The morning of 3rd October 1862 had not gone well for Major-General William Starke Rosecran’s Union forces. Holding the northern Mississippi town of Corinth, they had been attacked around 10am by Confederate forces of Major-General Earl Van Dorn’s Army of West Tennessee. By early afternoon, pressure on the Federal advanced position had grown so great that it was in danger of being overwhelmed. A new line was desperately needed to stave off the enemy advance. It would form on the Irishmen of Colonel John Doran’s 17th Wisconsin Infantry, which had spent the morning in reserve behind the Union left. (1)

The 17th Wisconsin were organised in Madison and mustered into service on 15th March 1862. The men were largely drawn from the state’s Irish community, and Corinth was to be their first major action. When the battle opened the 17th had initially been kept in the rear to guard the brigade camp. However, as the Federal situation deteriorated, the regiment was ordered to the battlefield just after 1pm. Colonel Doran remembered that as they approached the front they were greeted with ‘as hearty a cheer as was ever raised for the sons of Erin.’ (2)

Federal troops in Corinth Mississippi during winter 1862 (Photographic History of the Civil War)

Federal troops in Corinth Mississippi during winter 1862 (Photographic History of the Civil War)

The 17th Wisconsin took up a position beyond the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, and faced north on a ridge of high ground. Scotsman Brigadier-General John McArthur arrived to take control of events and began to form other regiments to the Irishmen’s left, creating a new Union line that ran between the 17th and Battery F, one of the earthen redoubts defending the town. Doran detailed Companies B, F and G forward to act as skirmishers and feel for the enemy. Firing erupted as they encountered the thus far victorious Confederates, and they took their first casualties; Captain Hugh McDermott of Company B fell severely wounded with a gunshot wound in the chest. (3)

As the Rebels drove in the 17th’s skirmishers fire began to intensify on the main Union line. The gunners of Lieutenant Mitchell’s Battery F, 2nd Illinois Light Artillery took the brunt of the punishment, and cannoneers began to fall. It was now just after 2pm. Brigadier-General McArthur determined that it was necessary to drive the Confederates back in order to save his artillery, and so asked Colonel Doran if he could ‘charge successfully on the brigade doing such execution.’ He replied that he could, and he turned to his men to prepare them to assault the Rebels. (4)

The green-flag regiment prepared their ranks and surged towards the enemy crying ‘Faugh A Ballagh’, a gaelic war-cry meaning ‘Clear the Way’. The remainder of the Union line charged forward in echelon with them, and the Rebels were driven back some three-quarters of a mile. At this juncture the Confederates regrouped and were reinforced, and it became necessary for the Federal troops to fall back to avoid envelopment. Tragedy then struck the Badger State Irishmen, as they came under fire from a wholly unexpected direction. Two exhausted Union regiments, the 14th Wisconsin and 15th Michigan, had been ordered back into the fray having fought with heavy loss earlier in the day. Coming upon their retreating comrades they mistook them for Rebels, before ‘discharging their muskets into the Seventeenth’, after which they ‘turned and ran.’ (5)

Federal troops overlooking the tracks in Corinth, Mississippi, 1862 (Library of Congress)

Federal troops overlooking the tracks in Corinth, Mississippi, 1862 (Library of Congress)

The 17th Wisconsin successfully withdrew to the main entrenchments around Corinth, where a series of strong fortifications and batteries protected the town. McArthur commented on the field that the men had ‘made the most glorious charge of the campaign’ and also complemented Sergeant-Major John Nichol who had commanded a party of skirmishers. The battle was renewed the next day, but the unit was not heavily engaged. The 4th October assault ended in slaughter for the Confederates as they attempted to penetrate the strong defensive positions; they were left with no option but to withdraw. (6)

The 17th Wisconsin Infantry would go on to serve in the Vicksburg and Atlanta Campaigns, and ended the war taking part in the Grand Review in Washington D.C. The regiment lost five killed and twenty wounded during the fighting of 3rd October, although a number of of the latter category succumbed to their wounds. The impact of the Battle of Corinth on the survivors and their families could be lifelong, as was the case for those men disabled as a result of their injuries. The names of the killed and wounded in the 17th Wisconsin at Corinth are as follows:

Company B: Captain Hugh McDermott (wounded), Private Hugh Greenwood (wounded, discharged disability), Private Thomas Gaffney (wounded, later died), Private Otto B. Thomas (wounded, later killed at Vicksburg), Private Edwin Sykes (wounded), Private Carroll W. Gifford (wounded), Private John Fahey (wounded, transferred to Veteran Reserve Corps)

Company C: Private Anthony O’Brien (killed)

Company D: First Sergeant William Maas (wounded, discharged disability), Sergeant James Dempsey (killed), Private Terence McElroy (killed)

Company E: Private Andrew Holcomb (wounded, later died)

Company F: Sergeant John Keenan (wounded, discharged disability), Corporal Peter Gallagher (wounded, later died), Private Timothy Scanl0n (killed), Private Patrick Tiernan (wounded, transferred to Veteran Reserve Corps)

Company H: Corporal George Winkle (killed), Private Maurice Kerins (wounded, discharged disability), Private Ansel J. Bugby (wounded, discharged disability)

Company I: Captain Julius G. Nordman (wounded), Private James Conners (wounded, later died of disease at Vicksburg), Private Henry Closson (wounded, discharged disability in 1864)

Company K: First Sergeant David S. Bishop (wounded, discharged), Corporal David Converse (wounded, transferred to Veteran Reserve Corps), Private Andrew Conley (wounded, transferred to Veteran Reserve Corps) (7)

(1) Cozzens 1997: 181-3; (2) Quiner 1866: 644, Official Records: 350; (3) Cozzens 1997: 181-5, Quiner 1866: 644, Official Records: 350; (4) Cozzens 1997: 182-3, Official Records: 350-1; (5) Love 1866: 516, Cozzens 1997: 183, Official Records: 351; (6) Love 1866: 516; (7) Quiner 1866: 646, Roster 1886: 49-82;

References & Further Reading

Cozzens, Peter 1997. The Darkest Days of the War: The Battles of Iuka and Corinth

Love, William DeLoss 1866. Wisconsin in the War of Rebellion

Quiner, E.B. 1866. Military History of Wisconsin

Official Records Series 1, Volume 17 (Part 1), Chapter 29. Report of Col. John L. Doran, Seventeenth Wisconsin Infantry, including operations October 3-11

Wisconsin Adjutant General’s Office 1886. Roster of Wisconsin Volunteers, War of the Rebellion, 1861- 1865, Volume 2

Colors of the 17th Wisconsin Infantry in the Wisconsin Veterans Museum

Civil War Trust Battle of Corinth Page

Corinth Civil War Interpretive Centre

Wisconsin Historical Society: Wisconsin in the Civil War