There The Skeletons Lie: Corinth in 1866

I found the following article in The Weekly Democrat of Natchez, which was published on May 14, 1866. The writer was not identified, but whoever it was painted a graphic picture of Corinth one year after the war ended:

Not the least mentionable of the ‘pitched battles’ of the late war was that which was fought in front of this grand ‘intrenched camp’ that we call Corinth, on the 3d and 4th days of October, 1862. During the past two days a portion of my sojourn here has been spent as a partial exploration of that part of the battlefield which lies in the Northwestern angle formed by the crossing of the Memphis, Charleston, Mobile and Ohio Railroads.

Wartime image of the Railroad Depot and adjacent Tishomingo Hotel at Corinth - Library of Congress
Wartime image of the Railroad Depot and adjacent Tishomingo Hotel at Corinth – Library of Congress

The sight that I saw of vast numbers of Confederate ‘bones’ – whose skeletons and parts of skeletons – lying exposed and bleaching on the field, in the bushes and on the hillsides, under logs and on stumps; of the neatly enclosed and well marked graves of Federal soldiers, all buried at the proper depth; and of the forest trees rent in all directions, rent and torn by shot and shell, and the storm of ‘furious war’ and of many separate and distinct, desperate conflicts, hand to hand, and muzzle to muzzle; all of these ‘sights,’ I say, are well worthy of a brief record. Besides, I have another object in calling attention to the battlefield of Corinth apart from the gratification of public curiosity, and that is to urge upon our people the propriety of collecting the bones of their dead brethren, at some suitable spot near this place, and giving them decent interment. It is estimated by an intelligent gentleman of this town, that upon the two fields of Shiloh and Corinth, in this vicinity, there are not less than 12,000 ‘Confederate dead,’ whose bones for the most part, lie bleaching above ground!

Confederate dead in front of Battery Robinett at Corinth - Library of Congress
Confederate dead in front of Battery Robinett at Corinth – The bearded man on the far left is Colonel William Rogers of the 2nd Texas Infantry – Library of Congress

 

Of all the Confederate dead on this field, Col. Rogers is, I am told, the only one who was buried deep enough to prevent the rains from washing the dirt away and exposing the bones. He, it is said, was buried under the immediate supervision of Gen. Rosecrans. In the North western angle, formed by the crossing of the railroads, from Corinth out to and beyond the outer line of works, three and a half miles distant, the whole of this great battle-ground is dotted, here and there – in some places thick as meadow mole-hills – with the graves of Federal and the exposed remains of Confederate dead.

The Confederate dead, it clearly appears, were merely covered up on the ground where they fell. The Federal dead were neatly interred, in the

Post Civil War photo of the Grave of Colonel William Rogers
Post Civil War photo of the Grave of Colonel William Rogers

usual way, with head and foot-boards in every instance, and in most cases, I believe, were enclosed with wooden palings. I saw but one Federal grave where the bones were at all exposed. I saw but one Confederate timulus where the bones – generally the skull – were not more or less exposed and scattered around in all directions. At the outer line of entrenchments, where a portion of Maury’s division made the assault, I saw two human skull bones, one pelvis, and two jaw-bones, lying on a stump, with no trace of a grave or timulus nearer than fifty or one hundred yards.

In front of the outer breastworks not far from the same spot, I saw two timuli, where some six or eight Confederate dead had been covered up on one side of a hill. Here several of the skulls and feet of most of the bodies had been uncovered by the action of the elements, and were lying around upon the ground, already bleached, perfectly white, and of course, rapidly crumbling to decay. The condition of these timuli, I am told by gentlemen residing in the vicinity who have examined every part of the field, is a fair specimen of all the rest. In one place (as I was informed by Capt. Mask, of this town, who, with Col. Polk, rode over the field with me.) The bodies of two or three Confederates were placed by the side of a log, (to save labor I suppose,) and a little dirt thrown over them; the dirt had all washed away, and there the skeletons lie, wholly exposed and uncared for, ‘like the beasts that perish!’

 

After reading this article, I have a better appreciation of why cemetery associations, created to properly bury Confederate dead,  flourished in the post-war South. There was a terrible need for them.

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.

Junius

39thMississippi

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.