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Civil War Era National Cemeteries: Honoring Those Who Served
In 1866, the Corinth National Cemetery was established in Corinth, Mississippi, as a final resting place for 5,700 Union soldiers who died in the capture and occupation of Corinth, and in other engagements in Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. During the Civil War, Corinth’s strategic importance as a railroad junction brought Union and Confederate forces to battle over control of the northeast Mississippi town.
In 1854, the citizens of Tishomingo County invited two rail companies, the Mobile & Ohio and the Memphis & Charleston, to build lines through the largely agricultural area. Within a year, the companies completed their surveys, and their two routes intersected in the north-central Tishomingo County. A small town grew up at the crossroads of the two new railroad lines, originally called Cross City. By 1855, the rapidly growing town changed its name to Corinth after the crossroads city of ancient Greece. Because it was at the junction of two major rail lines, both Confederate and Union strategists recognized the importance of controlling Corinth. The town was at the crux of two significant engagements, a siege of the town in spring 1862 and a bloody conflict in the fall of the same year.
In April 1862, Union forces began a slow march from their camps in Tennessee to Corinth. Under the command of Major General Henry Halleck, a force of 125,000 Union troops made its way south through rugged country, taking one month to travel 22 miles. When Union forces were 10 miles from Corinth, the cautious Halleck adopted an elaborate procedure to protect his troops. The troops dug trenches along their approach at intervals of one mile, creating a series of defensive fall-back points. Eventually a series of seven defensive lines were created with 40 miles of trenches.
Protected by newly constructed earthworks, Confederate forces at Corinth waited for Halleck’s approach. The siege of Corinth began on May 25 when Union troops came within range of the earthworks and started shelling the fortifications and railroad facilities.
Once in Corinth, Union General Halleck ordered the construction of additional fortifications, including a series of cannon batteries. Halleck’s successor, Major General William Rosencrans, added additional batteries and trenches in preparation for an anticipated Confederate assault on Corinth.
On October 3, 1862, a Confederate force of more than 20,000 troops advanced on heavily fortified Corinth. For two days, the forces clashed in what would become one of the bloodiest engagements of the war. In the end, the Union held control of Corinth, repelling the attacks and sending the Confederate forces into retreat. Union casualties totaled 2,360, while the Confederacy’s were more than 4,800.
The Union continued to occupy Corinth through January 1864, using the town as a base for reconnaissance and raids into Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. After the Union troops pulled out, Confederate troops reoccupied the town, but the Southern war effort was rapidly disintegrating and had become too weak to use the railroads for strategic advantage.
Because of the casualties from the battles and other conflicts in the region, a national cemetery was established on a two-acre portion of the battlefield in 1866. The first interments were gathered from a dozen sites throughout northern Mississippi, Alabama, and southern Tennessee. By 1870, the cemetery contained 5,688 interments, including almost 4,000 unknown Union dead. Three Confederate burials are in the cemetery, including one unknown and two known soldiers.
The superintendent’s lodge is located in the southeastern corner of the cemetery. Built in 1934, the two-story lodge features a gambrel roof with shed dormers evocative of the Dutch Colonial style popular at the time. The 1934 lodge replaced an earlier 1871 Second Empire-style lodge. East of the lodge is a simple brick maintenance building containing storage space and public restrooms.