Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Occupation of Corinth

During the night of May 29th, General Beauregard completed his evacuation of Corinth, leaving only a small rear guard.  Their main assignment was to cheer and welcome each arriving train  as if it were loaded with reinforcements to disguise the fact that they were empty trains arriving to evacuate the Army of Mississippi.*  This tactic was apparently successful as indicated by the following note from Pope.

Major-General HALLECK:

The enemy is re-enforcing heavily, by trains, in my front and on my left. The cars are running constantly, and the cheering is immense every time they unload in front of me. I have no doubt, from all appearances, that I shall be attacked in heavy force at daylight.

Major-General, Commanding.**

Amidst a flurry of confused messages flying between Pope and Halleck  (ORE pp 225-231) on this morning, General Nelson, commanding Buell's Fourth Division, sends the most accurate communication of the day.

HEADQUARTERS FOURTH DIVISION, In the Lines, May 30, 1862-5 a.m.

The prisoner that accompanies this states that enemy have gone, and the town appears to me to be on fire. He says that the infantry was withdrawn last night at 9 p.m. and that cavalry replaced them. I have ordered my line of pickets to advance and attack the cavalry, and if the enemy are gone I'll be the first in at Corinth.


Led by Nelson, the Union's long awaited advance into the city met with little resistance, and on this day in 1862 General Halleck was able to wire Secretary Stanton that his advance guards had entered  Corinth.  The first regiment to arrive was the Seventeenth Kentucky and it was their flag that was planted on the high ground at approximately the camera's position in the photograph below.  This crowning achievement was accomplished by Sgt. William T. King and Capt. Robert M. Davis, both of Company I.***

View from Corinth's main fortification facing east.  The 17th Kentucky entered from the northeast and crossed this open field virtually unopposed.

Honorable E.M. Stanton, Secretary of War
Camp near Corinth, May 30, 1862.

Enemy's positions and works in front of Corinth were exceedingly strong. He cannot occupy stronger positions. In his flight this morning he destroyed an immense amount of public and private property-stores, provisions, wagons, tents, &c. For miles out of the town the roads are filled with arms, haversacks, &c., thrown away by his flying troops. A large number of prisoners and deserters have been captured, and estimated by General Pope at 2,000. General Beauregard evidently distrusts his army, or he would have defended so strong a position. His troops are generally much discouraged and demoralized. In all their engagements the last few days their resistance has been weak.


It has been almost two month's since Grant's victory at Shiloh.  During this time Halleck amassed a force of 120,000 men (10,000 more than the total number of combatants at Shiloh), and advanced them 22 miles in 32 days, stopping seven times to build field fortifications along the way.  Although his objective was achieved with minimal losses, he allowed Beauregard to reorganize and reinforce his army via the railroads before escaping almost intact.

It is not clear if Halleck ever understood that, except for a few aforementioned skirmishes, his massive army was mostly pitted against Beauregard's stragglers and skirmish bait.  Beauregard's rear guard were selected from those who were marginally able-bodied.  Throughout these two months, "Old Brains" consistently exaggerated both the strength of the enemy and the success of his own troops. For example, in the above telegram he purports to have demoralized Beauregard's troops based on interviews with deserters and the stragglers left behind as a rear guard. 

The Siege of Corinth proved to be the first and last campaign under the direct command of General H.W. Halleck in the American Civil War.  The result was a strategic victory for the Union and a disaster for the citizens of Corinth, but militarily proved to be a draw.  He was called back to Washington and placed in the administrative position of General-in-Chief of the Army.

For further reading, see

*ref: my Favorite Link, Seven Score and Ten, May 30, 2012 post

**ORE correspondence courtesy of my Favorite Link, Ohio State's eHistory

***Blackburn, John; A Hundred Miles, A Hundred Heartbreaks, 1972, self-published, LOC 72-93774

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