Lord, Deliver me from the Shells of the Enemy: The Battle of Corinth as Seen by a Member of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry

By the fall of 1862, the Civil War was already taking a heavy toll in parts of Mississippi; in particular the Northern part of the state had already been occupied in places by the dreaded Yankee invader. The key point in north Mississippi was the strategic rail junction of Corinth, and on October 3-4, 1862, this little town was the scene of some of the most desperate fighting to take place in the Magnolia State in the entire war.

Illustration of Corinth, Mississippi, from Harper's Weekly Magazine, June 21, 1862
Illustration of Corinth, Mississippi, from Harper’s Weekly Magazine, June 21, 1862

After the inconclusive Battle of Iuka, fought on September 19, 1862, Confederate generals Earl Van Dorn and Sterling Price agreed to unite their forces for an attack on the Federals in Northeast Mississippi. On September 22, their two armies joined at Ripley, Mississippi, and Van Dorn took command of the 22,000-man force as senior officer. Van Dorn believed

General Earl Van Dorn, a native Mississippian, commanded the Confederates forces that fought in the Battle of Corinth
General Earl Van Dorn, a native Mississippian, commanded the Confederates forces that fought in the Battle of Corinth

that a Union attack on Vicksburg was imminent, and he felt the best way to prevent it was to push the Yankees out of their staging area in west Tennessee. The first step in this plan was to take the town of Corinth from the Yankees, securing northeast Mississippi before advancing into Tennessee.

Union General William S. Rosecrans had 23,000 soldiers in and around Corinth, and his men had labored mightily to make the town an impregnable fortress. The Federals improved the earthworks originally built by the Confederates to defend Corinth, and then built an inner line of forts along the northern and western approaches to the city. There were seven of these forts, connected to one another by trenches. The names of these forts were batteries Robinett, Williams, Phillips, Tanrath, Lothrop, Powell, and Madison. When fully manned, these defenses could extract a very high toll from an attacker, as the Rebels were about to learn the hard way.

On September 30, 1862, General Van Dorn began marching his army toward Corinth under a blistering Mississippi sun. A heat wave was scorching the area at the time, making the march a living hell for the troops in the ranks. The trip was made even more miserable by the shortage of water along the route of march. James N. Carlisle, Sr., of the 37th Mississippi Infantry wrote of the journey to Corinth, “Through the driest section of the cotton states we endured the worst of distresses, thirst. What is comparable to this burning, parching fever? Lack of bread is sweet in comparison.” – The Daily Corinthian, October 8, 1962.

Map illustrating the march of the Confederate Army to Corinth - Map by Hal Jespersen
Map illustrating the march of the Union and Confederate Armies to Corinth – Map by Hal Jespersen

On October 3, 1862, the Confederate army attacked and overran the outer defenses of Corinth, forcing the Federals back into their inner line of forts. The 38th Mississippi Infantry was one of the Rebel units involved in this fight, and Lieutenant Colonel Preston

Post-war picture of Colonel Preston Brent, commander of the 38th Mississippi Infantry - Findagrave.com
Post-war picture of Colonel Preston Brent, commander of the 38th Mississippi Infantry – Findagrave.com

Brent of the regiment wrote an account of the successful attack: “…in a short time we had the enemy driven from their works and their guns in our hands, we did this in a short time, but nevertheless, we lossed a great many men in this charge for we did not fire a gun until we were within forty paces of their works the reason of this was that they had fallen a great amount of timber in front of their works and we were buisily a climbing over tree tops, but when we cleared the tree tops we made the Yankees pay for it.” – Beneath Torn and Tattered Flags: A Regimental History of the 38th Mississippi Infantry, C.S.A.

On October 4, General Van Dorn continued the attack, throwing his men against the inner forts defending Corinth. One of the focal points of the fighting was Battery Robinett, an earthen and log structure on a ridge near the Memphis & Charleston Railroad. Former Mississippian Colonel William P. Rogers was killed at the battery while leading the 2nd Texas Infantry; he has served in the 1st Mississippi Regiment under Jefferson Davis during the Mexican War.

