150 Years Ago in the Civil War
President Abraham Lincoln headed to the Antietam battlefield as October 1862 opened. He wanted to see the situation in person and to meet with General George McClellan about continuing operations against the Army of Northern Virginia. Lincoln had wanted McClellan to follow up the victory at Antietam with pursuit of the battered Confederate army, but the General had done little in the two weeks following the battle.
The President stopped at Harper’s Ferry first, which was again in Union hands following the Confederate withdrawal. He then spent the 2nd, 3rd, and the morning of the 4th conferring with McClellan and other officers. He also visited the troops in the field and the wounded in the hospitals. Lincoln returned to Washington on the afternoon of the 4th. Throughout the month, Lincoln urged McClellan to cross the Potomac and engage the Confederate army again before winter, but the army commander didn’t begin a general movement until the 26th.
The main operations in October were further west. While Lincoln and McClellan were meeting on the 3rd, approximately 22,000 Confederates under General Earl Van Dorn attacked the important northern Mississippi railroad town of Corinth. Major General William Rosecrans’ Federals had fortified the town with extensive lines of defensive works, and met the attack at the outer line of fortifications north and northwest of the town. Van Dorn pushed the Union forces back to their inner line of works before ceasing operations at sunset.
Van Dorn resumed the attack on the 4th. Rosecrans had regrouped during the night and was ready. The Confederates were initially successful, overrunning Battery Powell on the union right. Fighting was also extensive at Battery Robinette in the Union center, with the two sides engaging in hand to hand combat. But the Federals held, and Van Dorn was forced to retreat. Rosecrans did not pursue Van Dorn until the next day. Although Van Dorn engaged a Union force under Major General E.O.C. Ord at the Battle of Davis Bridge on the 4th, his army was able to escape destruction.
Further north in Kentucky, the Union Army of the Ohio under Major General Don Carlos Buell attacked General Braxton Braggs’ Confederate Army of Mississippi at Perryville on October 8th. The Confederates had invaded Kentucky late in the summer to try to win back the important border state from Union control. There were attacks and counterattacks, but at the conclusion of the fighting, Bragg was forced to withdraw to Tennessee. The Battle of Perryville cost the north 4200 total casualties, while the south had 3200. It was the largest battle in Kentucky during the war, and ended the Confederate invasion of that state.
After a summer of defeat, Union armies had stopped the invasions of Maryland and Kentucky in September and October. But the Confederate armies hadn’t been destroyed, and complete victory was nowhere in sight as October came to a close.