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Battle of Corinth, MS
in the American Civil War

Online Books:
Correspondence in regard to the Battle of Corinth, Miss., October 3rd and 4th, 1862, by Charles Smith Hamilton and Arthur Charles Ducat, 1882

The Battle of Corinth, by Laurens W. Wolcott, 1898

Union Battle Summary

Corinth, Miss., Oct. 3-4, 1862. 2nd and 3rd Divisions Army of the Mississippi, and 2nd and 6th Divisions Army of West Tennessee. When Gen. Price was driven from Iuka on Sept. 20, he moved southward to Baldwyn, thence to Ripley, where he effected a junction with Gen. Van Dorn on the 28th. Van Dorn took command of the consolidated armies and immediately began preparing for an assault on Corinth. Price's corps, or the Army of the West, consisted of Hebert's and Maury's divisions, the former including the brigades of Gates, Colbert, Green and Martin, and the latter the brigades of Moore, Cabell and Phifer. Armstrong's cavalry brigade numbered three regiments, the 2nd Ark., Adams' Miss. regiment, and the 2nd mo. Each brigade was accompanied by a battery, and two batteries were held in reserve. Lovell's division of the District of the Mississippi included the infantry brigades of Rust, Villepigue and Bowen, W.H. Jackson's cavalry brigade, and Dupiere's La. Zouave battalion. Two batteries were with this division, which had been with Van Dorn prior to his forming a union with Price. The Union force at Corinth was under the command of Maj.-Gen. William S. Rosecrans, and was organized as follows: The 2nd division, Army of the Mississippi, was commanded by Brig.-Gen. David S. Stanley and included the brigades of Cols. John W. Fuller and Joseph A. Mower; the third division, under Brig.-Gen. Charles S. Hamilton, was composed of the brigades commanded by Brig.-Gens. N.B. Buford and J.C. Sullivan; the cavalry division, col. John K. Mizner, was divided into two brigades, the first commanded by Col. Edward Hatch and the 2nd by Col. Albert L. Lee. Yates' Sharpshooters, under Capt. John Morrill, were unattached. The 2nd division of the Army of West Tennessee was commanded by Brig.-Gen. Thomas A. Davies and was composed of three brigades: the 1st under Brig.-Gen. P.A. Hackleman, the 2nd under Brig.-Gen. R.J. Oglesby, and the 3rd under Col. S.D. Baldwin. This division also contained Col. Burke's Western sharpshooters and four field batteries. The 6th division, Brig.-Gen. Thomas J. McKean, included three brigades, commanded by Cols. Benjamin Allen, John M. Oliver and Marcellus M. Crocker, and five batteries. According to the field returns for Sept. 30, Rosecrans had "present for duty" 23,077 men of all arms. The numbers of the Confederate army were about the same. Van Dorn says the field returns at Ripley, just before beginning his march, showed about 22,000 men. Besides Rosecrans' command Grant had 7,000 men under Sherman at Memphis, 12,000 under Ord and Hurlbut at Bolivar, and 6,000 as a reserve at Jackson, where he established his headquarters on Oct. 1, in order to be within easy communication with the different detachments.

