42nd Alabama at Corinth Day 1
The First Day, October 3, 1862
On 11 September 1862, Colonel Portis received orders directing him to prepare the 42nd Alabama for rail movement “on the morning of the 13th instant,” and “report your command to General Maury, who will assign it in Moore’s brigade.”[i] On 13 September 1862, the regiment sent their baggage wagons forward and boarded trains for Saltillo, Mississippi. The 42nd Alabama with 700 soldiers had taken its first step on the road to combat at Corinth. General Van Dorn stated, “No army ever marched to battle with prouder steps, more hopeful countenances, or with more courage than marched the Army of West Tennessee out of Ripley on the morning of September 29th, on its way to Corinth.[ii] The Confederate defeat at Shiloh and subsequent evacuation of Corinth, Mississippi set the stage for the Confederate Campaign to regain the critical North Mississippi railroad junction. During mid-July 1862, General Ulysses S. Grant became the commander of the Union’s western forces and had a total force of 37,000 soldiers either at or within supporting distance of Corinth. Grant assigned Major General William S. Rosecrans, commander of the Army of the Mississippi, the mission to protect the occupied territory in northeast Mississippi. Rosecrans’ force numbered approximately 15,000 federal soldiers at Corinth and another 10,000 soldiers at several outposts throughout Northeast Mississippi. Additionally, Grant had a force of 8,000 soldiers under General Stephan A. Hurlbut less than fifty miles from Corinth at Bolivar, Tennessee.[iii]
Corinth’s primary avenue of approach was from the northwest due to the low ground, waterways, and swamps which surrounded the town on three sides. Rosecrans’ force stationed at Corinth was not large enough to defend the former perimeter of the old Confederate earthworks known as the Beauregard Line. Instead, Rosecrans’ engineers developed a tighter perimeter directly around the town of Corinth. Rosecrans built this new inner perimeter around four artillery redans; Battery Phillips, Battery Williams, Battery Robinett, and Battery Powell. Infantry was positioned in connecting breastworks which supported the artillery redans. Additionally, Rosecrans’ constructed a series of battery emplacements in-between the old Beauregard Line and the new inner perimeter of works. These batteries provided supporting fields of fire with adjoining batteries. He reinforced the Beauregard Line with cleared fields of fire and numerous obstructions. If threatened, Rosecrans’ planned to “hold the enemy at arm’s-length” at the Beauregard Line and if necessary fall back into the inner works.[iv]
The strategy of retaking Corinth was the vision of Confederate General Earl Van Dorn, Commander of the District of the Mississippi. Van Dorn planned to retake Corinth in a grand offensive in conjunction with General Braxton Bragg’s Kentucky Campaign. Van Dorn commanded a force of 8,000 soldiers stationed near Holly Springs, Mississippi. He convinced General Sterling Price, Commander of the Army of the West, with a force of 14,000 soldiers at Iuka, Mississippi to join forces for the offensive against Corinth. This consolidated force of 22,000 was assembled at Ripley, Mississippi and placed under Van Dorn’s command as the Army of West Tennessee. Van Dorn planned to feint north toward Bolivar, Tennessee; then turn east and attack Rosecrans at Corinth before Grant could reinforce him.[v]
On 26 September, Price’s corps departed Baldwyn, Mississippi and marched northwest toward Dumas. Price’s corps reached Ripley, Mississippi on 30 September and joined Van Dorn’s Army of West Tennessee. Van Dorn’s consolidated force then marched north and reached Pocahontas, Tennessee on 1 October, where it turned east crossed the Hatchie River at Davis Bridge in the early dawn hours of 2 October. That night, after twenty days of mostly foot movement, the 42nd Alabama was “camped about five miles of the outside breastworks”[vi] of the Beauregard Line. The weather was unseasonably hot and dry for autumn in North Mississippi.
Rosecrans’ had detected Van Dorn’s approach and dispatched the divisions of General’s Thomas McKean, Thomas A. Davies, and Charles S. Hamilton to secure the outer defenses along the Beauregard Line. General McKean dispatched Colonel J. M. Oliver’s Brigade further north up the Chewalla road beyond the outer works to serve as an advanced picket force.
