May 2, 1862 – Major General Henry W. Halleck was finally ready to lead his Federal “Grand Army” against the vital railroad center of Corinth, Mississippi.
Halleck, commanding what had formerly been three independent armies, had taken nearly a month to carefully prepare moving out from Pittsburg Landing into northern Mississippi. He sought to confront the Confederate Army of Mississippi (also known as the Army of the Mississippi) under General P.G.T. Beauregard defending Corinth. Halleck telegraphed his superiors at Washington on May 1: “The evidences are that Beauregard will fight at Corinth.”
The next day, Beauregard issued a proclamation to his men:
“We are about to meet once more in the shock of battle the invaders of our soil, the despoilers of our homes, the disturbers of our family ties. Face to face, hand to hand, we are to decide whether we are to be freemen or the vile slaves of those who are free only in name, and who but yesterday were vanquished, although in largely superior numbers, in their own encampments on the ever-memorable field of Shiloh. Let the impending battle decide our fate, and add one more illustrious page to the history of our Revolution, one to which our children will point with noble pride, saying, ‘Our fathers were at the battle of Corinth.’”
By this time, Major General Earl Van Dorn’s Confederate Army of the West had arrived from Arkansas via Memphis to make up Beauregard’s reserve. Beauregard also asked General Mansfield Lovell, who had recently abandoned New Orleans, to leave a regiment at Vicksburg and bring the rest of his force to Corinth. But Lovell resisted Beauregard’s request, asserting that Vicksburg needed extra protection from the Federal naval fleet heading up the Mississippi River.
At Pittsburg Landing, Halleck notified his superiors on May 3: “I leave here tomorrow morning, and our army will be before Corinth tomorrow night.” By that time, Federal advance elements under Major General John Pope, comprising Halleck’s left wing, were approaching Farmington, just four miles from Corinth. The Federals took Farmington after heavy skirmishing, but rather than order his center and right wings to move up beside Pope, Halleck ordered Pope to withdraw and form beside the center and right, which were 12 miles from Corinth near Monterey, Tennessee.
Halleck ordered a halt to the overall advance on the 4th so the troops could dig entrenchments; Halleck was determined to always be ready for an attack so as not to duplicate the carnage at Shiloh. Building defenses at each stop in forward progress turned the advance into a crawl. Halleck had planned to be outside Corinth by May 5, but increased skirmishing along with the weather and terrain compelled him to halt and concentrate solely on defense.
Still at Monterey on the 6th, Halleck explained to his superiors that heavy rain had slowed the march, and the surrounding “country was almost like a wilderness and very difficult to operate in.” Adding to Halleck’s slowness was intelligence that Confederates were reinforcing Corinth. This contradicted intelligence that Pope, whose wing of the army was closest to Corinth, had received stating that Beauregard was preparing to evacuate. Halleck opted to act on his intelligence, not Pope’s.
At Corinth, Beauregard expected an attack at any moment. He devised signals to notify the army where the impending assault would come from, the Confederate right (signaled by three artillery rounds fired), center (two rounds), or left (one round). Scouts informed Beauregard on the 6th that advance Federal elements had reached Farmington near the Tennessee-Mississippi border.
Over the next two days, the Federals made very little forward progress as Halleck deployed several scouting missions. The Federal left wing under Pope advanced again to Farmington, moving two divisions near the Confederate lines. However, Halleck again ordered Pope to withdraw his men to rejoin the rest of the army. To Washington, Halleck’s “advance” was looking more like a siege, much like George B. McClellan’s disappointingly slow advance against Yorktown in the East.
Skirmishing continued through the next week around Farmington and other points in northeastern Mississippi. By the 17th, the Federals were slowly inching their way toward Corinth, but they were halted by a fierce fight at Russell’s House. Halleck spent the next few days bringing up his heavy artillery, which required the construction of corduroy roads. Meanwhile, the Federals built extensive earthworks and trenches to guard against attacks that never came. The Federals were closing in on Corinth, but very slowly.
CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13227; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 166-67, 171; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 374; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 146, 149-51, 154; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 196; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 206-07, 209