The Civil War – Siege of Corinth

Submitted by C.J. Johnson

Not long after the close of the Battle of Shiloh in early April, following the Confederate withdrawal to Corinth, Mississippi, (about 22 miles south of the battlefield) U. S. Major General Henry Halleck began moving troops toward Corinth. Both the Yanks and Rebels knew the importance of Corinth – a railroad crossroads, with the Mobile & Ohio and the Memphis & Charleston railroads intersecting on the west side of town.

“Halleck claimed that the railroad centers in Richmond, Virginia, and Corinth were ‘the greatest strategic points of the war, and our success at these points should be insured at all hazards.’ Beauregard told his superiors: ‘If defeated here we will lose the Mississippi Valley and probably our cause . . . [and] our independence,’” according to a National Park Service lesson plan on Corinth.

It was a tiresome, slow, and obstacle-filled march to Corinth for the Union troops. At one point, Halleck and his men had advanced only five miles in three weeks’ time. The troops had to maneuver through heavily wooded areas, swamps, stream beds, gullies and ravines, and low ridges. The estimated 125,000 troops were spread out along a ten mile long front, which was nearly impossible to keep in alignment with the terrain and weather. Bad weather plagued the troops throughout the march.

Good water was hard to find, resulting in dysentery and typhoid.

Meanwhile in Corinth, Confederate troops were constructing more than five miles of earthworks for protection, while keeping abreast of the Federal troop movement. Once within ten miles or so of the town, cautious Union troops were also building protective trenches each day as they moved forward toward Corinth. Simple trenches were dug to protect the men from artillery fire. Throughout the movement, about forty miles of Union trenches, in seven different lines were built. Finally, the Federal forces were close enough to begin the siege of Corinth.

“By May 25, the long Union line was entrenched on high ground within a few thousand yards of the Confederate fortifications. From that range, Union guns shelled the Confederate defensive earthworks, and the supply base and railroad facilities in Corinth. Beauregard was outnumbered two to one…Typhoid and dysentery had felled thousands of his men …Confederate officers concluded that they could not hold the railroad crossover.

Beauregard saved his army by a hoax. Some of the men were given three days’ rations and ordered to prepare for an attack. As expected, one or two went over to the Union with that news. During the night of May 29, the Confederate army moved out.

They used the Mobile and Ohio Railroad to carry the sick and wounded, the heavy artillery, and tons of supplies. When a train arrived, the troops cheered as though reinforcements were arriving. They set up dummy (“Quaker”) guns along the defensive earthworks. Camp fires were kept burning, and buglers and drummers played. The rest of the men slipped away undetected.

When Union patrols entered Corinth on the morning of May 30, they found the Confederates gone,” as stated in Park Service documentation.

Union forces now controlled Corinth and the railroads. In the coming weeks, Fort Pillow on the Mississippi River, as well as Memphis would fall from Confederate control. The Union would rule the lower Mississippi River. The Confederacy would have to seek new ways of transporting men and supplies.