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The Battle of Corinth


October 1862

From The Missouri Democrat, Sunday, October 19, 1862.


Price Seeks to Avail Himself of the Dispersion of National Troops after the Battle of Iuka—Rosecrans Orders a Concentration of His Forces—Attack made upon McKean’s Division on the 3d Instant—Charge after the Rebels and Capture of Gun after Gun of the 1st Missouri Artillery—Guns Retaken by the 2d Iowa—Gloomy Appearance at Close of First Day’s Fighting—Terrible Artillery Assault made upon the Enemy on the Morning of Second Day—Effect of Rosecran’s Presence Among the Troops—Desperate Assault upon the Centre—Success of Rebels and Bankruptcy of Sutlers—11th Ohio Battery Gets to Work—Battle Decided by 2 P. M. of Second Day.

[Special Correspondence of the Missouri Democrat.]

CAMP NEAR CORINTH, Oct. 18, 1862.

We have been so busy of late chasing Price that I have found it impossible to send you a detailed account of the battle of Corinth sooner, but as I have seen as yet no article that gives a full description of the momentous scenes that transpired on the 3d and 4th of October, I will try in my poor way to supply it.

It was perhaps the most desperate battle that was ever fought in the Southwest, for the enemy strove like demons, and had they not been met in the same spirit by our troops a disgraceful defeat would have been the consequence.  It became apparent that the enemy was not satisfied with the repulse that he had sustained at Iuka, but, having consolidated his forces, was preparing for a descent upon Corinth.

Immediately after the battle Iuka, Rosecrans, with part of his division, had moved back to Corinth, while Hamilton remained at Jacinto.  It is probable that the enemy became apprised by some means of the scattered condition of our forces, and therefore made a fierce and determined attack upon Corinth, hoping to carry it by storm before reinforcements could come up.  Simultaneous orders were issued to the commanders of army corps, to concentrate at Corinth without loss of time, and by the 2d instant quite a respectable force was stationed in and around the fortifications.  McKean’s, Oglesby’s and Hackleman’s divisions were drawn up to the west of the town.  Hamilton’s division north, while Davies and Granger acted as reserves.  By the morning of the 3d everything was in readiness for battle.  The attack commenced at eight A. M., the enemy driving in our pickets from the northwest.  The fighting for the first day was principally sustained by McKean’s division, which held its ground until all but it was forced to give way before overwhelming numbers.  Up to 3 P. M., the first day, it was sharp skirmishing, with some artillery practice; but the enemy still advancing, the heavy infantry soon met, and tremendous volleys of musketry proclaimed the fact that the battle had fairly commenced.  The rebels were led on in three divisions, Price commanding the right, Breckinridge the center, and Van Dorn the left.  It is supposed, also, that Lovell and Villipigue were on the ground, and that they intended, by a brilliant coup de main, to take the place before the Unionists could receive reinforcements.  The attack was made on the line of the railroad, on the northwest side, where the defences were the weakest.  The assailants were well acquainted with every vulnerable point, and directed their movements accordingly, where a lodgement being once effected, the guns of the forts (three in number) could be turned upon the town with terrible effect.  The battle now began to wax heavy.  The rebels gradually contracting and drawing in their line, charged upon one of the breast-works where the 1st Missouri Artillery was stationed, and after a short and severe struggle, succeeded in carrying it, but the gallant 2d Iowa at this moment came to the rescue, drove the enemy from the guns and held the works.  Part of Hamilton’s division, consisting of the 16th and 17th Iowa, 80th and 81st Ohio, now came in as support and did good service.  Many of the troops who were brought into action the first day, were new and had never been brought under fire before.  Supported by the artillery that played into the enemy with fearful effect, and protected by rifle-pits, they stood up to their work for a short time, and returned volley for volley with a fierceness and fury unsurpassed.  The rebels did not use much artillery; indeed, they had but three or four pieces which they brought to bear upon us at all, but depended solely on their infantry, who fought with a courage and desperation worthy of a better cause.  By night our men were forced back inside of the intrenchments after stubbornly contesting every foot of ground, and leaving it covered with wounded and dying rebels.  The utmost we could hope to do was to hold the town until Grant and Hurlbut, who were expected, could come up and attack the enemy in the rear.  Matters looked gloomy.  The enemy had felt of us at all point, ascertained our strength and position, and seemed determined to overwhelm us.  The losses on both sides were heavy.  Brigadier General Hackleman was killed, and Oglesby dangerously wounded, with a number of other prominent field officers.  Darkness coming on, the conflict for the first day terminated as if by mutual consent, and the two mighty armies laid down to rest upon their arms.  How many brave ones inside of those intrenchments, who gazed upon the calm unpitying stars that night and speculated upon the fortunes of the morrow, were destined to fall.  Our situation was critical, was perilous.  Before us were the dark lines of the enemy, waiting for the early dawn to commence the work of destruction.  By the fitful gleams of moonlight could be discerned the massive breastworks, with the grim cannon frowning defiance upon the invaders.  Not a soldier but what felt the perilous circumstances under which he was placed, and was resolved to die before yielding up the town to the insatiate foe.  If we could only hold till Grant arrived with his columns we were safe, well knowing that each man was nerved to do his duty.  During the night new batteries had been planted, and with the first streak of dawn commenced shelling the enemy.  Hamilton’s division was drawn up to the north of the town, their left resting on the middle breastwork by the railroad, while the other army corps of Rosecrans were disposed in line of battle north and south, facing west.  The enemy had chosen his position to the north and west with the intention of breaking our center and turning the right flank at the same time, but in this latter object he was signally repulsed by the 4th Minnesota, 5th Iowa, 26th Missouri and 11th Ohio battery, the same brigade that performed such meritorious service at Iuka.