Van Dorn left Ripley on Sept. 29, and on the very day that Grant took up his headquarters at Jackson the Confederate army was at Pocahontas, about 20 miles west of Corinth, on the Memphis & Charleston railroad. As Memphis, Bolivar, Jackson and Corinth were all within striking distance, Grant was uncertain as to which place would be the point of attack. When Van Dorn reached Pocahontas he turned eastward and on the night of the 2nd bivouacked at Chewalla, 9 miles from Corinth. Federal scouts had kept Grant advised of the enemy's movements, and while the Confederates were at Pocahontas he sent word to Rosecrans to be prepared for an attack, at the same time directing Hurlbut to keep an eye on the enemy and strike him on the flank if a favorable opportunity offered. But Rosecrans was already awake to the situation. although the general opinion at Corinth was that Van Dorn's objective point was either Jackson or Bolivar, Rosecrans decided to take no chances. In his report he says: "To be prepared for eventualities, Hamilton's and Stanley's divisions were placed just beyond Bridge creek, the infantry outposts were called in from Iuka, Burlsville, Rienzi, and Danville, and the outpost at Chewalla retired to near Alexander's, and strengthened by another regiment and a battery early on the morning of the 2nd." This outpost was under the command of Col. Oliver. At daybreak on the 2nd he sent scouts toward Kossuth and destroyed the bridge over the Hatchie river. Later in the day he sent a small force of infantry to the railroad near Chewalla, where the cavalry vedettes of the enemy were encountered, and a skirmish ensued in which 2 Union men were wounded. Co. F, 15th Mich., was deployed as skirmishers on the hill toward Chewalla, but were soon attacked by a strong force and driven off. Oliver then withdrew to a point some 3 miles nearer Corinth, his rear guard keeping up a continued skirmish the greater part of the way. Scouting parties sent up the Memphis & Charleston railroad brought back the information that a large force of Confederates were advancing along the line of the railroad. About this time Oliver received orders from Rosecrans to retire across Cane creek, which was done in good order, and his troops were then disposed to guard against an attack during the night.

Along the north and east sides of Corinth, about 2 miles from the town, was a line of intrenchments, extending from the Chewalla road on the northwest to the Mobile & Ohio railroad on the south, that had been thrown up by Beauregard's army before the evacuation in May, while nearer the town was a line of redoubts of a much more substantial character. East of the Mobile & Ohio railroad was Battery Powell; between the Mobile & Ohio and the Memphis & Charleston roads, on the northwest of the town, was Battery Robinett; farther south, in the order named, stood Batteries Phillips, Tannrath and Lothrop, and southeast of the town, near the Memphis & Charleston road, was Battery Madison. During the last four days of September these works had been strengthened and the trees in the vicinity of Battery Robinett had been felled to form an abatis. At 1:30 a.m. on the 3rd Rosecrans issued orders for the disposition of troops as follows: Hamilton's division on the right, to the east of the Mobile & Ohio railroad, and just inside the outer line of works; Davies on Hamilton's left, his right resting on the railroad; to the left of Davies was McKean, with Allen's brigade, now commanded by Brig.-Gen. John McArthur, on the Chewalla road, his left resting on the Memphis & Charleston road, and Stanley's division in reserve near Grant's old headquarters. Oliver was still near Alexander's, beyond the works, and Mizner's cavalry was so distributed as to keep a watch on the enemy's movements. The men were provided with three days' rations and 100 rounds of ammunition, and by a little after daylight were in their assigned positions.

Van Dorn advanced, skirmishing with Oliver, who retired slowly and took up a position on a hill just inside the outer works and not far from the Memphis & Charleston railroad. By 10 a.m. the Confederates deployed in line of battle, with Lovell in front of McKean, Maury on Lovell's left, and Hebert in front of Davies. Van Dorn's purpose was to have Lovell open the fight, in the hope that Rosecrans would weaken his right to reinforce McKean, when Price would make the main assault against the Federal right and enter the works. Lovell made a determined attack on Oliver, and as soon as he became engaged Maury opened the fight with Davies' left. McArthur quickly moved four regiments to Oliver's support and at the same time Davies advanced his line to the intrenchments. These movements left a gap between Davies and McKean, through which the Confederates forced their way about 1:30 p.m. and the whole Union line fell back to within half a mile of the redoubts, leaving 2 pieces of artillery in the hands of the enemy. During this part of the action Gen. Hackleman was killed and Gen. Oglesby seriously wounded. About 3 p.m. Hamilton was ordered to change front and attack the Confederates on the left flank, but through a misunderstanding of the order and the unmasking of a force on Buford's front so much time was lost that it was sunset before the division was in position for the movement, and it had to be abandoned. Van Dorn in his report says: "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." But one hour more of daylight would have hurled Hamilton's fresh brigades on the enemy's left and rear, which would in all probability have driven Van Dorn from the field and made the second day's battle unnecessary.

