A Buckeye Remembers Scenes of Horror After the Battle of Corinth

    In the aftermath of the Battle of Corinth, Private James E. Graham of the 80th Ohio walked over the field and recorded the hecatomb that spread around him. “The bodies of men I did not enumerate. In fact, their ghostly looks were sufficient to drive away all thoughts of minor affairs. Their faces, bodies, and limbs were all swelled almost to bursting and the skin was very dark blue. Their eyes were all closed and mouths generally a little open. They were lying in almost all shapes imaginable. One man had a limb shot off at the thigh and it was thrown right back over his shoulder. One was lying on his back with both legs bent back under him.  One had one of his legs doubled under him and the other stuck out straight; in fact, they were laying every way that looked painful. But the most horrible sight presented to me was that of a young Rebel lying at a house on the battlefield,” remembered Graham. What followed for the readers of the Tuscarawas Advocate in 1862 is perhaps the most graphic and disturbing description I have ever read in my 20 years of Civil War research. In the same way the Brady’s photographs of the dead of Antietam shocked the country, Graham’s honest depiction of the horrors of war no doubt shocked the homefolks.

A story made the rounds after the Battle of Corinth that a Buckeye soldier at the battle fell into conversation with a captured Confederate. The Rebel soldier spied the Buckeye's OVM belt buckle and inquired, "Corporal, what the devil does O.V.M. stand for?" The Ohioan replied "Ohio Visiting Mississippi. We had a few made up for this campaign." In actuality, O.V.M. stood for Ohio Volunteer Militia and many soldiers that left the state in the early years of the Civil War wore OVM belt buckles as they went off to war.

    James Emmet Graham was born September 30, 1841 in Ohio and at the outbreak of the war was living in Tuscarawas County. He enlisted as a private in Co. K of the 80th Ohio Volunteer Infantry on December 1, 1861. He was commissioned second lieutenant October 4, 1862 and promoted to first lieutenant of Co. G on April 29, 1864. He was appointed regimental adjutant November 6, 1864 and then to captain of Co. I February 10, 1865. Graham was detailed as acting assistant commissary of subsistence for the Second Division of the 15th Army Corps shortly thereafter and served for the rest of the war in that capacity. Captain Graham was mustered out with the company August 13, 1865. He died March 19, 1891 and is buried at Claibourne Cemetery in Richwood, Ohio.

    Graham’s letter was published in the October 17, 1862 issue of the Tuscarawas Advocate.

Corinth, Mississippi

October 6, 1862

    Our regiment has suffered much more severely in this fight than it did at the Battle of Iuka. I understand that it has been reported that the 80th acted cowardly at Iuka, which is an accursed slander. No regiment behaved more bravely. Some regiments that did not deserve it got praise, while others who deserved it were slighted by the correspondents of the daily papers. In the late fight, Major Richard Lanning and Lieutenant John J. Robinson were killed; Lieutenant George F. Robinson and Lieutenant Oliver C. Powleson were wounded. There were two or three privates shot dead, and others died of their wounds in a short time. It is impossible yet to tell the number of our wounded but think it must be 40 or 50. John Furney was shot in the right arm, the ball passing through below the elbow and breaking one of the bones of the forearm. His wound is doing well; Isaac Alter and my brother Charley are doing well and are in good spirits.

    If the papers do us justice, they will not only contradict what they have said in regard to the conduct of the 80th Ohio at Iuka, but will give it especial praise for gallant bearing at Corinth. This was a hard fight. Several times we feared we must lose the town. The fight began on our left, but the enemy being repulsed, changed their point of attack to our right, endeavoring to turn our right flank. The fighting was desperate. They advanced in solid column and marched straight up to our batteries which mowed them down like grass, but as soon as their ranks were opened, they immediately closed up to be cut open again. On they come apparently with less excitement than if going to a feast. In fact, they were guest and victim at the “feast of death.” Such bravery as they exhibited (which was really desperation) I have not read of as being shown by an attacking army before. They marched up to one battery which our regiment was supporting and drove away the artillerymen. A Rebel lieutenant jumped on one of the cannon and flourishing his sword, swore that the cannon was his. He was immediately shot dead by one of our officers. The Rebels were driven back but came up again in large numbers and our light artillery was forced to retreat.

Captain Thomas C. Morris
Co. K, 80th Ohio


    The Rebels continued to drive us back until one part of their line was entirely in Corinth. Then the fight raged more fiercely than before. There was a continual roar of musketry all along the northern part of town, and the batteries were all playing upon the Rebels, causing great havoc in their ranks. But what was greater and more sublime than all the rest was the sound of the siege guns which we had planted here. I never imagined before that such sounds could be caused by man. They far exceed the heaviest thunder I have ever heard. When I heard them, I would inadvertently look at the sky as though I expected to see it rent asunder. It is beyond the power of man to describe, or the mind of man to conceive of such sounds as are caused by these enormous guns. To one that loves the music of the spheres, nothing could be more sublime than that sound, as it rolls for miles with terrific grandeur. The fight continued for some time in town, but our forces were too strong for them, and by the judicious use of our siege guns, we were enabled to drive them before us, and they were not able to drive us back as far as town at any time after that, although they worked very hard and with great skill and bravery.

