Memoirs of Henry Villard/Volume 1/17
The Siege of Corinth.—1862
THE boat on which I had secured passage for Cairo started down the river some hours after dark, and we reached our destination the following noon. I rose early in the morning and managed to write up my account of the battle completely before arriving, so that I felt free to rest and enjoy myself for two or three days, as far as it was possible, in the small, struggling, rough place which the town at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers then was. A pleasant surprise awaited me at the St. Charles Hotel, where I took quarters. I discovered among the guests A. D. Richardson, whom I had not seen since our parting at Denver in 1859. He had gone there again the following year to engage in newspaper work and “town-site speculations,” but, upon the outbreak of the Rebellion, had returned east to take the field as a war correspondent. He shared rooms with three colleagues, to whom he introduced me, and with whom I have kept up a pleasant and intimate acquaintance ever since. One of them was Thomas W. Knox, who had started a weekly paper with Richardson in the town of Golden City that had sprung up at the very point on Clear Creek where Greeley, Richardson, and I crossed. Knox, after the war, became a professional traveller and gatherer of material in various countries for books for young people, which brought him moderate fame and fortune. Another was Junius Henri Browne, the well-known writer, with whom my relations became closest; and the fourth, Richard T. Colburn, who, at the end of the war, followed for many years the well-paid occupation of editor of the publications of banking firms and railroad companies. The four associates had been on duty in Missouri, and were then watching the northern offensive operations on the Mississippi under General Pope. All proved very congenial companions, and I enjoyed my two days with them thoroughly. I then felt it my duty to go back to Pittsburg Landing, upon learning from a St. Louis paper that General Halleck would leave on April 10 for the front, to assume chief direction of the operations of Buell's and Grant's armies in person. After a pleasant trip on a quartermaster's boat, I found myself again with the army on the evening of April 11, my twenty-seventh birthday, which I celebrated, however, only in thought. I was made welcome by Chief-Quartermaster Gamage of McCook's division, and enjoyed his generous hospitality all through the operations against Corinth. General Halleck arrived on the same day with a large staff on a fine Mississippi steamboat.
The appearance of the new General-in-chief naturally excited much anxious curiosity among the commanders under him, and the development of his purposes was awaited with apprehensive expectation. It was generally supposed that he would deal vigorously with the many cases of incompetency and cowardice of officers, from major-generals down, that the battle had brought out. But he confined himself to a very limited weeding out among field and line officers. He perceived, however, at once the great demoralization in which the conflict had left Grant's command, and took drastic measures to improve its condition. On April 14, he issued the following order to General Grant:
Immediate and active measures must be taken to put your command in condition to resist another attack by the enemy. Fractions of batteries will be united temporarily under competent officers, supplied with ammunition and placed in position for active service. Divisions and brigades should, where necessary, be reorganized and put in position, and all stragglers returned to their companies and regiments. Your army is not now in condition to resist an attack. It must be made so without delay. Staff officers must be sent out to obtain returns from division commanders and assist in supplying all deficiencies.
When it is considered that Halleck found occasion to issue such an order a whole week after the end of the battle, it must be admitted that the sharp criticism and direct reprimand it contained were well deserved. It constitutes a formal record, never questioned, of the fact, confirmed by Grant's subsequent career, that, while he was a fighting strategist of the highest order, he was not strong either as a disciplinarian or as an organizer. The serious trouble between Halleck and Grant after the fall of Fort Donelson will be remembered. This order naturally produced another great strain in their relations. Halleck manifested his distrust of Grant's capacity as a commander soon afterwards in another striking way, to which I shall refer directly. That the order and what happened subsequently did not move General Grant to ask to be relieved from command, may seem surprising, but the Union cause was saved a second time from that misfortune.