So far the advantage had been with the Confederates. Rosecrans had been driven back at all points, and night found his entire army except pickets inside the redoubts. During the night the Confederates slept on their arms within 600 yards of the Union works, and Van Dorn readjusted his lines for the attack on the morrow. Lovell, still forming the right, was south of the Memphis & Charleston railroad, in front of Batteries Phillips and Williams and College hill. Maury touched Lovell's left, his right resting on the Purdy road north of the town. To the east of that road lay Hebert's division. On the federal side McKean was on the extreme left, occupying College hill and Battery Phillips. Next came Stanley, who held Batteries Williams and Robinett. To the east of the Mobile & Ohio railroad was Davies, his right occupying Battery Powell, and Hamilton's division, facing north, was on the extreme right. Part of Stanley's division was held as a reserve, with instructions to aid in protecting McKean's flank or to move north of town as might be required. At 4:30 a.m. on the 4th the enemy opened with a 6-gun battery, which was soon silenced, and the Federal troops sprang to arms to resist an attack. But the attack was slow in coming. Van Dorn had directed Hebert to begin the engagement at daylight and the artillery fire was merely preliminary to enable Hebert to get into position for the assault. At 7 o'clock Hebert sent word that he was too ill to lead his division, and Brig.-Gen. Martin E. Green was ordered to assume command and advance at once. Nearly two hours more elapsed before Green moved to the attack, with four brigades in echelon, until he occupied a position in the woods north of town. There he formed in line, facing south, and made a charge on Battery Powell with two brigades, while the other two attacked Hamilton's line. The assault on the battery was successful, the infantry being driven back and the guns captured. Hamilton repulsed the attack on his position and then sent a portion of his command to the assistance of Davies, who rallied his men, drove the Confederates out of the battery and recaptured the guns. Maury had been engaged sometime before this occurrence. As soon as he heard the firing on his left, he knew that Davies and Hamilton would be kept too busy to interfere with his movements, and gave the order for his division to move straight toward the town. His right encountered a stubborn resistance from Battery Robinett, where a hand-to-hand combat ensued, the enemy being forced to retire with heavy losses in killed and wounded, Col. Rogers, of the 2nd Tex., being among the killed. Phifer's brigade on the left met with better success, driving back Davies' left flank and entering the town. But their triumph was of short duration, as part of Sullivan's brigade, held as a reserve on Hamilton's left, charged on the Confederates, who were thrown into confusion in the narrow streets, and as they fell back came within range of batteries on both flanks of the Union army, the cross-fire utterly routing them. Cabell's brigade of Maury's division was sent to reinforce the troops that had captured Battery Powell, but before they arrived Davies and Hamilton had recaptured it, and as Cabell advanced against it he was met by a murderous fire that caused his men to beat a hasty retreat without the formality of waiting for orders. Meanwhile Lovell had been skirmishing with the Union left in the vicinity of Battery Phillips, preparatory to a general advance. Before his arrangements were complete he was ordered to send a brigade to Maury's assistance, and soon afterward received orders to place his command so as to cover the retreat of the army. The battle of Corinth was over and before noon the Confederates were in full retreat. Van Dorn attributed his defeat to the failure of Hebert to open the engagement on time, but nevertheless he was superseded by Gen. Pemberton immediately after the battle.

Rosecrans' army lost at Corinth 355 killed, 1,841 wounded and 324 missing. The Confederate reports include the casualties at Davis' bridge on the 5th and aggregate 505 killed, 2,150 wounded and 2,183 captured or missing. Owing to the fatigued condition of his troops, Rosecrans postponed pursuit until the next morning. Orders were given for the men to rest and replenish their ammunition, and to be ready to move at daybreak. On the 3rd Brig.-Gen. James B. McPherson, who had been in charge of the work of rebuilding railroads, arrived at Jackson. Grant directed him to organize two unassigned brigades into a provisional division and move at once to Corinth. He arrived there about 4 p.m. on the 4th and reported to Rosecrans, who ordered him to lead the pursuit the next morning. (See Big Hill, and Big Hatchie, Tenn.)

Source: The Union Army, Volume 6, Cyclopedia of Battles, 1908


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