On September 29, the Confederate Army set out north. Van Dorn suffered a first setback, however, when northern cavalry patrols, after having held their Confederate counterparts at bay, burned the bridges over the Hatchie River, which the Southerners had to cross to continue their advance. When the Confederate engineers begin to repair them the next day, after the Gray Horsemen have taken control of the East Bank, the Northern Command realizes that Van Dorn's objective is probably Corinth.
The walk on Corinth
On Grant's orders, Rosecrans mustered all his forces in Corinth, save for a brigade of McKean's Division, commanded by John Oliver, who would serve as an outpost in Chewalla. Grant also orders Ord to lend Rosecrans a hand. When the Confederates were finally able to hit the road on the morning of October 2, Oliver quickly feared the enemy would cut him off. He evacuated the locality, so that Van Dorn and his men could bivouac the same evening in Chewalla, without encountering any opposition. The assault on Corinth, a dozen kilometers away,will be for the next day.
Given its staffing problem, Rosecrans opted for a defense in depth. He deployed, in front of the old Confederate entrenchments, the Oliver Brigade - the latter having the mission of slowing the enemy advance. Set back, slightly ahead of the Halleck line, stood the rest of the division, namely the brigades of John McArthur and Marcellus Crocker. Davies's Division is immediately to the right of this position, while Hamilton's, east of Mobile & Ohio Railroad, is more advanced and practically at the height of the trenches of the outer line. As for Stanley's division, it is held in reserve southwest of Corinth. For his part, Van Dorn, who has only a vague idea of the Northern arrangements, plans to launch Lovell in a direct attack along the road to Chewalla. Hoping that this action will lead Rosecrans to strip his right, he will then launch against it the rest of his army, between the road to Memphis and the Mobile & Ohio.
As early as dawn on October 3, Oliver's Brigade exchanged gunfire with the Southern scouts, increasing in intensity with each hour. Soon, the entire Lovell division attacked him. The pressure is too much, and Oliver's men, deployed as skirmishers, begin to retreat. Rosecrans asks his subordinate to hold out at all costs by relying on the outer line of defense, especially on a hill that allows good artillery placement - a rarity in this heavily wooded area. Oliver calling for reinforcements, Rosecrans pushes McArthur's brigade forward. The latter reached the entrenchments around 9 a.m., and serious things begin in stride with an attack from Lovell's advanced elements. This was cut short by the murderous fire of the northern cannons, which almost immediately threw back the attackers under cover of the woods. However, with the appearance of Confederate reinforcements - Maury's division - threatening to overwhelm his right wing, McArthur called for help, and obtained it with the full Davies division. Now in force, Lovell and Maury launch a major attack, but the Northern artillery continues to cause them considerable losses.
Things change when Albert Rust’s brigade enters the scene, to the far right of the Confederate line. His soldiers from Alabama and Kentucky charged with bayonets, running, straight to the Federal position, eventually forcing McArthur to retreat around 11 a.m. The intervention of Silas Baldwin's brigade, which Davies sends to McArthur's aid and whose leader is wounded in the action, makes it possible to slow down the Southern progression for a time, but the law of numbers ends up speaking: Van Dorn makes weigh the bulk of his army against only a fraction of that of Rosecrans. The Northerners 'situation becomes all the more critical as in retreating, McArthur left exposed Davies' left, from whom he, to make matters worse, borrowed four more regiments without informing him. Its flank is therefore completely unprotected, and Maury's division rushes to attack him while Hébert's division comes into play on his front. Davies' men put up a desperate resistance, but they soon lose their two other brigade commanders: Pleasant Hackleman is shot in the neck which he dies a few hours later, Richard Oglesby a projectile in the lungs which he will survive. Davies’s division still managed to avoid rout, and attempted to reestablish itself on the Halleck Line, which McArthur was trying to hold on to.