Halleck was conscious that the resumption of the offensive against the enemy at the earliest possible moment was an absolute necessity. Like Grant, he overestimated the rebel strength; and what with this and the condition of Grant's troops, he determined to strengthen himself from every available quarter, and therefore ordered the whole force of General Pope, which was waiting for orders, to embark on boats on the Mississippi after its great success at New Madrid, as well as two divisions from Missouri, to Pittsburg, and, by April 20, he had a great army of fully one hundred thousand men under his immediate orders. By a special field order, the Army of the Tennessee was placed under the orders of General George H. Thomas (whose division was at the same time detached from the Army of the Ohio and made part of his new command), and constituted the right wing; the Army of the Ohio, under General Buell, the centre; and the Army of the Mississippi, under General Pope, the left wing. General Grant was relieved from command of the Army of the Tennessee, and made second in command of the grand army under Halleck. As we shall see, this really meant that Halleck had no use for him.
It continued to rain all through April, so that the roads were reduced to the worst possible condition. Bad enough before the battle, they now consisted of sticky mire so deep that no artillery or loaded wagons could be moved over them. They were only ordinary dirt roads, with no thing but the natural beds of clayish earth. Provisions, forage, and ammunition had to be carried to the camps on horses and mules. Thousands of men were therefore detailed to improve the existing roads by corduroying, ditching, and bridging swampy bottoms and streams, and, where they had become impassable, to make new approaches from Pittsburg Landing to the several camps. A vast amount of work of this kind was accomplished during the three weeks following the battle. The rainfall and the condition of the ground brought great discomfort to all in the camps. It was almost impossible to get dry and keep so. The result was a great deal of sickness, mainly in the form of dysentery. I was told by medical officers that nearly half of the officers and men had it. I had my share of the hardships, but fortunately kept well. Owing to the bad weather and the difficulty of locomotion, those days were very dull ones. There was no news to gather, and all I could do to kill time was to read newspapers and make visits to the army and division headquarters and to the Landing.
By the end of April, the disintegrating effect of the great fight had been repaired, the lost and destroyed equipments and armaments replaced, and the efficiency of the troops considerably increased by constant drilling and strict enforcement of discipline. Still, while there was a decided gain in the latter respect, Halleck's personal observation of the sad plight in which the rebel onslaught had left the Army of the Tennessee, made him distrust the reliability of his forces for either offence or defence. Hence when, for sanitary, strategic, and political reasons, a forward change of position could no longer be put off, he deemed it his duty to act with the utmost caution in approaching the rebel army, which he assumed to be not much, if at all, inferior in numbers to his own. This belief was based on an intercepted despatch from Beauregard to the Richmond War Department, dated Corinth, April 9, in which he stated his effective strength on that day to be thirty-five thousand, which General Van Dorn's command, on the way from Arkansas to join him, would raise to fifty thousand, and urgently asked for reinforcements, as he had eighty-five thousand Federals to confront. Later information received from Halleck led him to believe that Beauregard's appeal for help was being largely responded to. This curious tendency always to overestimate the enemy, that seemed to afflict, like an epidemic mental disease, most Union leaders, now also infected Halleck. He communicated his fears to Assistant Secretary of War Thomas A. Scott, who had arrived with General Pope, and who took it upon himself to recommend, as early as May 6, to the War Department to send, in view of the presumed large reinforcements that were reaching Beauregard, forty to fifty thousand more men to Halleck from the East. As this was not done, he repeated his recommendation several times, and finally induced Governor Morton of Indiana to urge the same measure strongly upon the Government. This led to a characteristic pathetic remonstrance from President Lincoln to Halleck, as follows:
May 24, 1862.—Several dispatches from Assistant Secretary Scott and one from Governor Morton, asking for reinforcements for you, have been received. I beg you to be assured we do the best we can. I mean to cast no blame when I tell you each of our commanders along our line from Richmond to Corinth supposes himself to be confronted by numbers superior to his own.
My dear General, I feel justified in relying very much on you. I believe you and the brave officers and men with you can and will get the victory at Corinth.
Halleck replied disingenuously on the next day:
I have asked for no reinforcements, but only whether any were to be sent to me. If any were to be sent, I would wait for them; if not, I would venture an attack. We are now in immediate presence of the enemy, and the battle may occur at any moment. I have every confidence that we shall succeed, but dislike to run any risk, and therefore have waited to ascertain if any more troops can be hoped for.
