Sam Cox and the Advance on Corinth
Updated: Nov 29, 2019
For the 17th Kentucky, the days and weeks after the Battle of Shiloh, were some of rest and reorganization. The brigade commanded by Jacob Lauman in Hurlbut's division, that fought so well at Shiloh, was essentially broken up. Not for anything negative, but the three armies now under the overall command of General Henry Halleck went through an extensive reorganization, which moved the 17th Kentucky Infantry. The regiment was moved out of Lauman's brigade and Grant's army to a brigade commanded by Jacob Amman in William "Bull" Nelson's division of Buell's Army of the Ohio.
Halleck's new combined armies numbered near 100,000 men as they slowly and cautiously advanced on the heavily fortified city of Corinth, Mississippi. There, they meant to cut the junction of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad with the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, severing a vital link between the Confederacy's eastern railroads, and the Mississippi River along with important cities along the Gulf of Mexico.
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15 June, 1862
It has been so that I could not keep dates, therefore I have made no remarks since April 8th. We remained in camp at Pittsburg Landing without anything of importance happening until the 2d day of May, when we were ordered to take two days rations in our haversacks, five days in wagons, tents, camp equipage, and eighty rounds of cartridges. We accordingly obeyed the order, and about noon were on the road leading to Corinth. The whole of the Army moved up that day; Grant on the right, Buell in the center, and Pope on the left. We marched some 14 miles and encountered some of the enemy's pickets, and immediately halted and formed in line of battle. The next day our tents came up and we once again went into camp. We remained there some ten days repairing roads some five or six miles in our advance and rear, as they were in a deplorable condition for our trains.
At the end of ten days, we again moved up, taking tents, etc., some six miles, and again went into camp. Building roads was the program as usual, We remained at that point until one evening Pope was attacked near Farmington and our Division was ordered out to reinforce, if necessary. We traveled some five miles, and as our services were not required, we bivouacked for the night, and the next day our camp was ordered up. About this time, picket duty was becoming very heavy, we being so close to the enemy, and indeed not a day passed that you could not hear the cannon or small arms either on the right, left, or center. But, our generals were very cautious and would not bring on a general engagement. At one or two points, our troops were throwing up breastworks. I suppose they were good positions and our leaders intended to hold them.
We remained at that point some seven or ten days, and on Saturday evening the ___ day of May we moved up some three miles, without tents. On this move we had a sharp skirmish in which we lost several men. We, however, drove their pickets and skirmishers back, and on Sunday morning we commenced throwing up breastworks for the first time. We were then within one mile of their entrenchment and I suppose our General Halleck deemed it proper to prepare for an attack. The enemy's pickets could easily see us at work on the fortifications, they being within rifle range and indeed annoyed us by hurling their leaden missiles at us. I think we lost three men on that day within our Division. We continued to work until we had a line from right to left presenting a very formidable appearance to an attacking party, and I expect many a man would have received his rights in full had they attacked us. We learned from deserters that they were drawn up in line once to attack us, General Price on our left, Breckenridge in the center, and General Bragg on the right, and when ready to move it was discovered that some of Breckenridge's men had deserted and given the alarm; consequently, it was postponed and finally abandoned.
Whilst we were completing our entrenchments and making ready to move on Corinth, it was estimated that something near 300 deserters were coming into our lines daily, all of whom reported their army in a demoralized condition, and I have no idea that it was true. I talked to several intelligent deserters and believe they told the truth.
Company "A" and "B" were placed about three-fourths of a mile outside out entrenchments, and we were within 150 yards of their pickets and we talked to them all day. Some say that Verge Taylor and I were seen playing cards with them, they having come half way. I will not vouch for the truth of that, but I have no doubt we could have, had we made a proposition to that effect, for they were willing to anything. As evidence of that, Captain Davison told them or invited them, whereupon five threw down their weapons and came back doubly quick and went immediately to the rear. I never in my life saw men so well pleased. They reminded me of birds just out of their cages.
