May 29, 1862 (Thursday)
Little seemed changed outside Corinth, Mississippi. Yet, something was definitely not right. General Henry Halleck and the 120,000 men of the Union Army of the Tennessee had been slowly crowding towards the Confederate defenses, commanded by General P.G.T. Beauregard, all month. By the last week of May, they were as close as they would get.
Halleck thought a Rebel attack possible, informing General Ulysses S. Grant, his nominal second-in-command, to make sure that General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Division was ready. Sherman was indeed ready. He had brought up his heavy artillery in the morning and planned on shelling the Confederates the following day. He expected most of his right wing to be able to connect, their trenches becoming one long semi-circle.
The reports from General Don Carlos Buell, holding the center, told of some slight skirmishing. Some of his entrenchments were barely 1,000 yards away from the Rebel works. Buell asked permission to drive the enemy back the next day.
On the left, General John Pope had been at or near his works for longer than either Grant or Buell. He had battled and skirmished over control of the small outskirted town of Farmington and had recently sent troops to try and take the railroad running east out of Corinth. But any further move, feared Pope, would bring on an enemy attack. The Rebels, believed Pope, were massing in his front to do just that.
A little while after Pope reported in, he opened upon the Confederates with his field artillery and noticed that the Rebels massing before him were gone. Their entrenchments seemed to be empty. But after a closer look, they had withdrawn only their artillery, limbering it up on the other side of their lines. It was protected by a large body of infantry, but it was just sitting there.
Like Sherman and Buell, Pope also wanted to attack the next day. He could bring up his own heavy artillery and blast the Rebel works, sending his infantry in for clean up.
This sounded promising, so General Halleck paid Pope a visit to see for himself. He, like Pope, was convinced that Confederate General Beauregard was massing his force for an attack on the Federal left. This is what seemed changed, different. Rather than hunkering down and letting the Union troops storm their works, the Rebels were about to attack.1
But that was not even a little right. General Beauregard had decided not to attack, and not to wait for Halleck to attack. He realized that his 53,000 effectives could do little against more than twice their number. The results of a siege were obvious. He would be defeated, his army surrendered and Mississippi lost. By falling back, he could regroup on better defensive ground and whip Halleck.
Beauregard’s first priority was to move the supplies, ammunition and sick out of the city. This they would do by train, an operation that was being overseen by General Braxton Bragg. The problem was that there weren’t enough trains. He was doing the best he could, and was confident that the ammunition and sick could be removed, but had some doubts concerning the supplies.
Just after noon, the first of the men not too sick to move were shuffled out of town, and things seemed to be falling more or less into place. There were train cars for food and artillery, while the cavalry was prepared to act as a rear guard.
General Pope believed that Confederates under Generals Van Dorn, Price and Hardee were about to attack him. In truth, Van Dorn was under fire from Pope’s guns, but was planning on pulling out before noon to guard the trains as they moved south. General Price was pulling out, while Hardee was already on his way to Booneville, twenty miles south.2
By 11pm, everything was moving like clockwork, and the provisions, ammunition, artillery and most of the men were all moving south. The ones who stayed behind had a special task. On the Confederate right, opposite the entrenchments of Union General Pope, General Beauregard ordered empty trains to move as near as they could go to the enemy line and stop. Once stopped, the remaining Confederate troops were to cheer wildly, as if receiving reinforcements.3
The ruse worked. “The enemy is re-enforcing heavily, by trains, in my front and on my left,” wrote Pope to Halleck at just after 1am. “The cars are running and the cheering is immense every time they unload in front of me. I have no doubt, from all appearances, that I shall be attacked in heavy force at daylight.”4
By daylight, however, a much different scene would play out before him.
(An incredibly detailed map of the defenses of Corinth can be seen here. But be warned, it’s rather huge.)
Jackson Learns Just How Trapped He Is
Stonewall Jackson’s force of 16,000 was drawn up before Harpers Ferry. This morning, a civilian came to camp, telling how Union troops under Generals Shields were a day’s march from Front Royal. If true, this threatened to cut off Jackson’s line of retreat. But the word came from a civilian, and Jackson put little faith in such rumors. Later, towards evening, another dispatch arrived. Reporting in was an officer from Turner Ashby’s cavalry near Strasburg. He placed 15,000 troops under General Fremont a day’s march from Strasburg. He also confirmed the westward movement of Shields.
This was the first believable notice that Jackson had that any Federals, aside those in his front, took notice of him. But it also meant that his time so far north was growing short.
To his front were 7,000 troops at Harpers Ferry, and 4,000 or so under General Nathaniel Banks at Williamsport. There were 11,000 under Shields and another 10,000 under General Ord, with an additional 10,000 under General Rufus King en route, all commanded by General Irvin McDowell and all moving on Front Royal. West of Strasburg, Fremont had 14,000. Jackson’s 16,000 were nearly boxed in by over 52,000 Federals.
To the 450 Georgians belonging to the regiment Jackson left behind at Front Royal, the rumors of 21,000 Union troops less than twenty miles away, things seemed hopeless. They were closer to the enemy than they were to Jackson’s main body. There was little a single regiment could do against two whole divisions. For whatever reason, the colonel neglected to throw out pickets or scouts, even knowing that the enemy were close at hand.
They were much closer than he suspected, however. Starting from Rectortown in the late afternoon, the lead elements of Shields’ Division marched through the night towards the suspecting, yet unprepared Georgians.5
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 10, Part 2, p222-224. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 10, Part 2, p557-558. [↩]
- The Military Operations of General Beauregard, Vol. 1 by Alfred Roman, Harper & brothers, 1884. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 10, Part 2, p225. [↩]
- Shenandoah 1862 by Peter Cozzens, University of North Carolina Press, 2008. [↩]