This was, of course, tantamount to saying: “I ought to have more troops, but, if I do not get them, the responsibility will not be with me.” And yet Beauregard took only 47,000 men away with him from Corinth, according to his official report to his War Department, the correctness of which figure cannot be doubted, while Halleck attributed to him from 85,000 to 120,000, as against 90,000 and 100,000 (or about twice as many as his antagonist) under his own orders. Accordingly, the advance became characterized by a determination to avoid risks as much as possible, by the most vigilant measures against hostile surprises, by a deliberate slowness of movement, and by the most careful selection and protection of the positions successively reached. Halleck was subsequently subjected to a great deal of severe criticism and even ridicule for his deliberateness in moving upon the enemy. But, after properly weighing all the reasons for his course, it is, in my judgment, only just to admit that it involved but little loss of time, and afforded absolute assurance against a repetition of the mishap of April 6.
A first forward movement along the whole line began on April 29. It brought the entire army about three miles nearer to Corinth — that is, to within an average distance of only twelve miles from the place. Short as the distance was, it required from four to six days to get over the intervening ground. New lines of communication had to be created, including the construction of two bridges over Lick Creek. I saw only the work of this kind done by the Army of the Ohio, but can testify to its extreme laboriousness and to the cheerful spirit with which officers and men accomplished it. Great was the vexation when an extra-heavy downpour on May 3 and 4 made all the water-courses rise, so as to again destroy much of the result of their efforts. The next onward change of location was made on May 7. Rain ceased the day before, and was followed by beautiful, warm, and clear weather, which rapidly dried the ground and roads, and rendered the task of the army much easier. The effect, too, was felt in the rapid reduction of the sick-list and a general revival of spirit and increase of energy. The second advance involved as much road-making as the first. By way of further precaution, in view of the greater nearness to the enemy, the whole front was strengthened, under orders from the Commander-in-chief, by abatis, barricades, rifle-pits, and breastworks. Another advance was ordered and accomplished on the 17th and 18th. The favorable weather reduced the necessary road- and bridge- building, but more work was devoted to the construction of field defences. Indeed, the army was made secure in regularly fortified camps.
The improved condition of the roads tempted me to extend the range of my observation beyond the lines of the Army of the Ohio. But, in order to do this, a general pass from the Commander-in-chief was indispensable, as otherwise I should have had to risk arrest and punishment within the lines of the other two armies. I rode twice to Halleck's headquarters to obtain such a pass, but met with a rebuff each time. Halleck considered newspaper correspondents with the armies as more dangerous than the enemy, and persistently refused to give them any countenance. Just then, too, he was, as I was told by one of his staff (a Washington acquaintance), very much irritated against the press generally by the tendency of the controversy waged in it over the battle of Shiloh. Nothing daunted by my failure, I bethought myself of the “second in chief command” — that is, of General Grant — and, making my way to his camp, readily succeeded in obtaining the desired passe-partout from his chief of staff, Lieutenant-Colonel Rawlins. I observed that a marked stillness prevailed at Grant's headquarters, contrasting greatly with the bustle perceivable about it before Halleck's advent. The fact was, that the “second in command” was confined to a very nominal part. His rôle during the “siege” was, indeed, that of a mere dummy upon a stage a show, but not a substance. As I ascertained on this and subsequent visits, General Grant's duties were confined to receiving orders from General Halleck for General Thomas, and to transmitting them to him. There was hardly any personal intercourse between the two headquarters. Of course, this embarrassing position was most galling to the victor of Fort Donelson and his whole staff. While Grant said nothing, his staff gave vent to their feelings very freely and vigorously. Grant did not gratify his rival by retiring from the field — Halleck's real object, according to Grant's military household — but wisely bore the humiliation with patience.
