Second Battle of Corinth
In the wake of Shiloh, Union armies scored victories in the Western Theater at a rapid rate. Major General John Pope made a name for himself with his success at Island Number 10 on April 8. The siege of Fort Pulaski resulted in Union victory on April 11. New Orleans, the largest city in the south, surrendered to the Federals on April 28. The city of Memphis fell to Federals on June 6. And in the midst of these victories, Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck captured the "the vertebrae of the Confederacy, the vital railroad crossing of Corinth, Mississippi, where the east-west Memphis & Charleston Railroad met the north-south Mobile & Ohio. From April 29-May 30, Halleck besieged Beauregard’s Army of Mississippi there, capturing the town on May 30.
The stunning string of victories forced the Union high command to slow its operations during the summer of 1862 in order to shore up their defenses and supply lines. Halleck was promoted to General-in-Chief of all Union armies and transferred to Washington, while Buell dealt with an extended Confederate offensive orchestrated by Gen. Braxton Bragg that carried the two armies into Kentucky. Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, meanwhile, attempted to destroy two Confederate armies in Mississippi.
After the Union victory at the Battle of Iuka, on September 19, 1862, Maj. Gen. Sterling Price’s Confederate Army of the West marched to join Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn’s Army of West Tennessee. Van Dorn was senior officer and took command of the combined force numbering about 22,000 men. With this combined force, Van Dorn and Price hoped to seize Corinth, sweep into Middle Tennessee, and relieve pressure on Bragg’s army in Kentucky.
Since the Siege of Corinth in the spring, Union forces had erected various fortifications, an inner and intermediate line, to protect the town and its vital rail lines. Thus, when Van Dorn and Price targeted Corinth, 23,000 Federals stood poised to meet the Confederate threat. Van Dorn arrived near Corinth at 10:00 a.m. on October 3 and moved into some fieldworks that the Confederates had erected during the siege of Corinth.
Confederates launched a determined assault on the left of the Federal line, which occupied the outer defenses. A gap opened between two Union brigades that the Confederates exploited around 1:30 p.m. As the Federals fell back, an opportunity presented itself. One Federal division was perfectly situated to attack the left rear of the advancing Confederate line. But a botched order thwarted the Federals. Price’s men added their weight to the assault and drove the Federals back further to their inner defensive line.
By evening, Van Dorn was sure that he could finish the Federals off during the next day. This confidence—combined with the heat, fatigue, and water shortages—persuaded him to cancel any further operations that day. Union Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans regrouped his men in the fortifications to be ready for the attack to come the next morning. Van Dorn had planned to attack at daybreak, but one of his subordinates, Brig. Gen. Louis Hébert, fell ill, postponing the attack until 9:00 a.m. As the Confederates moved forward, Union artillery swept the field, causing heavy casualties, but the Rebels continued onward. They stormed Battery Powell and closed on Battery Robinett, where desperate hand-to-hand fighting ensued. A few Rebels fought their way into Corinth, but the Federals quickly drove them out. The Federal counterattack continued on, recapturing Battery Powell and forcing Van Dorn into a general retreat.
Rosecrans postponed any pursuit until the next day. As a result, Van Dorn was defeated, but not destroyed. And Bragg was left on his own accord in Kentucky.