf of the cause of Southern Independence, are entitled to the hearty thanks of every lover of his country; and this legislature, acting from a sense of justice and of gratitude, extend to them individually and collectively the sincere thanks of the people of this State for their noble efforts in aiding the cause of our common country.’

In his inaugural address to the legislature, November 16, 1863, on this subject, Governor Clark said: ‘One of the most gratifying indications of the times is the resolute spirit of industry manifested by our women. The spinning-wheel is preferred to the harp, and the loom makes music of loftier patriotism and inspiration than the keys of the piano.’

In a memorial to the Confederate Congress, approved August 2, 1861, in reference to buying and holding all cotton and tobacco as a basis of credit, this language occurs: ‘We, the representatives of a united people determined to prosecute the war with all the men and means at our command to a successful termination or a total annihilation of men and money, deem it highly expedient,’ etc.

As early as September 30, 1861, Judge Wiley P. Harris, Mississippi's most distinguished citizen, wrote to President Davis as follows: ‘You would be struck with the aspect which our State now presents. Except in the principal towns the country appears to be deserted. There are not more men left than the demands of society and the police of a slaveholding country actually require. The State has put in the field and in camp about 25,000 men. This exceeds her proportion. If invaded, she could send to battle 10,000 or 15,000 more, but she cannot put more in service for twelve months. It has occurred to me that General Johnston was not aware of the strain on our population already created. * * * The disposition of the people is to give everything and do everything [64] necessary; but the preservation of the crops, order and safety require that a certain number of active men should remain within the State.’

On May 2, 1863, President Davis telegraphed Governor Pettus: ‘Can you aid General Pemberton by furnishing for short service militia or persons exempt from military service, who may be temporarily organized to repel the invasion?’ The stout-hearted and iron-willed war governor answered back the same day: ‘The people are turning out, from fifty to sixty. Mississippi is more seriously threatened than ever before. Reinforcements necessary. Send me arms and ammunition. Our people will fight.’

And so, from 60,001 free white men in the State in 1860-61 between ages of 21 and 50, Mississippi on August 1, 1863, had furnished to the Confederacy 63,908 volunteer soldiers. (See House Journal, November, 1862, and November, 1863, appendix, p. 76.) There has been no such exhibition of patriotism since Bruce and Wallace left the craigs of Scotland for battle.

After the surrender of Island No.10, General Beauregard ordered the destruction of cotton along the Mississippi river, to prevent its falling into the hands of the enemy, and apprehensions were entertained that Vicksburg might soon be attacked by the Federals. Some troops were sent there, and fortifications were begun under Capt. D. B. Harris, chief of engineers. Colonel Autry was at this time military commander at Vicksburg.

Capt. Ed. A. Porter reported from Holly Springs, June 6th, that, acting under orders, he had caused to be burned in Fayette, Shelby and Tipton counties, Tenn., and Marshall and De Soto counties, Miss., upwards of 30,000 bales of cotton, meeting with little opposition from the planters, who were generally ready to make this sacrifice for the good of the country. Col. N. B. Forrest was also directed to perform this work of patriotic destruction south of the Tennessee river. [65]

On June 20th, General Braxton Bragg succeeded Beauregard in permanent command of Department No. 2, including all of Mississippi, and the work of reorganization of the army at Tupelo continued. On July 2d he assigned General Van Dorn to the command of the district of the Mississippi, embracing all the State west of Pearl river and the Mississippi Central railroad; and Gen. John H. Forney to the district of the Gulf, all the country east of the Pearl river to the Apalachicola, and as far north as the thirty-second parallel, about the latitude of Quitman. General Polk was made second in command under Bragg, and the immediate command of the army of the Mississippi was given to General Hardee.

On June 10th, Chalmers, promoted brigadier-general, had been assigned to command of all the cavalry in front of the army of the Mississippi. On June 30th he was ordered to make a feint on Rienzi, to cover a movement of the Reserve corps toward Ripley, by which it was hoped to destroy the Memphis & Charleston railroad to the west of Corinth. Chalmers encountered Col. P. H. Sheridan's brigade of cavalry on the morning of July 1st, near Booneville, and a stubborn fight followed which lasted during most of the day and resulted in Chalmers retiring from the field. Sheridan was entitled to great credit for withstanding Chalmers, but some unmerited glory was attached to his name by the exaggerated reports of the strength of the Confederate force. On July 1st and 5th there were minor affairs near Holly Springs and at Hatchie Bottom, of which there are no official reports.

Meanwhile there had been important changes in the Federal army. Halleck, having achieved fame through the occupation of Corinth, was called to Washington to take the position of general-in-chief, and Grant was put in command of all troops west of the Tennessee river, with instructions to send Thomas into Tennessee to reinforce Buell, who had previously left Corinth to operate [66] against Chattanooga. The latter town was now the objective of the Federal armies, and Grant and Rosecrans contented themselves with occupying Corinth.

Hardee started for Chattanooga on July 21st with the army of the Mississippi, the infantry being sent by rail via Mobile, leaving the army of the West at Tupelo under Gen. Sterling Price, and about the same time Gen. Joseph Wheeler, who had succeeded Chalmers in command of the cavalry brigade, was sent on a raid into Tennessee. He took with him parts of Jackson's, Wade's, Pinson's and Slemon's regiments, in all about 1,000 men. General Villepigue was in command at Holly Springs, from whom he hoped to obtain reinforcements, but was obliged to leave Jackson's regiment with him instead, and he proceeded to Bolivar and Jackson, Tenn., with about 500 men. With this force he penetrated some seventy miles behind the Federal lines, destroyed the railroad bridges in their rear, and fought in eight separate engagements, in all but one of which the Confederates were victorious. Many prisoners were taken and much cotton and railroad property destroyed.

For about two months from this date there was little activity in northeast Mississippi, except in the way of raids and expeditions. Brig.-Gen. Frank C. Armstrong, chief of cavalry of Price's army, brought that arm of the service in Mississippi to an excellent condition, and restricted the Federals pretty closely to Corinth, as well as clearing them from West Tennessee.

During this period of the summer, while the attention of the South was mainly directed to the aggressive movements of Bragg toward Cincinnati and Louisville, and the victories of Lee and Jackson on the plains of Manassas, let us turn to the field of operations in Van Dorn's department and review what had been done in the struggle for the possession of the great river which the Confederacy must hold to preserve its integrity.

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