"A General Havoc" : The
Battle of Hatchie Bridge
by Daniel O'Connell
Retreat from Corinth
The Confederate retreat after the defeat at Corinth on October
3-4, 1862 provided the backdrop for this interesting affair.
Following the repulse of the final assault on Batteries Powell and
Robinette the Confederates, under MG Earl
Van Dorn, began a retreat northwest along the west bank of the
Tuscumbia River. On the evening of the 4th Van Dorn shocked his
subordinates by halting the march at Chewalla, far short of the
expected goal of the crossings of the Tuscumbia and Hatchie River.
Van Dorn planned to counter march his badly wounded army to attack
Corinth from the south. Aghast at the prospect of renewing the
assault MG Sterling Price and MG Dabney Maury asked Van Dorn to call
a council of war. At the midnight conference Van Dorn was convinced
of the folly of the plan and rescinded the order.1 They would cross
the Hatchie River at Davis Bridge and proceed to Ripley,
No sooner had the new plan been developed than it began to
experience problems. While Van Dorn was concerned about pursuit from
Rosecrans, he had not considered the possibility of Union columns
from Bolivar, Tennessee moving against him to interrupt his march.
MG Ulysses Grant had indeed thought of such a course of action and
dispatched a column for that very purpose. MG Stephen A. Hurlbut’s
4th Division of the Army of West Tennessee, supported by a
provisional brigade comprised of the 68th Ohio and 12th Michigan
from MG Leonard Ross’ command at Bolivar, was moving to cut off the
escape route. Coupled with a vigorous pursuit by Rosecrans from
Corinth the expectations for success were very high. Grant was so
confident that he had Van Dorn trapped he wrote to Halleck that he
could not see how the enemy are to escape2.
Hurlbut's march was preceded by the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the
5th Ohio Cavalry, commanded by MAJ Charles S. Hayes. The 294
troopers were divided to support the individual infantry brigades.
The 1st Battalion in support of BG Jacob G. Lauman's Brigade and the
2nd, under MAJ Ricker, teamed with BG James C. Veatch's brigade.
While stopped at Middleton the vedettes reported the approach of
Confederate cavalry from Pocahontas. Hayes immediately strengthened
the skirmish line with the remainder of his cavalry and the
Confederates slowly backed away. The retreating enemy forces
represented a small portion of COL Wirt Adams Mississippi Cavalry
Regiment. The wily Adams knew instantly the threat posed by the
approaching Union column and reported encountering the Federal
column just six miles east of the planned crossing site to Van Dorn.
He then began a delaying fight with the advancing Federals and made
an urgent request for reinforcements.
"With All Possible Dispatch"
With his intended route challenged Van Dorn was in a difficult
position. He had placed his strongest division, under MG Mansfield
Lovell, at the rear of his column to protect against the expected
pursuit of Rosecrans’ forces from Corinth. The most readily
available troops were the 1st Texas Legion3, on detail guarding the
Confederate trains. They were stripped away and sent forward to aid
Adams at the bridge. Van Dorn also realized that more troops would
be required. His most battered division4, commanded by MG Maury,
was at the head of the column and in the best position to assist at
the bridge. Maury accepted the responsibility to secure the crossing
despite being told by Van Dorn that they would be in for it again5.
The depleted division dutifully marched out. Their objective was to
hold the crossing long enough to allow the remainder of the army to
cross at an alternate site, nearby Crum’s
Meanwhile the advance of Hurlbut’s column was being challenged by
Adams’ small but aggressive band of Confederate troopers. The
veracity of Adams’ defense convinced Hurlbut that the main
Confederate body must be nearby and he urged his brigade commanders
to proceed with caution. The lead brigade, under BG James Veatch,
did exactly that. Now lacking cavalry support to report enemy
positions, Veatch deployed the 25th Indiana as skirmishers to push
forward to the bridge. The move was agonizingly slow through the
thick underbrush and was further complicated by a small band of
enemy troopers that was using the Davis farm as a stronghold against
the advance. Hurlbut sent Battery L of the 2nd Illinois Light
Artillery to shell the building. Six rounds were enough to scatter
the defenders. However, the overcautious Hurlbut stopped the advance
to add the 46th Illinois and the 14th Illinois to the line. As
Hurlbut deployed his men MG Edward O. C. Ord arrived, escorted by
Company A of the 2nd Illinois Cavalry, and assumed overall command
of the Union forces and allowed Veatch’s move to continue. The
resulting delay granted Adams the time to establish a line on the
eastern shore of river. It would be a showdown at the
With the initial forces now arrayed for the fight at the bridge an
inexplicable series of poor deployment choices overcame the
Confederate command. Adams decided to forego the wonderfully
defensible terrain on the east side of the river and sent the 1st
Texas Legion across the river into the open spaces of the Davis
fields. Once over the river LTC E. R. Hawkins aligned his men south
of the State Line Road. The arrival of Maury’s reinforcing column
did little to rectify the situation. Maury matched Adams error by
throwing BG J. C. Moore’s Brigade across the river with CPT Dawson’s
Battery of St. Louis Artillery6. Moore’s brigade existed in name
only. Reduced by losses at Corinth, straggling in the intense heat
during the march from Chewalla, sickness, and desertion Moore could
field no more than 300 men. The entire Confederate line west of the
river consisted of about 700 men. They were too few and too late7.
