At the onset of the American Civil War, the State of Tennessee comprised the majority of the northern border of the Confederate States of America in the West. Defending that border was difficult for the Confederacy because three major rivers (the Mississippi, which flows south to the Gulf of Mexico, and the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, which flow north to the Ohio River) provided relatively easy access to the South.
At the onset of the American Civil War, the State of Tennessee comprised the majority of the northern border of the Confederate States of America in the West. Defending that border was difficult for the Confederacy because three major rivers (the Mississippi, which flows south to the Gulf of Mexico, and the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, which flow north to the Ohio River) provided relatively easy access to the South. In 1861, the State of Tennessee constructed earthen forts on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers to prevent Federal invasions from the north.
By late 1861, President Abraham Lincoln was pressuring Union commanders in the West to invade the South. On January 30, 1862, the western theater commander, General Henry Halleck, reluctantly approved Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant's request to attack Fort Henry, located on the Tennessee River. Eager to move, Grant left Cairo, Illinois on February 2, with 15,000 soldiers plus a flotilla of seven gunboats commanded by United States Navy Flag Officer Andrew Hull Foote. On February 6, Confederate Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman surrendered Fort Henry after a seventy-five minute bombardment by Foote's gunboats. Following the surrender of Fort Henry, Grant turned his attention toward investing Fort Donelson located just twelve miles to the east of Fort Henry on the Cumberland River. After a failed breakout on February 15, the Confederate commander of Fort Donelson, General Simon B. Buckner surrendered Fort Donelson to Grant the next day.
The fall of Forts Henry and Donelson was a serious blow to the Confederacy. It forced General A.S. Johnston, the commander of Rebel forces in the West, to abandon Kentucky and to consolidate his position deeper in Tennessee. The fall of the two forts also provided the Federals with two major waterways in the West from which to launch an invasion of the South. As Union armies surged into Tennessee, Johnston chose to abandon Nashville, Tennessee and to move even farther south in late February, rather than risk suffering a major battlefield defeat.
Following the fall of Nashville, Halleck ordered Grant to march his army south to Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, near the Tennessee-Mississippi border, to await the arrival of Major General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio. Halleck's intention was to consolidate the two armies to move south and to capture the Confederate railroad center at Corinth, Mississippi.
By early April, Grant's army of nearly 50,000 men was encamped along the western side of the Tennessee River near Pittsburg Landing. On the morning of April 6, 1862, Johnston launched a surprise attack against Grant's army. In the ensuing confusion, many of the Federal troops fled in panic, and the Union lines were gradually driven back to a defensive position behind Shiloh Church, where they held. The next morning, bolstered by the arrival of Buell's reinforcements, Grant launched a successful counterattack. When the outnumbered Rebels ran low on ammunition, General P.G.T. Beauregard, who succeeded Johnston, who was killed at Shiloh, ordered a retreat back to Corinth.
Despite the fact that the Union was victorious at the Battle of Shiloh, Halleck was displeased that Johnston had surprised Grant. Thus, he decided to personally assume field command of the Union forces in the area before advancing on Beauregard's army entrenched at Corinth.
Corinth was a small but strategically important town where the east-west Memphis & Charleston Railroad crossed the north-south Mobile & Ohio Railroad, near the Mississippi-Tennessee border. Halleck considered Corinth and the railroad center at Richmond, Virginia to be "the greatest strategic points of the war." So determined was Halleck to capture Corinth that he united the Union Army of the Tennessee, Army of the Ohio, and Army of the Mississippi into one massive force of approximately 120,000 soldiers before launching his assault. His counterpart, Beauregard, also understood the importance of Corinth, observing, "If defeated here we will lose the Mississippi Valley and probably our cause." To prevent the loss of Corinth, the Confederate General had, at his disposal, nearly 65,000 soldiers entrenched behind earthen fortifications guarding the city.