On 3 October at approximately one hour before dawn, the 42nd Alabama formed and began movement. Just outside of the former Confederate breastworks, Van Dorn’s army formed in line of battle. Van Dorn’s array of forces consisted of Major General Mansfield Lovell’s Division occupying the right flank, Major General Dabney Maury’s division in the center, and Brigadier General Louis Hebert's division on the left flank. Moore’s Brigade had an effective strength of 1,892 and formed the extreme right of General Maury’s division. Moore’s Brigade moved south with his right flank on the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. The 42nd Alabama Regiment was on the left flank of Moore’s Brigade.[vii]
At 7:30 AM, General Lovell’s Confederate division approached Colonel Oliver’s advanced position. Oliver’s Brigade retired slowly and established a line of defense with McKean’s division within the exterior works on Rosecrans’ left flank. Oliver’s Brigade now commanded both the Chewalla road and the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. At approximately 10 AM, Brigadier General J. McArthur assumed command of this portion of the Union defense and temporarily checked Lovell’s advance.
As Davies’ division occupied the entrenchments west of McArthur’s force, a gap formed between the two units. Maury’s Confederate division approached the center of the Union defense and Moore’s Brigade struck this gap. Moore had arrayed his brigade with the 2nd Texas, 35th Mississippi, and 42nd Alabama in the lead, three regiments abreast, and the 15th and 23rd Arkansas in trail, two regiments abreast. Lieutenant Jefferson R. Stockdale of Company G, 42nd Alabama, a twenty-five year old overseer and son of an Irish immigrant farmer from Talladega, Alabama, described the initial engagement, “our boys charged them over fallen timbers, and every conceivable obstruction that could be thrown in our way, but on we went under heavy fire of shell, grape, canister, and musketry.”[viii] Moore’s Brigade struck the 7th Illinois Infantry and Battery I, 1st Missouri Artillery, and collapsed the right flank of McArthur’s brigade. Battery I withdrew in disorder abandoning two of its caissons.[ix] Colonel Andrew J. Babcock of the 7th Illinois reported, “I discovered a large force of rebels breaking through the timber in solid column about 40 rods from my right and moving directly toward and across the earthworks. I turned the fire of my right wing oblique and checked them for a few minutes. They rallied and succeeded in turning the right flank . . . receiving my fire with remarkable steadiness . . . Being nearly surrounded . . . I ordered my command to fall back.”[x]
As McArthur’s brigade fell back, Davies withdrew his division to the inner works. Moore’s brigade continued southeast, crossed the Chewalla Road, and entered the former Union encampment of the 21st Missouri at approximately 2 PM. McArthur’s brigade retreated approximately 1000 yards to a position just north of Battery F, forming a new defensive line with General Crocker’s brigade.
With the withdrawal of Davies’ division, McArthur’s brigade was now well forward of any other Union forces and stood alone against the entire assault of Price’s corps. As Moore’s brigade pushed forward across the Chewalla Road and past the former Union camps, General McArthur ordered his regiments to attack. The 42nd Alabama, on the left flank of Moore’s brigade, was met by the 17th Wisconsin. Colonel John L. Doran reported, “the enemy in force was driven back full three-quarters of a mile without any support in the first instance.”[xi] The 7th and 57th Illinois then came up and supported the 17th Wisconsin in driving back Moore’s brigade. This counterattack created a salient within the advancing divisions of Lovell and Maury. Realizing his flanks were now threatened, McArthur ordered a withdrawal. Private William W. Cluett of the 57th Illinois commented that his regiment “made a charge upon the enemy, but not having sufficient force to protect our flanks we were again compelled to fall back, forming with our brigade.”[xii] McArthur’s brigade retreated to the inner works of Corinth. McArthur’s withdrawal was covered by Crocker’s Iowa brigade stationed near Battery F. Requesting assistance from Price, General Lovell reported, “On our right front was a strong redoubt, well flanked with infantry and with an abatis of felled timber half a mile in width extending around it in one direction but with no obstructions to the north in the direction of Price's right. This fact I communicated to the major-general commanding, and shortly afterward the works was attacked and gallantry carried from its right rear by Moore's brigade.”[xiii]
