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General Price on the 28th of September reached Ripley, Mississippi, with Hebert's and D. H. Maury's divisions, numbering 13,863 infantry, artillery and cavalry. At Ripley he joined General Van Dorn, who had Lovell's division there with a little over 8,000 men. They had become satisfied that instead of trying to join Buell the Federals were trying to hold the line on the Confederate left. General Grant by this time believed that the purpose of this concentration of forces was an attempt to drive the Federal forces from northern Mississippi and West Tennessee, and had prepared to meet this movement by ordering to Corinth all the forces that could be spared from Bolivar and Jackson. The strategic importance of Corinth lay in its control of movements either way over the Mobile and Ohio and the Memphis and Charleston Railroads, the one running from Columbus on the Mississippi through Jackson in Tennessee, and through Bethel, Corinth, Tupelo, and Baldwyn in Mississippi, on to Mobile, Alabama; and the other running from Memphis almost parallel with the southern border of Tennessee through Corinth to Decatur, Alabama, and thence to Stevenson, where it converged with the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad en route to Chattanooga. In all this section through which the Federal army of 50,000 was distributed, the Federals could not have existed without railroad connection. After the battle of Iuka, Grant moved his headquarters to Jackson, Tennessee. Rosecrans was left in charge of the district, assuming command September 26th. He engaged in throwing up breastworks as rapidly as possible. By the 1st of October he had increased the force in Corinth from 10,000 to 16,000 men.
Meantime, Van Dorn had decided that Corinth must be taken before anything of importance could be accomplished in West Tennessee, and he determined to make the attempt, attacking from the north and west. On October 1st he was at Pocahontas with about 22,000 men, while Rosecrans had 16,000 at Corinth, with 8,000 at outposts twelve to fifteen miles distant. His march toward Pocahontas had
been interpreted by the Federals as an intention to attack Bolivar, and the sudden turn of the army, crossing the Hatchie and the Tuscumbia, enabled the Confederates to surprise Corinth before the outposts could be called in. Crossing the Hatchie in the early morning of October 2d, the army bivouacked at Chewalla, ten miles from Corinth, resuming the march the following morning. The railroad between Corinth and Jackson was cut, and the line of battle formed after some heavy skirmishing. By ten o'clock all skirmishers were driven into the entrenchments and the two armies were in line of battle, confronting each other in force. A belt of fallen timber four hundred yards wide extending along the whole line of Union entrenchments was to be crossed.
The attack was begun on the right by General M. Lovell's division and extended gradually to the left. By half-past one o'clock, the whole line of outer works was carried and several pieces of artillery taken. The Federals obstinately resisted the advance to the second line of works, making several ineffectual efforts to hold their ground. As the last shot followed the retreating Federals into their innermost lines, the sun went down. The Confederate army, victorious so far, slept on their arms within six hundred yards of Corinth. During the night three batteries took position on the ridge overlooking the town from the west with instructions to open fire at four o'clock in the morning. The battle really opened about eight o'clock, and though General Van Dorn's well-laid plans were delayed by unavoidable causes, one brigade after another went gallantly into action, pushing forward, through direct and cross fire, over every obstacle. They reached Corinth, planted their colors on the last stronghold of the enemy and fought hand to hand in the very yard of Rosecrans's headquarters and in the streets of the town. The heavy guns were silenced and all seemed about to be ended, when fresh troops that had arrived from Iuka, Burnsville and Rienzi began to pour a heavy fire into the thinned Confederate ranks. Exhausted from loss of sleep, wearied from hard marching
and fighting, many companies and regiments without officers, the Confederates gave way, and the battle was lost.