Painting by artist Keith Rocco depicting Colonel William P. Rogers leading the attack on Battery Robinett at Corinth - www.keithrocco.com
Painting by artist Keith Rocco depicting Colonel William P. Rogers leading the attack on Battery Robinett at Corinth – http://www.keithrocco.com

During the battle, some of the Confederates managed to break through the inner Union defenses and enter Corinth, but they were quickly contained and then forced out by Union counter-attacks. With his force exhausted and his units shot to pieces after two days of bloody combat, Van Dorn was forced to call a retreat. The general was able to extricate his army from Corinth and make it safely back to Ripley, Mississippi, on October 6, 1862, when the campaign ended. Casualties were very high for both sides at Corinth; the Union had 2,520 killed, wounded, and missing out of 21,147 men engaged. The Confederates lost 2,470 killed and wounded, and 1,763 missing out of 22,000 engaged.

Depiction of the Confederate breakthrough at Corinth that briefly allowed them to enter the town - www.KeithRocco.com
Depiction of the Confederate breakthrough at Corinth that briefly allowed them to enter the town – http://www.KeithRocco.com

In the course of researching this article, I found a very good account of the battle written by George W. Driggs. regimental sergeant major of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry. This

George W. Driggs was regimental sergeant major of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry - Wisconsin Historical Society
George W. Driggs was regimental sergeant major of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry – Wisconsin Historical Society

account was written by Driggs shortly after the battle and was sent by him to his local newspaper, the Wisconsin Daily Patriot, and it was published in the October 15, 1862 issue. Driggs’ description of the battle is so compelling, I want to publish it in its entirety:

From Our Eighth Regiment Correspondent

THE LATE CORINTH BATTLE

ALL HONOR TO WISCONSIN TROOPS

A Complete List of the Casualties in the 8th, 14th, 16th and 18th Regiments and the 6th Wisconsin Battery

Appearance of the Field after Battle

Corinth, Miss., Wednesday, Oct. 9, 1862

Editors Patriot: –

I presume, ere this, you have seen an account of the great battle at Corinth, therefore I will not attempt to go into detail of what has already been written by others better qualified to describe such scenes as have been enacted here in the past few days. I have heard of ‘hard shell Baptists,’ and have been to ‘pumpkin parings,’ where jokes and hickory nuts were cracked pretty lively, but Lord, deliver me from the shells of the enemy, especially when they are in earnest about the ‘point of issue.”

The skeeters are very annoying, and so are the pesky fleas, but when you are obliged to flee before the enemy’s fire. It is still more annoying when you know that your reputation and your sacred honor are at stake. Patriotism, pure gem of manhood, biling over, oozing out at every pore, who dare skedaddle? I know of many that did run like wild cats, after a hot potater – men that were supposed to have been endowed by their Creator with courage enough to stand up to the rack, fodder or no fodder, and commissioned by the Executive of their favorite state with the expectation that they would help defend its honor.

I am happy to state that none from old Wisconsin, however, were seen to raise the ‘white feather,’ but all that were engaged in the fight, stood out nobly, doing honor to themselves and their country. There was no system or government head, but men and regiments rushed into the fight irrespective of brigade or division commanders (for such were not to be found, for shame!) and done nobly, driving the rebel hordes at the point of the bayonet back in the wild confusion. This was on Friday, the day of the first fight.

The combined forces under Price, Van Dorn and Lovell numbering about 42,000 made an attack on our outpost guard at Chewala, ten miles Northwest, driving them with great slaughter back towards this place. The ball had opened, rather unexpected, and for three hours or more an artillery fight was kept up on both sides with the most determined obstinacy, when the rebels becoming more bold and desperate made a charge through our lines and not until they had gained position under the brow of the hills overlooking the town from the Northwest were they compelled to retire.

