A Burial Detail at Corinth

Something you generally don’t read much about is what happened in the aftermath of a major battle – in particular, the unpleasant task of burying the dead, both human and animal.  Thus I was very interested to see the following article, which was written by a member of the 39th Mississippi infantry, identified only as “Junius,” who was a member of the Confederate burial detail sent back to Corinth in the aftermath of the October 1862 battle.  This Confederate soldier had a unique view of the closing moves of the Corinth campaign: as a member of a burial detail under a flag of truce, he was able to witness the Union army moving against his own comrades. This article was published in The Daily Mississippian, November 6, 1862; the newspaper was very faded, but I was able to transcribe most of it, with the exception of a few words here and there:

The Corinth Flag of Truce

Ed. Mississippian – As a good many false rumors and erroneous fabrications have gone forth, relative to the Corinth “flag of truce,” we deem it the duty incumbent upon us to make a brief, plain and unvarnished statement of facts, and request its insertion in your paper, for the benefit of the public in general.

On Sunday morning, the 5th instant – the next morning after the long to be remembered battle near Corinth – thirty men from the Bloody 39th Mississippi, under our command; thirty from the 12th Louisiana under Captain Dickson; thirty-three from the 1st Confederate Battalion and the 33d Mississippi, under Lieutenant Felder, together with one hundred and seventeen from General Maury’s Division, under Captain Lamb, and one hundred and twelve from General Little’s Division, under the command of the chivalrous Capt. Haven, of the 20th Arkansas, were detailed to go back to Corinth under a flag of truce to bury our gallant dead, slain in battle on the two preceding days.

Colonel William S. Barry, formerly of Columbus, now the popular and much loved Colonel of the 35thMississippi,

Colonel William Taylor Sullivan Barry, commander of the 35th Mississippi Infantry and leader of the Corinth burial detail
Colonel William Taylor Sullivan Barry, commander of the 35th Mississippi Infantry and leader of the Corinth burial detail

commanded the detail. On arriving within two miles of the battle-field, we were met and halted by some Yankee cavalry, who informed us that they could not permit us to pass, without permission from Headquarters. A messenger was dispatched, who arrived in about two hours with a dispatch, the contents of which were about as follows: “The rebel dead are now being buried, and there is no necessity for admitting a flag of truce within the Union lines. The detail, unmolested, will be permitted to return.  We immediately obeyed instructions and started on after our army: but on arriving opposite Chewalla, Tenn., ten miles north of Corinth, on the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, we were again halted and ordered to await further instruction.

Here we remained all night, during which time General Rosencranz, with seven brigades of infantry and sixty pieces of artillery, passed on in hot pursuit of our retreating army. The General is a fine looking, intelligent and well informed “chap.” He said our men, on the two days previous, did the bravest but the most rash fighting he had ever known. He expressed his intention of making special mention in his official report of the unparalleled bravery of Colonel Rogers, of General Maury’s Division, who fell while gallantly leading his men in a desperate charge over the breastworks in the town of Corinth. Some of his officers say the General had him taken up, his face washed and his likeness taken. For the truth of this we cannot vouch, as the General said nothing of it himself.

At the right of this, the most magnificently equipped and fine looking army we ever saw, you may be sure our poor hearts bled within us, and more especially were they wrung with anguish when, on the following morning, a courier was dispatched to Corinth with the intelligence that General Price had told his men to _____ for themselves, he himself had fled to the swamps, and his entire baggage and artillery captured, together  with a great portion of the army, and what remained were scattered through the woods in every direction; in short, it was completely annihilated. As to the correctness of this, you all know as much as we do. Comment is unnecessary.

On Monday we removed to Chewalla Station, where rations were issued as follows: to each man ¾ lb. of hard bread, ¾ lb. of bacon, and some sugar and coffee, all of which would have done well enough if we had have had any utensils in which to have done our cooking. The water was very scarce, extremely filthy, and miserably badly tasted.

While here, about 150 prisoners were brought in, mostly stragglers. In company with Captain Haven, we obtained permission to visit them, and had the pleasure, over the left, of finding in the number, two members of Company I of the 39thMississippi – Frank Burt and a Mr. Woodford, of Jackson, Mississippi. Mr. Woodford’s fellow prisoners stated that immediately after his capture, he went to the General to have the oath administered, and expressed great concern as to how he should manage to get his family away from the South.

On Thursday morning we were released, and sent with a guide toward our army, and halted again on Friday, and detained until Tuesday, when we were again permitted to resume our journey for the balance of the time unmolested. We were sent by Baldwin on the Mississippi and Ohio Railroad, which made it about one hundred miles to Holly Springs from Chewalla, Tennessee, where we had been so long, uselessly detained.

1862 Illustration from Harper's Weekly of Holly Springs
1862 Illustration from Harper’s Weekly of Holly Springs

On Saturday evening, the 18th instant, we reached Cold Water, seven miles north of Holly Springs, where we had the exquisite pleasure of finding “our boys” in fine spirits, good health, clean shirts, smoothly shaved faces, and looking as cheerful, contented and happy as though they had never received a sound drubbing at the hands of the “Yanks,” who now, by their hated presence, _____ the already polluted plains of Corinth.

_____ ______ account of our second attempt to visit a place we never were ever anxious to see.



Camp Moore, La., Oct. 28th 1862

I did a little research, and did confirm that a Confederate burial detail was sent back to Corinth under the command of Colonel Barry.  In the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, I found the following statement by Brigadier General John C. Moore: “Colonel William S. Barry was not present on the 5th, he having been sent to Corinth under a flag of truce to bury the dead. He is a gallant and efficient officer, of whom his state may well be proud.” – O.R. Series 1, Vol. XVII, Part 1, page 400.

I also found the following explanation from Major General William S. Rosecrans in the Official Records as to why the Confederate burial detail was not allowed back into the city: “Dispatch received. I sent my compliments to Major General Van Dorn, commanding Confederate forces, and told him that ample provision had been made for the burial of the dead.” – O.R. Series 1, Vol. XVII, Part 1, page 161.

In the end, the Corinth burial detail did not accomplish their goal: they were not able to insure that their comrades received proper graves. But their journey did afford them a view of the Union army at Corinth that few other Confederates would have that were not prisoners.