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From Corinth–Graphic and Interesting Account of the Late Battle.


October 1862

From The Missouri Democrat, Tuesday, October 14, 1862.


Graphic and Interesting Account of the Late Battle.

Destructive Effect of the Federal Artillery.

Desperate Charges by the Rebels, and Terrific Slaughter.

CORINTH, MISS., Oct. 5, 1862.

Editors Missouri Democrat:

The name Corinth will be very conspicuous in the history of this rebellion.  The scenes of shame and glory that have already been enacted here, will fill many a page.  And now, as another of the most bloody and decisive battles of the war is just closed, and before the smoke has well vanished from the redoubts that have been defended so gallantly, your correspondent is busy preparing a sketch of some of the details, of which your readers may be glad to learn.

And to begin, I would first speak of the geography of the country.  The village of Corinth is situated on a plateau, surrounded on the northwest and east by sluggish streams with wide bottoms, heavily wooded.  Out of these wild and brushy jungles, rise abruptly the banks of the uplands, some twenty feet high.  This line of embankment is surrounded by the breastworks and rifle-pits thrown up by Beauregard last spring.  The timber was all cut down on the slopes, and for a considerable distance on the grounds, to form an abattis.  This strong line of fortification formed an irregular circle, sometimes coming near to the town, and then sweeping away with the banks of the swamps to the distance of miles.

Within this immense cordon of forts during the summer, the military authorities, with great sagacity, have employed contrabands in building a new line of earthworks of great strength to immediately surround the town, and thus constitute a fortress in which the vast stores, needed for Gen. Rosecrans’s command could be safely sheltered.

On the 14th of September the camps were roused by the news of a raid made upon Iuka by the enemy, and the capture of stores there amounting to some $300,000.  To discover the facts regarding this occupation, a reconnaissance in force was ordered by Gen. Rosecrans, and the execution of it committed to Col. Mower, of the 11th Missouri Volunteers, who was acting as Brigadier General, commanding the second brigade of General Stanley’s Division.  A most daring and gallant reconnaissance of the 16th disclosed the fact that Gen. Sterling Price held the place with some 30,000 men.  This led to the indecisive, but bloody action of the 17th at Iuka, and the precipitate retreat of Price.  In a few days Gen. Rosecrans became aware of the presence of his antagonist, and again threw Col. Mower forward with a part of his Brigade, composed of the 11th Mo., 26th and 47th Ills., to feel the enemy.  Immediately on getting beyond our lines, Maj. Webber, of the 11th Mo., who was in the advance with his regiment, began to pick up stragglers from a great army under Price, Van Dorn and Lovel[l], that was moving North—the consolidated rebel forces of the Southwest.  All possible preparations were now made to receive them.  On Friday, the 3d, they began to drive our pickets, and heavy skirmishing was kept up all day, our advanced guards falling slowly back towards Corinth.  By 4 o’clock, p. m., the enemy, in great force, deployed in the open fields, along our whole line, and immediately opened fire, and the work of death began.  The battle raged with great severity at some points in the line.  Here we suffered heavily in officers.  As this movement was only intended to check the advance of the foe, and allure him under our batteries at the right place, the whole line kept slowly falling back, until we reached the breastworks, and the regiments filed in splendid order into the places assigned them.  Now came the time for the heavy artillery in the earthworks.  The advancing columns of the rebels filled the woods through which we had just retreated—their guns, glistening in the sun, looked like the coming of the gleaming tide.  But the fire they here met stopped them, and turned them back under shelter of a low ridge that stretches from north to south and offered them protection from the cannon shot.  At this point, 6:30 p. m., the heavy musketry firing ceased.  During the long eve the stray shot of a picket or the dead-earnest boom of the Parrott guns, at long intervals from the forts, was all that indicated that 70,000 men in arms were waiting to renew the strife at any moment.

Friday eve—bright with the full moon, but dark with a gloom that the silver lamp of Cynthia had no power to dissipate—a tragedy of unutterable interest and horror was enacting, the end of which was not yet.  The night was occupied in taking care of the wounded—the largest houses in town being occupied as hospitals, and filled to overflowing.  Out on the field, too, there was sleepless energy and vigilance.  All night long the step of moving troops; the clank of cavalry sabres, the muffled rumble of artillery changing position, and here and there, on some commanding heights, the negroes in squads of 100 or 200 each, armed with picks and spades, throwing up entrenchments, all told that the deadly struggle was reserved for the coming day.  All was preparation.

But the enemy had been busy, too.  On Saturday, very early, the soldiers were roused up by the bursting of shells in their ranks.  It was an effectual reveille.  The rebels during the night had planted a battery in a position to command the town, and the left wing of our line, and they improved their advantage by throwing canister among the troops, and shot and shells into the lighted windows of the hospitals.  But this was soon ended.  An explosion or two from our siege guns blew their light field pieces into the air, a sortie brought in the disabled and abandoned guns, and their artillery fire was ended.  As no battery they could bring to bear could live under our fire, the only thing that remained for the enemy was to take the forts by storm and so silence them.