They were bold enough however to attempt several times to capture a battery we had planted only a half a mile from the town, but the daring courage and bravery of our gallant Wisconsin 8th drove them from the field with great slaughter, and after contesting the ground for one hour and twenty minutes with the most desperate and unflinching determination on both sides the butternuts broke and ran for dear life, under shelter of the woods. Night closed the scene, and the fighting ceased, to be renewed in the morning with tenfold fury. – Price has told his men that they must take Corinth the next day, or go without rations. They were to be issued whiskey mixed with powder to make them brave and desperate, (so I was told since by one of the prisoners we took.)

Lieut. Colonel Robbins, 8th Wisconsin, was slightly wounded in the abdomen in the early

Colonel George W. Robbins commanded the 8th Wisconsin Infantry at Corinth. He was wounded on the first day of the battle.
Colonel George W. Robbins commanded the 8th Wisconsin Infantry at Corinth. He was wounded on the first day of the battle.

part of the action by a musket ball, the same having struck one of his pistol holsters on his saddle, tearing the pistol stock completely off. Major Jefferson, 8th Regiment, was also slightly wounded in the shoulder by musket ball, barely cutting through the skin – another shot struck his pistol in his hand, shattering it completely in pieces, without doing further damage. The major after having his wound dressed went out again on the field. These were close calls for them, I assure you.

About 2 1/2 o’clock, Saturday morning, the rebels having succeeded in planting a battery during the previous night, about half a mile to our front, opened on the town a continuous fire of shot and shell for nearly two hours. They were in such a position that the guns from our batteries and forts could not play on them. At daybreak, however, their position being discovered, our guns opened and soon dislodged them.

They became more desperate, and with a rush and a shriek the whole rebel force came down upon us, like so many beasts eager for their prey. Cannons were booming and musketry pouring their deadly volleys into the rebel ranks, but this did not seem to check them, on they came with the desperation of demons, until they had made a fearful charge up to the little fort, with one loud and frantic yell they made a dash upon it, but with the unerring aim of our gunners and the undaunted courage of our men, they were mowed down like grass before the scythe. 131 rebels were made to lick the dust while attempting to capture the fort. Never were the rebels more desperate, they succeeded in planting the rebel flag on our little fort three times, but not a single man of them was left to defend it. One of their Generals, whose name is Forester I believe, led the charge, and bore their flag twice to the top of the fort, but alas! he too paid the forfeit with his life. Daring, bold, desperate, and unflinching they led on their men, while shells were bursting all around them, and bullets flying thick as hail stones into their ranks. On they came rushing with furious vengeance into the town.

Map showing the location of the Confederate & Union regiments during the second day of the Battle of Corinth. The 8th Wisconsin was in the trenches southwest of Battery Robinett - Civil War Trust
Map showing the location of the Confederate & Union regiments during the second day of the Battle of Corinth. The 8th Wisconsin was in the trenches southwest of Battery Robinett – Civil War Trust

This was the time when the fight became general, it was 11 o’clock in the forenoon of Saturday, and at this time the shells came tearing through the buildings adjoining the one occupied by Lt. Col. Robbins, then wounded, and fearing for his safety, we placed him in an ambulance and went out a mile south of the town, out of the reach of danger.

Everybody was excited. Men, women and children were running here and there wild and frantic with excitement. Ambulances were driven in haste to the battle field. Couriers were running their horses at the top of their speed, and the continuous roar of cannon and musketry, all told that the fight was going on with unflinching determination on both sides, when at 12 – noon – the firing ceased, and the rebels were in full retreat, followed fiercely by our victorious army under Rosecrans. With what joy and satisfaction did this news spread through the lines after so desperate, and so hotly a contested struggle.

The rebels at one time were nearly conquerors, then to fall back and take up an inglorious retreat must have been a source of great terror to them. They were whipped completely, routed, disorganized and driven from the field at the point of the bayonet, but not until over one thousand of their men were shot down, and many more wounded.