The country was thickly wooded in places and intersected with numerous ravines which effectually screened the movements of the enemy from our observation, and protected him from the artillery.  As the first faint streaks of dawn flushed up the horizon, there leaped from first breastwork and battery broad sheets of flame, while the blue curls of smoke from bursting shells could be seen afar off in the woods, falling, it must seem, in rather close proximity to the enemy.  For an hour the most tremendous cannonading went on, but was replied to very feebly by the enemy, they not being in readiness to advance.

The infantry was drawn closely up in line behind the intrenchments and batteries and was impatient for the hour to come.  Gen. Rosecrans rode up and down the line and was greeted with the wildest enthusiasm.  Probably there is no General in the West that possesses the confidence of the troops to such a degree as Rosecrans.  He is a favorite with all, and his appearance on the field is the signal for the most tumultuous cheering.  Intelligence was not received that Grant and Hurlbut had arrived in the rear of Price with ten thousand men, and would co-operate in the attack.  As soon as this gratifying piece of information was made known cheers of delight burst from the troops, and a spectator looking on at the swinging hats and waving flags would have imagined that all were to have some grand gala day instead of the dark and fearful scenes that soon ensued.

The cannonading had now nearly ceased, but as yet the rebels had made no demonstration on our lines.  Suddenly a sharp fusillade springs up on the left and centre.  It grows louder, sharper, clearer, and the blue puffs of smoke can be seen ascending above the tree tops, while the skirmishers are scampering hither and thither.  From scattering shots the fire grows to volleys, from volleys to one continuous roar, until it becomes hard to distinguish any space between the sounds, and the sulphurous smoke rises in clouds.  The monster siege guns and field batteries open anew, hurling their deadly missiles full in the face of the enemy, causing great gaps in their ranks, but still they pressed on.  The contest was hottest at the center, and although our men fought like demons, they were steadily pressed back by superiority of numbers.  The fight was now general and majestic in the extreme.  It was easy to distinguish where old regiments were fighting from the steadiness of their volleys, while the firing of the new troops was scattering and irregular.  The rebels could be plainly seen in close masses marching down the ravines and swarming through the woods straight for the center.  Though four siege guns, three batteries and two brigades of infantry were pouring a storm of hail of balls, shells and grape upon them, such as mortal foe never withstood before, yet they came on, filed right and left and clambered over the breastworks.  This daring rebel brigade was led by Colonel Moore, who was instructed by Price to carry the works if he lost every man in the brigade, and when at last Davies’s Division rallied and drove them back, but fifty men were left.  The rest were scattered, wounded and mangled, and dying in the trenches, and all along the railroad, which was swept by the siege guns.  I think there is no one that will deny the courage of the rebels.  They fought with desperation—I may say with the most reckless madness.  Their whole force was concentrated on the centre, and some of the most daring actually succeeded in entering the town, and a warm street fight ensued.  Teamsters, convalescents, hospital stewards and stragglers, who generally have a holy horror of a musket, and who had strayed away to town in the fond hope that the battle would rage afar off, suddenly found themselves brought face to face with the butternuts, and their cowardly, shirking bodies presented a fair target for rebel rifles.  Sutlers left their stores of delectable sweets and scampered for a safer locality, leaving the half starved confederacies to the undisturbed enjoyment of their prime Havanas and jars of prime apples.  