At the approach of 3 pm, a strange hesitation seems to reign in the Northern army. Despite the intensity of the fighting and the difficulties encountered, the reserves remained armed with weapons. Rosecrans seems strangely passive. In reality, he is only beginning to realize that the ongoing enemy push is his primary attack, and not faked intended to ward off his forces from enveloping action against his left flank, as he initially believed. Left alone with the Crocker Brigade, McKean did not note any suspicious movement of troops in this sector of the battlefield - and for good reason, since he only faced William H. Jackson's cavalry brigade, which acts as a flank of the southern right. Freed from his fears by this sighting, Rosecrans ordered McKean to join the rest of his division, and had Stanley's division redeployed to College Hill. Rosecrans's apparent inaction, however, weighed on the morale of his troops, and rumors circulated in the Northern lines that he had been killed ... Informed of the rumor, the general immediately began to deny it. He would spend the rest of the day tirelessly riding the most exposed spots, shouting encouragement or insults at the laggards - depending on the source - and nearly being shot several times.
To the far right of the Federal system, Charles Hamilton has no troops in front of him either - and for good reason, since almost all of the enemy's army is concentrated west of the Mobile & Ohio. Fending off McArthur and Davies, Van Dorn has ventured far enough behind Hamilton's back, but doesn't seem to mind at all: as if magnetized by Corinth, the Confederates continue to attack straight ahead. Rosecrans decides to take advantage of the situation: instead of ordering Hamilton to back down on the Halleck line, he makes him make a conversion to the left, the aim of the maneuver then being to attack the flank and rear of the southern army. Hamilton's division, however, is relatively isolated, and it takes some time before the order reaches it. The unexpected but unsuccessful appearance of southerners facing his position - possibly Frank Armstrong's cavalry - further delays his redeployment. The maneuver was itself complex: the two northern brigades - commanded by Napoleon Bonaparte Buford and Jeremiah Sullivan - had to cross thick thickets, then the embankment of the railway line. Endless hours went by before the division was ready to attack.
Meanwhile, the Confederates renew their assaults on the Halleck Line. Again, northern artillery plays a key role in keeping attackers at bay. Firing their ammunition faster than they received it, Davies' two batteries eventually retreated after an hour and a half, when their caissons were empty. Without their support, the northern infantrymen resist bravely despite everything. Although they received 100 rounds per man in the morning, they almost ran out of ammunition around 5 p.m., but received some in extremis news. It wasn't until John C. Moore's Southern Brigade of Maury's Division managed to squeeze like a wedge between Davies and McKean's Divisions that the Federals relinquished the position. Rosecrans then calls in one of Stanley's brigades, that of Joseph Mower, to cover Davies' withdrawal. The Federals resisted for a while, around 6 p.m., around an isolated dwelling known as "the White House", but ended up withdrawing to the College Hill line. When Hamilton finally begins his flank attack, the sun is practically set, making futile his attempt. As darkness falls over Corinth, the Confederates are less than a mile from the rail depot, and the Northerners are virtually leaning against the first houses in town.
The final assault?
Persuaded to be on the verge of winning, Van Dorn as well as Rosecrans will regret not having had an extra hour of the day to develop their respective attacks. The southern general takes advantage of the darkness to redeploy his troops. His plan for the next day is the exact opposite of that which was his on October 3: at Hébert, reinforced by William Cabell's brigade - drawn from Maury's division - to fix the northern forces by attacking on the left; the rest of the army will then attack, Maury in the middle, Lovell on the right. Rosecrans, for its part, replaces its divisions so that the most exposed points are held by the troops having fought the least. The Stanley division thus holds the center, between the Williams and Robinett batteries, which protect the railway depot. McKean was placed to his left and back; Davies held the immediate outskirts of town, up to Powell Battery, located north of Corinth. Finally, Hamilton will cover the right: Sullivan's brigade at Powell Battery, N.B. Buford's in flank-guard and behind, to ward off any attempt to overrun.
Van Dorn is confident he will succeed in breaking through the northerly lines and "finishing the job" by taking Corinth - an idea that was already his own by the morning of the second day of the Battle of Pea Ridge. That of Corinth, in many ways, is clearly a reissue. However, it overlooks several crucial factors. The Feds, first of all, are in a situation where their lines are tight, supported by solid fortifications, and their backs to the wall - they have no other alternative but to resist at all costs. His own men, moreover, suffered greatly. Across the American West, the summer of 1862 was particularly dry. It was this drought, causing the Mississippi to drop abnormally, that forced Farragut to lift his blockade of Vicksburg. The rains that soaked the roads at the time of the Battle of Iuka were no more than a rainy episode without a future. What is nicknamed in Quebec "the Indian summer", which is not a simple warmth before the fall but a real hot season, brief but intense, has now descended on the region. The heat is overwhelming. Even in a humid, semi-marshy area like Corinth, many streams are dry. Exhausted by the marches and the fighting, overwhelmed by the heat in their woolen uniforms, the southerners also suffered from thirst. By the morning of October 4, many of them were unable to rejoin the ranks, and the Confederate army was further weakened.