The army was not occupied with pick, shovel, and axe alone. Simultaneously with the first advance, an expedition was sent out under General Wallace to destroy the Memphis & Charleston Railroad west of Corinth, in the neighborhood of Purdy, which did not, however, accomplish much. Nearly one-fifth of the troops always performed grand-guard and picket duties. Reconnoissances more or less in force were also regularly made. After the second advance, we began to feel the enemy, and picket-firing and outpost skirmishes became more and more frequent. The first important encounter took place on May 9 between General Paine's division of Pope's army on the extreme left, near the village of Farmington, just south of the Mississippi line. Paine was vigorously attacked by a strong force and compelled to fall back, after several hours fighting, from his advanced position upon Pope's main line. The same day the rebels made an unsuccessful attempt to capture the advance guard of General McCook in the centre. The advance on May 17 resulted in quite a lively affair between General Sherman and the rebels in front of him. Sherman easily pushed them back. There was a great deal of powder burned in these several collisions, but, owing to the thickly wooded character of the country, the musketry fire was not very effective. The total casualties on our side did not exceed a few hundred, and the rebel loss was probably no greater. Few prisoners were taken by either side.
Under the protection of my general pass within the lines, I made it my object to visit successively the different camps of the Armies of the Tennessee and Mississippi. The region through which the Federal encampments extended was very unattractive and monotonous. Not the least bit of picturesque scenery was to be found within the whole length and breadth of it. The few villages within it, too, consisted of a score or so of ordinary small frame or log houses, mostly deserted by the inhabitants and in wretched condition. My daily rides were, therefore, not very exhilarating, and were often made disagreeable owing to the fact that I knew nobody in Pope's army but the General himself, and only two persons in the Army of the Tennessee, viz., Generals Sherman and Lew Wallace, the latter having been a senator in the Indiana Legislature when I attended that body in the winter of 1858-9. (Since the war, he has attained fame and fortune as a novel-writer.) I was obliged to introduce myself to everybody, and did not always meet with a friendly reception. The Federal front represented a length of nearly twelve miles, and twice it happened to me that I could not find my way back to my quarters before dark, and had to ask for, and receive, very scant hospitality in the camps where I found myself at nightfall. General Sherman's prejudice against army correspondents had been intensified, owing to the severe press criticisms based upon the published reports that he and his command had been utterly surprised at Shiloh, and he received me rather gruffly. Gen. Lew Wallace was also under a cloud, owing to his failure to get his division up to the front in the first day's battle. He was evidently very much pleased with my call, in the expectation, as he did not hesitate to intimate broadly, that I would publish what he had to say in his own defence. Wallace had the kindness to send an aide-de-camp with me to introduce me to Generals McClernand and Hurlbut, his fellow division commanders, who also received me very graciously, and who likewise complained a good deal of the misrepresentation by the press of their part in the battle. Both claimed that they and their troops fought determinedly all day against overwhelming odds. Both belonged to the class of “political” generals, and sought glory as much through army correspondents as by feats of war — if not more. Nevertheless, they established a fair record as commanders in the later campaigns.
I made bold to recall myself to General Pope as one of the party accompanying President Lincoln from Springfield, and was at once made very welcome at his headquarters, which I visited frequently. He was, no doubt, an able man and good soldier, but, whether from accidental mistakes or a natural incapacity to lead a large force, his performances as an independent commander never equalled his promises. He had two very marked failings — first, he talked too much of himself, of what he could do and of what ought to be done; and, secondly, he indulged, contrary to good discipline and all propriety, in very free comments upon his superiors and fellow-commanders. Through Pope I also made the acquaintance of General Rosecrans, then a division commander in the Army of the Mississippi. He was, outside of the Army of the Ohio, the most affable, frank, and genial general that I had met — a very prize, indeed, for an eager news-gatherer. He invited me to his camp so urgently that I grew suspicious, and thought that he cared more for my pen than my person. My subsequent experience proved that I had judged him correctly.
I had seen General Grant a number of times after the battle, but never had a chance to talk with him before the middle of May. Between that time and the end of the siege, however, I conversed with him on three occasions — twice at his own field-headquarters, and once in passing him accidentally on the main road to Corinth. There was certainly nothing in his outward appearance or in his personal ways or conversation to indicate the great military qualities he possessed. Firmness seemed to me about the only characteristic expressed in his features. Otherwise, he was a very plain, unpretentious, unimposing person, easily approached, reticent as a rule, and yet showing at times a fondness for a chat about all sorts of things. His ordinary exterior, however, made it as difficult for me as in the case of Abraham Lincoln to persuade myself that he was destined to be one of the greatest arbiters of human fortunes.