When Capt. Williams’ mammoth siege guns opened their sulphurous mouths from the fort on the hill North of the town, and others at the same time from the batteries South of the town, their lines began to give way. Charge after charge was made, men were fighting with bayonets hand to hand and sword to sword, slaying and dying. The shrieking of the wounded could be heard amid the din and smoke of battle. Oh, this was terrible! No pen can describe the scene. The horrors of war here were fully and truly heartrending. The wholesale butchery of human beings – a description of which I will leave for future historians – the details are sickening to contemplate. Before one breastwork, where the 6th Wisconsin battery was stationed, the rebel dead actually lay in heaps. I counted 21 bodies, some with their heads shot off, others with their legs and arms completely blown off. There they lay, a ghastly bloody mass of human bodies, who had forfeited their lives for their reckless and daring spirit.

The weather was very warm and these bodies were much decomposed and the stench arising therefrom was indeed sickening – passing over the field, in groups cold and lifeless lay the bodies of dead rebels, the ground was strewn with dead, some clinching their muskets, and others who had apparently lingered long in their death struggles, had crawled through their gory mass of blood behind logs, and there, had breathed their last, poor beings, who became dupes to satisfy the cravings of a few leading aspirants for fame and whose treachery has brought thousands upon thousands to lick the dust, attempting to overthrow this Government.

On the hill in front of the little fort, (before mentioned) only half a mile and in plain sight of the town, lay the bodies of a large group of dead rebels, where they fell in attempting to capture our guns. I saw among the rest one Secesh Brigadier General, (I was told his name was Forester.) An artist was there taking a picture of the scene, while over a thousand persons had gathered there to witness the sight. I don’t think this artist should have been allowed the privilege of taking such a scene; this kind of of speculating ought not to be tolerated among civilized people.

After the battle, our wounded were brought in, and nearly every building in town converted into hospitals. During the engagements a general hospital was established in the outskirts of the town. Surgeons have all been busily engaged attending to the wounded and performing surgical operations. We have many wounded, but have as yet been unable to form a correct estimate of our losses. Many amputations have been made by Surgeon Thornhill and others. The secesh wounded were brought in, and were attended by their own surgeons, assisted by ours. The flight of the rebels was so hasty, that they left all their dead and wounded on the field. The pockets of the dead were all rifled before the retreat, whether by our men or the secesh I cannot say.

We are now in hot pursuit of the retreating foe, have overtaken them, and captured 140 of their wagons and a large number of prisoners. Price’s army is completely routed and cut to pieces, but Price is too shrewd to be taken himself – he looks well to that.

Gen. Hackleman was killed while leading his men before the enemy; Gen. Oglesbie was mortally wounded the first day in the lungs; Capt. Temple Clark is seriously wounded in the lungs, and Major W.D. Colman, A.A. General to Gen. Stanley, was mortally wounded in the lungs, from which he has since died. It is thought that Capt. Clark will survive. Col. Mower, who was temporarily in command of the 2d. Brigade, 2d. Division, was taken prisoner, but when the rebels began the retreat, he escaped to our lines, but was slightly wounded – ‘shot in the neck.’

A shell from a rebel battery burst in the office of the Tischomingo House, killing a wounded soldier.

Wartime photo of the Tishomingo House Hotel at Corinth
Wartime photo of the Tishomingo House Hotel at Corinth

Herewith find a list of killed and wounded in the Wisconsin regiments, as far as I have been able to gather them; they were mostly engaged in the fight of Friday – could not get a list of 17th Wis. nor 8th and 12th batteries.

Yours for publication,

G.W.D.

In his letter, Sergeant Driggs mentions that he witnessed a photographer taking photos of the Confederate dead that had been killed in the fighting around Battery Robinett. This is interesting because these photos still exist, and they are the only known photographs of Civil War dead on a Battlefield in Mississippi.