At 4 am, three Confederate batteries, which Van Dorn had massed against the northern left, opened fire. Their mission is to engage in a mock preliminary bombardment, one more precaution to disorient Rosecrans before the attack on Hébert's division - which itself is a diversion. Hébert must move forward as soon as it is sufficiently light, but as the sun begins to break, the Southerners left wing remains silent. The mock bombardment turns into a regular artillery duel that will last for three hours, seriously damaging the southern cannons - who, unlike their adversaries, cannot benefit from redoubt cover. Taken aback by his subordinate's inaction, Van Dorn sent three aides-de-camp to find Hébert, but he was nowhere to be found. It’s at 7:00 am that the Cajun presents himself at Van Dorn's headquarters… but it’s to be portrayed pale. Martin Green, who has never held a divisional command, replaces him at short notice. By the time he takes charge of his new command, it's past eight o'clock. His four brigades are advancing in a disorderly fashion and Cabell's has even stayed behind.
At the same time, losing patience - he had to attack a little after the action started on his left - Dabney Maury marches his two brigades on the northern center, C.W. Phifer on the left, John C. Moore on the right. It is then approximately 8:20 am The two units attack in turn. Robinett battery. Attacking first, Moore's men are confronted with heavy 30-pound projectiles from the Parrott siege cannons in the battery, followed by a deadly salvo from the Northern infantry that stops them dead. Taking over, Phifer's men try to bypass the federal position on the right, taking advantage of the cover provided by a small ravine. This time the Confederates make contact, but the defenders refuse to give in and hand-to-hand combat ensues. A relatively rare thing in such a situation, it is the attackers who have the bottom: the Phifer brigade must retreat.
Maury then decides to attempt a third assault, again calling on Moore's brigade. This time, the maneuver is more elaborate: while the brigade pretends to bypass Robinett battery to the left, one of its regiments will unexpectedly separate and charge it directly. Colonel William Rogers, a former comrade-in-arms of Jefferson Davis in Mexico, volunteered to carry out this action as the head of the 2th Texas Legion. The helping hand fails to succeed. Rogers is shot as he plants his unit's flag on the parapet of Robinett Battery. His men succeed in overwhelming the defenders. One of Stanley's brigade commanders, Joseph Mower, was wounded in the neck and, in the turmoil, was captured. A few moments later, one of his regiments, the 11th Missouri, turn the tide. His colonel judiciously had him lengthened and kept in reserve; when the Northerners get up and open fire, the element of surprise is enough to break the Confederate momentum. The 11thth Missouri strikes back and takes the battery Robinett, throwing Maury division back for good, shortly after 11 a.m. As for Mower, the Northerners will recover him later in the day, in a field hospital evacuated by their enemies.
On the right wing of the Northerners, Hébert's division, despite its late attack, progressed. A messy but massive load makes waver the federal line. The Powell Battery was attacked head-on by Elijah Gates’s brigade, while John Martin’s army encircled Sullivan’s two advanced regiments covering the right, and their flanks recklessly left exposed. On the wings, Green's Brigade assails the rest of Davies' Division, while Bruce Colbert's brigade attempts to envelop the entire Union apparatus. The Northerners were cold-picked by this massive charge, which the grapeshot spewed out by their cannons did not seem able to stop. The Powell Battery is captured, its guns turned against their former owners, and most of Davies' division disbanded. Eventually, however, the Confederate advance was the victim of its success: the disorganized masses of the southern infantry spread through the streets of Corinth, where they were met with grape-shot by other cannons that Rosecrans had hastily deployed. We fight very close to his headquarters. Eventually, the arrival of elements from the Mower Squad turns the tide and reclaims Corinth, street by street.