Opposing them was Hurlbut’s division, nearly 5,000 strong, who came
pouring over the Metamora Ridge.
"A Galling Fire"
The advancing Federal horde was taken under fire by Dawson’s guns
as Moore’s brigade filed into position north of the State Line Road.
His fire proved ineffective and was immediately returned by the
Federal guns that targeted Moore’s men on the narrow road. Once
Moore’s men completed their deployment the Federal fire shifted to
counter battery and for three quarters of an hour the two sides
exchanged shots. Eventually Dawson ran low on ammunition and was
overwhelmed. When the Confederate artillery fire died down MG Ord
ordered the attack to commence with fixed bayonets. The order to
advance was anticipated by the left end of the 68th Ohio line. The
two end companies moved prematurely ahead of the line. The acting
commander of the provisional brigade, Colonel R. K. Scott, sent his
adjutant, LT George Welles, to put the wayward companies back into
the formation. As the company moved back an irate Ord arrived on the
scene demanding the meaning of a rearward movement. Insisting that
the order had been to advance and not waiting for Welles to explain
Ord struck him with the flat of his sword8. Nearby soldiers seeing
the popular officer insulted in this fashion leveled their weapons
at the general. Ord, seeing the error of his ways, allowed an
explanation before riding away. The Union advance
The 53rd Indiana struck the thin Confederate line at the junction of
Hawkins’ Texans and Moore’s brigade. The Texas Legion tried to
withdraw in an orderly fashion but the numbers were too great and
the retreat fell into a panic. Half of the 1st Texas Legion made for
the bridge with Hawkins while the remainder struggled to get away,
leaving 75 members of the unit to be captured9. The left side of the
Confederate line dissolved leaving Dawson and his artillerymen
stranded. With nothing left to move the guns Dawson did what he
could but the 53rd Indiana claimed all but one of his pieces. Now
left alone on the field Moore attempted to change face to meet the
threat posed by the 25th and 53rd Indiana. On his right the 14th and
15th Illinois easily outflanked his position. Moore belatedly
understood the horrible odds against him and ordered the retreat too
late. The movement turned into a rout. Men began to throw away their
arms and dive into the river in an attempt to get away. About 200
prisoners were taken. On the other side of the bridge newly arrived
MG Sterling Price compounded the previous error by exhorting the 6th
and 9th Texas Cavalry (Dismounted) over the bridge accompanied by
Stirman’s Arkansas Sharpshooter’s. The reinforcements had barely
cleared the bridge when their formations were disrupted by the
fleeing men from the broken Confederate line. Acting brigade
commander, 24 year old Colonel Sul Ross, gave the retreat order. One
Union soldier described the retreat by writing after a few irregular
volleys, they broke and ran10 a gauntlet of death trying to
renegotiate the bridge. Despite the confusion and carnage Ross'
order saved most of his command. About 100 members of his brigade,
however, joined the ranks of Union captives. Ross’ retreating men
were joined by the survivors of Hawkins and Moore’s commands on the
ridge overlooking the crossing. At the east end of the bridge
Confederate reinforcements had arrived in the shape of BG W. L.
Cabell’s Brigade. Although the brigade contained just 550 men the
added strength coupled with three batteries under the Confederate
artillery commander, Major W. E. Burnet, formed a powerful position
as they awaited the next Union move. It was now Ord’s turn to
participate in the poor decision making trend of the day.
"The Miserable Bridge"
The easy victory on the western bank of the river inspired MG Ord
into an ill considered attack across the bridge. Despite the fact
that he had no way of knowing the enemy strength, had conducted no
reconnaissance of the far side, or that Rosecrans had ignored
Grant’s order for an immediate pursuit of the retreating
Confederates Ord could not restrain himself. The Federal troops had
already accomplished their mission of denying use of the crossing
and could have maintained their position with the expectation that
the delay created would allow Rosecrans to attack from the rear.
