Siege of Corinth
The Siege of Corinth (also known as the First Battle of Corinth) was an American Civil War battle fought from April 29 to May 30, 1862, in Corinth, Mississippi. The town was a strategic point at the junction of two vital railroad lines, the Mobile and Ohio Railroad and the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. The siege ended as the Confederates withdrew. The Union forces under Ulysses Grant took control and made it the base for his operations to seize control of the Mississippi River Valley, and especially the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg.
Following the Union Army victory at the Battle of Shiloh, Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck amassed three Union armies —the Army of the Tennessee, the Army of the Ohio, and the Army of the Mississippi— for an advance on the vital rail center of Corinth, Mississippi. Made cautious by the staggering losses at Shiloh, Halleck embarked on a tedious campaign of offensive entrenchment, fortifying after each advance. By May 25, 1862, after moving five miles in three weeks, Halleck was in position to lay siege to the town. Confederate morale was low and Beauregard was outnumbered two to one. The water was bad. Typhoid and dysentery had felled thousands of his men. At a council of war, the Confederate officers concluded that they could not hold the railroad crossover. Sickness had claimed the lives of almost as many men as the Confederacy had lost at Shiloh.
Of Halleck's wing commanders John Pope proved to be the most aggressive during the campaign. Pope led the army's Left Wing and was furthest away from Halleck's headquarters. On May 3 Pope moved forward and captured the town of Farmington only a few miles from Corinth. Instead of moving the Center Wing under Don Carlos Buell forward, Halleck ordered Pope to withdraw and realign with Buell. General Pierre G. T. Beauregard ordered Earl Van Dorn to attack Pope's advanced wing on May 9. Pope made a successful withdrawal and rejoined with Buell. General Braxton Bragg of the Confederate States Army (CSA) had 25,000 men. The Union Army had 12,000 troops on hand. The CSA had 9 casualties. The Union Army had 16 killed and 148 wounded.
The 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment was ordered to draw the enemy out as to count their numbers and they withdrew to a swamp north of town. Wisconsin 8th reported 5 killed, 14 severely wounded, and 19 slightly wounded. Old Abe the Screaming Eagle accompanied the Wisconsin 8th Infantry.
As the wings of Halleck’s army group began to align themselves in front of Corinth, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman proposed a plan of attack against the Confederate brigade of Brig. Gen. James R. Chalmers who’d created a strong defensive position at the Russell house along the Confederate front lines. Sherman met with generals Halleck and George H. Thomas on May 16 to discuss his plan. Sherman planned for the brigades of Colonel Morgan L. Smith and Brig. Gen. James W. Denver to lead the attack with Maj. Gen. Stephen A. Hurlbut’s division lending support. On May 17 the attack commenced with Denver on the right, Smith in the center and Hurlbut’s reserve to the right. Chalmers offered a stubborn resistance while some of his men fired from within the Russell’s house. The Confederates almost succeeded with a flank attack against Smith’s right but were repulsed by Colonel Thomas Kilby Smith and the 54th Illinois Infantry. As soon as a battery from the 1st Illinois Artillery deployed the advantage was in favor of the Union forces. Chalmers retreated beyond Philips Creek near the Russell house property and Morgan Smith's brigade occupied high ground on which the house stood. Sherman’s losses were 10 killed and 31 wounded all of which were from Smith’s brigade. Confederate losses were unknown but Sherman reported 12 dead left on the field. That same day a division under Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Sherman drove off a Confederate force covering a crossing along Bridge Creek.
Widow Surratt Farm
On May 21 Maj. Gen. William "Bull" Nelson ordered Colonel Thomas D. Sedgewick to conduct a reconnaissance-in-force against the Confederate trenches along Bridge Creek near Widow Surratt’s farm Sedgwick moved forward from the Union trenches occupied by Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Wood’s division and deployed the 20th Kentucky infantry at the edge of a clearing and the 1st Kentucky infantry to the left facing a densely wooded area. Shortly after deployment the Kentuckians came under fire. The Confederate resistance was so severe Sedgewick was forced to fall back. Sedgwick brought forward artillery and the 2nd Kentucky infantry while General Wood lent cavalry support from his division. The Confederates attempted at flank attack against the 1st Kentucky but the Union artillery (personally supervised by Captain Alvan C. Gillem of Buell’s staff) and the 31st Indiana infantry in reserve stabilized the line. The Confederates made three more attempts to turn the Union flank until retiring to a creek beyond the Surratt farm. General Nelson ordered Sedgewick to hold his position until nightfall then return to the Union camp. A week later General Buell would mount an attack to gain the high ground surrounding the Surratt farm.
Double Log House
On May 27 Halleck ordered Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman to drive the Confederates from a log house along the Corinth Road and make a strong demonstration against Corinth itself if possible. At the edge of a cotton field along Sherman's front was a double log house which the Confederates had converted into a block house by removing the chinking between the logs. Sherman formed and attacking column with Morgan L. Smith's brigade on the left and James W. Denver’s brigade on the right. John A. Logan’s brigade (from John A. McClernand’s reserve corps) and James C. Veatch’s brigade (from Stephen A. Hurlbut’s division) were also brought up for support. Colonel Ezra Taylor fired several artillery rounds to signal the infantry attack. Denver and Smith quickly overtook the log house by storm and secured the hilltop position. The Confederates rallied and drove in Sherman’s skirmishers but the counterattack was repulsed by the main line of infantry with artillery support. The following day the rest of Sherman’s division and artillery moved forward to the new position which offered a good vantage point into Corinth itself. Generals Ulysses S. Grant and George H. Thomas were both present on the field during this engagement, giving approval for the behavior of operation.
