Monday, May 21, 2007

Corinth, MS

Dates: 3-4 October, 1862


Union: Major General William Rosecrans, commanding the Army of the Mississippi.

Confederate: Lieutenant General Earl Van Dorn, commanding the Confederate Military District of Mississippi and East Louisiana.

Prelude: Van Dorn had arrived at Ripley as commander of the district. He was appointed to the position by CS President Jefferson Davis without consulting General Braxton Bragg, presently attempting an invasion of Kentucky.

Van Dorn sent a message to Major General Sterling Price, at the time marching from Iuka, MS, to join him at Ripley. Price’s troops would be needed for a new offensive, this time against the Union forces at Corinth. Possession of the rail cross roads would possibly cause the Federals to loosen their grip on Northern Mississippi and even Western Tennessee. If Van Dorn loses, however, central Mississippi would be open for Federal invasion.

28 September, 1862: Van Dorn’s and Price’s forces unite at Ripley, where Van Dorn takes overall command. The combined army of 20,000 men begins to march north until they cross the line into Tennessee. Then they turn east and stop at Chewalla, on the Memphis and Charleston Railroad about 15 miles from Corinth. The Confederates arrive at Chewalla on 2 October.

Meanwhile, upon hearing of the Confederate’s movements, Major General Ulysses S. Grant decides to move some of his troops to Jackson, TN to protect the rail junction. Rosecrans was ordered to keep Corinth secure with 23,000 soldiers.

3 October, 1862: Dawn: Van Dorn approaches from the northwest and begins skirmishing with the Federal picket line. The Union troops fall back across Cane Creek to the Union defensive.

Rosecrans had established a series of redoubts to the west and north of Corinth, it seems that Van Dorn’s maneuver was anticipated. Still the Confederates were determined to crack those defenses.

Noon: Van Dorn sends two divisions, under Price to hit the Union right flank. This results in the Federal line collapsing towards Corinth. A secondary line is prepared to meet the attacking Confederates.

1:30 p.m.: As the Confederate attack pressed forward, the Federals were driven back, but were able to inflict heavy causalities as they retreated. The battle soon became a series of seesaw actions in which positions were taken and retaken.

3:00 p.m.: Rosecrans orders one of his divisions to counterattack, but Major General Charles Hamilton, commanding that division failed to take advantage of a suddenly exposed Confederate flank and withdrew into the inner defenses. He blamed vague orders.

5:00 p.m.: Despite the rest of the Federal line holding off the rest of the Confederate assault, they retire into the inner defenses before sundown. Artillery was used to keep Van Dorn at bay until the Federals were repositioned. Fighting stopped at sundown.

4 October, 1862: Dawn: Van Dorn orders a massive artillery barrage to soften up the Federal defensive line prior to launching another attack. Federal batteries respond with counterbattery fire which suppresses the Confederate guns.

10:00 a.m.: After a delay, Van Dorn launches his assault. In the center, the focal point became Battery Robinette, an artillery redoubt supported by infantry. Over the next several hours, that point was assaulted multiple times, with no success and heavy causalities among the Confederates.

Meanwhile, another Confederate advance managed to penetrate into Corinth itself. Alerted to this development, Batteries Robinette and Williams, located to the south of Robinette, began to pour fire into the Confederate brigades in Corinth, shredding then and forcing a withdrawal.

Into the afternoon, the fighting became fierce, with hand-to-hand combat throughout the lines. The Confederates, in the form of a brigade of Texans, were about to punch through when a brigade of Ohio troops revealed themselves and sent no fewer than seven volleys into the Texans, decimating them.

In the end, Van Dorn’s troops were repulsed from Corinth. Exhausted and no longer able to go on the offensive, Van Dorn orders a withdrawal to the Hatchie River. Rosecrans orders a pursuit, aided by a division that Grant sent when he received the initial reports of the fighting at Corinth.

The Battle of Corinth cost Van Dorn 4838 in total causalities, while the Union lost 2359.

Van Dorn learns of the second Federal force and decides to go back the way he came, but the Federals were not through with him yet.

7 October, 1862: Grant and Rosecrans catch up to Van Dorn at Davis’ Bridge, on the Hatchie River. A force sent across the river was repulsed and the Union forces captured the bridge, forcing Van Dorn to withdraw all the way to Holly Springs, AR.

The elimination of Van Dorn’s army would cause problems for Bragg, whose army was now in a position to be cut off. This would contribute to his withdrawal from Kentucky, especially when Rosecrans was free to support Buell.

In the end, the Confederate offensive only resulted in the loss of troops that the Confederacy already could not afford to lose, while it only delayed Union victory in the Mississippi Valley.

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