Tag Archives: Corinth

Federals Slowly Approach Corinth

May 21, 1862 – Major General Henry W. Halleck’s “Grand Army” inched its way toward Confederates under General P.G.T. Beauregard at Corinth, forcing Beauregard to decide whether to fight or flee.

Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

By this time, Halleck’s army of over 120,000 men had taken nearly three weeks to advance less than 25 miles from Pittsburg Landing in southwestern Tennessee to the vital railroad town of Corinth in northern Mississippi. Halleck was being very careful to avoid another near-disaster like Shiloh. Every time the Federals halted their advance for the day, they were required to build entrenchments and earthworks in case of a Confederate attack. Bad weather and heavily wooded country also slowed the advance.

Major General Ulysses S. Grant, who had been “promoted” to Halleck’s second in command, officially headed Halleck’s right wing and reserve. But Halleck maintained his headquarters with the right wing, so he had direct control over its movements and did not consult Grant on military matters. Brigadier General William T. Sherman, Grant’s close friend, wrote after the war:

“General Grant was substantially left out, and was named ‘second-in-command’ according to some French notion, with no clear, well-defined command or authority… he felt deeply the indignity, if not insult, heaped upon him.”

Halleck’s advance, if not already slow enough, was slowed even more by northern politicians worried about the dangerous Confederate army awaiting the Federals. Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton inspected troops from his state and then wired Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton:

“The enemy are in great force at Corinth, and have recently received reinforcements. They evidently intend to make a desperate struggle at that point, and from all I can learn their leaders have utmost confidence in the result… It is fearful to contemplate the consequences of a defeat at Corinth.”

Halleck responded by dispatching even more scouting parties to reconnoiter the areas around nearby Iuka and Burnsville.

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Meanwhile, Beauregard notified his superiors in Richmond that he intended to hold Corinth as long as possible. But if retreat became necessary, he would fall back to the southeast, closer to Richmond and farther from vital points on the Mississippi River such as Memphis and Vicksburg. Beauregard wrote that it was “essential to hold Corinth to the last extremity, if the odds are not too great against us, even at the risk of a defeat.”

That “last extremity” came on May 25 when Beauregard called his top commanders (Generals Braxton Bragg, Earl Van Dorn, Leonidas Polk, William J. Hardee, John C. Breckinridge, and Sterling Price) to a council of war. Beauregard explained that Halleck would not attack frontally, which the Confederates could repel, but would rather put Corinth under siege, thus trapping and starving the army into surrender. The number of effective soldiers was rapidly dropping due to illness and a lack of drinking water. The only viable options were either to preëmptively attack or abandon the town.

When Beauregard asked for advice, Hardee opined that attacking the huge Federal army “would probably inflict on us and the Confederacy a fatal blow.” The officers agreed that it was best to evacuate Corinth, fall back along the Memphis & Ohio Railroad, and live to fight another day.

Beauregard directed his commanders to begin preparations but keep the plan secret so he could fool Halleck into thinking that the Confederates intended to fight. The next day, Beauregard issued orders for evacuating Corinth. He began by sending supplies and the sick troops to Baldwin and Tupelo.

A few miles away, Halleck continued assembling his heavy guns to place Corinth under siege. The end of the Federal right wing was within four miles of the Confederate defenses outside the town. By the morning of the 28th, Halleck’s three wings under Generals George H. Thomas, Don Carlos Buell, and John Pope (right to left) were all finally within gun range of Confederate defenses outside Corinth. Halleck initiated an artillery bombardment from dawn to dusk, pausing intermittently for the infantry to probe for weaknesses in the defenses.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13227, 13251; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 375-77, 383; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 155, 157; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 196-97; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 416; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 157

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The Corinth Campaign Finally Begins

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.

Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

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.

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References

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

Federals Target Corinth

April 30, 1862 – Major General Henry W. Halleck combined three Federal armies in southwestern Tennessee to begin a methodical advance on the vital railroad town of Corinth, Mississippi, 22 miles away.

Maj Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Maj Gen H.W. Halleck | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Following the horrifying Battle of Shiloh, Halleck, commanding all Federals between Kansas and Knoxville, left his St. Louis headquarters to personally take command at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River. Stationed there were Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee and Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio.

Halleck arrived on the 11th and sent for Major General John Pope’s Army of the Mississippi, fresh off victories at New Madrid and Island No. 10, to join the other two armies in giving Halleck a unified force to march on Corinth. Insisting that the armies, especially Grant’s, were too battered to resume the offensive, Halleck reorganized the forces and stabilized lines of communication and supply while officers trained and disciplined the men.

Grant remained the administrative head of the District of West Tennessee, but Halleck replaced him as commander of the Army of the Tennessee with Major General George H. Thomas, formerly a division commander in Buell’s army. Grant was “promoted” to Halleck’s second-in-command, but the position carried no real responsibility considering that Halleck rarely sought Grant’s advice.

Grant saw this as Halleck’s way of demoting him, especially since Halleck did not allow him to review any reports from Buell’s army on Shiloh (even though Grant had been the overall Federal commander during that battle). In addition, articles in northern newspapers began blaming Grant’s lack of preparedness for the high casualties at Shiloh; some reporters accused him and his officers of drunkenness or even cowardice. Frustrated, Grant decided to resign from the army but was talked into staying on by his friend, Brigadier General William T. Sherman.