Nevertheless, the excitement of the battle got the better of Ord and
he ordered Veatch to force the bridge. The 53rd Indiana led the way
to the crossing and was immediately taken under fire by the well
placed enemy on the overlooking ridge. A most destructive fire of
musketry and artillery11 devastated the column as they made their
way across the bridge. When the survivors reached the far side chaos
took over as LTC William Jones tried to deploy his men to the right.
Under the killing fire of the new Confederate line the Union troops
would not budge from the comparative safety of the river bank. The
14th Illinois followed but suffered the same result as the 53rd.
They were almost instantly pinned to the river bank as well. The
25th Indiana and the 15th Illinois crossed next and piled into the
pinned down regiments that had preceded them creating mass confusion
on the south side of the State Line Road. MG Hurlbut, probably
attempting to deflect blame for the slaughter to Ord, described the
situation at the east end of the bridge this way;
“It unfortunately happened that the peculiarities of the ground on
the east side of the Hatchie were not so familiar to the Major
General commanding as to those of us who had previously encamped on
the very hill we now sought to seize, hence the order to throw the
regiments alternately to the right and left of the road massed six
regiments of men in a triangular space of ground which would have
been abundantly occupied by one.” 12
The survivors of the dash across the bridge crowded into the
available space and awaited the only order that seemed to make
sense, retreat. They got a horrible surprise when Ord, who was not
yet convinced of the foolishness of his attack, ordered BG Jacob
Lauman to begin crossing the river with two of his four regiments.
The 53rd Illinois led the way but before they could establish
themselves on the far bank nearly all the officers had been shot
down. The surviving captain, John McClanahan, assumed regimental
command and ordered Sgt Mark Basset of Company E to strip the sword
from a fallen officer and assume command of his company. The 28th
Illinois was next to run the gauntlet. They had not gone very far
before they ran into the rear of the stalled 53rd. The mass of men
trapped on or near the bridge presented an extremely target rich
environment for the Confederate defenders. They did not fail to take
advantage of it.
The situation on the east bank was in complete disorder. Rather than
recall his impetuous assault Ord decided to personally go to restore
order. Instead he suffered the same fate as many of the men that he
had ordered across; he was wounded by a blast of canister while
crossing the bridge. Command again fell to Hurlbut, who realized the
folly of reinforcing failure. Instead of continuing to feed troops
into the huddled mass south of the bridge he called on the remaining
two regiments of Lauman’s command to extend the line north of the
road in an attempt to flank the Confederate position. The orders
were misunderstood by Lauman who personally led the 32nd Illinois
across the bridge and into the milling mass of men to the south of
the road. His remaining regiment, the 3rd Iowa, was left without
orders and followed blindly. The crossing proved as deadly to them
as it had for each of the Union regiments. They lost 57 men and half
their officers before they reached the far side. Fortunately for the
Union troops they gained a respite as the Confederate defenders
began to run low on ammunition. Gradually the deployment north of
the road developed including two pieces of artillery to the east
bank. Sensing the opportunity the Federal troops rallied and
attacked up the hill. The battered Federals found that Maury’s job
was over and he had retreated before facing the brunt of the attack.
His Confederates had given Van Dorn the time he needed to escape
against a force four times his size. They had inflicted 570
casualties on Ord’s men while suffering about 400 of their own
(mostly in the form of prisoners). The exhausted and shell shocked
Union troops offered no pursuit. What remained of Van Dorn’s army
"The Day is Ours"
The Battle of Hatchie (Davis) Bridge is interesting in that both
sides managed to accomplish their assigned missions despite poor
command decisions all around. Maury successfully managed to keep the
Union forces from cutting off the retreat after a miserably poor
initial deployment. The option to defend on the western side of the
river had placed the units there in an unenviable tactical position.
The units sent across the bridge were severely outnumbered, with a
natural obstacle at their back, and only a narrow avenue of escape.
It proved disastrous for the troops sent there. The Confederate
mission was saved by more prudent decision making by the follow on
The Union forces also accomplished their assigned task by denying
the use of the crossing. It was not until the dreaded “mission
creep” took hold that they ran into trouble. When Ord decided to
include the destruction of the force across the river as an
objective he assumed all the negative aspects of the battlefield.
The Union forces now had to advance across the river at the single
narrow point allowing the defenders to concentrate their fire.
Furthermore the far side of the bridge had not been properly
examined for deployment possibilities. From the very outset of the
action it should have been apparent that the attack could not be
successful. Ord, however, persisted in pushing more and more troops
into the failing action. It was not until he fell wounded at the
bridge and Hurlbut reassumed command that the fortunes of the
Federal attack changed.