After making all necessary preparations, on April 29, 1862, Halleck dispatched his army from Pittsburg and Hamberg Landings in three wings toward Corinth. The right wing, commanded by Major General George H. Thomas, consisted of four divisions from the Army of the Tennessee and one division from the Army of the Ohio; the center wing, led by Major General Don Carlos Buell, consisted of four divisions from the Army of the Ohio; and the left wing, under Major General John Pope, consisted of four divisions from the Army of the Mississippi. Halleck held in reserve two Army of the Tennessee divisions and one division of the Army of the Ohio, led by Major General John McClernand. Grant, whose reputation suffered a Shiloh, was relegated to the inconsequential position of second in charge and was not given a field command.
It took Halleck's army one month to traverse the twenty-two miles to Corinth. Poor weather, rough terrain, and a series of small-scale Rebel attacks, which began on May 4, delayed the Union advance. Cautious by nature and still smarting from the Rebel surprise attack at Shiloh, Halleck insisted that his soldiers dig new defensive trenches each time that they moved to a new position. By May 25, after traveling only five miles in three weeks, Halleck was close enough to Corinth to begin shelling the Confederate defenses and to lay siege to the town.
Inside of the town, Earl Van Dorn's 14,000-man Army of the West reinforced the Rebels, but Beauregard's 65,000 defenders were still outnumbered nearly two to one. In addition, the Confederates were running out of water, and nearly 20,000 of them were suffering from wounds or wracked with dysentery and typhoid. On the same day that Halleck commenced shelling the Rebel defenses, Beauregard, realizing how tenuous his position was, determined to evacuate the town and executed an elaborate hoax to save his army.
Starting on May 29, Beauregard increased train traffic into Corinth to begin evacuating his sick and wounded soldiers, as well as his supplies. As each train arrived, healthy Rebel troops cheered loudly, as though reinforcements had arrived. Beauregard also sent bogus deserters into the Union lines to spread false rumors of an imminent Confederate attack. As the number of Rebel troops in the town dwindled, the Confederate commander replaced real guns with fake, or Quaker, guns, and he ordered his remaining troops to keep campfires burning along the lines. On the morning of May 30, when Union patrols approached the Confederate fortifications, they were surprised to find them undefended and the town evacuated.
Among the Ohio units that participated in the siege of Corinth were:
1st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
3rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
6th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
9th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
13th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
14th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
15th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
17th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
19th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
20th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
22nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
24th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
26th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
27th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
31st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
35th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
36th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
38th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
41st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
43rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
46th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
48th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
49th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
53rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
54th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
56th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
57th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
58th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
59th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
63rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
64th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
65th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
68th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
70th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
72nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
76th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
77th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
78th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
81st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Company G of the Ohio Independent Sharpshooters (serving with the Fourteenth Missouri Infantry Regiment)
1st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry
3rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry
5th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry
4th Company Ohio Independent Cavalry
1st Regiment Ohio Light Artillery
3rd Regiment Ohio Light Artillery
6th Regiment Ohio Light Artillery
7th Regiment Ohio Light Artillery
8th Regiment Ohio Light Artillery
10th Regiment Ohio Light Artillery
11th Regiment Ohio Light Artillery
14th Regiment Ohio Light Artillery
15th Regiment Ohio Light Artillery
Although it took Halleck over one month to capture Corinth, he did so with very little bloodshed. Each side suffered roughly 1,000 casualties (killed, wounded, and captured/missing). That fact was not lost upon Halleck's men, many of whom had participated in the bloodbath at Shiloh and who were expecting no less at Corinth. In honor of his achievement, they bestowed upon him the nickname of "Old Brains." Despite the fact that Beauregard's army escaped to fight another day, Halleck's victory was also greatly celebrated by his officer corps, the administration in Washington, and the public in the North. Within two months, President Abraham Lincoln summoned Halleck to Washington, placing him in charge of all Federal armies, in hopes that he might duplicate his success on a larger stage.
Cite this Entry
"Siege of Corinth," Ohio Civil War Central, 2013, Ohio Civil War Central. 19 May 2013 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=505>
"Siege of Corinth." (2013) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved May 19, 2013, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=505