The Tug of War: A Hawkeye Captain at Corinth

Two weeks after the Battle of Corinth, the camps of the 2nd and 7th Iowa regiments seethed with anger. Despite the hard-fought Union victory, the men were appalled to read in the columns of the Cincinnati Commercial a dispatch about the battle in which the newspaper reporter William D. Bickham labeled General Thomas A. Davies’ division “as cowards and poltroons and worthy of nothing but execration.” A correspondent from the 2nd Iowa called Bickham “a parasite of Rosecrans” and grieved that “we expect trouble with Rosecrans, he is trying to ruin our division.” Little did he know that events in Kentucky would soon call Rosecrans and the “parasite” to another field of action far removed from northern Mississippi, but he was determined that the homefolks in Iowa received an accurate picture of the services rendered by her troops. “Our division, composed of ten skeleton regiments, bore the brunt of the battle both days and lost more men than all the other divisions put together,” he argued.[1]

          Captain Curtis F. Conn of Co. E of the 7th Iowa Infantry was among the troops pilloried by Bickham for their actions at Corinth. He wrote his letter before the publication of Bickham’s riposte and it reads as an honest account of the difficulties Davies’ Division encountered in their struggles with the Confederates on October 3, 1862. During the fighting on October 3rd, although the good Captain doesn't mention it, he sustained a wound in the neck. Conn’s account was published in the Burlington Hawk-Eye newspaper on October 25, 1862.


Depiction of a private from the 7th Iowa Infantry by Jeff Tressler

Corinth, Mississippi

October 5, 1862[2]

          I embrace this, the first opportunity since the close of the great battle, to give you a hurried account of the two days’ engagement of the 3rd and 4th instant. It will be understood, of course, that I do not pretend to give a full or general account as that would be impossible, but simply to state such facts as came under my own observation.

          On the morning of the 3rd at daylight, our division was leaving camp and marched to the west of Corinth. We had been on our way but half an hour when we heard the roar of cannon apparently four or five miles nearly due west of us which continued at intervals until we reached our lines of breastworks some 2-1/2 or 3 miles northwest of town when our skirmishers discovered the enemy advancing rapidly in front of the brigade to the left of the 2nd Iowa and 7th Iowa. 

The men of Co. H of the 7th Iowa lined up along one of the streets in downtown Corinth, Mississippi in this image from the State Historical Society of Iowa. (Thanks Michael Huston!)

    They came up across a hill in splendid style notwithstanding two batteries that were playing upon them at short range and with murderous accuracy. On they came, apparently heedless of danger and regardless of life. An involuntary acclimation of admiration burst forth from the whole brigade on beholding the gallantry and daring of the charge. The heroes of Belmont, Fort Donelson, and Shiloh had to acknowledge that they had seen nothing equal to it.

          Our cannon plowed their ranks, mowing them down, but on they came, shouting and cheering, storming and carrying the breastworks in less than 15 minutes from the time they came in sight. Their success in gaining the breastworks flanked us on the left and caused us to fall back which we did in good order for nearly a mile when we formed another line of battle, our regiment as usual supporting a battery, with the gallant 2nd Iowa on our right.

Map from Rosecrans' official report of the Battle of Corinth showing the location of the fighting by Davies' Division on the first day of the battle. 

We had not more than fairly dressed up in line of battle when on they came again. Then came the tug of war- we were ordered to fall flat upon our faces, which we did, whilst they rained down upon us such a storm of shot, shell, grape, and canister as nothing it seemed for a time could resists. Some idea of the force of the shooting may be formed from the fact that a majority of my company and I think of both the 2nd and 7th Iowa regiments were struck by either pieces of shell, grape, and canister, or limbs of trees. The number killed at this place in the ten regiments I do not know. General Pleasant Hackleman, the commander of our brigade, was killed, shot through the neck. General Richard Oglesby, Colonel James Baker of the 2nd Iowa, and Lieutenant Colonel Mills of the same, Major McMullin and Lieutenants Hohn and Irwin of our regiment were wounded, and Lieutenant Camp taken prisoner.

