Saturday, June 30, 2012

Another New Camp

Captain Cox describes the Seventeenth's activities on this, their first day in camp near Athens, Alabama. 

This is Monday and the last day of June, 1862, and our day for muster.  We, therefore, had general inspection of guns, etc.  After inspection we were engaged rearranging our camp, pitching tents, etc.  Camped in a beach bottom and near several fine springs and a creek to bathe in; consequently, we are well contented and fixed.*

This entry provides a reminder of how these men had suffered under Halleck's command from a shortage of drinking water and absence of bathing water.  These infantrymen had just finished a six day march of more than 70 miles which included ferrying across the Tennessee and streaking across the Elk in the heat of a southern summer that few had experienced.  A few springs and a creek in this virgin forrest was like heaven, and quite worthy of following their recent encampments near Iuka and Bear Creek.

*Cox, Samuel K., Civil War Diary 1862-1865 of Captain Samuel Kennedy Cox, Courtesy of Daviess County Public Library, Kentucky Room, archived manuscript, p.18

Friday, June 29, 2012

Athens, Alabama

Captain Cox had little to say about this day in 1862.

At 4 o'clock this mornning we were again on the move.  Athens, Alabama, at 2 o'clock, a distance of 13 miles from our camp of last night.  We are now one mile east of said town and rumor says we will remain here during the summer.  I hope it's true, for we need a rest.*

The Captain expresses no knowledge of  the actions of  Colonel Turchin just two month's prior in this small town of 1200 people.  If he had known, he surely would have been more apprehensive about staying for the summer.  Although there were many instances of abhorrent behavior throughout this summer in northern Alabama, Turchin and his men are credited for setting a new standard  of deviancy in the  American Civil War.  Incidents like this would eventually lead to charges and inquiries of officers from Turchin to Mitchell and, eventually, General Buell himself for failing to maintain military discipline.

Throughout the war, the Seventeenth will follow in the wake of Turchin and others of similar mind.  Although it is likely that a few rogues may have participated in similar behavior, there are no records of any such misconduct.  There is, however, evidence that these volunteers from Kentucky were decidedly more civl in the treatment of their neighbors to the south than most Federal units and their  officers from Col. McHenry to Capt. Cox. would never tolerate mistreatment of civilians or their property.  Their tenacity on the battlefield was tempered with compassion for the civilians and hatred for the secessionists who, in their minds, started this bloody war. This will become more evident through personal letters, diary entries and Special Orders as the months unfold.

After "The Rape of Athens", General Mitchell came under increasing pressure to control his troops.  The following orders, issued May 20, reflect his personal feelings toward such behavior.

[Inclosure No. 11.]
Extract of order to Col. J. B. Turchin, dated May 20, 1862.
I wish the troops that are quartered in town to be removed as early as possible. No private dwellings must be occupied by troops. * * *
The examination of soldiers' baggage ordered on yesterday must be thorough and rapid.
I trust a full report will reach me on to-morrow. * * *

[Inclosure No. 12.]
Extract from order to Colonel Lytle, dated May 20, 1862.
See that your men do not pillage and plunder. They shall not steal horses or mules or enter private houses on any pretense whatever.
I would prefer to hear that you had fought a battle and been defeated in a fair fight than to learn that your soldiers have degenerated into robbers and plunderers.

*Cox, Samuel K., CIvil War Diary 1862-1865 of Captain Samuel Kennedy Cox, courtesy of Daviess County Public Library, Kentucky Room, unpublished manuscript, p.17

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

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Elk River, Alabama

No photographers were allowed as the division crossed the Elk River- sans bridge.  This scenic river has changed little in 150 years of hydro-engineering, unlike most of the Tennessee Valley.  It remains a relatively wide but shallow stream ripe for fly fishing and other outdoor activities.  However, crossing in the manner of Nelson's Division is generally not recommended.  Perhaps a canoe rental would be more appropriate.

Captain Cox was kind enough to expose the events of June28, 1862 in his diary.

Started this morning at 4 o'clock and travelled on very moderately during the day.  Crossed Elk River at 12 o'clock.  We adopted the uniform Nelson did when he crossed the Duck River, the one that nature gave us.  Marched some three miles into camp for the night.  Distance ten miles today.*

*Cox, Samuel K., Civil War Diary 1862-1865 of Captain Samuel Kennedy Cox, Daviess County Public Library, Kentucky Room, unpublished manuscript, p.17.  Emphasis was the author's.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Huntsville Road, Day 2

Nelson's Division continues their march to the east on the Huntsville Road on this day in 1862.  Captain Cox provided this brief report.

Had reveille at 2 A M and were on the road at 3 o'clock.  Traveled nine miles and came up with the rear of Crittenden's Division where we halted and remained until 3 P M.  Traveled today fifeteen miles.  The roads are in fine condition, the dust being laid by a shower at noon.*

*Cox, Samuel K., Civil War Diary 1862-1865 of Captain Samuel Kennedy Cox, courtesy of  Daviess County Public Library, Kentucky Room, unpublished manuscript, p.17

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Huntsville Road, June 26, 1862

On this afternoon  "Bull" Nelson's Division struck out on the Huntsville Road heading east and again the talk turned to possible destinations, with Virginia being the popular choice.  Beginning at 3:00, they marched seven miles before making camp for the night.

Capt. Cox recorded that "It rained this afternoon which has cooled the atmosphere considerably, making it more pleasant for travelling along the dusty roads."*

Their path through northern Alabama had been subdued with little effort in April by O.M. Mitchell's  operations that included the Great Locomotive Chase  from Atlanta to Ringgold, Georgia.  Although subdued, this territory was far from secure and the soldiers had to maintain the highest security along the road, being constantly on alert for rebel attacks.  There were numerous small groups of armed men patrolling the neighborhood that were always on the lookout for stray wagons or straggling troops.

These home guard militia were all the more motivated by the rampant ravaging and looting that had accompanied Mitchell's April campaign through the area.  This behavior was officially condemned by the War Department, as the current policy was to defeat the Confederate Army without alienating the southern people.  The view in Washington being that the gracious people of the South were being poorly served by their rebellious leaders and were anxious to return to the fold.

