In the early morning hours of october 3rd, under the leadership of confederate Major General earl Van dorn and Major General Stirling price, approximately 22,000 men marched to corinth with the intention of overtaking the federally-occupied town and thus gaining control of the Mobile & ohio and Memphis & charleston railroads. This was a prelude to their ultimate goal, an invasion of Tennessee. in route to corinth coming north from ripley, MS, Van dorn had planned to cross the 60-foot wide hatchie river at davis bridge. Union brigadier General William rosecrans, commander at corinth, had ordered davis bridge to be burned on the night of September 30th, but cavalrymen assigned with the task succeeded in burning only the floor planking. Van dorn, staying at the davis house on the night of the 2nd , and having learned of the bridge’s condition, ordered his men to immediately start work on repairing the bridge. They worked through the night and were able to complete the task by 4:00 a.m. the following morning. The division took to the road immediately with its destination, chewella, Tennessee, just north of corinth.
Staying behind at davis bridge, Van dorn ordered the bridge defended by cavalry under colonel Wirt adams, and the 1st Texas legion under the command of colonel e. r. hawkins, with two artillery batteries in order to keep open a route back to ripley in case a retreat was necessary.
Two days of savage fighting ensued in what would be known as the second battle of Corinth. There were significant casualties on both sides. federal dead and wounded numbered nearly 2,500. confederate losses were similar with 2,470 dead or wounded and an additional 1,763 missing. The confederate force was compelled to withdraw, and by noon on the 4th, they were headed in retreat northwest along the road back towards chewalla and davis bridge. General Grant at the time in Jackson, Tennessee, gave General Stephen a. hurlbut in bolivar, orders he received on the 4th at 3:00 a.m. “to head for davis bridge and to destroy the bridge and contest their crossing of the hatchie river.” hurlbut immediately set out with 5,000 men in a forced march of some 23 miles. The advancing force encountered a body of 60 to 70 Confederate Cavalry outside Middleton, Tennessee, and opened fire. The cavalry unit scattered in the woods. On the State line road, hurlbut confronted Southern pickets and pushed them back into the woods as well. a brisk skirmish left four dead and another two wounded. from there the Union force advanced rapidly to the small village of Metamora, situated on the river above davis’ bridge, where the advance guard came upon a heavy cavalry driving them into a corn field of the left. They had encountered confederate troops under the command of Wirt adams whom Van dorn had left behind in route to corinth to guard the bridge as a precaution in case of retreat. later that day, adam’s men drove the federals off of Metamora ridge back towards Muddy creek. That night the Union forces under hurlbut camped there, three miles west of davis bridge.
Also on the night of october 4th, Union Major General edward o.c. ord, commanding a detachment of the army of West Tennessee, camped near Pocahontas five miles away from Hurlbut. At 7:30 a.m. the next morning, his force encountered hurlbut’s 4th brigade. as he was senior to hurlbut, ord took command of the now combined Union forces. before dawn on the 5th, Van dorn learned from couriers that Wirt adams had clashed with federal cavalry six miles west of davis bridge the day before. Van dorn had not counted on this and assigned his strongest division, lovell’s, to rear- guard duty and placed his most depleted command, brigadier General Maury’s, in the lead. “Maury, you are in for it again today,” said Van dorn. “push forward as rapidly as you can and occupy the heights beyond the river before the enemy can get them.” he directed lt. colonel edwin hawkins, whose first Texas legion guarded the supply train two miles east of davis bridge, to join Wirt adams on the hatchie river. Together they were to delay any federal crossing until the main body came up. Van dorn counted on them to hold off the federal troops until the confederates could cross the hatchie river at crumm’s Mill.
The army marched at sunrise. Van dorn and his staff rode with the vanguard.
At 7:30 a.m., Hurlbut met up with Major General Edward O.C. Ord and 3,000 men. Ord being the senior officer took command. The confederates under hawkins, established a defensive position to the west of the bridge at 8:30 a.m. on october 5th. his line was established approximately 150 yards west of the davis house, at a small tributary of the hatchie river called burr’s branch. The confederates deployed the 3rd Mississippi, the 42nd alabama, and the 15th and 23rd arkansas infantry regiments of brigadier General John c. Moore’s brigade, north of the 1st Texas. four 12-pound howitzers belonging to captain William e. dawson’s Saint louis battery supported this line. Maury had approximately 1,000 infantrymen west of davis bridge. discovering the confederate defensive position, ord and hurlbut began deploying their command on a ridge 300 yards to the west of the confederate’s position, at the intersection of State line road and ripley pocahontas road. The four James rifles of Battery L, 2nd Illinois Light Artillery, set up at the road junction. Four guns of the 7th Ohio Battery established their positions south of the illinois gunners. The 15th and 14th illinois formed to the north of the road junction, while the 25th, 46th, and 53rd indiana, the 12th Michigan, and the 68th ohio formed to the south.
The federal artillery occupied superior firing positions with more guns, and private lucius barber of the 15th illinois infantry described the ensuing artillery action:
…planted their artillery on the crest of the hill and its hoarse notes replied to the rebel thunder. For fifteen minutes a furious cannonading was kept up. With rapid precision and deadly aim, our well trained battery men poured in their death-dealing charges upon the enemy. Gradually their fire slackened as one after another of their guns were dismounted and most of their horses slain.
