October 4, 1862: Battle of Corinth

The Battle of Corinth, sometimes referred to as the Second Battle of Corinth to distinguish it from the siege of Corinth earlier in the year when the Union initially took the town, began at 10:00 AM on October 3, 1862.  Corinth was held by the Union Army of the Mississippi under General William Rosecrans, with a strenth of approximately 23,000 men.  Attempting to take the town was the Confederate Army of West Tennessee under General Earl Van Dorn, consisting of about 22,000.00 men.  Corinth was a major rail hub and thus a tempting target for the Confederacy.  Strategically Van Dorn was attempting to keep both Rosecran’s Army of the Mississippi and Grant’s Army of the Tennessee occupied and unable to send reinforcements to the Union Army of the Ohio under General Don Carlos Buell as it was pursuing the Confederate Army of Tennessee under General Braxton Bragg which had invaded Union held Kentucky.  Grant’s Army was spread out with 7,000 under General Sherman at Memphis, 12,000 at Bolivar, Tennessee and 6,000 as a central reserve at Jackson, Tennessee.

The Confederates had fortified the town when they held it.  The Confederate lines were too extensive for Rosecrans’ force to man.  Rosecrans therefore constructed fortifications called the Halleck Line closer to the town.  Rosecrans planned to meet the Confederate attack  in the rifle pits of the old Confederate lines with a force of skirmishers, with his main force awaiting attack in the fortifications of the Halleck Line.

Van Dorn began the battle at 10:00 AM with an attack by General Lovell’s division against General McKean’s division, one of three Union divisions constituting the skirmish force detailed by Rosecrans.  Van Dorn intended to attempt to envelop the three Union divisions by causing Rosecrans to weaken his right to reinforce McKean.  Once Lovell had initiated his attack, General Maury under General Price attacked General Davies commanding the division to the right of General McKean.   By 1:30 PM a gap had developed between the divisions of  McKean and Davies through which the Confederates pushed through, forcing a Union withdrawal to half a mile from the Halleck Line. General Hamilton’s division was ordered to lauch an attack on the left and rear of the advancing Confederates, but darkness fell before the attack could be put together and fighting ended with nightfall.

The next day consisted of a four-hour fight from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM with the Confederates seeking to break into the town.  Phifer’s brigade of Maury’s division succeeded in doing so briefly until it was repulsed by a Union charge led by the Fifth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, a charge which has been immortalized in the painting below.

Van Dorn, realizing that his attacks were fruitless, retreated.  Rosecrans did not pursue until October 5, claiming that his men needed rest.  Grant, who was sending reinforcements to Rosecrans, ordered him to pursue immediately and was disgusted when he did not, later writing:   Two or three hours of pursuit on the day of the battle without anything except what the men carried on their persons, would have been worth more than any pursuit commenced the next day could have possibly been.

Heavy Confederate casualties demonstrated the hazards of attacking fortified lines in the Civil War:  473 men killed, 1997 wounded and 1763 captured or missing.   Union casualties were 355 killed, 1841 wounded and 324 missing.

Published in: on October 4, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on October 4, 1862: Battle of Corinth  
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