*Cox, Samuel K., Civil War Diary 1862-1865 of Captain Samuel Kennedy Cox, courtesy of Daviess County Public Library, Kentucky Room, unpublished manuscript, p.17

Monday, June 25, 2012

Florence, AL

 June 25th, 1862 was not a day of rest for Nelson's Fourth Division of Buell's Army of the Ohio.  After the previous day's 21-mile march from Bear Creek to Tuscumbia, this day 's mission was to cross the Tennessee River to the occupied city of Florence, Alabama.  They were ferried across the river by the steamer Lady Jackson and two barges, marched the mile to Florence where they met their old friends in General Crittenden's Division under marching orders.*

This picturesque southern town on the northern bank of the shoals area, like it's neighbor to the south, was the site of several skirmishes throughout the war. For the Seventeenth Kentucky, however, it was merely a way-station on their path to yet another unknown destination in their tour of northern Alabama.

Captain Cox, Co.A, 17th Ky provided this description of the town:  "Florence is a beautiful place; but like all other towns in Dixie, it is almost deserted.  There are; however, more citizens here than at any town we have as yet passed through.  The country around us is good and from the number of fine farms one may guess this is a wealthy portion of Alabama."*

Area map illustrating the travels of the 17th Kentucky Infantry in the Army of the Tennessee (dark blue) and the Army of the Ohio (medium blue)  as of June 25, 1862.  Original map courtesy of my Favorite Link  Son of the South.

*Cox, Samuel K., Civil War Diary 1862-1865 of Captain Samuel Kennedy Cox, Courtesy of Daviess County Public Library, Kentucky Room, unpublished manuscript, p.17

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Tuscumbia, AL

All good things come to an end and on this day in 1862 Nelson's Division is ordered to break camp.  They continue their eastward march crossing Bear Creek and completing the 21 mile journey to Tuscumbia, Alabama on the southern bank of the Tennessee River and the western edge of the impassable shoals.

By the 1850s, Tuscumbia had become a major transportation hub for northern Alabama and was taking on the appearance of a small city. With the river on it's northern border, the  Memphis&Charleston RR running through the town and a recently completed federal highway, this formerly peaceful southern town became a bone of contention for the Confederate and Union Armies throughout the war.

Reaching Federally controlled Tuscumbia on the evening of June 24th, the Seventeenth bivouacked for the night.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Camping at Bear Creek

Just a brief note today, to say all is well with the volunteers from Kentucky in the Seventeenth Infantry on this day in 1862.  They remain on duty at the Bear Creek Bridge which, although not as pleasant as their camp at Iuka, is a vacation compared to their previous four months. 

This light duty is divided between posts on the east and west ends of the bridge, patrols of the surrounding areas, routine equipment maintenance, and swimming at a nearby pool on Bear Creek that the soldiers ranked as first class.*  Swimming was one of the favorite pastimes of the soldiers as it provided a chance for horseplay, bathing and exercise that did not involve standing on their aching feet.

The men also had ample time to enjoy the lush countryside while doing a little hunting and fishing.  In the evenings they could relax around the campfires after a better than average meal, and write letters to their family and sweethearts.

Being held at the Mississippi-Alabama border gave rise to hopes that they might be redirected to the north. They were certainly not anxious to continue eastward to Virginia. The soldiers were unaware that Chattanooga was actually next on Halleck's agenda for General Buell..

* Blackburn, John, A Hundred Miles, A Hundred Heartbreaks, 1972,self-published, LOC 72-93774, pp.100-101

Monday, June 18, 2012

Forward March!

When ordered to break camp the infantry man is seldom informed where or why the march is directed.  Whether this information is withheld for the security of the mission or the security of the command is a matter of opinion.  Orders, unlike horses, are frequently changed in mid-stream and it wouldn't do for the soldiers to experience the indecision that permeated the upper ranks.

On May 17th, 1862 the division at Iuka was ordered to break camp and began marching to the east.  The conversation in the ranks undoubtedly centered around their regrets upon leaving the resort city of Iuka.  They said good-bye to the refreshing mineral baths,  to the lovely southern ladies and to the countryside unspoiled by the ravages of war.  They were now marching to the east at a determined pace. 

The Kentucky regiments were anxious to head back north to protect their homes from the Confederate marauders, notably Morgan and Buckner. These  generals were not only raiding supply trains, but also gathering conscripts for service in the Confederate Army.  The volunteers were aware of this through letters and newspaper accounts and felt powerless to help their family, friends and neighbors back home.  But an eastward heading could only mean one thing, and rumors spread that they were going to show McClelland a thing or two about fighting Rebels.  The recent newspaper accounts indicated that he needed their assistance.

Surprisingly, after only three miles, Nelson's march ended at Bear Creek, where it was crossed by the Memphis & Charleston RR.  Their new orders were to protect the bridge from Confederate soldiers and saboteurs, such as the one described Ambrose Bierce's An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, and this is where their new camp was established, 150 years ago today.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Colonel McHenry's Final Report

The following report of Colonel McHenry provides the best overview of the Seventeenth's experiences in the merry month of May, 1862.  June 17th also marks the end of their extended stay in Iuka, as they break camp and head east toward Tuscumbia, Alabama.

Brigadier-General AMMEN, Comdg. Tenth Brigade.
Numbers 7 Report of Colonel John H. McHenry, jr., Seventeenth Kentucky Infantry, of operations from May 2 to 30.

June 10, 1862.