All officers (excepting army commanders) and men were under strict orders not to pass beyond the encampments of their organizations while in front of the enemy. The effect naturally was that, at any given point of our line, they could not know what was going on along the rest of it. We newspaper correspondents, who had the freedom, so to speak, of the whole army, were generally better informed as to current incidents than even officers as high in rank as division commanders. As collectors and distributors of news we gradually became quite popular. We were the more willing to gratify the general curiosity of the rank and file on our tours through the camps as we could not make use of our knowledge for professional purposes, for our permits to remain with and circulate among the armies had been given on the express pledge on our part not to write anything to our papers, before the occurrence of decisive events, about the number, condition, location, and doings of our troops. I observed this injunction religiously, and hence felt all those weeks as if off duty. I really had a very easy time, and was very well taken care of by my friend, the quartermaster of McCook's division. I shared a large tent with his chief clerk, and was favored with a comfortable camp-bed and very passable meals. A runaway slave — a mulatto — waited on me and attended to my horse. Still, I grew tired of my idleness, and rejoiced when events before Corinth reached a culmination. This came much earlier than was expected by the Federal commanders, and in a surprising form.
What was destined to be the last advance of the Union line took place on May 28 and 29. It was very strongly opposed by rebel skirmishers and outposts, but the enemy was driven back. Later in the day, two attempts were made to regain the lost ground. The new move brought the fronts of Pope's and Buell's lines to the edge of a clearing not more than an average of half a mile from Corinth, and in plain view of the enemy's fortifications covering the town, which appeared to be strong and extensive. Our left, with Sherman's division in advance, did not reach clear ground and did not discover the hostile defences. The 29th was enlivened by a roaring cannonade on the Union side from the heavy Parrott guns that had been brought to the front in anticipation of a regular siege. Pope had planted a battery of four thirty-pounders during the night, from which an enfilading fire was opened in the morning upon the nearest rebel work. As was afterwards ascertained, the fire killed and wounded eighty men and a hundred horses, and destroyed a locomotive and its crew. Sherman also opened with Parrott twenty-pounders upon a building occupied by a rebel outpost, and quickly demolished it. I was with General McCook all day on the 29th. We could see a good portion of the rebel works, but no signs of activity were observable. We heard, however, very distinctly the incessant movement of railroad trains.
The final chapter of the “siege” forms a curious tale, partaking more of the ludicrous than of the horrors of war. In some way the impression prevailed at all the headquarters that the enemy was about to strike a great blow. Halleck issued an order enjoining the greatest caution in feeling the enemy. Sherman was even told, if the risk in holding his new position was too great, to fall back. The apprehension of a rebel attack en masse grew stronger in the course of the 29th. The continuous rolling of trains was construed as meaning a concentration of forces at certain points for that purpose. With the night, the anxiety increased, and none of the generals and their staffs on the front line allowed themselves any sleep, and I shared the vigil in McCook's camp. It was all an illusion that was not dispelled till long after midnight. General Halleck issued an order an hour or two after midnight to Buell and Thomas as follows: “There is every indication that the enemy will attack our left this morning, as troops have been moving in that direction for some time. It may be well to make preparations to send as many of the reserves as can be spared in that direction.” This order may or may not have been the reflex of the following report from Pope to Halleck, dated May 30, 1:20 A.M.: “The enemy is reënforcing heavily, by trains, in my front and on my left. The cars are running constantly, and the cheering is immense every time they unload in front of me. I have no doubt, from all appearances, that I shall be attacked in heavy force at daylight.”
General Halleck's feelings may be imagined when at 6 A.M. this unexpected revelation reached him from the same source: “All very quiet since 4 o'clock. Twenty-six trains left during the night. A succession of loud explosions followed by dense black smoke in clouds. Everything indicates evacuation and retreat.” Up to that moment, nobody in command seemed to have correctly interpreted the plain signs of the real rebel purpose. Sherman, indeed, early in the morning, asked the general headquarters “how they explained the frequent explosions in Corinth during the night.” I need not describe the sensations of our generals when the mortifying truth fully dawned upon them that Beauregard had played most successfully the trick of making a bold offensive show, while really bent upon flight.
