The Seige of Corinth, Mississippi--Summer of 1862

Eleven local civil war units took part in the siege of Corinth and one unit participated in the battle of Corinth. This is the one civil war site where almost all the local troops visited.

The Siege of Corinth, MS took place during the early summer months of 1862. Confederate troops had dropped back to Corinth after the battle of Shiloh, bringing their wounded with them. General Halleck, said to be the greatest military strategist of his time, amassed 100,000 troops to take the city of Corinth.

Corinth was an important railroad hub for the Confederate states. The Army of the Ohio, the Army of the Tennessee and the Army of the Mississippi converged on the town preparing to engage the Confederate commander Beauregard. The Union armies heavily entrenched and kept moving forward and entrenching, advancing five miles in three weeks. On the night of May 29th the Confederate commander P. G. T. Beauregard gave his troops 3 days rations, advised them to prepare for battle, set up Quaker cannons (logs to simulate cannon), had drums and buglers play all night and had his troops slip away, using the railroad to move wounded, supplies and troops. On May 30th when union troops moved into Corinth, they found no enemy there to engage. The Union referred to the Confederate retreat as “the evacuation” and Union troops were then moved elsewhere. But every one of those 11 local units was there digging in the Mississippi red earth and throwing up earthworks. One can hardly imagine the yards of dirt moved to prepare for this battle and all by men merely digging and carrying the dirt to its new location. There was no heavy equipment, no horse drawn scrapers or other equipment to assist.

The Illinois 40th Volunteer Infantry spent much of the month of May 1862 entrenched around Corinth as detailed in the history of the unit as written by Sergeant E. J. Hart of Company E. Companies D and E were from Wayne County, Illinois. Company I was made up of men from Wabash and Edwards counties. After marching from Pittsburg landing, on the Tennessee River and following a route which Rebel troops had used to flee from Shiloh, on May 2nd the 40th commenced building breastworks, the first they had built since leaving Paducah, KY. Several companies were issued Springfield rifles and turned in their old Harper’s Ferry muskets the following day. Sherman’s 5th division army formed a junction with the main army and was at the extreme right. General Pope’s division was at the extreme left of the circular line facing the city of Corinth which was about 8 miles long. The 40th regiment occupied the left portion of McDowell’s brigade (part of Sherman’s division) and was on the far right, the third regiment from the right. At the end of the day orders were received to advance the next morning so everyone was occupied the rest of the day preparing food to be carried into battle. They were told to have at least 2 days rations in their haversacks at all time for any emergency.

After a day’s march forward, the 40th again began digging another line of earthworks. Each regiment built the works in front of its own line. This was called camp Number 2 and they remained in this camp until May 7. On that date they advanced another mile and stopped in thick underbrush which was cleared for a camp and another line of earthworks was built (Camp No. 3). On May 11th the 40th Infantry advanced a mile and a half, erected another line of breastworks and cleared timber in front of their line for 100 yards to allow artillery to have full view with no obstructions.

On May 13th the line advanced a mile and a half and made contact with a heavy Rebel picket. The pickets were driven away and union breastworks were put up on the path which was previously occupied by the Rebel pickets. This was Camp No. 4 and it was permanently occupied in spite of heavy Rebel fire. The Union pickets were posted about a thousand yards ahead of the breastworks and kept up a continual fire with the Rebel pickets.

On May 17th, two regiments were sent forward to ascertain the strength of the enemy. They were under heavy fire but the Confederates retreated a mile. On May 21 the whole line advanced again and occupied the ground held by the Rebels the evening before. They immediately began to dig rifle pits quietly. They dug all afternoon and most of the night while General Sherman passed along occasionally and encouraged the troops. The troops were very appreciative and worked harder, for they loved General Sherman. The following day the works were strengthened and six large siege guns were brought in and set into position. Each gun was drawn by six yoke of oxen and these guns were nicknamed the ox battery. Field pieces were set up on the right and left of the ox battery about every thirty or forty feet. (A bit of research found that field pieces or cannon were 10, 20 or 30 pounders. The 30 pounders were the siege guns. Lots of information is on the internet if you just type in field pieces or field artillery in a search engine.)

On May 28th preparations were made to move forward again with the line moving out at 7 a.m. with the 40th Infantry in front supporting a battery of 2 twenty-four pounder Parrot guns. Parrot guns were an improvement made by welding/forging a thick iron band around the hindmost portion of the gun barrel. This added to the gun’s strength and durability. When the line reached the point of the picket line (in advance of the main portion of the troops), it halted, the guns were ordered into position very quietly and they commenced firing into the Rebel picket line. The Rebels retreated beyond the reach of the guns. A column of men was deployed to the right and left of the gun battery and the supporting 40th infantry. The entire line advanced forward and halted until around 3 p.m. The rebels tried desperately to break the Union lines, moving forward while yelling and screaming. As the Confederates moved forward the guns opened up and the columns right and left began firing, driving the Rebel troops back in confusion.

After dark another line of breastworks was set up with the men working all night long with no rest and with no light, lest they alert the Rebels of their position, draw fire or allow artillery to fix a position. By morning they were another mile nearer Corinth. On May 29th the 40th and the other regiments in their brigade were moved back to the right, the position they had originally occupied. This position was on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad and 3 miles north of Corinth. Again they erected breastworks but were allowed to rest and eat a good supper that evening. This was camp No.7 and their last at the siege of Corinth. On May 30th early in the morning, news came that the Rebels were gone and Union troops entered the Rebel fort. There was great cheering as the Union troops entered the city of Corinth. They spent the day inside the city and the 40th moved back to Camp No. 7 to spend the evening. By June 6th the 40th Illinois Infantry had marched west and left the area of Corinth.

After the Confederate retreat, the Union troops under General Rosencrans occupied the town, taking advantage of its east-west railroad the Memphis and Charleston and its north south railroad the Mobile and Ohio. The stretch of the two intersecting lines was the length and breadth of the Confederacy. After a quiet summer, in October 1862 the Confederates under General Earl Van Dorn tried to take back the town on the 3rd and 4th. They succeeded in penetrating to the very center of the city where the two railroad lines crossed but the Union troops fought hard and took back the town at a very heavy cost of life on both sides.