The regiment which I have the honor to command, forming a portion of your brigade, was ordered from Pittsburg about May 2, and approached Corinth by slow, irregular, and inconvenient marches, remaining at some points for several days, bivouacking at night generally, and did not fully establish our camp until we arrived within 3 miles of Corinth, where we were ordered to encamp, and remained from about the 16th ultimo until the evacuation of Corinth by the enemy. During this time my regiment was constantly engaged on grand guard and picket duty, performing their share of labor required of them in the construction of heavy fortifications, abatis,&c.
The day previous to the evacuation of Corinth the regiment under my command was designated as the advance guard of your brigade and held the advanced position of the division about 1 mile north of the outer lines of the enemy. My special orders from the commanding general of the division was to guard and hold possession of a bridge across-Creek, a small stream, wooded on either side by heavy timber and thick undergrowth. The stream, although small, was impassable for artillery, cavalry, or even infantry, on account of sudden declivities of the banks on either side and the soft, boggy bottom. The bridge was on the main road leading from our camp to Corinth, and seemed to be regarded as a very important crossing as well by the enemy as by ourselves, for scarcely had my regiment taken its position some 50 yards from the creek, and before I had time to relieve the pickets in front of us, when the pickets of the enemy fired upon us, rendering it important that more than usual care and caution should be used in posting them. This was accomplished without the occurrence of any casualty. Soon after my pickets were posted, which was on the bank and behind trees, two of the enemy walked leisurely across the bridge into our lines, from whom I ascertained that a battery of four guns commanded the bridge from the other side and was planted less than 200 yards from where my battalion was posted. Frequently during the day the firing between pickets was severe. I lost one man, Valentine Miller, private Company I, who was shot through the head while he was lying upon the ground. One man, an officer, was shot and supposed to be killed by my pickets, as he was seen to fall and be carried off, and one other of the enemy was known to be severely wounded.
Before 5 o'clock next morning I received your order to advance my regiment across the bridge and skirmish on either side of the road, as it was thought the enemy had evacuated the town. Your order was executed, and the pickets of the enemy, principally cavalry, were driven in in great confusion. We captured 5 infantry, and, without any resistance from the enemy other than a few random shots from retreating cavalry, my advanced skirmishers, under Captain Little, Company H, entered the breastworks in front of Corinth a few minutes after 6 o'clock. My whole regiment was then ordered up and formed line of battle on the first hill, and was joined soon afterward by the remainder of your brigade, when you assumed command of the whole brigade and moved forward into the town.

Very respectfully,
Colonel, Commanding Seventeenth Regiment Kentucky Vols.*

Corinth, as seen from the high ground where the Seventeenth planted their regimental flag on May 30, 1862.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Ammen's Final Report

General Ammen's summary report of his experience as commander of the Tenth Brigade of Nelson's Fourth Division is reprinted below.  The few minor discrepancies in details of daily events are fairly common in these reports.  He does. however verify that it was his brigade, which included the Seventeenth, that took the lead at Bridge Creek, a fact that was omitted by General Nelson.  He also asserts that it was his brigade that first entered Corinth on May 30th.

No. 5 Report of Colonel Jacob Ammen, Twenty-fourth Ohio Infantry, commanding Tenth Brigade, of operations from May 28 to June 6.
June 14, 1862.

SIR: In obedience to orders requiring an account of the operations of the Tenth Brigade from the time of leaving Pittsburg Landing, I have the honor to submit the following report:
In consequence of sickness I was absent from the brigade until the 28th of May, when I joined the command about 2 1/2 miles from Corinth. That day the Tenth Brigade occupied the trenches as a reserve.
The 29th of May the Tenth Brigade took the advance. Had some skirmishing, and was engaged in constructing defense.
May 30, 5.30 a. m., marched for Corinth. Entered breastworks 7.15 a. m.; proceeded immediately into the town, arriving before any other troops at least three-quarters of an hour. In the evening returned to camp.*
June 3 marched through Corinth, Danville, and Rienzi toward Blackland, halting 4 miles from the latter place June 6.
For details you are respectfully referred to regimental commanders' reports.

All of which is respectfully submitted.
Colonel, Commanding Tenth Brigade.*

Period map of northeastern Mississippi showing the circuitous path "Old Brains" Halleck ordered for Nelson's Division, making a 65 mile journey out of a 22 mile excursion.  Original map courtesy of 26th Mississippi


Friday, June 15, 2012

Nelson's Final Report

General Nelson's final report on the Corinth Operations is reprinted below in it's entirety.  In this summary of activity from Shiloh to Corinth and beyond, there are no direct references to the Seventeenth Kentucky.  However, there is an interesting comment concerning Ammen's Brigade and the Skirmish at Bridge Creek as well as the best availble timeline for the march from Corinth to Iuka.  A note of frustration with General Pope echoes between the lines in his report on the activities of the 8th and 9th of May.

Florence, Ala., June 26, 1862.