We remained behind our earthworks until the 29th of May, when we were ordered to drive the enemy from a piece of woods about 500 yards from their fortifications. Our Regiment was on picket, and therefore was held in reserve. Our troops went in early and soon afterwards a heavy skirmish commenced along the whole line, which was kept up during the day and a great number on both sides was killed and wounded. On the morning of the 29th, our Regiment was again ordered on picket. We marched out and relieved the 31st Indiana at a bridge which was commanded by two pieces of artillery belonging to the Rebels and supported by the infantry. We could easily see the guns, and now and then a head peering from behind a tree, probably selecting a victim, and then would hear an infernal "minnie ball" come hissing past our ears. I can truly say that it was not by any means a desirable position. We, however, held our own, keeping behind trees and logs until daylight the next morning. About midnight, and near as I could guess, I was aroused from my slumbers by a large snake which had coiled itself around my legs and was by no means a desirable bed fellow. I was lying behind a log in order to keep out of the danger of some stray ball, but when I found this "gentlemen" in bed with me, I went over on the side next to the Rebels and would have done so had ten thousand balls been coming at me. You may guess how long I slept afterwards.
At daylight Col. McHenry was ordered to cross the bridge, above spoken of, which was a dangerous undertaking, but we made the attempt and succeeded. After reaching the opposite side of the stream, our skirmishers were employed and soon throwing lead in every direction at the enemy's pickets. The pickets retreated in double quick time and occasionally returned fire.
Report of Col. John H. McHenry, jr., Seventeenth Kentucky Infantry, of operations from May 2 to 30.
HDQRS. Seventeenth Regiment Kentucky Vols.
June 10, 1862.
The regiment which I have the honor to command, forming a portion of your brigade, was ordered from Pittsburg about May 2, and approached Corinth by slow, irregular, and inconvenient marches, remaining at some points for several days, bivouacking at night generally, and did not fully establish our camp until we arrived within 3 miles of Corinth, where we were ordered to encamp, and remained from about the 16th ultimo until the evacuation of Corinth by the enemy. During this time my regiment was constantly engaged on grand-guard and picket duty, performing their share of labor required of them in the construction of heavy fortifications, abatis, &c.
The day previous to the evacuation of Corinth the regiment under my command was designated as the advance guard of your brigade and held the advanced position of the division about 1 mile north of the outer lines of the enemy. My special orders from the commanding general of the division was to guard and hold possession of a bridge across ____ Creek, a small stream, wooded on either side by heavy timber and thick undergrowth. The stream, through small, was impassable for artillery, cavalry, or even infantry, on account of sudden declivities of the banks on either side and the soft, boggy bottom. The bridge was on the main road leading from our camp to Corinth, and seemed to be regarded as a very important crossing as well by the enemy as by ourselves, for scarcely had my regiment taken its position some 50 yards from the creek, and before I had time to relieve the pickets in front of us, when the pickets of the enemy fired upon us, rendering it important that more than usual care and caution should be used in posting them. This was accomplished without the occurrence of any casualty. Soon after my pickets were posted, which was on the bank and behind trees, two of the enemy walked leisurely across the bridge into our lines, from whom I ascertained that a battery of four guns commanded the bridge from the other side and was planted less than 200 yards from where my battalion was posted. Frequently during the day the firing between pickets was severe. I lost one man, Valentine Miller, private Company I, who was shot through the head while he was lying upon the ground. One man, an officer, was shot and supposed to be killed by my pickets, as he was seen to fall and be carried off, and one other of the enemy was known to be severely wounded.
Before 5 o'clock next morning I received your order to advance my regiment across the bridge and skirmish on either side of the road, as it was thought the enemy had evacuated the town. Your order was executed, and the pickets of the enemy, principally cavalry, were driven in in great confusion. We captured 5 infantry, and, without any resistance from the enemy other than a few random shots from retreating cavalry, my advanced skirmishers, under Captain Little, Company H, entered the breastworks in front of Corinth a few minutes after 6 o'clock. My whole regiment was then ordered up and formed line of battle on the first hill, and was joined soon afterward by the remainder of your brigade, when you assumed command of the whole brigade and moved forward into the town.
John H. McHenry, JR,
Colonel, Commanding Seventeenth Regiment Kentucky Vols.
For some unknown reason, Cox never mentions the fact that the 17th Kentucky was the very first regiment to enter the city of Corinth. Perhaps the individual soldier cared little for such distinction, or possibly that he was totally unaware of the honor. After Corinth had fallen to Halleck's Federal army, the 17th Kentucky was not idle long. They were soon after sent east to northern Alabama to repair railroads and advance with General Buell toward Chattanooga. Next week, I will post that portion of Cox's diary, so stay tuned!
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