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Corinth 1862: Siege, Battle, Occupation by Timothy B. Smith (review)

From: Civil War History
Volume 60, Number 1, March 2014
pp. 97-98 | 10.1353/cwh.2014.0021

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Timothy B. Smith's work differs from traditional military narratives. Here Smith explores the military and social history of Corinth, Mississippi, including the 1862 campaigns and battles for it. This study is somewhat similar to Daniel Sutherland's Seasons of War: The Ordeal of a Confederate Community, 1861-1865, which studied the social history of the war as it passed through Culpeper County, Virginia. Smith's work also follows on the heels of Peter Cozzens's thorough military study of the battle in The Darkest Days of the War: The Battles of Iuka and Corinth. Historians have overlooked Corinth, but at the time the importance of the town and railroad junction dominated the attention of both Union and Confederate leaders. "If defeated here," declared Confederate general P. G. T. Beauregard, "we lose the Mississippi Valley and probably our cause" (xi).

Smith begins by noting the importance of the small northern Mississippi town as a logistical center for the Confederacy during the first year of the war. Located at the junction of the north- and south-running Mobile & Ohio and east- and west-running Memphis & Charleston railroads, the town would also gain strategic importance as the Confederacy moved to defend the interior. In April 1862 it was the rail junction that spurred Confederate general Albert Sidney Johnston to concentrate his troops at Corinth prior to the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee, and the capture of that town would bring about Union general Henry Halleck's plodding siege of Corinth later that May.

Conditions in the town became exceptionally harsh after the Battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862). Thousands of defeated Confederates, countless wounded, and even Union prisoners overwhelmed the community. One common complaint was the lack of potable water. Disease spread through the Confederate camps, and perhaps as many men died of sickness in that period as had died during the horrific Battle of Shiloh. Smith does an admirable job detailing the methodical (if not controversial) Union siege of the town and the Rebel retreat.

Smith also focuses upon the town and its inhabitants. With a population of only twelve hundred in 1860, the town boasted the Tishomingo County Courthouse and Tishomingo Hotel, as well as the Corona Female College. As the war began, the majority of Corinth's men joined one of the five Confederate companies raised to serve elsewhere. The town itself soon became a major depot for the Confederacy. During 1862, those who remained in the community would see it transformed into a supply depot, hospital, and camp for thousands of men. After the Federals captured the town, most southern sympathizers left, but oddly enough there were enough pro-Union families remaining in the county for its civil government to remain functional throughout the war.

Smith then covers the Federal occupation and subsequent bloody Battle of Corinth. Confederates under Gen. Earl Van Dorn attempted to retake the town in the fall of 1862, during a massive Rebel offensive that included an invasion of Kentucky and Maryland. Although overshadowed by larger battles in the east, the Battle of Corinth remains one of the most brutal actions of its scale during the war.

After the Emancipation Proclamation, the Union garrison at Corinth became a beacon for freedmen and their families. In time, the Union army began enlisting the men into what would become regiments of the United States Colored Troops (USCT). Here, Corinth was not unlike other recruiting depots near Rebel lines. Not only were the freedmen seeking protection, entire families traveled there as well. Union commander Gen. Grenville M. Dodge began enlisting black men as early as late 1862 and the next year began a camp of instruction for the USCT.

Smith's research is exceptional. He has clearly spent years mining every archive and historical society covering the topic. His battle and campaign narratives are riveting, and his discussion of Halleck's siege is the most complete study to date. The only complaint is that at times it is hard to get a grasp of the scale of the fighting and movements. Smith tends to refer to regiments and brigades by the names of their commanders, making it difficult to understand the size of the units being discussed...



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