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.

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