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Gen P.G.T. Beauregard | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

At Corinth, General P.G.T. Beauregard regrouped his battered Confederate Army of Mississippi. Beauregard continued insisting that he won at Shiloh, but the enormous losses he sustained while failing to prevent Grant and Buell from joining forces indicated otherwise. Major General Earl Van Dorn, whose Confederate Army of the West did not arrive from Arkansas in time to participate at Shiloh, joined the Confederates at Corinth, giving Beauregard a total of about 50,000 men.

Beauregard planned to defend Corinth, a major transportation center, against the looming Federal threat. Recognizing the town’s importance, he wrote, “If defeated here, we lose the whole Mississippi Valley and probably our cause.”

Meanwhile, Pope’s army arrived to reinforce the other two at Pittsburg Landing. This gave Halleck 15 divisions from three armies totaling 120,172 men and over 200 cannon. This was the largest force ever assembled in North America up to that time, and it included the most impressive collection of Federal commanders of the entire war, including current or future army commanders Halleck, Grant, Sherman, Thomas, Buell, Pope, Philip Sheridan, and John B. McPherson. Special Field Orders No. 31 divided the new “Grand Army” into four sections:

  • The right wing under Thomas consisted of Grant’s former army (except for the divisions of Generals John A. McClernand and Lew Wallace) and Thomas’s division
  • The center consisted of Buell’s army (less Thomas’s division)
  • The left consisted of Pope’s army
  • The reserve under McClernand consisted of his and Wallace’s divisions

Grant would head the right wing and reserve, which meant little since those commanders often bypassed him to report directly to Halleck. Grant indicated his frustration by writing his wife Julia that he was “no longer boss. Gen. Halleck is here and I am truly glad of it. I hope the papers will let me alone in the future.”

Buell protested the reorganization because it left him with just three divisions after Thomas brought his own to his new command. Buell wrote to Halleck, “You must excuse me for saying that, as it seems to me, you have saved the feelings of others very much to my injury.”

Halleck’s Special Field Orders also included precise instructions on how to maintain discipline, distribute ammunition, and limit each regiment to just 13 wagons. Addressing the growing problem of sickness from contaminated food, Halleck directed company officers to inspect all food before distribution.

As Halleck reorganized his forces, Federal scouts reconnoitered the area west of the Mobile & Ohio Railroad and the road to Corinth as far as Monterey, 12 miles from Pittsburg Landing. During that time, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton reminded Halleck that he still had not submitted an official report on the Battle of Shiloh:

“The President desires to know (w)hy you have made no official report to this department respecting the late battles at Pittsburg landing. An(d) whether any neglect or misconduct of General Grant or any other officer contributed to the sad casu(a)lties that befell our forces on Sunday.”

Grant had waited to give Halleck his report until Halleck allowed Grant to see the reports from Buell and his army. But Halleck told Grant that he was now being pressed by Washington and had no time to share Buell’s reports with him. So Grant relented and turned over his report.

Finally, after nearly three weeks of preparation, Halleck was ready to begin his drive on Corinth. He estimated that Beauregard had about 70,000 Confederates defending that town, or 20,000 more than were actually there. The Federal move began on April 29 when advance units occupied Purdy, Tennessee. The mobilization continued into May, with each commander receiving direct orders “not to bring on an engagement… It is better to retreat than fight.”

Although Corinth was just a two days’ march away, it would take Halleck nearly a month to get there.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 293-95; CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 13219-27; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 159-61, 164-65; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 373-74; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 137, 144-45; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 192-93, 194-96; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 198-99, 205; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 415-16; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 155; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 121-24

From Thomas Lightfoot, 6th Alabama

Letter from 2nd Lieutenant Thomas Lightfoot, Company A, 6th Alabama Volunteer Infantry

Camp Davis near Corinth, Miss.

May 29, 1861

Alabama State Flag | Image Credit: AllFlagsWorld.com

Alabama State Flag | Image Credit: AllFlagsWorld.com

DEAR COUSIN:

We arrived here several days ago, but I have been so wearied that I was not able to write to you. I will now give you my views of a soldier’s life.

A soldier is worse than any negro on Chattahoochee River. He has no privileges whatever. He is under worse task-masters than any negro. He is not treated with any respect whatever. His officers may insult him and he has no right to open his mouth and dare not do it. My officers have always treated me with the utmost courtesy, and I expect will always treat me so, for I am going to obey orders. This is a hard life, but I like it very much. We make our pallets on the ground and we rise at the tap of the drum or we are placed on double duty. I have been so fortunate as to be always at my post.

We left Montgomery on Saturday last in very good 1st class passenger cars, and were getting along finely until we got to Chattanooga, where they placed us in box cars. Ladies crowded to every little depot to cheer us on (our) way. I can truly say I never saw as many and as pretty ladies in my life as there is on the road from Montgomery to Corinth. The cars were literally covered with bouquets from the beautiful ladies. I think when I want a wife I will come somewhere on this road to find her.

It is generally supposed down in our country that the people of North Alabama are not right on the present issue, but I can assure you that they are the most warlike people I have ever seen. Women cheer us, and the men go along with us. Every little village has at least 25 flags floating aloft.

You must write to me soon and give me all the news. Give my love to Uncle, Dr. and Lady, and all the rest of the family and accept the wishes of your most obedient servant and affectionate cousin,

T.R. LIGHTFOOT

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Source: Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 7-8