CDV of Confederate dead near Battery Robinett at Corinth. The man on the far left of the picture is Colonel William Rogers of the 2nd Texas Infantry
CDV of Confederate dead near Battery Robinett at Corinth. The bearded man on the far left of the picture is Colonel William Rogers of the 2nd Texas Infantry

In his letter to the Wisconsin Daily Patriot, driggs incorrectly identifies the Rebel officer in the photo above as “Brigadier General Forester.” This was, in fact, Colonel William P. Rogers of the 2nd Texas Infantry.

The second photograph showing Confederate dead near Battery Robinett. The name of the photographer who took the pictures is not known.
The second photograph showing Confederate dead near Battery Robinett. The name of the photographer who took the pictures is not known.

In 1864, George W. Driggs published a book relating his experiences as a soldier during the

Dedication page for Two Years Campaigning in the Southwest. The 8th Wisconsin was known as the "Eagle Regiment" because of their mascot, a live eagle that the carried into battle with them.
Dedication page for Two Years Campaigning in the Southwest. The 8th Wisconsin was known as the “Eagle Regiment” because of their mascot, a live eagle that the carried into battle with them.

Civil War. Entitled Opening of the Mississippi: Two Years Campaigning in the Southwest, the book published a number of letters written by Driggs during the war, including the one he wrote about the Battle of Corinth. By the time the book came out Driggs must have learned the true identity of the Rebel officer he saw lying dead in front of Battery Robinette, as he changed the name of the officer in the published version of the letter from Forester to Rogers.

I have not been able to find much information on the post-war life of George W. Driggs; he did survive the war, and in November 1884 applied for an invalid’s pension from the United States government. Some time later his wife applied for a widow’s pension. Driggs’ book is available as a free download from Google Books, and I highly recommend it; the young Wisconsin soldier was a good writer, and he vividly brings to life his experiences during the Civil War.

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I Will Thank You to Have it Done: A Letter to Governor John J. Pettus

In the spring of 1861 many young men in Mississippi had just one thought in their heads: to join the military and be part of the grand military adventure that would secure the new Southern Confederacy its independence. At the University of Mississippi, the student body had trouble concentrating on their studies, as they saw more and more of their classmates slipping away to join the Confederate army. In fact, the University had its own unit – the “University Grays,” which went on to gain much fame and glory as Company A, 11th Mississippi Infantry.

For some parents, the thought of their sons giving up their studies to don a uniform was not an attractive one. This was especially true of those that had children in the senior class, which was set to graduate in May 1861. One concerned father was William Mercer Green, the father of Berkeley Green, a senior at the University of Mississippi. The following letter was written by William Mercer Green to Mississippi Governor John J. Pettus, and is part of the Pettus correspondence at the Mississippi Department of Archives & History:

Photo of Berkeley Green from the 1861 Senior Book at the University of Mississippi - University of Mississippi Collections
Photo of Berkeley Green from the 1861 Senior Book at the University of Mississippi – University of Mississippi Collections

Holly Springs April 27, 1861

Hon. J.J. Pettus

Dear Sir,

My son Berkeley, who is a minor, joined the Company “University Grays” at Oxford some time ago. It was done by my tacit consent, but with no expectation that he would be called into active service before his graduation. It now seems that his company has received marching orders from you. I hope that you will not think it unbecoming in me if I make the request, as I now do, that he may be allowed to remain at his studies until the commencement. If this can be done with honor to himself and his father. I will thank you to have it done. If not, may I substitute for it another request, viz that he may be transferred to some other company or placed under another captain.

The present Captain of his company is a very young man, is an expelled student of our University, and is without that sedateness of character and sobriety of conduct which should distinguish a commander of young men. On these grounds I would respectfully protest against my son’s serving under such an officer.

I wish you however, my dear sir, to understand that under other circumstances, and under any real want of men to fill the ranks of our soldiery, I would not only cheerfully consent to my son’s obeying your call, but I would send for a younger brother of his – now at school in Maryland, to come and take his stand beside him, and even go with them myself with the offer of any services I might be able to render.

