Corinth, 1862 Siege, Battle, Occupation Timothy B. Smith

Corinth, 1862 Siege, Battle, Occupation (Timothy B. Smith, author)
Corinth, 1862 Siege, Battle, Occupation (Timothy B. Smith, author)

Corinth, Mississippi was described as the “…the vertebrae of the Confederacy” by Confederate Secretary of War Leroy Pope Walker. This railroad crossroads in northern Mississippi served both the Memphis and Charleston railroad and the Mobile and Ohio railroad. It was the major Confederate railroad hub and logistics center in the western theater, and in 1862 the opposing Army commanders, P.G.T. Beauregard and Henry Halleck, ranked Corinth with Richmond as one of the two places most essential to the survival of the CSA.

Since 1862, Corinth’s importance has been de-emphasized by historians, but Timothy B. Smith may reverse this trend with this comprehensive account of Corinth’s significance in the American Civil War as it was besieged, battled over, and occupied by Confederate and Federal forces.

Mr. Smith is well-qualified to write this history, serving as a teacher and researcher with the University of Tennessee. He has authored three previous books about the Civil War in Mississippi and Tennessee, the Battles of Shiloh and Champion Hill.

This book covers the military activity around Corinth throughout the War. Smith makes extensive use of the official records, regimental histories, letters, and memoirs of the Soldiers and civilians. He covers the ‘siege’ and occupation of Corinth in May, 1862 and the bloody Battle of Corinth in October, 1862, as well as some of the first efforts by Federal commanders to implement Abraham Lincoln’s contraband and emancipation policies in 1863. Until reading this book I did not know that Corinth was the site of the largest contraband camp in the Western theater as well as the one of the first recruiting sites for the United States Colored Troops; the First Alabama Infantry (African Descent), later re-designated 55th USCT, was recruited there.

Smith also describes the lives of Corinth’s civilians during the war; Southern inhabitants both white and black as well as Northerners arriving after the Federal occupation. He ably describes how the town and Tishomingo County governments adapted to Federal occupation while continuing to operate and participate in the Mississippi state government throughout the war.

Understandably, the author focuses on the military operations in and around Corinth throughout 1862. Beauregard’s defeated army retreated from into Corinth from Shiloh but then regrouped and resisted the painfully deliberate advance of Halleck’s huge Army of the West for over a month, until all railway links with the deep south were severed but one; then the Confederates skillfully withdrew to Tupelo, fooling the Yankees so completely that they were able to evacuate all sick, supplies and munitions without molestation.

Occupied by Federal forces under U.S. Grant and William Rosecrans, Corinth was attacked once again, and the chapters concerning the Battle of Corinth thoroughly cover the two-days of fighting. Attempting to support the Confederate invasion of Kentucky, Earl Van Dorn mismanaged his army’s assault on Corinth, suffering a sharp defeat and dashing any hope for continuing the offensive into Western Tennessee toward Columbus, Kentucky. The tactical movements are illustrated with a fine series of maps that add a great deal to the author’s narrative.

Mr. Smith is successful in presenting this comprehensive study of the political and military importance of Corinth during the first three years of the war, as well as of the civil affairs of Corinth throughout the War. His only failure is in arguing that Halleck practiced sound military strategy when advancing on Corinth and then splitting his Army in order to occupy a region stretching from Memphis to Bridgeport, AL. This permitted the Confederate Army of Mississippi (later known as the Army of Tennessee) to regain the initiative and maintain the fight over the western Confederacy another two-and-a-half years.

This is an excellent military and social history that fills a gap in our Civil War knowledge of the Western theater in the period between the Battle of Shiloh and the fall of Vicksburg. It will both entertain and inform you, and I highly recommend it to you.