Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

I had been constantly called upon to reinforce Buell until at
this time my entire force numbered less than 50,000 men, of all
arms. This included everything from Cairo south within my
jurisdiction. If I too should be driven back, the Ohio River
would become the line dividing the belligerents west of the
Alleghanies, while at the East the line was already farther
north than when hostilities commenced at the opening of the
war. It is true Nashville was never given up after its first
capture, but it would have been isolated and the garrison there
would have been obliged to beat a hasty retreat if the troops in
West Tennessee had been compelled to fall back. To say at the
end of the second year of the war the line dividing the
contestants at the East was pushed north of Maryland, a State
that had not seceded, and at the West beyond Kentucky, another
State which had been always loyal, would have been discouraging
indeed. As it was, many loyal people despaired in the fall of
1862 of ever saving the Union. The administration at Washington
was much concerned for the safety of the cause it held so dear.
But I believe there was never a day when the President did not
think that, in some way or other, a cause so just as ours would
come out triumphant.

Up to the 11th of September Rosecrans still had troops on the
railroad east of Corinth, but they had all been ordered in. By
the 12th all were in except a small force under Colonel Murphy
of the 8th Wisconsin. He had been detained to guard the
remainder of the stores which had not yet been brought in to
Corinth.

On the 13th of September General Sterling Price entered Iuka, a
town about twenty miles east of Corinth on the Memphis and
Charleston railroad. Colonel Murphy with a few men was guarding
the place. He made no resistance, but evacuated the town on the
approach of the enemy. I was apprehensive lest the object of
the rebels might be to get troops into Tennessee to reinforce
Bragg, as it was afterwards ascertained to be. The authorities
at Washington, including the general-in-chief of the army, were
very anxious, as I have said, about affairs both in East and
Middle Tennessee; and my anxiety was quite as great on their
account as for any danger threatening my command. I had not
force enough at Corinth to attack Price even by stripping
everything; and there was danger that before troops could be got
from other points he might be far on his way across the
Tennessee. To prevent this all spare forces at Bolivar and
Jackson were ordered to Corinth, and cars were concentrated at
Jackson for their transportation. Within twenty-four hours from
the transmission of the order the troops were at their
destination, although there had been a delay of four hours
resulting from the forward train getting off the track and
stopping all the others. This gave a reinforcement of near
8,000 men, General Ord in command. General Rosecrans commanded
the district of Corinth with a movable force of about 9,000
independent of the garrison deemed necessary to be left
behind. It was known that General Van Dorn was about a four
days’ march south of us, with a large force. It might have been
part of his plan to attack at Corinth, Price coming from the east
while he came up from the south. My desire was to attack Price
before Van Dorn could reach Corinth or go to his relief.

General Rosecrans had previously had his headquarters at Iuka,
where his command was spread out along the Memphis and
Charleston railroad eastward. While there he had a most
excellent map prepared showing all the roads and streams in the
surrounding country. He was also personally familiar with the
ground, so that I deferred very much to him in my plans for the
approach. We had cars enough to transport all of General Ord’s
command, which was to go by rail to Burnsville, a point on the
road about seven miles west of Iuka. From there his troops were
to march by the north side of the railroad and attack Price from
the north-west, while Rosecrans was to move eastward from his
position south of Corinth by way of the Jacinto road. A small
force was to hold the Jacinto road where it turns to the
north-east, while the main force moved on the Fulton road which
comes into Iuka further east. This plan was suggested by
Rosecrans.

Bear Creek, a few miles to the east of the Fulton road, is a
formidable obstacle to the movement of troops in the absence of
bridges, all of which, in September, 1862, had been destroyed in
that vicinity. The Tennessee, to the north-east, not many miles
away, was also a formidable obstacle for an army followed by a
pursuing force. Ord was on the north-west, and even if a rebel
movement had been possible in that direction it could have
brought only temporary relief, for it would have carried Price’s
army to the rear of the National forces and isolated it from all
support. It looked to me that, if Price would remain in Iuka
until we could get there, his annihilation was inevitable.

