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Corinth 1862: Siege, Battle, Occupation by Timothy B. Smith is a comprehensive account of the struggle for Corinth, Mississippi, during the Civil War. Corinth, a town of some twenty-eight hundred people in 1860, became one of the most strategic locations in the Confederacy upon the outbreak of the war. Corinth contained the junction of two vital railroad lines, the Mobile and Ohio Railroad and the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. The intersection of these critical railroads made the town invaluable to the Confederacy for the transportation of men, war material, and supplies. After the fall of Fort Donelson in February 1862, Confederate general Albert Sidney Johnston used the railroads at Corinth to concentrate his army for a counteroffensive against Major General Ulysses S. Grant and the Army of the Tennessee at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee. From there, Johnston led his forces to the battle of Shiloh, and after sustaining defeat, the Confederates retreated to Corinth. The town then became the scene of a protracted siege by a massive Union army under the command of Major General Henry Halleck. As Smith asserts, "During the months of March, April, and May 1862, there was no more important place than Corinth in the western Confederacy, and, arguably, in the South as a whole" (p. xii).
The Confederate army evacuated Corinth on May 30, allowing [End Page 454] the vital crossroads to fall under Union occupation. In the late summer and fall of 1862, the Confederacy mounted its only coordinated offensives across the eastern and western theaters. In the East, General Robert E. Lee invaded the border state of Maryland, while General Braxton Bragg attempted to occupy Kentucky. To distract Federal forces from opposing Bragg, major generals Earl Van Dorn and Sterling Price led an offensive into northern Mississippi which resulted in the battles of Iuka and Corinth. On October 3-4, 1862, Van Dorn unleashed a furious assault on Corinth and its Union defenders under the command of Major General William S. Rosecrans. In brutal fighting, the Union army once again secured Corinth and inflicted a devastating defeat upon the Confederate army in Mississippi. The capture and defense of Corinth enabled the Union to gain an important base to continue the conquest of the Mississippi River Valley, which would reach its climax the following year with the fall of Vicksburg.
Although Civil War historians have long been aware of the significance of Corinth, only a few studies have examined the battle in depth, and little attention has been given to either the earlier siege or the role civilians played in the campaign. In his work, Timothy Smith provides the definitive study of the siege and a much-needed investigation of the impact of the conflict upon the civilian population of Corinth. After conducting twenty years of research, Smith has compiled an impressive array of sources, ranging from official reports and documents to little-known diaries, letters, and newspapers. The study also contains a number of intricate maps of the defenses of Corinth and the final battle. Also, Smith provides an analysis of the later role of Corinth as a contraband camp for former slaves. As Smith argues, "Securing Corinth allowed the Federal army to care for and enlist thousands of former slaves in the most famous of all contraband camps in the western theater" (p. xii). In addition, Smith details the preservation of the historic sites of Corinth and the movement that led to the creation of the National Park Service Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center. Corinth 1862: Siege, Battle, Occupation is a [End Page 455] valuable examination of one of the most important but overlooked campaigns in the Civil War.
Steven Nathaniel Dosman, PhD, teaches history at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, and is the author of Campaign for Corinth: Blood in Mississippi (2006).