The Siege of Corinth – A Visit and Photo Essay on Corinth, Mississippi

The Siege of Corinth

After the Battle of Shiloh, April 6–7, 1862, US Major General Henry W. Halleck arrived at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, to take command of the Federal forces: Army of the Tennessee and Army of the Ohio.  US Major General Ulysses S. Grant was rumored to have been drunk during the battle which the Federal forces, while earning a tactical victory, suffered over 13,000 casualties.  After arriving he placed Grant second in command – essentially a general without an army.

After Shiloh, Confederate commander, General P.G.T. Beauregard, had retreated with his Army of Mississippi to Corinth, Mississippi.  Corinth was an extremely important city for the Confederacy as it was the crossroads of the Memphis and Charleston and the Mobile and Ohio railroads.  These two roads operated with the same gauge trackage and Corinth had become a major supply depot.

By early May, Halleck had his forces moving towards Corinth.  With nearly 120,000 troops, Halleck enjoyed nearly a two to one numerical advantage over Beauregard.  Considered extremely intelligent, Halleck was not an experienced field commander.  Caution was his policy.  Moving at a snail’s pace, Halleck would take three weeks to move the last five miles to Corinth – all the while entrenching his gargantuan army as it moved ever closer.  Beauregard, knowing he was vastly outnumbered, determined he could not hold Corinth if it came to a siege.  On May 29, 1862, the Confederate army began departing on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad.  As each train arrived, the Rebels would unleash cheers giving the impression that reinforcements were arriving.  To further confuse Halleck, campfires were kept burning and music was played.  The deception was so thorough that Beauregard was able to remove his artillery, replacing the guns with “Quaker guns” – wooden models that appeared to be authentic from a distance.  The Confederate withdrawal was complete, with the Army of Mississippi relocating to Tupelo, Mississippi.  The next morning, Federal patrols entered Corinth to find it empty. 

The Second Battle of Corinth

The belligerents would again fight at Corinth in October 1862.  CSA Major General Earl Van Dorn’s Army of Tennessee planned to attack US Major General William S. Rosecrans’ Army of the Mississippi from an unsuspected direction.  Van Dorn launched his attack on October 3 - from the northwest.  Van Dorn’s 22,000 soldiers would not be sufficient to break the contracted defensive position held by Rosecrans’ 23,000 troops.  After being repulsed on October 3, Van Dorn ordered CSA Brigadier General Louis Hébert’s Division to attack at first light on October 4.  His attack would be preceded by a heavy artillery barrage.  By 7:00 a.m., with the artillery silent, Hébert’s attack failed to materialize. Sending word to Van Dorn that he was sick, CSA Brigadier General Martin E. Green was ordered to lead the division against the Federal lines.  After an initial success against Battery Powell, Green would be repulsed.  By 1:00 p.m., the Confederate Army of Tennessee was forced to retreat.  As might be expected when attacking a prepared position, the Confederates suffered a casualty rate near 20%.  While Rosecrans became an instant celebrity after the Second Battle of Corinth, Grant was critical of his lack of pursuit which allowed Van Dorn to escape to Holly Springs, Mississippi.

A Visit to Corinth, Mississippi

I have been to Shiloh National Military Park many times over the years.  It remains one of my favorite Civil War battlefields.  During all of these visits, I have never taken time to visit the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center.  Only 21 miles from Shiloh it is definitely worth the time to visit.  While the Interpretive Center is the only National Park Service property, there is a wonderful driving tour of many of the significant sites of wartime Corinth.  I encourage any of you making a trip to Shiloh to take the 40 minute trip to Corinth.

