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Battle of Hatchie’s Bridge

October 5, 1862

The Battle of Hatchie Bridge, also known as the Battle of Davis’s Bridge and the Battle of Matamora, took place in Hardeman County and McNairy County, Tennessee on October 5, 1862.

Union prospects were bright for a successful end of the American Civil War in the early part of 1862. In the East, Major General George McClellan's Army of the Potomac had advanced up the Virginia Peninsula and was threatening the Confederate capital at Richmond by early June. West of the Appalachians, Union victories at Middle Creek (January 10, 1862) and Mill Springs (January 19, 1862) forced Confederate forces out of eastern Kentucky and back south into Tennessee. In the Mississippi Valley, the capture of Fort Henry (February 6, 1862) and Fort Donelson (February 11-16, 1862) opened the door for a Federal invasion that culminated with a bloody victory at the Battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862) and the capture of the vital railroad center at Corinth, Mississippi (May 30, 1862). One week later, Flag Officer David G. Farragut's Union fleet captured the city of New Orleans, Louisiana.

By late summer, almost inexplicably, the tide had reversed. As fate would have it, General Joseph Johnston, the Confederate commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, was wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines (May 31-June 1, 1862). Confederate President Jefferson Davis replaced Johnston with the more aggressive General Robert E. Lee. Lee immediately launched an offensive against McClellan that drove the Army of the Potomac off of the Virginia Peninsula by August. By September, Lee's army was in Maryland, endangering the United States' capital. In the near West, Confederate General Braxton Bragg threatened Union hegemony in Kentucky by launching his Heartland Campaign in August. Only in the Mississippi Valley did Union prospects remain bright.

Two months after the capture of Corinth, President Abraham Lincoln summoned Major General Henry Halleck to Washington to assume command of all Federal armies. Before departing, Halleck dismantled the grand army he had used to capture Corinth. Halleck dispatched Major General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio to Nashville, Tennessee, where it operated as a separate command. Halleck's second-in-charge during the Corinth operations, Major General Ulysses S. Grant, resumed his command of the Army of the Tennessee. Grant also oversaw Major General William S. Rosecrans's Army of the Mississippi. In total, Grant commanded roughly 100,000 soldiers in the area of Corinth.

On the Confederate side, President Jefferson Davis was displeased that General P.G.T. Beauregard had evacuated Corinth without a fight. On June 17, he relieved Beauregard of his command and replaced him with General Braxton Bragg. Later that month, Bragg launched his Confederate Heartland Campaign, hoping to restore Kentucky to the Confederacy When Bragg moved north, he ordered Major General Sterling Price to leave Tupelo, Mississippi and to bring his 3,000-man Army of the West north to join Bragg in Tennessee.

By September 13, 1862, Price had reached the town of Iuka, Mississippi, approximately twenty miles east of Corinth. As Price's army advanced on the Union garrison posted at Iuka, the Federal commander, Colonel Robert C. Murphy, set fire to the Union supplies, abandoned his post, and marched his 2,000-man brigade back to Corinth. Price then settled in at Iuka to await the arrival of Major General Earl Van Dorn's 7,000-man Army of West Tennessee. The two generals intended to unite their armies and to attack Grant's supply and communication lines as they moved north to join Bragg. Ever the aggressor, Grant had no intention to sit by idly and let the two Rebel armies unite. Instead, he dispatched two Federal forces toward Iuka to trap Price in a pincer movement to destroy his army. Although the attack was poorly coordinated, Rosecrans's Army of the Mississippi defeated Price at the Battle of Iuka on September 19. The victory proved hollow, however, because the Rebel army escaped the Union trap.

After his escape at Iuka, Price marched his army west to Ripley, Mississippi and successfully combined forces with Van Dorn's Army of West Tennessee on September 28, 1862. With 22,000 soldiers under his command, Van Dorn determined to recapture Corinth for the Confederacy before moving north into Middle Tennessee to support Bragg.

Meanwhile, concerns about Bragg's actions in Tennessee prompted Grant to move his headquarters to Jackson, Tennessee, leaving Rosecrans in command of the 15,000 Union soldiers garrisoned at Corinth. Despite imposing Union defenses, Van Dorn believed that his numerical superiority presented him an opportunity to recapture Corinth. On October 3, Van Dorn’s troops mounted a spirited attack against the outer Federal fortifications at Corinth, forcing the Yankees back toward the center of the city. As nightfall approached, Van Dorn called off the assault, confident that he could finish the job in the morning. Rosecrans regrouped his soldiers overnight and drove the Rebels back the next day. Realizing that the tide had turned, Van Dorn halted the assault and withdrew. Because his soldiers were exhausted, Rosecrans chose not to pursue the retreating Rebels until the next day.

On the same day that Van Dorn withdrew (October 4), Grant had dispatched two separate detachments, led by Major General Edward O.C. Ord and Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut, to reinforce Rosecrans. On the morning of October 5, the two forces combined, with Ord assuming overall command. Hoping to catch Van Dorn’s retreating forces in a pincer between Ord and Rosecrans, Grant ordered Ord to cut off the Confederate escape route across the Hatchie River at Davis Bridge.

Sensing the seriousness of his situation, Van Dorn ordered his men to hold at Davis Bridge while he searched for an alternate route across the river, which he found at Crum’s Mill to the south. Ord’s forces engaged the lead elements of the Confederate force and drove them back to Davis Bridge. During the action, Ord was wounded, and Hurlbut assumed command. The Federals eventually drove the Rebels across Davis Bridge, but not before the bulk of Van Dorn’s army crossed the river at Crum’s Mill and escaped back to Holly Springs, Mississippi.

Technically, the Battle of Hatchie Bridge was a Union victory. The Federals captured Davis Bridge, and the Confederacy suffered more casualties. Rebel losses were estimated at 500 compared to 400 for the Union. Nevertheless, the battle was a lost opportunity of great magnitude for the North. Had the Federals been able to trap Van Dorn’s army, Grant would have had a clear path to his primary objective at Vicksburg from the east. As it was, Van Dorn’s army blocked the way, and it took Grant nine more months and considerable effort to capture the Confederate stronghold and secure control the Mississippi River.

Ohio units that participated in the Battle of Hatchie Bridge included:

Infantry units:

20th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Artillery units:

7th Ohio Independent Battery

Cavalry units:

5th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Cavalry

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