Siege, Battle, Occupation
Often it seems like there are only two kinds of Civil War campaigns – those that are done to death, with a thousand books rehashing the same territory and those that are not covered at all. The prime example of the former is of course, Gettysburg. There are quite a few of the latter – Petersburg, the post Gettysburg 1863 Virginia campaign.
But pride of place has to go to the post-Shiloh Corinth campaign of 1862. I can’t recall a single treatment of any size. The armies were large, and the goal was important. Holding Corinth, a key railroad junction, would block any move up the Mississippi Valley into Tennessee.
The book centers on this vital little town and the capture of it by the Union under Henry Halleck. It continues to the attempts by Earl Van Dorn to take it back, ending in the medium-sized Battle of Corinth in October, 1862.
In March and April, 1862 the Confederates in the West, under Albert Sydney Johnston, concentrated all of their force to repel Ulysses Grant‘s army of the Tennessee at Shiloh. They were thwarted due to some good fighting and to the arrival of Don Carlos Buell‘s Army of the Ohio at the end of the first day. Corinth was the staging ground for this attack, and the force fell back on that town after the battle, now commanded by Beauregard after Johnston’s death at Shiloh.
Halleck, in overall head of the Union forces in the west, was taken aback by the near run battle. More men had fallen at Shiloh than in the entire Revolutionary War. Halleck wanted no such risks, so he collected his entire force to face the army in Corinth 22 miles away. He reorganized the forces, kicking Grant to a ‘second in command’ role and putting Buell, George Thomas, and John Pope (fresh from taking Island #10) at the head of the three armies. In all, he had over 100,000 men. With a large superiority of force and some careful movements, this would be a sure thing.
In the end, it was too sure a thing. In the first week they were about two thirds of the way to Corinth. There were a few skirmishes, and then Halleck began an almost siege-like creep forward toward the city, entrenching at each stop. The advance became a crawl. By the end of May, Beauregard decided to pull out and managed to sneak his entire army away before Halleck noticed. Corinth had fallen. but it was an empty victory.
Halleck split up the army, sending part east to try and take Chattanooga and secure the entire state of Tennessee. Grant had the other half, spread out to hold the western half. Then Halleck was called east to command all the armies, taking Pope with him.
Beauregard was sacked, and Braxton Bragg took most of the Confederate forces to beat Buell to Chattanooga and begin the Kentucky invasion. Buell had to follow. Grant was tied down holding Memphis, Corinth and the area between.
Earl Van Dorn, left in charge in North Mississippi, was itching to jpin in the tide of offensives the South was undertaking in September 1862. Lee was heading to Maryland, Bragg was in Kentucky heading for the Ohio River…only Grant had not lost ground. But his troops were spread out and perhaps vulnerable.
The first try went awry as Grant planned at attack on half of the Confederate force under Stirling Price. Forces under Ord and Rosecrans would trap him at Iuka, coming in from both directions to crush him. The initial attempt failed as Ord’s troops did not hear the fight and Roescrans fought alone at Iuka. Price then marched out of the trap, as Rosecrans had left an unblocked road for him to escape on.
With this escape, Van Dorn decided to try a similar trick to destroy Rosecrans at Corinth. He would circle to the north to attack, hitting from an unexpected direction and blocking reinforcement from the rest of Grant’s army.
In early October he struck. The fighting was furious, but the Union were aided by reusing the Confederate’s lines from the May campaign against them. There were some breakthroughs, but in the end Van Dorn was repulsed.
Thsi left him trapped between Corinth and Grant’s arriving reinforcements. But again, an unblocked river crossing and road allowed the army to escape south. This was the last offensive in the Mississippi Valley, and now the attempts to take Vicksburg and divide the Confederacy at the Mississippi would begin.