Lovell's division was then sent to the left and fell slowly back to Indian Creek where he could prevent the Federals from turning the Confederate left. The same division brought up the rear of the whole army, which again bivouacked at Chewalla. No enemy disturbed the sleep of the wearied troops. During the night, Van Dorn had a bridge constructed over the Tuscumbia and sent Armstrong's and General W. H. Jackson's cavalry to seize Rienzi, intending to march to and hold that point, but after consultation with General Price it was decided to return by the road by which they had come and fall back toward Ripley and Oxford. Expecting that his passage across the Hatchie would be disputed, General Van Dorn pushed rapidly toward the bridge, but learned from couriers that he would be too late. He hastened on, however, determined to engage the enemy until his train and reserve artillery could be started on the road. Armstrong and Jackson were ordered back, and covered the front and flank of the trains until they crossed the Hatchie and then covered them in front until they were on the Ripley road. The Federals were then engaged beyond the Hatchie bridge by small fragments of Maury's division and were held in check sufficiently long to enable the Confederates safely to remove their impedimenta. General Ord commanded the Federal force at this point, and took his position before the travel-worn Confederates could form a line of battle, and drove them back across the bridge. They maintained their position on the hills, however, until they received orders to fall back. General John S. Bowen was left at the Tuscumbia bridge to defend it until the artillery was available. While executing this order the head of Rosecrans's army appeared, but was repulsed in a manner reflecting credit on General Bowen and his men. The Confederates were not again molested during their retreat to Holly Springs. Charges were made against General Van Dorn of neglect of duty and cruelty
and improper treatment, but a Court of Inquiry investigated them and unanimously voted them disproved.
General Price in his report of the battle says: "The history of this war contains no bloodier pages, perhaps, than that which will record this fiercely contested battle. The strongest expressions fall short of my admiration of the gallant conduct of the officers and men under my command." The Federal loss was officially reported as 355 killed, 1,841 wounded, and 324 captured or missing. The Confederate loss was 505 killed, 2,150 wounded, and 1,812 captured or missing.
Van Dorn waited further developments while resting at Holly Springs. In the meantime, General Grant had massed a heavy force, somewhat over 80,000 men, at points along the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, and moved south toward the interior of Mississippi. Holly Springs was taken November 13th, and the whole day was spent in skirmishing with the Confederate cavalry. Grant's main army camped at Water Valley, where the country was rich in breadstuffs and forage. This he seized and sent to Holly Springs, where he accumulated an immense depot of supplies, hastening every necessary preparation to continue his march southward. Jackson, Vicksburg, and the railroads were doomed unless his progress could be arrested. There was no force in front to oppose him, and the only hope was to interrupt his communications. General Van Dorn, on the night of December 15th, quietly withdrew the cavalry, about 2,500 men, from the Federal front and marched for Holly Springs. Early in the morning of the 19th he surprised and captured the garrison, a brigade of infantry and a portion of the Seventh Illinois Cavalry. The vast accumulation of supplies, valued at a million and a half dollars, was burned by Van Dorn, except the small quantity used in arming and equipping his command.
The second expedition for the capture of Vicksburg had been carefully and skilfully planned, but like the first, it resulted in failure. General Grant with an army of 30,000
men moved as far south as Grenada, Mississippi, forcing back the inferior force of General Van Dorn and following the line of the Illinois Central Railroad parallel to Mississippi River, thus threatening the rear of Vicksburg. General W. T. Sherman moved from Memphis with a force of 32,000 men, in 94 transports accompanied by the river gunboat fleet of 31 vessels mounting nearly 150 guns, commanded by Acting Rear-admiral Porter.
To oppose these two formidable armies the Confederates could bring into active duty only 22,000 men in the field under General Van Dorn, and 6,000 men in the garrison at Vicksburg under General Martin L. Smith, the whole being under the command of General John C. Pemberton. The force in the field opposing the advance of Grant was in reality a part of the garrison of Vicksburg, and necessary to the complete defence of the fortifications.
It was Sherman's purpose to keep his expedition as secret as possible, to surprise Vicksburg while thus inadequately defended and to take the place by sudden assault; or, failing in this, to besiege it by land and water, while Grant's army in coöperation pressed Van Dorn with the double purpose of preventing reinforcement of the garrison and of pushing back the Confederate forces and forming a junction with Sherman in the rear of Vicksburg.
This plan was defeated by three unexpected events. The first was the raid of General N. B. Forrest into West Tennessee, which destroyed the railroad by which Grant received his supplies and left him without communications for eleven days, and without supplies for a much longer period. The second was the destruction by General Van Dorn of the stores which Grant had accumulated at Holly Springs. His accumulated stores and his source of supplies being thus unexpectedly destroyed at the same time, Grant was compelled to retreat at the very moment when he expected to advance to cooperate with Sherman. The third event was equally unexpected. Sherman's movement was not so secretly conducted as to escape the notice of the