Col. W.P. Rogers Story Corinth Mississippi Sons of Confederate Vetrans

 

Written by Margaret Greene Rogers for the Corinth Area Convention Visitors Bureau.
Permission granted for use on this web site.

Corinth, at the junction of the Memphis and Charleston and the Mobile and Ohio Railroads, was recognized by both Confederate and Federal Commanders as being of such strategic importance that the village was occupied by one or the other of the forces from 1861 - 1865.

The resident population of the little town was 1,200; yet it boasted 5 churches, Corona College, 3 large hotels, numerous businesses and a number of fine homes.

During 1861, Corinth was a mobilization center for Confederate troops moving to Mobile, AL, Pensacola, FL, Virginia and Bowling Green, KY. After the fall of Fort Donelson, General Albert Sidney Johnston, Commander of Confederate Armies in the West, recognized Corinth's strategic value and made the Memphis and Charleston his line of defense. He charged General P.G.T. Beauregard with the responsibility of assembling troops at Corinth. As a result, New Orleans was abandoned; the coastal defenses at Pensacola, Mobile, and Charleston were striped; and northern Arkansas was abandoned.

Federal General W.H. Halleck also recognized Corinth's value. He telegraphed Secretary of War Stanton, "Richmond and Corinth are now the great strategical points of war, and our success at these points should be insured at all hazards."

As the Confederate armies assembled in Corinth, Union forces were concentrating at Pittsburg Landing, Corinth's nearest river port on the Tennessee, in preparation for an attack on the small northeastern Mississippi village.

Although the Trans-Mississippi armies had not reached Corinth, General Johnston decided to strike the Federal forces, under General U.S. Grant, before Grant was reinforced by General Don Carlos Buell: Consequently the CSA forces left Corinth April 3, 1862, and by April 6, were in position to attack Union forces, who were so positive the Confederates would not attack, they had not bothered to entrench. The two-day battle, named for Shiloh Church, ensued. On the second day, the Confederates were forced to withdraw to Corinth.

Following Shiloh, Corinth became a vast Confederate hospital center. Hotels, churches, residences, warehouses, and the college were filled with wounded; but, more troops died of sickness and diseases than wounds.

Prior to the march on Shiloh, extensive breastworks, called the Beauregard Line, had been begun on the eastern and northern side of Corinth. Work on these breastworks and on an inner line consisting of 5 crescent shaped rifle pits was vigorously renewed. Beauregard commanded a force of 112,100 after the Trans-Mississippi forces under Generals Price and Van Dorn arrived; but, due to sickness and desertion, his effective strength was under 60,000.

After Shiloh, Halleck superceded Grant and called for reinforcements. Late in April, the Union Armies of the Ohio, the Tennessee and the Mississippi, numbering 128,315 effectives, began inching and entrenching their way toward Corinth, taking a month to cover 20 miles. Finally, by May 28, Halleck had his army positioned outside the newly constructed CSA Beauregard Line. The Union Army of the Tennessee straddled the Mobile and Ohio Railroad on the north; the Army of Ohio was in the center to the northeast; and the Federal Army of Mississippi continued the eastern line to the south of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. In terms of aggregate numbers of troops involved, the Siege of Corinth was the greatest in the history of the Western Hemisphere.

Meanwhile in Corinth, Beauregard, without siege guns, vastly outnumbered and facing shortages of food and water, had called a conference of his generals. Their decision was to fall back southward down the Mobile and Ohio Railroad to Tupelo.

The evacuation was conducted with utmost secrecy. Troops with 3 days' cooked rations were ordered to the front and told they were about to attack. A few timorous ones went over to the Federals with the news.
The sick and wounded along with the military supplies and stores were removed by rail. On May 29, of necessity, the front line officers were told of the planned deception and added innovative touches of their own. Quaker guns manned with dummy cannoneers were placed along the lines, and wood was gathered for camp fires. No smallest detail was neglected in the plan to fool the Federals. During the night, as empty cars (trains) returned to the station, soldiers cheered as if being reinforced. Cavalry men kept camp fires burning and buglers moved along the deserted works playing retreat, tattoo and taps. By daybreak of May 30, all was quiet. Beauregard's forces, except for cavalry, had withdrawn from Corinth. The Confederates has successfully completed the greatest hoax of the war.

Halleck's Union forces were completely fooled. Next morning, May 30, they cautiously entered Corinth only to find the village deserted. The Chicago Tribune reported, "General Halleck has achieved one of the most barren triumphs of the war - in fact, tantamount to defeat." The Cincinnati Commercial stated, "Beauregard achieved another triumph."