About half-past eight o’clock there was an almost entire cessation of firing; a portentous and almost sublime pause; everything seemed restored to sudden peace.  The gentle wooded slope that so late had blazed with the enemy’s fire, and swarmed with their troops, was as still as in the better days, and not a glancing bayonet was to be seen.  But it was understood.  The brave and sagacious Rosecrans rode along the line cheering the men.  At last there was a sound in the woods as of a rising wind.  The troops stood to their arms, anxious field-glasses were turned to the north and west, and soon a long line of battle rose over the ridges, moving on the double quick, their colors flowing, and presented a most formidable front.  The moment they appeared the three bastions in range opened on them with a crash that shook the earth.  To one inexperienced it would seem that all the host must be annihilated.  But as the smoke cleared away, you could see them coming in the face of it, as though it had been a summer shower.  The terrible line was one mile long, and composed of some 27,000 men.  They entered the abattis with the most frantic enthusiasm, cheering, leaping over the trunks of the trees, wading through the brush, while their ranks were plowed through and through with the shot and shells from the batteries.  Oh!  the heroic spectacle—the bravery–the mad bravery of the impetuous charge, as the thinning columns rushed with resistless fury upon our right; at one point in our line the troops wavered and swung back, for a moment.  The enemy gained the redoubt, scaled it—some of them blown away from the very muzzles of the cannon; drove out the cannoneers at the bayonet; took possession of the guns and wheeled them upon our troops.  The advantage was great, but only momentary.  Our soldiers recovered themselves and began to pour in a murderous volley and rally to a charge.  Just at this juncture, too, a battery of immense siege guns, planted the previous night in position to rake the principal streets, opened on the exultant foe with an awful concussion.  This decided the case.  It was not in human nature to stand the explosion of 32 and 64 pound shells in uncovered ranks.  They paused, wavered, and then turned in a panic.  All this, on which so much depended, occupied apparently but a moment, a much shorter time than you have been reading of it, and, when the enemy once turned, the flight was as precipitate as their advance had been.  The guns were wheeled again to do their duty, and flamed with double vengeance and awful effect.

All this time, too, there was a struggle of unparalleled heroism going on to our left, where Van Dorn, who had sworn to “take dinner that day in Corinth or in hell,” and Lovell were precipitating the savages of Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana upon the division of Stanley.  Just as our right was giving back, and the enemy were pushing their advantage, the storming columns burst upon our left.  Their force here was overwhelming and perfectly reckless of life.  The resistless tide swept around the redoubt, dislodging the artillerymen, and General Rodgers leaped into the embrasures and planted the rebel colors on the parapet.  The Federal guns were silenced.  The 63d Ohio, whose position exposed them to the brunt of the assault, and which was suffering severely, gave way.  The gallant Colonel Kirby Smith, his Major and Adjutant, were wounded while endeavoring to redeem the confusion of the regiment.  Officers and men fell fast.  The shouts and volleys of the rebels, confident of success, were deafening.  Our gallant Colonel Mower, whose skill and daring could have brought order and victory out of this confusion, had been wounded and taken prisoner early in the day.  Just at this juncture Major Webber, in command of the 11th Missouri, which was posted by General Stanley farther to the left, gave order for his regiment to charge.  Instantly, with an enthusiasm worthy of the cause and the occasion, this Spartan band of the West, with cheers that rang out above the horrid din, rushed upon the advance line of the foe.

The onset was sublime.  With the enemy everything was at stake, and they were brave as brave could be; but they had more than met their match in spirit, muscle and discipline, and the murderous energy of the charge was all but irresistible.  The bullet and the bayonet were never more busy.  The slaughter among the enemy’s ranks was terrible.  Whole files went down under the deadly pressure.  The advance was effectually checked, and when the 27th Ohio poured into them an oblique fire, and the cannon, repossessed, began to play on them at short range, stuffed with grape or cannister, they broke in the utmost confusion.  You should have heard the mad cheering as the rebels plunged back again into the abattis and fled for the friendly hills and woods.  The open road that led through the fallen timber and brush was, of course, crowded with the fugitives, and every discharge of the heavy guns that raked it would seem to lift them, for a moment, into the air.  Oh the merciless energy with which the cannon blew those traitors away from the shadow of the old flag that floated above the stirring scene so proudly!  May God grant that fifteen thousand of the Union soldiers may never such a repulse, and such a retreat.

Here this bloody and decisive battle closed.  The comparative loss in killed and wounded is greatly in our favor.  This is attributed to the advantage in artillery we possessed; to the coolness and accuracy of aim in our troops, and to the confidence and recklessness of the enemy.

The canteens of Van Dorn’s brigade were supplied with whisky and gunpowder.  The dead became black in the face a few hours after the battle—a horrible fact, accounted for by their being drugged by this maddening mixture.  The haversacks of the dead and wounded were found stored with sad cakes, made of flour and water, without salt; in other cases with green corn roasted; in others with corn shelled and parched, and in others still with acorns and sugar.  This you may be assured of.