Lawsuits and regrets
Further north, Hamilton's Division is also ordered by Rosecrans to restore the situation. N.B. Buford met up with Colbert's brigade and blocked their advance, preventing them from flanking the Northern army. As for the second line of the Sullivan brigade, it manages to rally part of Davies' division behind a ridge, stops the Confederates, then counter-attacks. Slowly the Southerners were pushed back, despite the late intervention of Cabell's Brigade, until Sullivan took over the Powell Battery. With his soldiers running out of ammunition, Van Dorn finally decided to push them back. Above all, he understood that to insist more would be futile: his chance to take Corinth has passed. Shortly after ordering Lovell's division, which had remained inactive until then, to probe the northern left, he changed his mind and sent it to the other side of the battlefield to cover the retreat of Hébert's division - then, soon, from the whole army. Although a rearguard combat between sharpshooters will continue for much of the day, by noon the Battle of Corinth is essentially over.
Despite its small scale, the clash was deadly. The Northerners had about 2,500 dead and wounded, their opponents having lost more than 4,200 men. The number of killed exceeds 800. Van Dorn's situation is critical. His men are exhausted and at the mercy of a vigorous pursuit. The northern skirmishers who marked the retreating Confederate army gathered many stragglers who, thirsty, could no longer follow. There will be, in spite of this, no pursuit. In the afternoon, Rosecrans received reinforcements in the form of a brigade, which had come on a forced march from Jackson and commanded by one of Grant's proteges and henchmen, James Birdseye McPherson. However, these soldiers are tired, like the rest of the Northern army, and Rosecrans decides to let his troops rest until the next morning. A decision that Grant will deeply regret, and which will further fuel the controversy between the two generals. In defense of Rosecrans, it should be noted that he can hardly rely on his cavalry, having dispersed them widely to cover his left flank when he still believed it was threatened.
Earl Van Dorn's army is not yet saved, however. On the morning of October 5, as his leading elements were re-crossing the Hatchie south-east of Pocahontas, they were intercepted by the division of Stephen Hurlbut. The Northerners line up in battle order outside the village of Metamora, one kilometer from the Hatchie Bridge at Davis Farm - hence the battle name of Davis Bridge generally given to the engagement. It was Moore's brigade, already well strangled the day before by attempting to storm the Robinett battery, which suffered the full brunt of the shock of two Federal brigades, soon reinforced by a third. Flanked, the southern unit must abandon the west bank of the Hatchie and take refuge behind Davis Bridge, where it is joined by the rest of Maury's division. Edward Ord having appeared on the battlefield in person, he takes charge of operations and pushes the Hurlbut division forward. The Federals succeed in forcing the passage of the bridge, then pushing their enemies back to the top of the hill above the bridge. Ord was injured in the ankle, but his men managed to seize the eminence late in the afternoon, despite the intervention of the Cabell Brigade, relatively untouched by the fighting the day before. With the Hurlbut Division in possession of the bridge, and the Rosecrans army rushing in pursuit and dangerously approaching Chewalla, Van Dorn looks set to be crushed between a rock and a hard place.
Enduring all day, Dabney Maury's soldiers managed to save the Confederate Army's precious supply and ammunition wagons. During the night, the scouts of Van Dorn manage to find, without too much difficulty thanks to the drought, another point of passage on the Hatchie. Effectively covered by Lovell's division, the Southern Army cross the river safely before falling back on Ripley, then Holly Springs. Once again, William Rosecrans has let his prey escape. Once again, Earl Van Dorn has brought his army to the brink of destruction with a reckless plan. The two men, however, were to meet different fates. As Rosecrans continued to climb, Van Dorn would foot the bill. The Battle of Corinth ended in failure for Confederation, a costly failure, and ultimately had little effect on the outcome of the Kentucky operations. Terrified by the heavy casualties suffered - almost a fifth of the forces involved - Southern public opinion demanded Van Dorn's head. As of October 10, he was subordinated to a new command entrusted to General John Pemberton, then court martialed. He was to be acquitted, however, but would never regain command of an army.
- General article on the Battle of Corinth.
- Civil War Preservation Trust page dedicated to the Battle of Corinth.
- Robert C. SUHR, Battle of Corinth, America’s Civil War, May 1999 [online].
- Account of the Battle of Corinth in the Northerner Harper's Weekly magazine from 1er November 1862.
- Tennessee in the Civil War article on the Battle of Davis Bridge.
- Civil War Preservation Trust page on the Battle of Davis Bridge