After the Federal occupation of Corinth, Halleck began dispersing his huge army. He ordered a series of batteries, A through F, erected to continue the CSA Beauregard Line on the south and west. Called to Washington in July to be Commander-In-Chief, he left Grant in command of the western forces. During the summer, an inner line of 5 batteries, known as the College Hill Line, was constructed.
In July, CSA General Bragg, who had replaced Beauregard as CSA Commander, moved to Chattanooga leaving Van Dorn and Price in Mississippi. Van Dorn moved southward; Price remained in the northern section to keep and eye on Grant.

Following the Battle of Iuka in September, Grant moved to Jackson, Tennessee, leaving General Rosecrans with 4 divisions in Corinth. Immediately, Rosecrans ordered the batteries in the College Hill Line connected by breastworks and covered with abatis. Work continued at Battery Powell, the only inner battery on the north.

Late in September, Van Dorn and Price met at Ripley and decided that the CSA Army of the West should attack Corinth despite its impregnable defenses. Van Dorn felt the attack in Corinth was a military necessity requiring prompt and vigorous action... Corinth, so hurtful to us while in the possession of the enemy, so advantageous to us in our own. Price believed Corinth warranted more than the usual hazard of battle.
Van Dorn believed that if the Confederates could surprise Rosecrans and storm the fortifications, they could take Corinth. His division, under Lovell, led the way northward from Ripley. It was followed by Price's two divisions under Maury and Hebert. Near Pocahontas, the 22,000 Confederates turned east, repaired the Hatchie River and Tuscumbia River bridges, skirmished with Union cavalry - thereby losing the element of surprise, and continued to Chewalla where they camped for the night of October 2. Meanwhile, Rosecrans, aware that the Confederates were moving, had called his out-lying troops nearer to Corinth. On the morning of October 3, he sent three divisions to the old Beauregard Line. The fourth division was placed mid-way on the Halleck Line.

Lovell's CSA Division south of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad advanced against a hill honey-combed with rifle pits and crowned with artillery supported by infantry. The division took the hill; the Union forces retreated to Battery F. Two brigades from Maury's division crossed the railroad and took the battery. Price's two divisions advanced upon the entrenched Federals and forced them back. When darkness fell, the Confederates were within half-a-mile of the inner College Hill Line.

During the night, both commanders made preparations for the morrow's conflict. Van Dorn's plan for the Confederates was perform a pioneer-movement. Maury was to open with fire from his batteries in the center. Hebert on the CSA left would move forward, followed by Lovell on the right and Maury in the center.
The fighting on October 4 gave the Battle of Corinth its reputation of being one of the most vicious of the Civil War. Opening with an artillery duel, which ceased shortly before daylight, the first attack was launched on the extreme left by the CSA forces in the vicinity of Corinth High School. The Confederates were repulsed and retired from this part of the field. Meanwhile brigades from Hebert's and Maury's divisions broke through Federal lines near the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. Their assault carried them down Polk, Jackson and Fillmore Streets to the railroad intersection. There they were met by Union reserves. Hand-to-hand fighting ensued. Battery Williams turned cannon fire into the melee, and the Confederates began withdrawing.
In front of Robinett, Maury's brigades advanced through the abatis and into withering fire from Robinett's cannon. Colonel William P. Rodgers of the 2nd Texas led their third advance. Just as he reached the parapet, he was killed; and the Confederates began to retreat.

South of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, Lovell skirmished, but never advanced. Van Dorn ordered him to cover the Confederate retreat. By 2:00 p.m., the fatigued Confederates were retreating toward the Hatchie River.

On October 5, they battled with Union troops under Ord and Hurlbut before they finally crossed the Hatchie River at Crum's Mill and retreated to Ripley.

Rosecrans reported Federal losses 315 killed, 1,812 wounded, and 232 prisoners or missing; Confederate losses were 1,423 killed, 5,692 wounded, and 2,268 prisoners.

The Battle of Corinth was one of the fiercest and bloodiest of the war. Analysts consider it the beginning of the end of the War in the West.

In January 1864, the Federals partially destroyed and abandoned Corinth. During the ensuing year, CSA General Forrest repaired the Mobile and Ohio Railroad tracks to the point mules could pull the "cars" to Corinth. Then he repaired the M and C tracks to Florence, Alabama. Later in the year, CSA General Hood's army was in Corinth briefly. It was they who burned the Tishomingo Hotel.

A conservative estimate of troops stationed in or around Corinth during the war years numbered over 300,000. At least 200 top Confederate or Federal generals were stationed in Corinth; and over 100 skirmished and/or raids occurred in the area.

 

** In memory of Stan Hughes **
SCV Camp #321 | P.O. Box 1591 | Corinth, Mississippi 38835-1591
design byzacksteen.com

Monthly Meetings Camp News