On the morning of the 18th of September General Ord moved by
rail to Burnsville, and there left the cars and moved out to
perform his part of the programme. He was to get as near the
enemy as possible during the day and intrench himself so as to
hold his position until the next morning. Rosecrans was to be
up by the morning of the 19th on the two roads before described,
and the attack was to be from all three quarters
simultaneously. Troops enough were left at Jacinto and Rienzi
to detain any cavalry that Van Dorn might send out to make a
sudden dash into Corinth until I could be notified. There was a
telegraph wire along the railroad, so there would be no delay in
communication. I detained cars and locomotives enough at
Burnsville to transport the whole of Ord’s command at once, and
if Van Dorn had moved against Corinth instead of Iuka I could
have thrown in reinforcements to the number of 7,000 or 8,000
before he could have arrived. I remained at Burnsville with a
detachment of about 900 men from Ord’s command and communicated
with my two wings by courier. Ord met the advance of the enemy
soon after leaving Burnsville. Quite a sharp engagement ensued,
but he drove the rebels back with considerable loss, including
one general officer killed. He maintained his position and was
ready to attack by daylight the next morning. I was very much
disappointed at receiving a dispatch from Rosecrans after
midnight from Jacinto, twenty-two miles from Iuka, saying that
some of his command had been delayed, and that the rear of his
column was not yet up as far as Jacinto. He said, however, that
he would still be at Iuka by two o’clock the next day. I did not
believe this possible because of the distance and the condition
of the roads, which was bad; besides, troops after a forced
march of twenty miles are not in a good condition for fighting
the moment they get through. It might do in marching to relieve
a beleaguered garrison, but not to make an assault. I
immediately sent Ord a copy of Rosecrans’ dispatch and ordered
him to be in readiness to attack the moment he heard the sound
of guns to the south or south-east. He was instructed to notify
his officers to be on the alert for any indications of battle.
During the 19th the wind blew in the wrong direction to transmit
sound either towards the point where Ord was, or to Burnsville
where I had remained.

A couple of hours before dark on the 19th Rosecrans arrived with
the head of his column at garnets, the point where the Jacinto
road to Iuka leaves the road going east. He here turned north
without sending any troops to the Fulton road. While still
moving in column up the Jacinto road he met a force of the enemy
and had his advance badly beaten and driven back upon the main
road. In this short engagement his loss was considerable for
the number engaged, and one battery was taken from him. The
wind was still blowing hard and in the wrong direction to
transmit sounds towards either Ord or me. Neither he nor I nor
any one in either command heard a gun that was fired upon the
battle-field. After the engagement Rosecrans sent me a dispatch
announcing the result. This was brought by a courier. There was
no road between Burnsville and the position then occupied by
Rosecrans and the country was impassable for a man on
horseback. The courier bearing the message was compelled to
move west nearly to Jacinto before he found a road leading to
Burnsville. This made it a late hour of the night before I
learned of the battle that had taken place during the
afternoon. I at once notified Ord of the fact and ordered him
to attack early in the morning. The next morning Rosecrans
himself renewed the attack and went into Iuka with but little
resistance. Ord also went in according to orders, without
hearing a gun from the south of town but supposing the troops
coming from the south-west must be up by that time. Rosecrans,
however, had put no troops upon the Fulton road, and the enemy
had taken advantage of this neglect and retreated by that road
during the night. Word was soon brought to me that our troops
were in Iuka. I immediately rode into town and found that the
enemy was not being pursued even by the cavalry. I ordered
pursuit by the whole of Rosecrans’ command and went on with him
a few miles in person. He followed only a few miles after I
left him and then went into camp, and the pursuit was continued
no further. I was disappointed at the result of the battle of
Iuka–but I had so high an opinion of General Rosecrans that I
found no fault at the time.

CHAPTER XXIX.

VAN DORN’S MOVEMENTS–BATTLE OF CORINTH–COMMAND OF THE
DEPARTMENT OF THE TENNESSEE.

On the 19th of September General Geo. H. Thomas was ordered east
to reinforce Buell. This threw the army at my command still more
on the defensive. The Memphis and Charleston railroad was
abandoned, except at Corinth, and small forces were left at
Chewalla and Grand Junction. Soon afterwards the latter of
these two places was given up and Bolivar became our most
advanced position on the Mississippi Central railroad. Our
cavalry was kept well to the front and frequent expeditions were
sent out to watch the movements of the enemy. We were in a
country where nearly all the people, except the negroes, were
hostile to us and friendly to the cause we were trying to
suppress. It was easy, therefore, for the enemy to get early
information of our every move. We, on the contrary, had to go
after our information in force, and then often returned without
it.

