Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Visit to Corinth

Nope, not the Corinth in Greece that I visited last March. This Corinth is a small town in northeastern Mississippi where Tennessee and Alabama connect. You say you’ve never heard of Corinth? Well, unless you’re from the area, or you’re a Civil War buff, or your great granddaddy fought there, you wouldn’t have reason to have heard of this place. I spent the weekend traipsing around Corinth and Shiloh. What a time I had!

In the annals of the American Civil War, Corinth is prominent. The name of the town, the battle that took place there, and the significance has been lost upon most Americans, overshadowed by such names as Gettysburg, Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Bull Run. But make no mistake: Corinth was critical to the Southern Cause. Why was Corinth of such importance? Because it was the juncture of two railroads that were vital for the Confederacy to move men and supplies from the Mississippi River to the south Atlantic, and Kentucky to Florida. The two railroads were the Mobile & Ohio RR, and the Memphis & Charleston RR.

Corinth was the military training center for all Mississippi recruits from the outset of the War in 1861. Thousands of soldiers descended on this small town where they learned the skills necessary for combat with the Federals (a name often used disparagingly of Union troops). In early 1862, troops marched out of Corinth twenty-two miles to the north to a place soon to be known as Shiloh. Picture two heavyweight fighters standing in the boxing ring and landing one powerful punch after the other on the opponent. For two long days these enemies threw everything they had at each other. The combined number of men from both sides was 98,000. After the battle ended on April 7, the number of killed, wounded, or missing was 23,746. It was tough on both sides, but more so for the Southern boys. Their beloved leader, General Albert Sydney Johnston, was killed during the battle on April 6, bleeding to death from a bullet lodged in his leg. Ironically, an unused tourniquet was later found in his coat. General P.G.T. Beauregard, who aggressively opposed the attack on Grants forces at Shiloh, was appointed successor to Johnston. As the day drew to a close on April 7, the severely battered Confederate troops withdrew from the field, straggling back the twenty-two miles to Corinth. The Union troops under General Ulysses S. Grant were equally as spent, and simply let their southern cousins slip away, too exhausted to pursue.

Now comes Corinth. Except for the train crossing, this town would be like any other agricultural southern town of that time. Whoever controlled Corinth, controlled access to the Tennessee and the Mississippi Rivers. General Beauregard knew General Grant would be coming to Corinth to wrest the town from southern control. He was heard to say, “If we lose here (Corinth), we lose the Mississippi Valley, and probably our cause.”

Of particular importance to me is the military service of my great grandfather, Reverend Daniel Thatcher Lake. He joined up with the fledgling 27th Texas Cavalry in early 1862. They soon were off on their first campaign, participating in the Battle of Pea Ridge in northwestern Arkansas. They then were ordered to Memphis, and then almost immediately to Corinth. They had heard of the defeat at Shiloh, so they knew Corinth would be the next place for battle. General Beauregard built up the defenses around Corinth, but withdrew before a shot was fired. He was certain that it would be another battle lost should they take on the northern troops again so soon after Shiloh.

Months later in September, the Confederate Army knew they must regain control of Corinth. They were near desperation because the Union Army was squeezing them from all sides. On October 3-4, a horrific battle took place with nearly 8,000 dead from both sides. The news of this battle spread across the land, horrifying all Americans, both from the north and south.

At the end of the day, General Grant’s army was victorious and retained control of this vital railroad junction. One of his generals in the field, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman, had this to say: “The effect of the Battle of Corinth was very great . . . It was, indeed, a decisive blow to the Confederate cause in our quarter . . . I could see its effects upon the citizens, and they openly admitted that their cause had sustained a death blow.”

My great granddad was seriously wounded during a raid on Union forces in late December 1862. He was medically discharged and sent home in January of 63. For him, the war was over.

Corinth remained in Union hands, which allowed Grant to move his army down the Mississippi River unmolested where he would launch a siege on the Confederate stronghold in Vicksburg in the spring of 1863. The outcome of the war was in little doubt at that point, but it would rage on for two more years with tens of thousands more dying at the hands of their brothers and fellow countrymen.

The 27th Texas Cavalry would continue to fight throughout the remainder of the war, finally surrendering on May 4, 1865, nearly a month after Lee’s surrender at the Appomattox Court House. Of the 1,007 men who originally made up the 27th, only a handful was still standing by war’s end.

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