The Siege of Corinth: The Union Takes A Ghost Town

By Steele, Dennis | Army, May 2012 | Go to article overview

The Siege of Corinth: The Union Takes A Ghost Town


Steele, Dennis, Army


The savage two-day battle at Shiloh/Pittsburg Landing left the public stunned - more so on the Union side because the battle tended to initially be viewed as a defeat because of the fusillade of negative and fault-finding Northern press reports printed in its wake.

As historian James M. McPherson put it, "Although Grant had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat at Pittsburg Landing, northern opinion at first focused more on those jaws than on victory."

The casualty count alone was shocking news - 13,047 for the Union (1,754 killed, 8,408 wounded and 2,885 missing) and 10,699 on the Confederate side (1,728 killed, 8,012 wounded, and 959 captured or missing). It was the bloodiest battle fought up to that point in the war, but it would be exceeded by several more to come.

Both sides claimed victory, and commanders on each side would be faulted in the foggy aftermath: MG Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Federal Army of Tennessee during the battle, immediately; and eventually GEN Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, who had assumed command of Confederate forces at Shiloh when GEN Albert Sidney Johnston was killed.

The weight of Union blame - centered on the Confederates' surprise attack and the Federals' lack of defenses - landed on Grant; however, he survived calls to replace him thanks to the support of President Lincoln. Nevertheless, during the follow-on operation to take Corinth, Miss., Grant would be removed from field command and relegated to serving as deputy to MG Henry W. Halleck, commander of the Department of Mississippi, who took personal command during the Corinth attack.

A strategic railroad center, Corinth was less than 25 miles away from the Shiloh battlefield by road. Halleck, cowed by the backlash from the Shiloh battle, was determined not to be vacuumed into the same situation as Grant - blamed for a lack of defense and battered by a Confederate attack.

Halleck planned a conservative, deliberate and slow approach to Corinth - a siege that ground down to a crawl and embraced Roman tactics. At the end of each day, he had his forces build defense works, then stand-to the next morning, braced for attack. The result was that it took three weeks to bring his army into artillery range of the city.

Halleck was further crippled by exaggerated intelligence estimates of the enemy, much of which was planted by Beauregard, who briefed soldiers on what he wanted the Yankees to believe and sent them to be captured and relay the falsehoods. He went further by using empty trains, which pulled into Corinth to orchestrated cheers, to make the Federals believe that he was being reinforced, and he had logs painted black and emplaced to make it look as though he had many more cannons than he did. …

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