On the 22d Bolivar was threatened by a large force from south of
Grand Junction, supposed to be twenty regiments of infantry with
cavalry and artillery. I reinforced Bolivar, and went to
Jackson in person to superintend the movement of troops to
whatever point the attack might be made upon. The troops from
Corinth were brought up in time to repel the threatened movement
without a battle. Our cavalry followed the enemy south of Davis’
mills in Mississippi.

On the 30th I found that Van Dorn was apparently endeavoring to
strike the Mississippi River above Memphis. At the same time
other points within my command were so threatened that it was
impossible to concentrate a force to drive him away. There was
at this juncture a large Union force at Helena, Arkansas, which,
had it been within my command, I could have ordered across the
river to attack and break up the Mississippi Central railroad
far to the south. This would not only have called Van Dorn
back, but would have compelled the retention of a large rebel
force far to the south to prevent a repetition of such raids on
the enemy’s line of supplies. Geographical lines between the
commands during the rebellion were not always well chosen, or
they were too rigidly adhered to.

Van Dorn did not attempt to get upon the line above Memphis, as
had apparently been his intention. He was simply covering a
deeper design; one much more important to his cause. By the 1st
of October it was fully apparent that Corinth was to be attacked
with great force and determination, and that Van Dorn, Lovell,
Price, Villepigue and Rust had joined their strength for this
purpose. There was some skirmishing outside of Corinth with the
advance of the enemy on the 3d. The rebels massed in the
north-west angle of the Memphis and Charleston and the Mobile
and Ohio railroads, and were thus between the troops at Corinth
and all possible reinforcements. Any fresh troops for us must
come by a circuitous route.

On the night of the 3d, accordingly, I ordered General
McPherson, who was at Jackson, to join Rosecrans at Corinth with
reinforcements picked up along the line of the railroad equal to
a brigade. Hurlbut had been ordered from Bolivar to march for
the same destination; and as Van Dorn was coming upon Corinth
from the north-west some of his men fell in with the advance of
Hurlbut’s and some skirmishing ensued on the evening of the
3d. On the 4th Van Dorn made a dashing attack, hoping, no
doubt, to capture Rosecrans before his reinforcements could come
up. In that case the enemy himself could have occupied the
defences of Corinth and held at bay all the Union troops that
arrived. In fact he could have taken the offensive against the
reinforcements with three or four times their number and still
left a sufficient garrison in the works about Corinth to hold
them. He came near success, some of his troops penetrating the
National lines at least once, but the works that were built
after Halleck’s departure enabled Rosecrans to hold his position
until the troops of both McPherson and Hurlbut approached towards
the rebel front and rear. The enemy was finally driven back with
great slaughter: all their charges, made with great gallantry,
were repulsed. The loss on our side was heavy, but nothing to
compare with Van Dorn’s. McPherson came up with the train of
cars bearing his command as close to the enemy as was prudent,
debarked on the rebel flank and got in to the support of
Rosecrans just after the repulse. His approach, as well as that
of Hurlbut, was known to the enemy and had a moral effect.
General Rosecrans, however, failed to follow up the victory,
although I had given specific orders in advance of the battle
for him to pursue the moment the enemy was repelled. He did not
do so, and I repeated the order after the battle. In the first
order he was notified that the force of 4,000 men which was
going to his assistance would be in great peril if the enemy was
not pursued.

General Ord had joined Hurlbut on the 4th and being senior took
command of his troops. This force encountered the head of Van
Dorn’s retreating column just as it was crossing the Hatchie by
a bridge some ten miles out from Corinth. The bottom land here
was swampy and bad for the operations of troops, making a good
place to get an enemy into. Ord attacked the troops that had
crossed the bridge and drove them back in a panic. Many were
killed, and others were drowned by being pushed off the bridge
in their hurried retreat. Ord followed and met the main
force. He was too weak in numbers to assault, but he held the
bridge and compelled the enemy to resume his retreat by another
bridge higher up the stream. Ord was wounded in this engagement
and the command devolved on Hurlbut.

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