METNWS-12-30-21 SHAPPARD – CIVIL WAR – CORINTH_PHOTO

A Currier and Ives print illustrates the Battle of Corinth on Oct. 4, 1862. The 29th Illinois, which included soldiers from Massac County and the vicinity, and other regiments arrived in the Mississippi town just as the Confederates were retreating. The print reads: “Between the Federal troops under Genl. Grant and the combined Rebel forces under Genls. Van Dorn, Price and Lovell; the Rebels were utterly defeated and driven from the field, throwing away their arms and accoutrements and every thing that could impede their flight.”

Feeling confident following the great Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee, Lt. Tom Day of “K” Company of the 29th Illinois wrote in the May 10, 1862, Metropolis Sentinel newspaper, “You may look for Egypt to give a good account of herself in a few days.”

He was referring to the soon advance on Corinth, Mississippi, to engage the retreating Confederates. Great effort was now made to “restore the vigor and efficiency” of the fighting force. Now assigned to the Army Corps of Reserves, the men worked to repair the roads and bridges ahead as the advance guard on the extreme right.  

Instead of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant leading, his superior, Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck arrived to direct an extremely slow advance. Corinth is around 20 miles southwest of Shiloh.

The Siege on Corinth under Halleck, while only a one-day march away, lasted a full five weeks as the Federals would march a short distance then cautiously throw up earthworks. With smaller skirmishes a daily occurrence, the siege came to an end on May 30, 1862, when the Confederates under Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard deceptively snuck out of town the night before under the ruse of receiving fresh troops, while in fact, they were exiting en masse to the south.

Now in possession of this major Southern railroad center and the enemy dispersed, the Union command sought to further seize control of the Mississippi Valley. Halleck divided the great Union force back into separate armies and dispatched them in all directions as far as Chattanooga to the east and Memphis on the west. The men from Massac County, now brigaded with the 11th, 45th, and 20th Illinois Regiments under the command of Col. C. Carroll Marsh, were immediately sent north to Bethel Station in Bethel Springs, Tennessee, along the Mobile and Ohio Railroad and then on north to a new post in Jackson, Tennessee, on June 8.  

From this new base of operations, the 29th Illinois’ primary duty was to protect the 28 miles of Mississippi Central Railroad from Jackson all the way down to Bolivar, Tennessee Frequent incursions and forays of Rebel cavalry created chronic headaches for the Union generals. The 29th Illinois was regularly sent out, up and down the railroad, to chase rebel bandits and guard key bridges. On July 28, the 29th was transferred to the 1st Brigade under the command of Col. Michael Kelly Lawler from Shawneetown led by fellow Egyptian, Gen. John A. Logan.

When word came late afternoon on Oct. 3 of a Rebel attack on the garrison back at Corinth, about 45 miles away, the 29th Illinois and several other regiments were brigaded together under Brig. Gen. James B. McPherson and quickly dispatched by rail to a point within marching distance of Corinth. They arrived in the besieged city at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 4, just as Gen. Earl Van Dorn’s slaughtered Confederates were making a hasty retreat, leaving many of their dead and wounded behind on the battlefield.

Orders were received to pack three days' rations and march out early the next morning in pursuit of the enemy. The brigade soon came upon the Confederate rear guard who immediately opened fire with their artillery and muskets on the advancing 29th Illinois and 1st Kansas regiments. Pushed back, the Rebels left several of their dead and wounded. The 29th slept on their arms that night according to Sgt. William Bolerjack in his diary. The following morning, the Regiment, along with the 31st Illinois, discovered the bridge over the Tuscumbia River was severely damaged by fire. The Rebels employed every means available to impede their pursuers progress. Desperate to escape capture, they burned most everything in their wake, including their own supplies and garrison equipment.  

On Tuesday, Oct. 7, skirmishers of the 29th and 31st Illinois continued to engage the enemy, and each time, their artillery pushed the Confederates back. The pursuit continued as far as the town of Ripley, Mississippi, about 35 miles southwest of Corinth, when orders came to give up the chase and return to Corinth. Many prisoners were taken each day and delivered back to Corinth to be either processed for parole or put on their way to incarceration camps further north.  

As the 29th Illinois and its fellow Union soldiers marched back into Corinth, they witnessed the effects of the late battle. As they entered the twice-contested railroad town that Oct. 12, the sickening stench of death was so prevalent the men pined for the day this cruel war would end. At least they were fortunate enough to quickly get marching orders to leave Corinth, and by 3 a.m. on the morning of Oct. 14, they were back on the railroad cars. They arrived back in Jackson by mid-morning.

Having spent the previous five months on the constant run chasing rebel marauders along the Mississippi Central, colder weather brought the hope of quieter times ahead. Enough so that the 29th Illinois gathered logs from a nearby forest to start building what they thought would be their winter quarters.

Unfortunately, these “permanent” shelters turned quite temporary as Grant would soon begin his Central Mississippi campaign with the hope of taking Vicksburg by land. The 29th Illinois would play a significant, yet unplanned role in the weeks ahead along with the unpredictable Confederate Gen. Earl Van Dorn.

… to be continued …

•••

Phil Shappard lives in Winfield, and is the great-great-grandson of Pvt. Henry Shappard of the 29th Illinois Infantry Volunteers. His family has had a presence in Massac and Pope Counties for over 160 years. He can be contacted at pshappard@gmail.com.

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