    At last, we got them moving, kept them at it and they were, at last accounts, 15 miles from here trying to get away. Rumor says they are surrounded and will all be taken prisoners. Hurlbut is said to be on one side of him, Grant on another, and Rosecrans on the third, and it is also reported that he (Price) has burned his own trains and that he cannot move much farther without provisions. If this report is true, our generals will not permit him to get anything to eat until he surrenders. I hope he may be caught, but have my fears.

    In the late battle, Price lost a great many more men than we did and was compelled to leave many of his dead and wounded on the field. Our men have had squads of Negroes out every day since the fight and are not yet done burying the dead. It is a horrible picture that is presented to the eye while walking over the battlefield; dead men and horses lying around in every direction and sending forth a stench so sickening that an unaccustomed person can scarcely bear up under it. I counted eight dead horses in one place and there were others scattered all around.

80th Ohio Flank Marker
Ohio History Connection

    The bodies of men I did not enumerate. In fact, their ghostly looks were sufficient to drive away all thoughts of minor affairs. Their faces, bodies, and limbs were all swelled almost to bursting and the skin was very dark blue. (The Rebels are much darker than our men, said to be caused by them drinking whiskey with powder in it.) Their eyes were all closed and mouths generally a little open. They were lying in almost all shapes imaginable. One man had a limb shot off at the thigh and it was thrown right back over his shoulder. One was lying on his back with both legs bent back under him.  One had one of his legs doubled under him and the other stuck out straight; in fact, they were laying every way that looked painful.

     But the most horrible sight presented to me was that of a young Rebel lying at a house on the battlefield. He was not yet dead, but could not speak and appeared not to hear anything that was said to him. He belonged to the 43rd Mississippi and had no one to do anything for him. He lay on his back with one knee bent, his foot resting on the floor, the other leg was lying out straight, his right arm was lying across his breast, his mouth was partly open and his teeth and lips as black as coal. He was shot twice. One ball appeared to have entered the left eye and gone out the back of the head; the other ball struck him on the right side of the head above the ear and just merely cut a gash into the bone and passed on. The wound on his head and left eye were full of maggots and under his head where the first ball had passed out was about a double handful of worms. If you love to think of the horrible, there is something to reflect on. The man was rotting and being eaten by worms and yet he was still alive. It is sickening to think what would be the feeling of that young man’s parents or brothers and sisters if they knew the condition in which he was lying and dying; perhaps thinking of home and its many surrounding comforts. I have often read and heard of sights that were shocking to the human eye but I never imagined anything half as horrible or disgusting as that which I beheld at that house.

Federal soldiers burying the Confederate dead after the Battle of Corinth. 

    No person could look upon that young man without sad reflections. He must pity the victim before him and the natural train of thought will carry him to that victim’s home. He may be the son of a wealthy and influential family, the favorite of his parents, perhaps pressed into service against his desire or that of his parents. In that case or in any case, how much the heart of that young man’s father or mother yearn after him, and what anxiety must they feel when they hear of the Battle of Corinth and that his regiment was in the battle. How anxiously will they look for a letter from him, but in vain that hand which they would love again to grasp, is now unable to wield a pen- his heart is cold. Those much-loved eyes are closed in death and his spirit has flown to the other world. No letter ever comes; a void is caused in their hearts which nothing can fulfill. How do they speak of him; as dead? Ah, no. Hope prevents that. They speak of him as one lost; yet hope says he may yet appear to make their fond hearts glad, but they shall go down to their grave without beholding their son again in this world.

    There was an attack on one battery of which I have not spoken. The battery was near town, and in an important position. It was so situated that if the enemy got possession of it, they could shell the town effectually. To get to it, the Rebels were compelled to march over a piece of ground covered with fallen trees, which were lying so thick as to make it exceedingly difficult for a single person to pass through even without a gun. Over that ground, they marched in four ranks under a galling fire, which sent many to their long homes. As fast as their ranks were broken, they closed up and moved steadily along. At last they arrived at the entrenchments. They then crossed them. As they attempted to scale the walls, a severe conflict was commenced. Our gallant boys shot them down with their revolvers as they came up and they rolled back into the trenches as fast as they fell. Others came on yelling to meet the same fate. One man climbed up directly in front of a cannon and was shot down. At last our boys were overpowered by numbers and compelled to give up the fort. The Rebels immediately planted their flag and commenced cheering.

    The tide seemed turned against us, for with that battery they could destroy the town; every heart beat high. Sutlers left their stores in despair and suffered their goods to be taken “without money and without price.” Some feared we had lost the day, but (thanks to the gallantry of our men) the Rebels had not time to turn the guns before our men retook the battery and drove them back with great slaughter. From that time on, we were victorious and Corinth now is in our hands, and tonight’s reports say that Van Dorn is killed and Price’s army all cut to pieces. I hope it may be true, but Dame Rumor tells false tales frequently.

    If you were here you could see sights which you have never seen and may well wish never to see. Nearly the whole town is converted into a hospital for wounded and dying. A few steps from here is a splendid dwelling which is used a hospital. It had a beautiful yard now filled with wounded. We hear nothing but the groans of the soldiers who are suffering the agonies of death. I can write no more. Time forbids. I have written in haste yet endeavored to give you a true account of the battle.

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