COLONEL: In obedience to orders I have the honor to make the following report of the operations of this division since the battle of Shiloh to the relinquishment of the pursuit:
On May 2 the division moved from the field of Shiloh and encamped near the forks of the road east of Monterey; employed cutting roads and corduroying. This, with the picket duty, came heavy on the troops, owing to the bad weather.
On May 7 advanced the camp 3 miles.
On the 8th advanced to Nichols' Ford, on Seven Mile Creek, to support, as I was informed, a reconnaissance of General Pope. Left this position at midnight and returned to camp, which was reached at 4 a. m. At 10.30 o'clock received an order to march my division to the support of General Pope. Marched in quick-time in the direction indicated, the enemy having attacked the troops at Farmington. Received repeated messages urging my more rapid advance; also a letter from General Pope informing me that the enemy were advancing fiercely on his camp." Before I could get up the firing ceased, but messengers arriving with the intelligence that my picket had been attacked at Nichols' Ford, changed direction and moved to that point, to which point the camp was moved the day following.
On May 18 moved forward on the Farmington road and took up the position which the division encamped on until the evacuation of Corinth; threw up heavy intrenchments on the commanding ground in front of the camps. The pickets were daily skirmishing with those of the enemy. Occasionally the enemy would throw shells into our lines.
On May 21 the Twenty-second Brigade, under command of Colonel Sedgewick, Second Kentucky, composed of the First, Second, and Twentieth Kentucky Regiments and the Thirty-first Indiana, made, in obedience to orders of General Buell, a reconnaissance in front of Wood's and T. W. Sherman's divisions, on the Corinth road, near Widow Serratt's house. They were met by the enemy in force and a very sharp skirmish ensued. The brigade occupied the ground that it was ordered to take.
I cannot speak too highly of the coolness and steadiness of the officers and men on the occasion. The whole movement was conducted by Colonel Sedgewick with marked ability. The brigade lost 3 mortally wounded (since dead) and 23 wounded, as per list. From the fact of finding 35 new graves at this place I supposed that to be the loss of the enemy.
On May 28, by command of General Buell, the division moved out of the trenches, the Twenty-second Brigade, under command of Colonel Sedgewick, in front, brushing among the enemy's pickets and skirmishers, and drove them from the bridge over Bridge Creek, on the main road from Hamburg to Corinth, which position we held until the evacuation. The enemy were immediately re-enforced and made three attempts to retake the bridge, which were handsomely repulsed, and the line of skirmishers pursued the enemy to the farther verge of the swamp. Repeated requests came to me to permit the advance of the whole line, which, under the instructions I was carrying out, I refused to permit. Captain Wheeler, of Colonel Ammen's staff, sent to me to say that if I would permit the advance they would be in Corinth in twenty minutes. The examination of the ground since shows that it was very possible. The loss of the brigade in taking and holding the bridge was 3 killed and 20 wounded, as per list.
Lieutenant-Colonel Hanson and Major Buckner, Twentieth Kentucky Volunteers, and Captain Baldwin, Second Kentucky, and his company, and the officers and men of the Twentieth Kentucky Regiment, were conspicuous.
Captain Wheeler, of the Twenty-fourth Ohio, on Colonel Ammen's staff, was, as he always is under fire, conspicuous for his gallantry. During the night dug rifle pits all along the new line.
On the morning of the 30th the division entered Corinth, as I have reported on a former occasion. I have to regret the loss of the services of one of the best officers of my division, namely, Captain Erwin, Sixth Ohio Volunteers, who was shot through the chest at 6 o'clock by the last fire of the enemy's picket as we were moving into the lines of Corinth. The cavalry of my division ran onto the enemy's rear about 3 1/2 miles beyond Corinth. I sent a note to the general asking permission to attack the enemy, which the general decline to give. The division returned to camp. It performed one tour of duty in Corinth, and June 4 marched on the Rienzi road to Smith's Cross-Roads, where we arrived on June 7; thence we marched on the 9th to Iuka, where we arrived on the 11th.
The division in the skirmishing near Corinth lost 4 killed and 58 wounded, as per list, 5 of whom were mortally wounded and have since died.*

Very respectfully,


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Buell's Final Report

 General Buell felt compelled to set the record straight in his final report on activities between April 8 and June 10, 1862, a portion of which is reprinted below.  The following excerpt begins with operations on May 29th.  The Skirmish at Bridge Creek, which involved the Seventeenth, was one of the few named engagements during this period.  Recall that General Pope had fallen for Beauregard's trick and, hearing the cheering crowds greeting each empty train on it's arrival, had wired Halleck at 1:00 AM, May 30th that the enemy was reinforcing to his front and that he full well expected to be attacked in force at dawn.

There was some skirmishing on the 29th. On the evening of that day I advised General Halleck of my purpose, with his approval, to crowd the enemy back and cross Bridge Creek with two and perhaps three more divisions, and suggested that General Pope should be prepared to advance also. He replied that General Pope was of opinion that he could not advance without bringing on a general attack, and he deemed it best, therefore, that Pope should hold on to his position until we felt the enemy more on the right and center. I accordingly gave specific instructions for the advance of my troops on the following morning. About 2 o'clock next morning I received dispatches from General Halleck and General Pope, informing me that the enemy were re-enforcing heavily on our left, which, it was stated, would undoubtedly be attacked at daylight, and desiring me to be prepared to support General Pope. Deeming the orders I had given the evening before sufficient for that contingency, if it should occur, I made no change in my dispositions. About 4.30 o'clock I received a message from General Nelson, to the effect that the enemy were evacuating Corinth and that he had ordered his troops to advance. In view of the dispatches I had received from General Halleck and General Pope only two hours and a half earlier, I deemed it proper to adhere to the instructions I had given the evening before, and accordingly sent word to General Nelson to advance at the time I had appointed. Very soon after the divisions of McCook and Nelson entered the enemy's works. About a hundred prisoners, the most of them sick, were found in the place, but no stores of any importance. The little that the enemy did not carry away he destroyed.

It appears that the officers from the right and left who entered Corinth on the morning of the 30th reported the fact promptly to General Halleck, who immediately telegraphed the reports to Washington, and the publicity given too them through the press has given rise to some rivalry as to which of the three armies first entered the enemy's works. I have no doubt myself that the honor is due to Major-General Nelson. It is certain that he discovered the enemy were evacuating when others supposed instead that they were preparing to attack. I did not, however, deem the question of priority of so much importance as to anticipate it, and therefore did not forward General Nelson's report for some time after it was received.*

This will not be the last time that some overly eager-beaver general designs to take credit for an accomplishment that truly belonged to the Seventeenth, only to have the record retrospectively corrected.

*, pp.675-676

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Nelson's Report

Below, the original report from Nelson to Buell is reprinted along with Buell's endorsement as it was forwarded to Halleck's Chief of Staff.  Next time maybe they should use the telegraph like Pope and Sherman to get proper public acknowledgement.  After all, this is the 19th Century and media hype now flows with the speed of light.

No. 4 Report of Brigadier General William Nelson, U. S. Army, commanding Fourth Division, of operations from May 2 to June 11.

Before Corinth, May 31, 1862.

COLONEL: I have the honor to report that at 4 a. m. of the 30th an escaped rebel came into my camp and stated that the rebel army were evacuating the lines of Corinth; that their infantry pickets had been withdrawn about 10 o'clock the night previous and had been replaced by cavalry. I immediately ordered a general advance of my line of skirmishers to verify the statement, and at the same time ordered the Seventeenth Kentucky Regiment, which held the bridge, to advance also, sending the Twenty-fourth Ohio Volunteers to take their place. At 5.30 the advance was halted, by orders from headquarters. At 6.30 it was resumed, the skirmishers of the Seventeenth Kentucky Volunteers entering the line of the enemy. At 7 the Tenth Brigade entered the enemy's works with Mendenhall's battery, and I dispatched and aide to inform General Buell that I was in Corinth. We took 103 prisoners; found the town on fire, but were deterred from any serious attempt to extinguish the flames by the frequent explosion of shell; found artillery and musket ammunition in close proximity to the fire, which I ordered to be moved.
The line of skirmishers passed far beyond the town, and I opened on the rising ground in advance, where some of the enemy were in sight, with rifled cannon. The division took up its position on the rising ground, and remained till orders were received from headquarters.
I send you a rebel flag, taken with the prisoners.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Colonel J. B. FRY,
Chief of Staff.
JUNE 2, 1862.