The rebel works were almost simultaneously occupied by the picket lines of Pope's and McCook's, Nelson's and Sherman's divisions. A dispute afterward arose as to whom really belonged the honor of having been the first to enter them. McCook and Nelson felt chagrined that Halleck, in his first reports, awarded it to Pope, and later made official reclamation, to which the General-in-chief had, however, the conclusive answer that he had not referred to them because their immediate superior had not reported the facts in their case to him. I lost no time myself in riding into Corinth, and I believe I reached the main street — practically the only one — shortly after 7 A.M. The appearance of the town badly belied its classic name. The principal thoroughfare was lined on both sides, for say a quarter of a mile, with plain frame structures of one or two stories, interspersed with a few brick buildings and one of stone. The private residences, mostly of wood, small and of very simple style, were scattered about. Of the twelve to fifteen hundred or so inhabitants, only a few remained. A number of the buildings were reduced to ashes. The rebels had fired only those that contained Confederate supplies which could not be carried away, but the flames had spread and consumed others. The explosions we had heard arose from abandoned ammunition reached by the fire. The evacuation and destruction had been effected so completely that no spoils of any kind were found. A small number of rebel wounded were found about the town and in the works.
The latter were neither as extensive nor as elaborate as we had supposed them to be. There was an outer and an inner line, the former consisting of rifle-pits with breastworks behind them, the latter of regular field bastions with high parapets, ditches, curtains, and embrasures for artillery. Still, the works afforded proof that it must have been Beauregard's original intention to make a firm stand against Halleck. He does not directly admit this in his official utterances, but it can be read between the lines. He says substantially, in the opening paragraph of his report, dated Tupelo, Miss., June 13:
The purposes and ends for which I had occupied and held Corinth having been mainly accomplished by the last of May, and, by the 25th of that month, having ascertained definitely that the enemy had received large accessions to his already superior force while ours had been reduced day by day by disease, resulting from bad water and inferior food, I felt it clearly my duty to evacuate that position without delay. I was further induced to this step by the fact that the enemy had declined my offer of battle twice made him outside of my intrenched lines, and sedulously avoided the separation of his corps, which he advanced with uncommon caution, under cover of heavy guns and strong intrenchments, constructed with unusual labor and with singular delay, considering his strength and our relative inferiority in numbers.
The cheap braggadocio of this alleged challenge to his enemy to combat in mediæval style seems to have impressed the rebel Secretary of War and Jefferson Davis more than his silly complaint of Halleck's extreme caution. His superiors no doubt drew from these effusions the just conclusion that he was an arrant humbug, and soon afterward relieved him from the chief command in the West. It must be admitted, however, in face of the facts, that another passage in his report was not unjustified, to wit: “It was then [the morning of May 30th] that the enemy, to his surprise, became satisfied that a large army, approached and invested with such extraordinary preparations, expenses, labor and timidity, had disappeared from his front with all its munitions and heavy guns.”
My recollection is very distinct that the singular ending of the Corinth campaign was a general disappointment to the Union side, from Halleck down. I do not hesitate to say that the latter did not look for the escape of Beauregard from his clutches without a fight. There is absolutely no evidence of such an expectation in his official despatches and reports. I am persuaded, too, that, before it actually happened, such a contingency would have been pronounced a misfortune to the loyal cause. Still, it was natural that, after the event had occurred, Halleck should make the most of the “bloodless victory” in manœuvring his adversary out of so strong a position, chosen and carefully prepared for defence by himself, with forfeiture of the only direct railroad line of communication between the east and west of the Confederacy, exposure of the cotton States to invasion, and abandonment of the middle Mississippi Valley. Nor is it surprising that Halleck's claim to credit for this achievement was, at the time, admitted both by the Government and by the loyal public. Before the end of 1862, the rebel leaders succeeded, however, as we shall see, in largely neutralizing these consequences by a new aggressive campaign in Tennessee and Kentucky, in the light of which their abandonment of Corinth was proved to have been fortunate.