Civil War Sites in Corinth, Mississippi

  • Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center at Battery Robinett: The Interpretive Center offers a wonderful research facility, displays, films and a terrific courtyard water display.
  • Trailhead Park: Located in downtown Corinth, this park is at the strategic crossing of the Memphis & Charleston and Mobile & Ohio railroads.  This crossing was the primary reason the Civil War found its way to Corinth.
  • Corinth National Cemetery: This national cemetery is the final resting place 1,793 known and 3,895 unknown Civil War soldiers.  Unlike so many national cemeteries, Corinth is still interring American soldiers.
  • Corinth Contraband Camp: This city park is located on the original site of the camp created for runaway slaves.  As many as 6,000 slaves were housed here during its peak.  The park features several wonderful sculptures.
  • Fish Pond House: This historic home served as a headquarters for Confederate generals P.G.T. Beauregard and John Breckinridge.
  • Battery Powell: The site where CSA Brigadier General Martin Green’s Division briefly broke the Federal lines on October 4, 1862.
  • Oak Home: This beautiful period home served as the headquarters for CSA Major General Leonidas “Bishop” Polk.
  • Verandah House: This aging Civil War era home served as headquarters for Confederate generals Earl Van Dorn, Braxton Bragg and John Bell Hood.  US Major General Henry W. Halleck used the home as his headquarters after the Federal occupation of Corinth on May 30, 1862.
  • Duncan House: This wonderfully maintained home also served as the headquarters of Beauregard and Breckinridge.  During the Federal occupation it was William S. Rosecrans’ headquarters.
  • Battery F: This wonderfully preserved fort served to protect the western lines of the Federal Army of the Mississippi.
  • Federal Siege Line: North of Corinth are excellent examples of the Federal siege lines used in May 1862.

Click HERE to view a photo essay on my visit to Corinth.

About Michael Noirot

I grew up in the Central Illinois farming community, of Dunlap. Growing up, I played sports, tinkered with cars and enjoyed photography. While I did well in school, I did not become passionate about history until my early 30's. I have built a large library, of books on early America, politics and the Civil War. I am an avid reader. Fortunately, I have had plenty of opportunities to travel, over the years, and have been to most of the Civil War battlefields. I work while I travel, so more often than not, I am up, in the middle of the night, to get sunrise pictures, or I will be out until well after dark, exploring Civil War battlefields. I have other hobbies, and passions, that I really enjoy. Number one on the list would be guitar. I play my guitars on a regular basis, and enjoy the Bluegrass, and Contemporary Christian (CCM) genres. I play a style of guitar, called FLATPICKING, where using a flat pick, you play lead solos, similar to the way a fiddle would have been played during the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Laura, my wife, and I also enjoy scuba diving, travel and spending time at our property, in the country. Lastly, we spend as much time with our families, as possible. Thanks for stopping by.
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One Response to The Siege of Corinth – A Visit and Photo Essay on Corinth, Mississippi

  1. Ajhall says:

    One of the more interesting things about the whole Shiloh/Corinth campaign revolves around the Union forces under Grant “getting caught with their pants down”, so to speak. In the aftermath, Grant, and to a lesser extent Sherman, were raked over the coals for not being ready to meet a Confederate offensive, in spite of several pieces of alarming intelligence suggesting a bad moon was rising. Much of the negative press has lead to the erroneous assumption that the ultimate Union victory was Pyrrhic at best. This belief continues to this day, at least among those who have only cursorily studied the war.

    The belief that Grant was caught unprepared lead directly to the appointment of Halleck to field command of the Shiloh/Corinth forces. Halleck would never be a general caught unprepared, as evidenced by his ponderous siege of Corinth. A lot of the follow-up blithely ignored a very important point. Getting surprised by the enemy is an inherent risk for operationally offensive-minded leaders. Grant was far more interested in what he could do to the Confederates than what they might do to him. Lee was a master at this type of calculated risk thinking.

    It was far from the last time Union forces in the more offensive-minded Western theater would be caught unprepared for an attack by the Confederates. The one that comes readily to mind was the first day of the Battle of Atlanta. Sherman was not thinking in operationally defensive terms, and many of his corps and division commanders refused to allow their troops to build extensive works to protection. They assumed Hood was evacuating Atlanta, not maneuvering to attack. It seems only MacPherson was uneasy. He did allow some defensive preparations to go forward, while still planning to go on the offensive. His cautionary steps may well have saved a major set-back when Hood did in fact initiate a heavy attack, one that cost McPherson his life.

    The Shiloh/Corinth campaign showed with stark clarity the difference between commanders who were offensive minded vs. those who never thought in terms of calculated risk. There are inherent risks in offensive operations. We can’t have it both ways, castigating the aggressive general when he suffers a set-back in pursuing his goals, then expecting him to win with a purely defensive strategy that assumes little risk. Corinth showed Halleck could not be a victorious field commander. Fortunately, Lincoln (whether directly or serendipitously) grasped the difference and understood Halleck’s talents were in staff work, while Grant’s were field combat.

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