When the left wing, which was composed principally of Davies’s division was forced back it appeared as though the town was lost, but Hamilton’s division, which was on the extreme right line not yet become engaged, and the ablest and most redoubtable veterans of the army of the Mississippi were reposing quietly on their arms.  All at once sharp skirmish firing, succeeded by heavy rolls of musketry, sprang up in front, and it soon appeared that the enemy intended to turn our right flank.  Away went the 11th Ohio battery at full speed, and, getting into a commanding position on an eminence, unlimbered and went to wiping out old scores that they have laid up against the enemy with a will, while the infantry filed right on the double quick, and an exciting scene commenced.  The rebels had crossed the railroad and were coming on in columns of three deep, but they had now come within fair range of the battery, and the way that they were mowed down by whole platoons was awful.  Eager to share in the fight the infantry engaged them and marched on with a resistless fury that nothing could check, led on by the gray haired veteran General Buford.  The rebels stopped, wavered, and finally broke in confusion, pursued full well with shouts and yells by our victorious troops.  Hearing these signs of victory the troops on the left fought with redoubled vigor and soon cleaned the field of the enemy, who were thoroughly panic stri[c]ken, threw down their arms and scattered through the woods, closely followed by our cavalry.  Prisoners came in by squads, by fifties, and by hundreds, and by 1 P. M. the battle was over, with only here and there a solitary piece of artillery thundering against the retreating foe.  In the exhausted condition that our troop were in, immediate pursuit with infantry was out of the question, as the heat was insupportable and no water fit for drinking purposes could be procured.  The troops were allowed to rest through the night, but early the next morning the pursuit commenced, with what success you have already been apprised.

A description of the battle field, of the dead and wounded, of hospitals crowded, and personal incident, would fill columns, but I have already made this letter sufficiently long.  The total loss of the enemy in dead and wounded is not less than 5,000, while prisoners are being brought in by hundreds continually.  At the date of this present writing although negro burying parties have been steadily at work ever since the battle, yet numerous corpses still lie unburied, and the stench arising from the field in horrible.




Incidents, &c.

[Correspondence Cincinnati Commercial.]

When the rebels made their first dash on Saturday morning, and possessed the redoubt on our right, there was for a moment a scene of confusion.  Ammunition wagons, ambulances and artillery, were getting to the rear as rapidly as possible.  This occasioned the confusion of several regiments, whose officers strove in vain to stem the backward tendency.  Here Gen. Rosecrans appeared.  With drawn sword he alternately gave curses and orders to the Colonels he met.  “Here, sir!  Form your line just here, and support these guns.  Right here, sir, behind this house.”  But still the slow tide went back until an open space large enough to form in was found, and then flocking around the standards, the men clamored for an advance.  As soon as a line was formed, it started forward in magnificent style.  Gen. Rosecrans, now all smiles, advanced the battery—the infantry followed—reached the brow of the hill just in time to save the battery and send the rebels off the field.  General Rosecrans afterward came up to these men, and, addressing one of them, told him he was a base coward—that three old women, if they would only set up a shout, could run all such troops, &c., &c., and then he rode away, saying to a member of his staff:  “That’s the way to talk to ‘em.  They’ll fight like h-ll next time.”



