How to Use
Reading 1: The Siege of Corinth
At the end of April, 1862, a Union Army group of almost 125,000 men, led by Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck, set out from Pittsburg and Hamburg landings towards Corinth. A Confederate force of about half that size, under the command of Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, waited for them, behind five miles of newly-constructed earthworks. Both commanders knew the importance of the coming battle. Halleck claimed that the railroad centers in Richmond, Virginia, and Corinth were "the greatest strategic points of the war, and our success at these points should be insured at all hazards." Beauregard told his superiors: "If defeated here we will lose the Mississippi Valley and probably our cause . . . [and] our independence." 1
It took Halleck a month to travel the 22 miles to Corinth. The route crossed a series of low ridges covered with dense forests and cut by stream valleys and ravines. Moving his army through rugged country while keeping it aligned along a 10-mile front was slow and difficult work. The weather was bad and there was little good water. Dysentery and typhoid were common.
By May 4, the Union army was within 10 miles of Corinth and the railroads. The Confederates began a series of small scale attacks, keeping up a nearly constant harassment. Halleck, cautious by nature, established an elaborate procedure to protect his army as they advanced. As the troops moved up to a new position, they worked day and night digging trenches. These "were made to conform with the nature of the ground, following the crest of the ridges. . . . They consisted of a single ditch and a parapet . . . only designed to cover our infantry against the projectiles of the enemy."2 As each line of earthworks was finished, the men advanced about a mile and then started digging a new line of trenches. Eventually there were seven progressive lines and about 40 miles of trenches.
The Confederates waiting in Corinth were well aware of Halleck's slow, but constant, advance. In May, a Confederate soldier wrote his wife:
I can sit now in my tent and hear the drums & voices in the enemy lines, which cannot be more than two miles distant. We have . . . killed and wounded every day. . . . The Yanks are evidently making heavy preparation for the attack which cannot, I think, be postponed many days longer. . . . Everything betokens an early engagement so make it be, for I am more than anxious that it shall come without further delay.3
On May 21, Beauregard planned a counterattack, an attempt to "draw the enemy out of his entrenched positions and separate his closed masses for a battle."4 The gamble came to naught because of delays in getting the troops in position to attack.
By May 25, the long Union line was entrenched on high ground within a few thousand yards of the Confederate fortifications. From that range, Union guns shelled the Confederate defensive earthworks, and the supply base and railroad facilities in Corinth. 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.
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. 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. When Union patrols entered Corinth on the morning of May 30, they found the Confederates gone.
Most historians believe that the Union seizure of the strategic railroad crossover at Corinth led directly to the fall of Fort Pillow on the Mississippi, the loss of much of Middle and West Tennessee, the surrender of Memphis, and the opening of the lower Mississippi River to Federal gunboats as far south as Vicksburg. And no Confederate train ever again carried men and supplies from Chattanooga to Memphis.
Questions for Reading 1
1. Why did it take so long for Gen. Halleck to move his Union troops to Corinth?
2. Why do you think Gen. Beauregard thought it was important to draw the Union forces "out of their entrenched positions"?
3. How did Beauregard and his generals deceive the Union army?
4. How did he make use of the railroads?
5. What were the consequences of the Confederate loss of Corinth?
Reading 1 was excerpted from Paul Hawke, Cecil McKithan, Tom Hensley, Jack Elliott, and Edwin C. Bearss, "Siege and Battle of Corinth" (Alcorn County Mississippi, and Hardeman County, Tennessee), National Historic Landmark documentation, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1991; and from Ray S. Price and Ellsworth R. Swift, "Civil War Corinth, Interpretive Concept Plan" (prepared for the Siege and Battle of Corinth Commission, 1995), 3-5.
1Halleck to Stanton, May 25, 1862, War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), Series I, Vol. X, Part 1, 667; Beauregard to Samuel Cooper, April 9, 1862, O.R., I, X, 2, 403. (Subsequent citations will be identified as O.R., followed by series, volume, part, and page numbers).