Respectfully forwarded.
To General Nelson's division first and General McCook's very soon after belong whatever credit attaches to the discovery that the enemy had evacuated Corinth and of first occupying his intrenchments.

Major-General, Commanding.*

*, pp.680-681

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Bad Press

The claims and counter-claims made by generals during and after battle always provide insight into the character of the gentlemen involved. In the case of Corinth, Pope on the left and Sherman on the right were initially credited with the distinction of being first to arrive. Recalling that, in this blog, the Seventeenth under General Nelson was credited with being the first to plant their  regimental flag at Corinth, the reader might well be confused. Did not Pope claim that his men (arriving from the east) were the first to enter the city and raise the flag at the post office? Is that necessarily in conflict with Nelson's claim of being the first to plant the flag at the Corinth fortification, which was on a hill overlooking the city?  In the next few days,attempts to correct the record will be presented.

Bivouac at Smith's Cross-Roads, June 7, 1862.

SIR: The newspapers which have during the last three days arrived in the camps of the armies assembled here contain numerous telegraphic accounts of the occupation of Corinth. Whatever merit there is, if any, in that movement is claimed particularly for the troops under the command of Major-General Pope and partially for the troops of Major-General Sherman.
These dispatches, which cannot fail to attract your eye if you look at the newspapers, are prominently put forth, and as newspaper reporters are not permitted in camp and dispatches proceed from some military headquarters, they are received as official. These dispatches, it is true, nowhere have dared to state in so many words that the troops of either of the above-mentioned generals entered Corinth before the division I have the honor to command, but it is the evident intention to convey that idea to the public, which seems to have been successfully done.
I have to request that you will lay before General Halleck this my declaration that the Fourth Division of the Army of the Ohio, under my command, was in possession of Corinth more than half an hour before any troops of General Pope or General Sherman entered the enemy's works. I do not attach extraordinary importance to this circumstance, but a systematic attempt to give prominence to an act will unavoidably give to it in the minds of the public the character of merit or demerit, and thus a stigma or an honor may be as effectually fixed as though an unworthy action had been denounced or a worthy one claimed. In this manner precisely injustice has been done to my division, and I complain that the official telegraph has been made the medium of the wrong.

Very respectfully,
Commanding Fourth Division, Army of the Ohio.*


Monday, June 11, 2012

Company Halt!

The Advance on Corinth conducted by General Henry W. Halleck has received much derision and ridicule by historians in that it took 32 days to move his lumbering army 22 miles, stopping to dig entrenchments and build fortifications seven times along the way.  These comments are in no way intended to cast a shadow of doubt on the monumental performance of the common foot soldiers he commanded.

Since April 29th, the infantries have been chopping trees, clearing roads of debris, rebuilding bridges damaged by rebels and floods,  building corduroy roads through flooded marshes, digging drainage canals, and building field fortifications while maintaining combat readiness, serving picket duty and engaging in the occasional skirmish. Throughout most of these maneuvers they have bivouacked on the open ground with only their bedrolls to call home. Add to this a severe shortage of clean water for bathing (drinking water had to be carried in by wagon) and the ever present respiratory and digestive diseases, localized infections and other maladies and you have a fair picture of the hardships suffered under Halleck's cautious command.

After all of this, they arrived in Corinth, a city ravaged by the fleeing rebels and occupied by desperate civilians and sick soldiers.  And then the forced march to Bear Creek, Alabama began.

Blackburn's narrative continues with the third day of the march from Smith's Crossroads by describing the Seventeenth's arrival in Iuka, Mississippi, a town unspoiled by war (the Battle of Iuka was some 10 weeks away) and just a few miles short of their destination.  "The suffering was great on the march, but it was soon forgotten when the troops reached Iuka.  The few complaints then were that the march had been 'too slow'.  Iuka was a beautiful and wonderful place for a soldier to be in the summer of 1862.  The city was a resort center, with many natural springs, groves of beautiful trees, and fine hotels.  There was more of beauty there too. The men said later that Iuka boasted of  the most beautiful girls they had seen in their whole lives, and the companionship of these girls made the hardships of the march, and even the terror of battle, 'dim memories'."*

Period map of Iuka, Mississippi courtesy of

Often times the mark of a great leader is in knowing when and how an order should be interpreted, and on this day in 1862 Major-General William Nelson achieved greatness in the eyes of his men.  His orders from Halleck were to proceed to the railroad bridge at Bear Creek, but the old general failed to specify that it was necessary for the entire Fourth Division to complete the journey. Nelson chose to send a small detachment forward the remaining three miles to the bridge, but the majority of his regiments were given the order they had prayed for..."Company Halt!" Having determined that Wood's Division was in no immediate need of support, The Fourth Division made camp at Iuka and remained until June 17th, giving the men some much needed R&R.

*Blackburn, John, A Hundred Miles, A Hundred Heartbreaks, 1972. Self-published, LOC 72-94774.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Orders Restoring Order

June 10th marks the official end of Halleck's Siege of Corinth for some historians, based on the Special Orders issued on this day in 1862. The Seventeenth celebrates by continuing the march toward Bear Creek.


No. 90. Corinth, Miss., June 10, 1862.

I. The order dividing the army near Corinth into right wing, center, left wing, and reserve is hereby revoked. Major-Generals Grant, Buell, and Pope will resume the command of their separate army corps, except the division of Major-General Thomas, which till further orders will be stationed in Corinth as a part of the Army of the Tennessee. General Thomas will resume the immediate command of his division on its arrival at Corinth, and Brig. Gen. T. W. Sherman will report to Major-General Buell for duty with the Army of the Ohio.

II. Commanding officers of army corps and of the reserve will immediately report to these headquarters the operations of their several corps from the time of leaving Pittsburg to the evacuation of Corinth and the termination of the pursuit of the enemy, stating the several actions in which their troops were engaged, their own loss and the probable loss of the enemy, the works erected, and roads constructed. Such detailed report is necessary to enable the commanding general to do justice to all concerned.