When Ord’s advance began, probably the 14th Illinois Infantry succeeded in outflanking the Confederate right (north) flank. The results were inevitable. barber, with one of the regiments, remembered:
…the second brigade was ordered forward, marching in echelon, with the 14th Illinois in advance. We swept across the field toward the river. This was a thrilling military sight… With colors flying, with well-dressed ranks and measured tread our gallant lines moved on… Our firm, undaunted bearing struck terror toe the hearts of the enemy. After a few irregular volleys they broke and ran. We poured in our fire at short range and with fierce yell rushed forward to the charge.
Outnumbered, outflanked, and with their artillery knocked out of the fight, the Confederate line broke. The Confederate defenders fled to the east, where they poured back across the bridge in a tidal wave. Seeing the initial defense crushed, confederate commanders established a new defensive line on a ridge east of the hatchie river. This was an admirable defensive position, and it was well occupied by the survivors of hawkin’s and Moore’s command, brigadier General c. W. phifer’s Texas and arkansas brigade, brigadier General William S. cabell’s arkansas brigade, and at least four batteries of artillery.
General ord, thrilled at this relatively easy victory, became caught up in the excitement of the moment and ordered Generals Veatch and lauman to cross the bridge and pursue the confederates. however, the high bluff of the east bank gave the confederates a distinct advantage and made the federals open targets. Generals Veatch, lauman, and hurlbut argued with Ord, but his decision remained firm. As a result, the 53rd Indiana and the 14th and 15th Illinois regiments absorbed heavy Confederate fire as they crossed Davis Bridge. Many would be caught in a western bend of the river, and the confederate defensive position swept this ground with a deadly fire. Other regiments followed, and rather than recall troops, ord headed across the bridge himself in hopes of rallying the men. as he crossed, ord was severely wounded in his leg by a canister ball, and hurlbut resumed command.
A dispatch from ord sent to Grant from a hospital near pocahontas, indicated. “We took two batteries and have them, and at the river captured between 200 and 300 prisoners, among whom are (several) field officers and an aide-de-camp to General Van Dorn.” He went on to say, “On account of the fact that we had frequently to attack across the open fields and up hills, while the enemy were under dense cover, we have lost quite a number of officers and men, and have several hundred wounded, probably a greater number than the enemy. General Veatch was very badly contused by a spent ball striking him in the side. The troops in their charge over the miserable bridge at davis’ creek and up the steep beyond, exposed to a murderous fire of shell and grape and canister, with three of their batteries playing upon them at canister-range, however, proved that wherever their officers dare to lead them the men will go.
“General hurlbut has reported to me that he has gathered about 900 arms already, thrown away by the enemy in their retreat and expects to collect a large number tomorrow. “
Although ord’s initial thrust across the hatchie had been contained, Van dorn and General Sterling price were in a challenging situation, with their retreat route blocked, and their army exhausted and bloodied after two days of heavy fighting at Corinth and the morning’s struggle at davis bridge. fortunately for the confederate cause, the federal pursuit from corinth had been dilatory, and had not even commenced until dawn on october 5th. further confusion would result seven miles outside of corinth when the pursuing Union columns converged unexpectedly upon a single avenue of advance. as a result, the confederate rear was temporarily secure.
However, despite the federal order of battle, a crossing at davis bridge was no longer viable, so scouts were dispatched to locate another crossing location. one was found at crumb’s Mill, six miles south on boneyard road at the hatchie river. Van dorn accordingly dispatched his wagons and artillery south on the boneyard road, while continuing the holding action at davis bridge.
Private barber described the ensuing conflict east of the river:
We now had a very difficult and dangerous task to accomplish. On one narrow bridge, in face of a terrible fire of grape and canister with which the rebels were raking it, our troops were to cross and form on the other side…. At this point the river makes an abrupt bend and the regiments were ordered to cross and form on each side of the road, but the bend in the river prevented them forming on the right. The enemy’s shots were mowing down our men with fearful rapidity… The grape shot and canister were tearing up the ground in front and around us, making a general havoc amongst us… At or near the bridge, one hundred and fifty of our boys lay weltering in our blood… The rebels…poured in withering volleys… The bullets pelted against the log like hailstones.
Hurlbut crossed artillery, and began to extend his line to the north, where the federal soldiers had more freedom of movement. eventually the federal artillery began to restore the situation at approximately the same time as most of van dorn’s army had continued its marchpast the holding action to cross at crumm’s Mill. The confederate defensive line accordingly withdrew to the next ridge east approximately 3:30 p.m.. hurlbut’s men cautiously continued the advance, but both they and the confederates were low on ammunition, and had been continuously engaged for five hours. The fighting settled down to a desultory artillery duel and after dark the Confederate rear guard withdrew to continue the retreat. General ord had deployed approximately 8,000 men and suffered 560 casualties, or approximately 7%. The number of Confederates engaged is uncertain. Confederate figures are incomplete and included with casualties at Corinth; this number includes large numbers of stragglers or deserters from the retreat. federal sources note that they buried 32 confederates west of the hatchie river, where the heaviest confederate casualties occurred. General hurlbut also reported capturing 420 prisoners and four bronze 12-pound howitzers, all on the western bank of the river. The 28th illinois infantry reported capturing a Confederate battery of six guns, caissons and one flag.
Text source: PRESENTATION TO THE GOVERNOR | THE GHOSTS OF DAVIS BRIDGE