Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center

Location: Corinth, Mississippi

Webpage: National Park

General Description: Prior to the Civil War, Corinth, Mississippi was a small town of about 100 homes and inns.  Its only reason for being was the intersection of two main railroad lines: the Mobile and Ohio Railroad that connected Mobile and the Ohio River and the Memphis and Charleston Railroad that connected the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean. For this reason it became a major focus of the war in the west during the summer of 1862.  Following the Union victories at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in northwest Tennessee, the Confederates under the command of General Johnston used this intersection to consolidate its forces in western Tennessee and northern Mississippi and Alabama.  They constructed defensive breastworks to the north and east of the town in preparation for a combined assault of General Grant’s Army of the Tennessee and General Buelle’s Army of the Ohio.  However, General Johnston seized the initiative and moved his army north to surprise General Grant at Pittsburg Landing before the two armies could be joined.  Thus on April 6-7 was the bloody Battle of Shiloh to the north of Corinth.  During the battle General Johnston was killed and General Beauregard took over command of the Confederates.  With the arrival of Buelle’s army on the night of the April 6, the Confederates were forced to retreat back to Corinth.  Major General Halleck took over command of the combined Union armies of the Tennessee, Ohio, and Mississippi and began a slow, cautious approach on Corinth.  Constructing defensive breastworks after each advance, the Union army moved only five miles in three weeks and by May 25, 1862 were in a position to lay siege of Corinth.  Although the Confederates held a strong defensive position, their loss at Shiloh and the conditions in Corinth were major problems.  Every structure in Corinth was being used as a field hospital to care for all the wounded and sick.  Living conditions in Corinth were abysmal due to swampy conditions and heavy rains.   All of the water sources were contaminated and food was in short supply.  Typhoid and dysentery had felled thousands of men. Sickness had claimed the lives of almost as many men as the Confederacy had lost at Shiloh.  A Confederate Council concluded they could not hold the crossroads and General Beauregard ordered Corinth to be evacuated.  Thru a series of deceptions including bringing in trains to look like reinforcements were arriving, but instead loading them with the sick and injured.  They also used dummy cannons built by the Quakers and kept camp fires burning through the night.  When Union troops entered Corinth on May 30 they found an empty burned out town.  Although General Beauregard likely saved the Confederate army, he was criticized for surrendering the critical crossroads and was relieved of command.  From June through September, the Union made Corinth the center of their operations building new structures throughout the area.  Due to the swampy terrain, living conditions and fresh water supplies remained a problem.  Over the summer they improved and improved the defensive breastworks protecting the railroad juncture.  By September, 1862 Major General van Dorn was now in command of the Confederate Army of West Tennessee and Major General Rosecrans in command of the Union Army of the Mississippi in Corinth.  After making a feint towards Memphis, van Dorn advanced from the northwest towards Corinth.  On the morning of October 3 the Confederate attack came from the north and west between the two railroads.  By 1:30 pm they had driven the Union back to within a half mile of their redoubts and by night they were all inside the redoubts.  The Confederate attacks met heavy resistance from the Union redoubts with the heaviest fighting at Battery Robinett, where the Interpretation Center is located.  Phifer’s brigade did manage to break through the Union defense and enter Corinth.  However, this success was short lived as part of Sullivan’s brigade being held in reserve counter-attacked which began a house to house battle in the town.  As they fell back, the Confederates were met with a deadly crossfire from the bypassed redoubts and were routed.  By 4 pm van Dorn had determined that they would not be able to capture Corinth and began to retreat.  By then Union reinforcements from Jackson, Tennessee arrived in Corinth, but by this point the Confederates were in full retreat.  Following the battle, Corinth continued to be an important strategic position for the Union although it was eventually abandoned as the troops were needed elsewhere.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) The Interpretive Center is a beautiful structure that houses numerous exhibits about Corinth, whose history during the war was a lot more than just the two battles that took place there in May and October of 1862.  There is a very good film about the town as well.  The most interesting feature is the walkway up from the parking lot.  As the concrete path winds up the small hill they have placed bronzed pieces from the Civil War embedded in the concrete and ground beside the path.

2) The Interpretive Center is located at the site of Battery Robinett, which saw the fiercest fighting during the Second Battle of Corinth in October, 1862.  They have reconstructed part of the redoubt with a cannon to show how it would have looked during the war.

BatteryRobinett

3) To the north and east of town there are a number of small areas protected by NPS of the breastworks, both Confederate and Union.

UnionSiegeLine

4) During the Federal occupation of Corinth, many slaves approached the Union Army to escape their plantations.  As this was before the Emancipation Proclamation, they were considered as contraband.  Beginning during the summer of 1862, the Contraband Camp in Corinth grew to include approximately 6,000 ex-slaves who for the first time were able to work for a salary.  In addition to building homes and growing crops, these ex-slaves also built churches and schools for their growing community.  By May, 1863, the camp was clearing $4000 to $5000 in profits from its many enterprises and over 1000 African-American adults and children had learned to read.  It was a model for other Contraband Camps, however, when Corinth was abandoned in December, 1863, the Contraband Camp was moved to Memphis, a more traditional refugee camp where they did not have the advantage of fending for themselves.  A small portion of this Contraband Camp has been set aside by the National Park Service to commemorate their efforts with a number of bronze statues.

ContrabandCamp