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Corinth - a critique of Rosecrans

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  • wh_keene
    Rosecrans at Corinth based on a reading of Cozzens 1. The Engagement Day 1 Rosecrans was baffled by enemy intentions and even when the enemy was close to
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 24, 2002
      Rosecrans at Corinth based on a reading of Cozzens

      1. The Engagement Day 1

      Rosecrans was baffled by enemy intentions and even when the enemy was
      close to Corinth his forces were scattered. Cozzens states "For
      reasons known only to himself, Rosecrans hesitated to summon his
      troops into Corinth." Just after midnight on October 3rd, he issues
      orders to reposition his four divisions (Davies, Stanley, Hamilton,
      McKean). Movement was slow and disorganized. Davies suffered from
      confusion over the wording of Rosecrans orders—he prepared to move
      but waited for further order before actually moving. Cozzens
      adds "Rosecrans could do no more than hope his army would reach
      Cornith before the Rebels." As a result, troops were committed to
      battle exhausted from marching.

      Rosecrans would later claim that he had a grand plan for the battle,
      but his behavior that day doesn't seem to support this. As the
      battle opens, Cozzens makes several references to Rosecrans "behaving
      oddly" and "doubtful and a bit dazed". His disposition of forces
      was poor in that Davies could not keep in contact with the flanks of
      both Hamilton to his right and McArthur (of McKean's Division) on his
      left. Davies became stretched too thin such that Moore's Brigade of
      Maury's Division was able to hit McArthur in the flank. Though forced
      back, Davies division performed well. However, Rosecrans, who had
      contributed little to the battle so far, complained of Davies men in
      his midday report to Grant. He also still believed that the attack
      on Cornith was a feint(!) which may explain why he ignored Davies
      requests for reinforcements.

      At 3pm, Rosecrans sends a strangely worded order to his division
      commanders that referred to a mysterious "extreme position". As
      Cozzens puts it "Since reporting to Rosecrans on his way to the
      Confederate breastworks that morning, Davies had heard nothing from
      the commanding general." Hamilton had only heard from Rosecrans once
      prior when Rosecrans berated him for his positioning and demanded
      that he both straddle the Purdy Road and support Davies. Cozzens
      states that if Rosecrans had examined the ground he would have seen
      that Hamilton could not do both. Rosecrans next order to Hamilton
      directed him to "make a flank movementÂ…falling to the left of Davies"
      except that Hamilton was located to Davies right. Apparently,
      Rosecrans got his right and left confused. Rather than take a
      chance, Hamilton returned the order with the note "I cannot
      understand it." Cozzens quotes William Shanks of the New York Herald
      that Rosecrans nervous disposition "incapacitated him from the
      intelligible direction of his officers or effective execution of his
      plans." The inability to properly communicate with his front line
      commanders will plague Rosecrans in the future. At Corinth it
      derails his attempt to launch a flanking attack at a critical

      2. The Engagement Day 2

      During the night Rosecrans repositions his army in the inner defenses
      of Corinth. Units are moved and removed and Davies wrecked division
      ends up in the center right of the front line. Putting his most
      depleted division in the front after tiring the men with multiple
      late night movements helped ensure that Davies division would fall
      apart when struck the next day.

      The collapse of Davies' division opened a hole in the defensive line
      through which the enemy poured into Corinth. Rosecrans spends the
      later part of the battle despairing that all is lost. The Chaplain
      of the 15th Illinois recalls meeting Rosecrans and being told that
      the army "was whipped" and that the baggage train should be
      destroyed. Others say he told them to set fire to the quartermaster
      stores near the Tishomingo Hotel. Fortunately at this point,
      Rosecrans was ignored and General Stanley and brigade commanders
      DuBois (Davies' 3rd) and Sullivan (Hamilton's 2nd) rallied and drove
      the enemy out.

      3. The Pursuit

      After the enemy is driven from town, Rosecrans still fears it was all
      just a feint for some larger effort on his flanks. Only at 6 pm,
      four hours after Van Dorn had begun to withdraw, did Rosecrans begin
      to think he had won. At this point McPherson has arrived with a
      dispatch from Grant ordering Rosecrans to pursue Van Dorn vigorously.
      McPherson has 5 fresh regiments and McKean's Division had hardly seen
      any action all day. This reserve of a Division and a half would be
      perfect for pursuit. Cozzens quotes a couple of regimental officers
      who wonder why McKean's forces were not sent out right away.
      Rosecrans had decided to wait until morning before moving.

      True to form, Rosecrans issues unclear orders as to what is supposed
      to happen the next morning and when his divisions get started there
      is confusion. McPherson was confused as to when to start and gets
      berated by Rosecrans. Stanley starts late and gets entangled with
      Hamilton who was on the wrong road. Stanley redirects himself to
      another road and gets entangled with McKean who has brought his
      entire wagon train along. Hamilton's orders were to follow McKean,
      but as he is on the wrong road, and Stanley is now following McKean,
      Hamilton comes to a stop. Only McPherson made any real progress and
      actually engaged the retreating enemy.

      Cozzens states that "Rosecrans had done little to accelerate the
      chase." Instead Rosecrans tries to deflect the blame by
      demanding "Where is Hurlbut?" (reminiscent of "Where was Grant?" at
      Iuka). By the next morning the enemy is gone. Rosecrans presses on,
      though still at a slow pace. By the third day rations gave out and
      water is scarce. By midday, Cozzens reports, the "roads were
      thronged" with stragglers. In his communications to Grant, Rosecrans
      states that supply shortages are slowing him down. Grant calls the
      pursuit off.

      4. The Result

      Based on a track record of mucking up troop movements, it is
      questionable to think that Rosecrans could have managed to continue
      the pursuit of Price for any length. He was suffering from supply
      problems and his ability to coordinate the movement of multiple
      divisions had been found lacking several times already.

      "Rosecrans's allies in the press corps" take up his cause claiming
      that honors are due him for the battle of Corinth. As a result of
      Corinth, Rosecrans is catapulted to the command of the Army of the
      Cumberland. And to what did he owe these honors? During the battle
      he had written confusing orders and bemoaned that the army was
      whipped. His petulance and insubordination in his communications with
      Grant compound his problems communicating with his subordinates. Was
      Grant unfair to him? Hardly. Rosecrans got off easy because Grant
      felt he was "a brave and loyal soldier with the best of military
      training, and of this
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