There was no time lost in the pursuit of the vanquished enemy. General Pope, being nearest to the line of retreat, naturally took the lead in it. The task was most arduous, as the roads were narrow and bad, led through a very swampy country, and were obstructed by felled trees and burning bridges. The Union cavalry first caught sight of the rebel rear-guard about eight miles south of Corinth, and kept close at their heels for several days. The enemy was also followed by several columns of infantry and artillery, moving over different roads, commanded by General Rosecrans, under the direction of General Pope. Owing to the natural difficulties, the pursuers accomplished only short distances from day to day, and though they followed the enemy closely, they could not get within striking distance. On June 4, Rosecrans felt the rebels strongly about two miles north of Baldwin (thirty miles south of Corinth on the Mobile & Ohio Road). He found them in great force and determined to resist his advance. He therefore sent to Pope, his immediate superior, for reënforcements. Pope not only responded, but called on Halleck for more help, where upon the latter ordered Buell with two divisions to join him. Buell did so, and assumed command as the senior major-general. He issued an order of battle for the 8th, but the same day it turned out that the enemy had retreated further south. Beauregard had, indeed, halted at Baldwin with most of his army, but decided to fall back twenty miles further to Tupelo. Under Halleck's order, no further pursuit was attempted.
Before closing this chapter, I must refer to what was perhaps the strangest incident of the Corinth campaign. On June 4, Halleck telegraphed to Secretary Stanton:
General Pope with 40,000 is thirty miles south of Corinth, pushing the enemy hard. He already reports 10,000 prisoners and deserters from the enemy and 15,000 stands of arms captured. Thousands of the enemy are throwing away their arms. A farmer says that when Beauregard learned that Colonel Elliott had cut the railroad on his line of retreat, he became frantic and told his men to save themselves as best they could. We have captured nine locomotives and a number of cars. The result is all I could possibly desire.
Our impulsive American Carnot replied: “Your glorious dispatch has just been received, and I have sent it into every State. The whole land will soon ring with applause at the achievement of your gallant army and its able and victorious commander.” The land was, indeed, soon ringing with patriotic outbursts, as the governors of the loyal States lost no time in congratulating their people on the great reported success and having national salutes fired in its honor.
Again, on June 9, Halleck telegraphed to Stanton:
General Pope estimates rebel loss from casualties, prisoners and desertion at over 20,000, and General Buell at between 20,000 and 30,000. An Englishman employed in the Confederate commissary department says they had 120,000 men in Corinth, and that now they cannot muster more than 80,000.
Some days later, the Northern press published a statement from Beauregard, printed in the Richmond papers, that the dispatch first quoted from Halleck to Stanton “contained almost as many lies as lines,” and this charge is also made in his official report. Stanton having called Halleck's attention to this by wire, the latter replied:
“In accordance with your instructions, I telegraph to you daily what information I receive of events in this department, stating whether official or unofficial, and, if official, giving the authority. In regard to the number of prisoners and arms taken, I telegraphed the exact language of General Pope. If it was erroneous, the responsibility is his, not mine.”
The simple truth was, that Pope's captures of men and arms were only about one-tenth of the number he had reported to Halleck. The whole army was amazed when the newspapers arrived with the correspondence between Stanton and Halleck, and the enthusiastic popular responses it had provoked. I and all knew that a gross deception had been practised. In due time, the Northern press broke out in furious indignation against Pope, who was considered responsible for it. Pope did not defend himself. Singular to relate, it was only in July, 1865, three months after Lee's surrender at Appomattox, that Pope addressed a letter to Halleck calling attention to the subject, disclaiming the authorship of the false report, and asking to have his record set right. Halleck excused himself from complying with the request, on the ground that his papers had been boxed up, as he was about to start for California to take command on the Pacific Coast. Pope thereupon prepared a long letter for publication, in which he denied his responsibility for the report, and criticised Halleck very severely for practically refusing him the satisfaction to which he was entitled. The letter appeared in print and attracted a good deal of attention. I do not remember what Halleck did regarding it.