At 3:30 PM, finding the enemy entrenched on the south side of Battery F, Maury reinforced Moore’s brigade with two regiments from Cabell’s brigade. Moore turned his brigade southwest and approached the Memphis and Charleston Railroad where they met the 15th and 18th Iowa just south of Battery F. Moore repositioned his two trailing Arkansas regiments and advanced with five regiments in line. The brigade crossed the Memphis and Charleston railroad and attacked two Iowa regiments. General Moore described the action, “We soon reached the railroad, having our line of battle nearly parallel to it, and on crossing the enemy opened on us a most terrific fire from the brow of a hill not more than 75 yards distant. The enemy opposed us with a heavy force, being formed in two lines, the fire staggered us but for a moment, and as soon as our line was steadied a little we charged, drove them from the position, and carried their works, capturing a few prisoners, and taking a large camp, with their supplies of commissary and quartermaster's stores.”[xiv] Lieutenant Colonel William W. Belknap of the 15th Iowa Infantry reported the attack of the 42nd Alabama, “the enemy came regularly on in line of battle, their left appearing through the thick underbrush to be nearly opposite the right of the Fifteenth and the left of the Sixteenth . . . Both fired at the same instant and both in full volleys, ours being promptly given and that of the enemy with less regularity. Our men fell back a few steps for an instant, reloaded, and from the first fought like veterans. For three-quarters of an hour they contended with an immensely superior force.”[xv]
After driving back the enemy, the brigade crossed to the north of the railroad and resumed its position in the line of Maury's division. After a day of fighting, the 42nd Alabama slept on their arms in line of battle within the outer works of the Corinth defenses. Overall, 3 October was a day of success for the Army of West Tennessee. Moore’s brigade and the 42nd Alabama deserved much of the credit. Maury complimented the unit stating, “Moore's brigade did the heavy business, carrying three camps and turning a strong redoubt in Lovell's front, saving him the trouble of carrying it.”[xvi] Van Dorn desired to continue the success of the day with an assault late in the evening. He later recanted under the protest of Price, who felt that the soldiers were in no condition to continue the assault. Van Dorn ordered the assault for 4 AM the next day. General Maury characterized the day’s action, “They had been marching and fighting since dawn; the day had been one of the hottest of the year; our men had been without water since morning, and were almost famished; while we were pursuing the enemy from his outer works that morning several of our men fell from sunstroke, and it was with good reason that General Price opposed further action that evening.”[xvii]
The soldiers of the 42nd Alabama had survived their first baptismal of fire. They had only a few hours of fitful rest before final preparations were made for the next morning’s assault. The first day had tempered a green outfit into a unit that had ‘seen the elephant’. Little did the soldiers of the 42nd Alabama realize but, their continued taste of battle on the coming day would become a bitter one.
[i]OR, 17.1, (Washington, D.C. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), 378.
[ii]Ibid, 17.1, 700-701.
[iii]Stacy Allen, “Crossroads of the Western Confederacy”, Blue & Gray Summer 2002, 37.
[iv]OR, 17.1, (Washington, D.C. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), 167.
[vi]OR, Records of Events Serial No. 13.I, (Wilmington, N.C.: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1994), 711.
[vii]Joseph Wheeler, Confederate Military History Extended Edition vol. 8, Alabama, 187.
[viii]The Democratic Watchtower Vol. 23, No. 40 October 28, 1862.
[ix]OR, 17.1, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), 270.
[x]Ibid., 292 – 293.
[xi]OR, 17.1 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), 351.
[xii]William Cluett, History of the 57th Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry (Princeton: T. P. Streeter, Printer, Lessee Republican Job Department, 1886), 42.
[xiii]OR, 17.1, (Washington, D.C. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), 405.
[xvii]Dabney Maury, “Campaign Against Grant in North Mississippi”, Southern Historical Society, vol. 13 (1885) 295.
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