Confederate infantry had been using a hill in the vicinity of the Widow Surratt farm for picket outposts. With all his wings in line Halleck ordered Buell to clear the Confederates off the Surratt farm hill. Buell chose Maj. Gen. Alexander M. McCook’s reserve division to seize the hill to be used as a staging point for a further attack against Corinth. On May 27 McCook organized his brigades into line of attack intending to overwhelm the Confederates by surprise and overwhelming force. The brigades of Brig. Gen. Lovell H. Rousseau and Brig. Gen. Richard W. Johnson would lead the advance, side by side. Colonel Frederick S. Stumbaugh’s brigade followed in support of Johnson and Colonel Robert L. McCook’s brigade (from Thomas W. Sherman’s division) in support of Rousseau. Johnson’s brigade encountered some heavy skirmishing but the hill was taken in short time. McCook’s division entrenched and brought heavy artillery to the new position and immediately began to shell the Confederates. Beauregard’s artillery responded with minimal effort. The engagement at the Surratt farm hill allowed Halleck to bring forward siege guns for the bombardment of Corinth.
On May 28 Maj. Gen. Nelson ordered Colonel Sedgewick to seize a Confederate-held crossing of Bridge Creek, a small tributary of the Tuscumbia River. Sedgewick moved his brigade out from the main Union trenches with the 2nd and 20th Kentucky infantry regiments in the lead. Sedgewick drove in the Confederate pickets then encountered a larger force guarding the bridge. The Kentucky infantry managed to gain hold of the eastern end of the bridge while Sedgewick ordered forward the 31st Indiana infantry and Captain John Mendenhall’s artillery battery. These reinforcements and artillery forced the Confederates to abandon the bridge completely.
With the Federal army preparing to lay siege to the town, a Confederate counsel of war decided to retreat. Confederate commander General P. G. T. Beauregard saved his army by a hoax. Some of the men were given three days' rations and ordered to prepare for an attack. As expected, one or two went over to the Union with that news. The preliminary bombardment began, and Union forces maneuvered for position. During the night of May 29, the Confederate army moved out. They used the Mobile and Ohio Railroad to carry the sick and wounded, the heavy artillery, and tons of supplies. When a train arrived, the troops cheered as though reinforcements were arriving. They set up dummy Quaker Guns along the defensive earthworks. Camp fires were kept burning, and buglers and drummers played. The rest of the men slipped away undetected, withdrawing to Tupelo, Mississippi. When Union patrols entered Corinth on the morning of May 30, they found the Confederate troops gone.
John Pope, whose aggressiveness exceeded his strategic capabilities, remarked in his memoirs that Halleck's cautious campaign failed to take full advantage of a glittering array of talented Union officers, including "Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Thomas, McPherson, Logan, Buell, Rosecrans and many others I might mention." A Confederate army led by Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn attempted to retake the city in October 1862, but was defeated in the Second Battle of Corinth by a Union army under the command of Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans.
- Kennedy, p. 52.
- Kennedy, p. 56.
- Smith, 2012
- "The First Battle of Corinth: May 30, 1862
- "Determining the facts: The Siege of Corinth", National Park Service
- History.net:Siege of Corinth by Henry Halleck in 1862
- The Union Army: Cyclopedia of battles. Federal Publishing Company. 1908. p. 392. Retrieved 11 August 2012.
- Farmington, May 3
- Farmington MS
- Laurier B. McDonald. 14 Letters to a Friend, the Story of the Wartime Ordeal of Capt. De Witt Clinton Fort, C.S.A.. Laurier B. McDonald. p. 37. ISBN 978-1-60530-979-8. Retrieved 11 August 2012.
- Smith p. 164
- Smith p. 165
- Sherman’s report
- Clark p.113
- Sedgewick’s official report
- Memoirs of William T. Sherman
- Fanebust page 106
- Fanebust page 107
- Bridge Creek 28 May 1862
- Cozzens & Girardi, p. 75.
- Clark, Donald A., The Notorious "Bull" Nelson: Murdered Civil War General, Southern Illinois University Press 2011, ISBN 978-0809330119
- Fanebust, Wayne, Major General Alexander M. McCook, USA: A Civil War Biography, McFarland 2012, ISBN 978-0786472413
- Kennedy, Frances H., ed. The Civil War Battlefield Guide. 2nd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998. ISBN 0-395-74012-6.
- Pope, John. The Military Memoirs of General John Pope. Edited by Peter Cozzens and Robert I. Girardi. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8078-2444-5.
- Smih, Timothy B. Corinth 1862: Siege, Battle, Occupation (2012)
- "National Park Service battle description". CWSAC Battle Summaries. Retrieved June 1, 2005.
- "Reading 1: The Siege of Corinth". Teaching with Historic Places. Retrieved June 1, 2005.
- CWSAC Report Update
- U.S. Army & Heritage Education Center: Description and map