 When the 81st Ohio advanced on Saturday morning to meet the foe, David McCall, its color bearer, was the first to fall.  He was mortally wounded by a ball in the abdomen.  At Pittsburg Landing, although unfit for duty, he bravely carried our flag through those two bloody days unscathed; but a severe sickness seized him immediately afterward.  He was sent North, and lay for months, while his life was despaired of; but he finally recovered, and only returned to his regiment a few weeks before this battle.  He was a brave man, and received his death shot while carrying his flag forward.  After his fall, Major Evans seized the colors and bore them on in the last charge that routed the rebels.



On the field, after Saturday’s battle, I found a rebel soldier with on foot shot away by a cannon ball.  His name was W. T. Garner, from Northern Arkansas.  He said that he was pressed into the service; that he and his father were Union men, and that he attempted last winter to join Curtis’s army, but was captured, and has been ever since under guard.  On the morning of the battle he was placed three paces in front of the colors, and so, at the point of the bayonet, was marched into battle!  The dead body of the color-bearer lying by him, attested the truth of his statement.



[Correspondence of the New York Tribune.]

By the time this line was driven back the other line with their reserves were advanced in the direction of Battery “Robinett.”

During the period of seeming inaction when the enemy had withdrawn to the cover of the timber, while preparing to make the two charges as recorded in the preceding narrative, General Price and his principal officers held a consultation to devise ways and means to take the battery.  The importance of its capture was admitted, and the risk and danger of the attempt thoroughly canvassed.  Gen. Price would not undertake the responsibility of ordering the attack, but called for volunteers.  Col. Rogers of Arkansas immediately tendered his brigade as the forlorn hope, and Col. Ross his brigade as support.  They massed their troops eight deep, and advanced under a heavy fire of double charges of grape and canister.  A terrible enfilading and flanking fire was poured upon them from every battery bearing in that direction, aided by incessant volleys of musketry from the supports of the batteries and the Union regiments drawn up in line parallel with them.

The first shell from battery William exploded in the center of the advancing column, sending 30 or 40 to their long home.  Every discharge caused huge gaps in their ranks.  An eye-witness of that wonderful charge says that he can compare the effect of our fire to nothing but the falling of grain before the scythe.  This tremendous mortality did not affect their irresistible onward march.  As fast as one man fell his comrade stepped forward in his place.  I doubt whether history has ever recorded a charge characterized by such determined valor and bravery.  Twice did they approach almost to the outer works of the battery, and twice were they compelled to fall back.  The third time they reached the battery, and planted their flag upon the edge.  It was shot down, raised again, and again shot down.  They swarmed about the battery; they clim[b]ed over the parapets; they fired through the escarpments, and for a time it seemed as if they had secured the victory their valor had so richly earned.

When they obtained the battery, our men who were working it fell back behind the projecting earthworks, out of reach from our shells, and immediately all the batteries bearing upon the position were turned upon Battery Robinett, and soon a shower of missiles were falling like hail upon their brave intruders.  No mortal man could stand the fire, and they retreated.  Slowly the brave remnant turned their unwilling steps toward the forest from which they started, when the order was given to two regiments supporting the battery to charge.  This order was splendidly executed.  The miserable remnant of troops whom the batteries had nearly destroyed was now almost annihilated.  A few scattering troops were all that remained of the column which so valiantly attacked the battery scarcely an hour before.  The dead bodies of rebels were piled up in and about the intrenchments, in some places eight and ten deep.  In one place directly in front of the point of assault 216 bodies were found, within a space of one hundred feet by four, among them the commanders of both brigades making the assault—Colonel Rogers and Colonel Ross.

This was the termination of engagement.

The enemy withdrew to the timber, and shortly beat a retreat in the direction of Chevalla.