By order of Major-General Halleck:
Assistant Adjutant-General.*

General Buell now has the Army of the Ohio restored to his command with the addition of Sherman's Division.  More significantly, Grant is no longer Halleck's assistant in command.  His Army of the Tennessee is restored with the addition of General Thomas' division. 

One point not mentioned in these orders is that Nelson retains what is left of  our four regiments mustered at Calhoun Kentucky under General Crittendon.  They had been transferred to Grant's command as Cruft's Brigade for the attack at Fort Donelson, remained with the Army of the Tennessee to fight at Shiloh as Lauman's Brigade and reassigned to the Army of the Ohio as Ammen's Brigade during Halleck's realignment in April.

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

Saturday, June 9, 2012

On the Road Again

Keep in mind that Buell had recently been sent eastward to supervise and direct General Pope's activities more generally toward protecting the rail and wagon roads and less toward fruitless pursuit of the enemy.  To this end, he provides the following summary to Pope on this day in 1862.

Major-General POPE,
Commanding Army of the Mississippi:

In accordance with General Halleck's instructions, I have ordered Sherman's, Nelson's, and Crittenden's divisions back to different points on the Memphis and Charleston road, and directed Davies' division to report to you again. One regiment of Davies' division is at work on the Tuscumbia Bridge, under the direction of an officer from Sherman's division. The bridge ought to be finished day after to-morrow. Smith's First Ohio Cavalry, which belongs properly to Sherman's division, is ordered to return with it. These are, I believe, all the points that affect your command.
I shall start back early in the morning, leaving you independent again. I suppose our future movements will be determined upon in a few days.

Very truly,
Major-General, Commanding.*

Nelson receives marching orders at Smith's Crossroads and sets out for the Bear Creek Bridge, heading east from Smith's Cross-Roads.  Notice that half the journey was completed before these orders were received.

Brigadier-General NELSON,
Commanding Fourth Division:

General Buell directs that your division at once take up it line of march for Bear Creek, near the point where it is crossed by the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. You will move by way of Booneville, Jacinto, and Cartersville. Your camp equipage should be moved in the direction of Bear Creek, to join you at the point designated. Report in person for further instructions when your orders are given for the division to move.
You must provide yourself with guides.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Colonel and Chief of Staff.*

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

Friday, June 8, 2012

Halleck's Reward

On this day in 1862, Major-General Henry Halleck, Commanding the Department of the Mississippi is made responsible for all of Tennessee and Kentucky.  The rush to complete the Memphis & Charleston RR is now seen as part of the greater plan to drive the Confederates from Chattanooga.

The Seventeenth was also rewarded with a day of recovery from the four-day march.  The Fourth Division remained at Smith's Cross-Roads for another night.

WASHINGTON, June 8, 1862.
Major-General HALLECK, Corinth, Miss.:

We are changing one of the departmental lines, so as to give you all of Kentucky and Tennessee. In your movement upon Chattanooga I think it probable that you include some combination of the force near Cumberland Gap under General Morgan. Do you?


Overview of the entire Western Theater during the Civil War, courtesy of

Meanwhile, Wood is at Bear Creek, supplying regiments in a daily rotation to the project of rebuilding the bridge.  When not on duty, the men enjoyed the fresh water of a nearby swimming hole.  This was a great time of physical and mental recovery from the two months that had passed since Shiolh.

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

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Has Anyone Seen the Confounded Bridge?

General Halleck's tendency to issue confusing orders based on incomplete or inaccurate intelligence is evinced again.  Wood's Division had been sent ahead with instructions to have his engineers repair the bridge at Bear Creek.  Nelson had followed as ordered and arrived at Smith's Crossroads on this day in 1862.  Exhausted from their three days on the road, the Seventeenth bivouacked here for the night.  Nelson was charged with relieving Wood's  men, allowing them to proceed to the bridge at Tuscumbia.  The goal was to unite with O.M. Mitchell in northeastern Alabama.  Knowing the importance of this bridge, which the rebels had garrisoned with upwards of 1,500 men and light artillery before destroying it, was it reckless to assume the site would be totally void of enemy troops?

Apparently, Halleck is surprised to find that Bear Creek remains an obstacle.  His assistant, Col. J.B. Fry, transmits a tersely worded admonishment to Wood which is received and replied to on this day.  You can almost hear General Wood's teeth grinding as he writes to the colonel.

HEADQUARTERS SIXTH DIVISION, Near Bear Creek Bridge, June 7, 1862.
Col. J. B. FRY:

It is not true that the Engineer Regiment is required to do duty. At the moment of my arrival here with my advance guard [I had come in advance of the bulk of the division to select a camp] I was greeted with the information that some men of the Engineer Regiment had been fired on from the eastern side of Bear Creek, one being killed outright and another wounded. This fact clearly indicated the presence of some hostile parties. Of their force I of course knew nothing. Previous to the commencement of the work, and while preparations were being made for it, I directed Colonel Innes, his camp being near and convenient, to put a camp guard for his own protection at the site of the late bridge and one on the road leading to a ferry 2 miles lower down. As soon as the work was commenced the men were relieved, and they were very small parties. I have two regiments on duty daily, one for protection, the other for labor. The former is posted on the eastern side of Bear Creek.
Your written instructions of the 1st instant inform me that General W. S. Smith is charged with the supervision of the work of repairing the road and my duties those of the military commander. These instructions should have prevented the tone, implied at least, of reflection of your dispatch of yesterday, this moment received, for the slow progress of the work. The dispatch would seem to indicate that I am expected to give more supervision to the work than is contemplated in the written instructions. If this be the general's wish, while it is by no means a duty I would seek, I will [do the work] as rapidly as possible. I informed General Smith and Colonel Innes that I would give them every facility to hasten the work to completion, and I have answered all their requests. It is proper to remark that I do not know that there has been any want of energy and activity on the part of those heretofore charged with the work. I have seen little of General Smith, but Colonel Innes seems anxious to hasten the work. Not being a practical engineer or bridge builder, it is impossible for me to say whether Colonel Innes' efforts are directed judiciously. I only speak for his energy.
I respectfully request a copy of this dispatch be submitted to General Halleck.