Hoping that you will not take amiss what I have here written, and tendering you my high regard I remain, Dear Sir, very truly yours,

W.M. Green

If you should feel at liberty to grant to my son either a temporary discharge, or a transfer to another company, will you be kind enough to send it to him at Oxford as soon as may be convenient.

I have learned since I left home that my son John R. Green has become one of a company formed in Jackson within the last week or two. If the transfer which I desire can be granted I would be glad to know that my two boys were side by side with each other.

Governor John J. Pettus was a very busy man in the spring of 1861, and he received a

CDV of William Mercer Green, head of the Episcopal Church in Mississippi
CDV of William Mercer Green, head of the Episcopal Church in Mississippi

mountain of correspondence each month from Mississippians across the length and breadth of the state. If William Mercer Green had been a commoner, it’s doubtful if Pettus would have read his letter personally, much less acted on the request he made. But the writer was anything but common; Bishop William Mercer Green was the head of the Episcopal Church in Mississippi, and as such, he was definitely a somebody, and this somebody got what he desired: written on the back of the letter was the note, “Bishop Green, discharge granted and issued, April 30th, 1861.”

We don’t know how Berkeley Green felt about being discharged from the University Grays just as the unit was about to march off to war, but he was probably not happy about it. But his father was determined that the young man receive his degree from the University of Mississippi, and on May 8, 1861, the Oxford Intelligencer published the following statement:

University of Mississippi – The regular examination of the Senior Class of this institution took place last week. The following named young gentlemen, twenty-one in number, having passed their examinations satisfactorily, were recommended by the faculty to the board of trustees for graduation as Bachelors of Arts: Berkeley Green, Jackson Mississippi…

Shortly before his son graduated, William Green issued a prayer that he recommended for the clergy of his Diocese “To be used during the continuance of our present troubles.” When writing this prayer, the safety of his own son must have been on Green’s mind:

Almighty God, whose Providence watcheth over all things, and in whose hands is the disposal of all events, we look up to Thee for thy protection and blessing amidst the apparent and great dangers with which we are encompassed. Thou hast, in thy wisdom, permitted us to be threatened with the many evils of an unnatural and destructive war. Save us, we beseech Thee, from the hands of our enemies. Watch over our fathers and brothers and sons, whose trusting in thy defense and in the righteousness of our cause, have gone forth to the service of their country. May their lives be precious in thy sight. Preserve them from all the dangers to which they may be exposed. Enable them successfully to perform their duty to Thee and to their country. And do Thou, in thine infinite wisdom and power, so overrule events, and so dispose the hearts of all engaged in this painful struggle that it may soon end in peace and brotherly love; and lead not only to the safety, honor and welfare of our Confederate States, but to the good of thy people, and the glory of thy great name, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

– Oxford Intelligencer, May 1, 1861

Bishop Green had good reason to worry because with his degree in hand, Berkeley would wait no longer to join the army – on May 24, 1861, he enlisted in the “Burt Rifles,” Company K, 18th Mississippi Infantry. If the young student turned soldier was concerned about missing the war, he needn’t have worried; over the next four years he saw more than his fair share of the fighting. He was captured at Fredericksburg, Virginia, on May 3, 1863, and exchanged just in time to rejoin his unit and fight at Gettysburg. In that battle he was again captured, and sent to Fort Delaware prisoner of war camp. He was released on May 22, 1865, after taking the Oath of Allegiance to the United States.

After the war, Berkeley Green settled in Vicksburg and eventually became a prominent

Postwar picture of Berkeley Green from the book, WELL KNOWN CONFEDERATE VETERANS AND THEIR WAR RECORDS by William E. Mickle
Postwar picture of Berkeley Green from the book, WELL KNOWN CONFEDERATE VETERANS AND THEIR WAR RECORDS by William E. Mickle

banker in the river city. He died on May 8, 1893, in New Orleans while visiting family. His body was returned to Vicksburg and Berkeley was interred at Cedar Hill cemetery.