General Pleasant A. Hackleman

"I was in the room with General Hackleman where he was lying in full uniform on a couch breathing his last. His robust frame and strongly developed muscles indicated a man in the acme of efficiency in marked contrast with his pallid face and labored breathing. His adjutant was kneeling by his side with an ear close to the dying General’s lips to receive the last faltering words for the family at home." ~Assistant Surgeon Pierre Starr, 39th Ohio

After our batteries had exhausted their ammunition and after they had been gone some time, we again fell back being unable to hold the hill any longer. Our policy, of course, was to draw the enemy back to within range of our siege guns and fortifications around the town. The enemy seemed very willing to follow on, which they did, but stopped outside the range of the guns upon the fortifications. We fell back in town somewhere about half past 3 o’clock. The firing had now pretty much ceased. Towards evening it was reported that a flag of truce had been sent in with a demand for us to surrender or remove all women and children, and sick and wounded men out of the town as they would commence shelling the town at 3:30 in the morning. The proposition of surrender was not entertained for a moment.

General Thomas A. Davies

          The sick and wounded were removed to the eastern limits of the town, the non-combatants and what few women and children there were retired in the same direction. Promptly at the time the confident Rebels opened their batteries which were immediately replied to on our part. The cannonading was kept up until after daylight when the enemy ceased, the shots from our batteries being too hot for them. Their shells struck the Tishomingo Hotel but did not great amount of damage. A few other houses were struck but none of our men killed that I could hear of.

After we found the enemy had ceased firing, we knew they were either retreating or preparing to storm the forts and batteries. We did not wait very long when we discovered that they were changing their position and were endeavoring to reach a point further to the right and east of the Mobile & Ohio Railroad. A battalion of sharpshooters was put forward as skirmishers and our regiment followed them for support. We had not advanced far, and we were ordered back to our posts next to a battery. We were just fairly in position again when the Rebels came forward in great force marching straight up towards the cannon in four places at once; they came in sight so fast and in such large numbers that we could not cut them all down until some of them got into two of our forts. Our brigade charged upon them gallantly supported by others to our right and drove them back with great slaughter. They attempted and partially succeeded in rallying, but the fortunes of war were against them. They were shot down and driven back very rapidly. Flesh and blood could not withstand the charge that was made upon them and the rout became general.

Private Samuel M. Rickey of Co. H, 7th Iowa Volunteer Infantry sustained a mortal head wound at Corinth but lived for eight days before succumbing. The ball passed through his head and came out behind his ear; the surgeons rendered no treatment and he lingered for eight days, eventually dying in his own tent surrounded by his comrades in Co. H. Rickey's father later traveled to Corinth to bring the body home to Iowa for burial. (Photo and story courtesy of Michael Huston)

In this final charge, the 17th Iowa came nobly and gallantly up to the work supporting the 2nd and 7th Iowa regiments in fine style. In this second day’s battle, Colonel Parrott, Lieutenant Colonel Gale, Lieutenant Bennett, and Sergeant Major Cameron were wounded and Captain Smith of Oskaloosa, a young man of great promise, was killed. The loss of either side is not known yet, only thus far, that our loss counts by hundreds while that of the enemy will have to count in the thousands. This is not a victory made by official or any other kind of reports, but by hard fighting in which the valor of the Iowa troops was as conspicuous as it has become proverbial, as we are still lying without tents, camp equipage, or anything else except hard bread, coffee, and ammunition, waiting for another attack from a force said to be advancing from the east. My accommodations for writing are rather limited and I must close. We had 345 officers and privates in the action, 120 of whom are killed, wounded, or missing.

7th Iowa Monument at Shiloh National Battlefield

[1] Letter from H.S., Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, October 25, 1862, pg. 6

[2] Letter from Captain Curtis F. Conn, Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, October 18, 1862, pg. 4


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