Halleck, having now ordered Buell to cross Bear Creek and move on to rebuild the bridge at Tuscumbia without the aid of engineers, provides instruction on bridge building, having never surveyed the site himself.  This must have been insulting to Buell who clearly knows how to build a bridge, having built two spans exceeding 100 feet each enroute from Columbia to Savannah.

CORINTH, June 7, 1862.
Major-General BUELL:

We have neither tools nor mechanics to supply. By collecting the tools and mechanics in your army the Tuscumbia railroad bridge can be built without delay. Piers of crib work can be build with logs, and timber laid from one to another. We are doing this in other places.
 Put some competent and energetic officer in charge, and I am certain the work can be done with the means at hand.


Buell  also apprises  "Old Brians" of the reality on/above the ground and Halleck responds.

CORINTH, June 7, 1862.
Major-General BUELL:

Your telegram is received. Urge upon General Wood the importance of pushing forward the Bear Creek Bridge with all possible dispatch. Every man that can find room to work should be employed. Our mechanics here work all night on the locomotives and cars.


On the other front, Halleck orders Mitchell to push cars and locomotives westward to Tuscumbia on the M&C RR.  Mitchell provides yet another dose of reality to the Major-General Commanding the Department.

HUNTSVILLE, June 7, 1862.
Major-General HALLECK:

Your dispatch of this date received.* [reference not found] The enemy still occupies the railroad from Tuscumbia to Decatur. I have no force to drive him out, but supposed this would be done by General Buell; but am informed by him that his troops will not probably pass to the east of Bear Creek for seven or eight days. Am building boats and preparing the track for crossing. I wish you to interpose, if possible, and stay the execution of the order about surplus officers. I have not a single brigade quartermaster in my entire division, and all our business will be thrown into confusion. Occupied with the enemy at every point.


Halleck must be having Napoleonic fits of frustration by now.  His generals are failing to complete his orders in a timely fashion and the enemy refuses to quit the field after being soundly dislodged from Corinth.  The evidence is beginning to mount.  It may become necessary to actually engage and destroy the opposing army, not just out-maneuver it.  But how long will it take to effect a change in the hearts and minds of the senior staff?

*ORE correspondence courtesy of my Favorite Link, Ohio State's eHistory, Series I, vol. 10, pp268-271.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Backstory of Bear Creek Bridge

When reviewing this period of the Western Campaign, it is necessary to remember the overriding principle of the Union's strategy.  The War Department was convinced that the only way to control such a vast territory was to control the supply routes.  This is even demonstrated in the naming of their armies, all of which were named for the important rivers they were organized to control (eg. Army of the Tennessee).  The Confederates had the much more challenging task of controlling political territories, which was similarly reflected in the naming of their armies (eg., Army of Tennessee), while defending the strategic positions that were likely to be attacked by the Union Army. 

In January of 1862, plans to descend the Mississippi River from Cairo, Il. and to ascend the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers from their mouths on the Ohio were put into play.  The rebel defenses at Forts Henry (Tennessee R.) and Donelson (Cumberland R.) were quickly overcome in February and Grant's army ascended the Tennessee while Buell  proceeded up the Cumberland to occupy Nashville before joining Grant at Shiloh. This area is represented in the period map below.

The period map of the western Tennessee area courtesy of  Son of the South

The modern map that follows provides a wonderfully clear picture of the transportation systems extant from Savannah, Tn. to Florence, Al. in 1862.  This area, including Corinth, Ms., was called the Crossroads of the South for good reason. It connected Memphis to Atlanta and Mobile to Louisville by rivers, roads and rails.

From Savannah to Florence on the Tennessee River, courtesy of

A lesser known course of action was also underway deep in the heart of Dixie in January of 1862.  Union gunboats with supporting troops were advanced up the Tennessee to Eastport, Ms. with the single purpose of destroying an eighty-foot bridge on the Memphis & Charleston RR, where it crossed Bear Creek. For an excellent accounting of this campaign titled First Shiloh, please visit the website belonging to my Favorite Link, Navy & Marine Living History Association.

This is the very same bridge that Woods' and Nelson's divisions were sent to repair and protect.  It is also, quite probably, the setting for Ambrose Bierce's immortal short story, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.  Owl Creek is actually found on the western border of the Shiloh Battlefield, but must have been chosen for it's alliterative value. All other descriptors in this story are accurate to the Bear Creek Bridge and considering Bierce's assignment to Hazen's Brigade of Nelson's Division during their stay at  Iuka and Bear Creek, the story notes were likely written here.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Road to Iuka and Bear Creek Bridge

On this day in 1862, the Seventeenth, with the rest of Ammen's Brigade and Nelson's entire division began a seven-day march from Corinth to Iuka. The first leg of this journey was a four-day march south along the Rienzi road to Smith's Cross-Roads. The wet southern spring had become a hot dusty summer and  the volunteers were beginning to wonder if there was ever any tolerable weather down here in the south.

Perhaps now it's appropriate for a word or two about the standard issue shoe of the Union Infantry, which most soldiers wore only until they could find a replacement.  The standard brogan had changed little from that issued in the Revolutionary War.  It was a square-toed, four-eyelet ankle boot with a pegged sole made of stiff leather and designed to fit either foot.  They were durable enough, but definitely not designed for comfort. 

Long days of chopping wood and rebuilding roads had already taken their toll on the infantry men's feet, as had the shortage of potable water- Beauregard had either taken or destroyed the supply of fresh water before leaving Corinth. When the Seventeenth arrived in that city, their blistered feet had been soaked in marsh water for most of the past month, with few chances to bathe.  Now they were about to set out on their first forced march of any significant distance.

John Blackburn, regimental historian, provides the following account of the march from Corinth to Iuka. "This march was made in terrible heat, and the dust was so thick at times the soldiers could see no more than a few feet distance.  Many fell out of ranks in complete exhaustion, some with serious nosebleed, and some even became unconscious.  The complaints against Generals Nelson and Ammen were often and bitterly expressed, but capable military leaders know well that objectives must be attained, even against such obstacles as the sacrifice of soldiers.  The leaders were of course right in moving forward."*

*Blackburn, John, A Hundred Miles, A Hundred Heartbreaks, 1972. Self-published, LOC 72-93774,

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Roadwork Ahead

On this day in 1862, General Wood, who has been sent ahead toward Decatur, Alabama to begin repairs on both the rail and wagon roads, is informed that help is on the way.

