Civil War
Field Trip

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Battle of Corinth, MS

When I visited Corinth, Mississippi in the summer of 2009, I had a very specific research goal in mind... to locate the place where a young Confederate officer named James H. Berry had fallen in battle on a hot September day in 1862.  Berry (the subject of my current book project) was a 20 year old 2nd Lieutenant with the 16th Arkansas Infantry, when his regiment attacked a strong Union fort at Corinth named "Battery Powell."  He lost his right leg and became a POW that day.

While in Corinth, I was hoping to trace his regiment's path of attack and walk as close to the spot where he fell, as possible.  For me, it seemed essential in the writing of his story.
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A great place to start, for anyone visiting the Corinth Battlefield (which is actually the town of Corinth itself) is at the U.S. National Park Service's "Civil War Interpretive Center."  This remarkable facility is unlike any of the other NPS Visitors Centers across the nation.  The Interpretive Center encourages one to consider the many different elements of the entire Civil War.  It also has one of the best "Reseach Rooms" I have ever encountered.  Pictured here is the striking relief of Union infantymen, at the main entrance:

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Every major battle of the American Civil War is represented by these stone blocks in the reflecting pool of the C.W. Interpretive Center.  The location and size of each block indicates the specific battle's place in the Civil War timeline and the number of casualities associated with that battle.  
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(Photo Below)  The downtown of the old city of Corinth is only a five minute dive from the Interpretive Center.  On the town square stands this statue of Confederate Colonel William P. Rogers, who was killed while leading his 2nd Texas Regiment against the Union fort Battery Robinett.  This more than a century old monument looks brand new, thanks to a renovation paid for by local chapters of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
THE LEADERS at THE BATTLE OF CORINTH:

UNION:  President Abraham Lincoln knew well the importance of keeping Corinth, in Union hands.  Assigned to hold the vital little Mississippi town was Major General William S. Rosecrans.  When Rosecrans first arrived, he found the physical defensive works (constructed when the Confederates had held Corinth) were inadequate.  For one thing, the works were too far out of town.
The Union general ordered the construction of several small forts (Battery Powell etc) to hug the town and its vital railroad junction.

The forts, with walls 9 feet high were manned by Union artillery batteries and supported by Rosecrans veteran infrantry regiments.  As defensive positions, the small forts were as strong as
any fortifications Southern troops would face in the entire Civil War. During the Battle of Corinth, Rosecrans troops would perform well and when the Confederates broke through into the streets of the town, the Union soldiers would stand firm.

CONFEDERATE:  Overall, Jefferson Davis served the South well as President of the CSA.  In fact, it is remarkable that he was able hold together eleven very independent minded States in a long war against a foe with a seemingly unending supply of troops and  resources.  However, Davis was human and throughout the war he made some controversial decisions in regard to his generals.

He fired P.T. Beauregard and Joseph Johnston, both capable commanders doing the best they could with outnumbered and under-supplied armies.  Davis promoted men such as Braxton Bragg and John Bell Hood to the leadership of his armies and those selections may have cost the South critical victories in the Western Theater of the war.  It is certainly true that Davis' choice of Robert E. Lee as General of the Army of Northern Virginia may have been the best command decision of the war...on either side.  Yet the Confederate President never gave the talented Nathan Bedford Forrest command of a major army. 

For the October 3rd & 4th, 1862 attack on the Federal forces at Corinth, Davis put his faith in General Earl Van Dorn, who had during the 2nd day of the Battle of Pea Ridge completely lost his Ammunition Wagon Train, leaving his army without any artillery support and dooming it to defeat.  General Sterling Price, who's troops had been victorious at Wilson's Creek and who had punished the Yankees at Pea Ridge and Iuka, was greatly disliked by Davis, a feeling the Missouri General returned. Still, Price might have been a better choice to head the CSA's very important Corinth campaign.

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(Photo Below)  Dozens of trains still roll through this RR crossing in Corinth, Mississippi everyday.  During the Civil War, this crossing was considered (by both Richmond & Washington) to be one of the most important points to hold in th entire Confederacy.  This was the intersectrion of the Mobile & Ohio Railroad (North/South) and the Memphis & Charleston Railroad (East/West)....lines that could serve the supply needs of whichever army held them.  These few square feet of real estate were the main reason for the Battle of Corinth.
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My search to locate the area where CSA Lt. James Berry fell wounded in the 1862 Battle of Corinth was successful.  Union Battery Powell (an artillery fort supported by Federal infantry) stood here on present day Taylor Street.  Berry and the 16th Arkansas along with Missouri troops attacked this position and took it, with heavy casualties on both sides.  These Confederates could not hold Battery Powell, when reinforcement troops did not arrive and General Mansfield Lovell's Division (the Right Wing of Van Dorn's battleline) remained idle, allowing Rosecrans' artillery to concentrate fire on the Arkansas and Missouri soldiers.
Lieutenant James H. Berry survived the war and afterwards he did not allow the misfortune of losing one leg in battle, deter him from a lifetime of remarkable achievements.  In the post-Civil War years, Berry became an Attorney, Judge, Governor of Arkansas and a U.S. Senator. 

His life story is the subject a forthcoming book:  The Life and Times of James Berry.

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CWFT COMMENTARY:

The two day Battle of Corinth (and the Battle at Davis' Bridge) produced another bloody casuality list for both the Union and Confederate armies of the West.  According to author/historian Peter Cozzens, General Sterling Price's troops (who charged and broke through Union defenses) suffered a casualty rate of around 35%...losing 428 Killed, 1,865 Wounded and 1,449 Missing.
In his excellent book The Darkest Days of the War, Cozzens writes of General Dabney Maury's Division that attacke the center of the Federal entrenchments: "The Virginian took some 3,900 men into the battles and lost 2,500." (Killed & Wounded)  General Mansfield Lovell (who had refused to attack the strong Union forts at Corinth) sustained less casualties, but still lost 77 killed and 285 wounded.

The Official Records lists Rosecrans' casualties as: "Killed, 355; Wounded, 1,841: Captured or Missing, 324." For a total Union loss of: 2,520 men.  Rosecrans' Federal Army was bloodied in the hard fighting but their general's careful preparation of the defensive fortifications saved the lives of many soldiers in Blue.

The Union victory at Corinth kept the vital supply lines open for use by Northern armies while hindering the Confederates in transporting much needed food and arms from Texas and Louisiana to the Eastern Confederacy.  In short, the Battle of Corinth hurt the South where it mattered most...the loss of veteran soldiers who could not be replaced.

Looking back a century and a half later, the Confederate plan to recapture Corinth in the fall of 1862 seems ill-advised.  Van Dorn made his attack with approximately 20,000 troops against an equal number of Federal troops who were manning defensive positions as strong as any seen in the war.  Perhaps with a larger force Van Dorn might have been able to overcome the enormous challenge but Jefferson Davis had no more troops to send. As the war continued into its third year, the Union's manpower advantage would begin to turn the tide of the war.
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