Brigadier-General WOOD,
Commanding Sixth Division:

General Nelson's division is ordered to follow you to-morrow morning. As soon as he approaches Bear Creek, probably day after to morrow [the 5th], you will move forward toward Decatur, leaving a brigade to work at the Bear Creek Bridge until relieved by the arrival of General Nelson, if he is not in position to detail working parties when you move. In your advance beyond Bear Creek you will repair the wagon road and railroad, and will post a brigade at Tuscumbia, pushing the remainder of your force forward to Decatur. Any of your command left at Bear Creek will of course be called forward by you as soon as General Nelson reaches that point.
The Engineer Regiment will be divided for work along the railroad, and you are at all times expected to furnish details on application from General Smith. Another battalion of cavalry will be ordered to join you. Boats, with rations and forage, will be sent to Eastport and Tuscumbia as soon as practicable and before the 10th, to which time you are rationed.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Colonel and Chief of Staff.*

It looks like the Seventeenth and their comrades have more roadwork ahead.  They hope that, when the lines are restored, they will be sent back toward the Ohio River to defend Kentucky from the southern invaders. But tomorrow, it's back on the chain gang.

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE OHIO, Camp near Corinth, June 3, 1862.
Brigadier-General NELSON,
Commanding Fourth Division:

General Buell directs that you take up the line of march with your division complete and entire to-morrow morning, and, unless otherwise directed, move to the Bear Creek Bridge, on the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. General Wood's division has preceded you on that route and has partially repaired the wagon road.
It will be necessary for you to send in advance of your column a strong pioneer party, not less than a regiment, to put the road in good order.
General Wood is directed to leave Bear Creek when you approach it [going on toward Decatur], and you will promptly furnish such working details as may be called for by Brigadier-General W. S. Smith, in charge of railroad repairs.
Boats, with rations and forage, will be ordered to Eastport, within about 7 miles of Bear Creek Bridge.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Colonel and Chief of Staff.*

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

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Division of Labor

On this day in 1862, Halleck's plans for restoring the line from Corinth to Florence encounter reality. "Old Brains" seems to have forgotten that Buell, despite his superior rank, has only three divisions under his command after last month's reorganization.  One division each being sent to Pope (who now has upwards of 50,000 men) and W.T. Sherman.

HEADQUARTERS, June 2, 1862.
Major-General BUELL:

All the rivermen say no steamer we have can possibly run over the shoals. Order one above, as a ferry for Decatur, and have a ferry constructed at that place.
A telegraph party will immediately proceed on the Decatur road. Send any division you prefer toward Decatur, but hold the others near Corinth at least for a day or two. A short time will determine our future operations, but no time should be lost in re-establishing our connection with Mitchel.
Information to-night indicates a large marauding force south of Purdy.


Apparently, Halleck was reminded of the basic arithmetic of his current organization and realizes he has assigned duties for Buell both east and west of Corinth. He thus modifies his instructions, the result being that Crittenden and Nelson's divisions (both containing Kentucky Volunteers) will await further orders.  Halleck suggests that the Army of the Ohio will soon be restored to full strength.

CAMP NEAR CORINTH, June 2, 1862.
Major-General BUELL:

You will recall General Crittenden's division from the Memphis route to the Decatur road and push General Wood's division toward Decatur, repairing the road as they advance as rapidly as possible. It is possible that the original Army of the Ohio will soon move in that direction. You will make your arrangements on that supposition.


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

Friday, June 1, 2012

Restoring Rails and Roads

The Seventeenth remains in the city on this day of massive reorganization, while a detachment from General Pope's Army of the Mississippi adds a decisive punctuation mark to the story of Halleck's Siege of Corinth.

Honorable E. M. STANTON.
Corinth, June 1, 1862.

A brigade of cavalry, under Colonel Elliott, cut the enemy's line of retreat at Booneville, 20 miles south of Corinth, captured three pieces of artillery, 600 infantry, and a squadron of cavalry, and destroyed a large quantity of quartermaster's and commissary stores and a part of the railroad. The enemy is hard pressed for food, and has released all prisoners, rank and file, taken at Pittsburg.


Buell receives his new orders to repair and rebuild the railroads from Corinth to Decatur, in eastern Alabama.  This will become the operating area of the Seventeenth for the next few months.  The importance of this stretch of railroad lies in the currently shallow waters at Muscle Shoals, Alabama which hinders navigation in this part of the Tennessee River.

HEADQUARTERS, June 1, 1862.
Major-General BUELL:

Locomotives and cars at Paducah ordered to be shipped to Florence. Hand cars ordered to be sent here. I am informed that no ferry-boat could be taken over Muscle Shoals above Florence. One might be found or constructed in Upper Tennessee, near Decatur.
Road should be repaired as soon as possible from Columbia to Decatur. If General Mitchel can cross a locomotive and train at Decatur, it would very much facilitate our operations. I am daily expecting a railroad agent here from War Department to direct these matters. He was to report by 1st instant [to-day] without fail.


Buell advises Halleck to consider other possibilities.

HEADQUARTERS, Near Corinth, June 1, 1862.
General HALLECK:

If not a good ferry-boat, at least a light-draught steamer can pass the shoals, which would be better than anything that can be made there. Such a steamer, used in connection with a couple of barges, would make a very efficient ferry. ...

Buell goes on to caution Halleck of the work to be done in middle Tennessee, reminding him of the problems encountered in the Army of the Ohio's movement from Nashville to Savannah in March.  Rebuilding the road from Columbia to Decatur (approximate path of modern I-65) will not be accomplished quickly.  His men had rebuilt these bridges once already.

...The work from Columbia will be heavy. The bridges over Duck and Elk Rivers are some 600 feet long, besides several other considerable ones.
I have inquired of General Mitchel whether the Chattanooga road cannot be put in order with less labor.


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