Hurlbut, to his credit, realized that calling the troops back would
expose them to the same peril that they had experienced on their
advance, concentrated fire on the bridge, and did not order the
move. Instead he began to extend the Federal line to the left of the
bridge away from the open killing ground to the right. Ultimately,
however, it was the order for the Confederate retreat that granted
the Union forces the high ground on the east side of the river. It
was a hollow prize. The remnants of Van Dorn’s army had already made
good their escape. Continued pursuit without the cooperation of
The real failure here lay with Rosecrans. Had he followed the orders
Grant issued for an immediate pursuit the situation would have been
drastically altered. Rosecrans did not start the chase until the
morning of the 5th although Grant’s orders for a pursuit began
arriving as early in the afternoon of the 4th. Even after Rosecrans
put his column in motion after Van Dorn the pace was hampered by
confusion and overcrowding on the roads. They accomplished little
more than policing up stragglers from Van Dorn’s column. Had Grant’s
orders been followed Van Dorn may very well have been trapped
against the river and been forced to surrender or fight a desperate
breakout battle of survival against long odds.
When Rosecrans’ tardy pursuit finally caught the Confederate
rearguard they were momentarily delayed when a 300 man force under a
flag of truce commanded by Colonel William Barry appeared and asked
permission to go back to Corinth to bury the Confederate dead. BG
James B. McPherson, leading the Federal pursuit, understood the
attempt to be a delay tactic and refused passage stating that with
active fighting going on only Rosecrans himself could authorize such
an action. The would-be Confederate burial detail was bypassed. A
short rear guard action conducted by BG John Bowen at Big Hill was
sufficient to ensure the passage of the main body over the hastily
On October 7th, with his forces dangerously extended, Grant called
off the pursuit. Rosecrans’ self serving complaint that Grant denied
him the opportunity to complete his victory against Van Dorn opened
a rift between the two men. Grant wrote that the actions at Corinth
and Hatchie Bridge were victories but "not so complete as I had
hoped for, nor nearly so complete as I now think was within the easy
grasp of the commanding officer at Corinth (Rosecrans)"13. The
squabble culminated with Rosecrans being removed from command. By
determination, skillful delaying actions, rapid recovery from poor
decisions, errors by the enemy command, and luck the Confederates
escaped the trap. Writing of the campaign Van Dorn stated the
attempt at Corinth has failed and in consequence I am condemned and
have been superseded in my command14 but the army was saved. They
would form the core of the defense at Vicksburg where Grant would
get another chance at them.
Order of Battle
Company A, 2nd Illinois Cavalry (Escort), 1st and 2nd Battalions,
5th Ohio Cavalry
Fourth Division – MG Stephen A. Hurlbut
First Brigade – BG Jacob G. Lauman
28th Illinois, 32nd Illinois, 41st Illinois, 53rd Illinois, 3rd
Battery C, 1st Missouri Light
Second Brigade – BG James C,
14th Illinois, 15th Illinois, 46th Illinois, 25th Indiana, 53rd
Battery L, 2nd Illinois Light Artillery, 7th Battery, Ohio Light
Provisional Brigade – Col Robert K.
68th Ohio, 12th Michigan
Wirt Adams Mississippi Regiment
Maury’s Division – BG Dabney H.
Moore’s Brigade – BG John C.
42nd Alabama, 15th Arkansas, 23rd Arkansas, 35th Mississippi, 2nd
Cabell’s Brigade – BG W. L.
18th Arkansas, 19th Arkansas, 20th Arkansas, 21st Arkansas, Rapley’s
Battalion Arkansas Sharpshooters, Jones’ Arkansas
Phifer’s Brigade – Col Lawrence S.
6th Texas Cavalry (Dismounted), 9th Texas Cavalry (Dismounted), 3rd
Arkansas Cavalry (Dismounted), Stirman’s
Dawson’s St. Louis Battery
Official Records of the War of
Volume XVII Part
Bolton, W. H.; Bowen, J. S.; Brotzman, E.; Burnap, S. A.; Cabell, C.
C.; Cummins, E. H.; Grant, U. S.; Green, M. E.; Hall, C.; Hawkins,
E. R.; Hayes, C. S.; Hurlbut, S. A.; Johnston, A. H.; Jones, J. J.;
Lauman, J. G.; Logan, J.; Lovell, M.; McClanahan, J. W.; Maury, D.
H.; Moore, J.C.; Morgan, W. H.; Ord, E. O. C.; Price, S.; Pugh, I.;
Rogers, G. C.; Scott, R. K.; Sharpe, A. B.; Spear, E.; Trumbull, M.
M.; Veatch, J. C.
The Darkest Days of the War – The Battles of Iuka and Corinth, Peter
Nothing But Victory – The Army of the Tennessee 1861-1865, Steven E.
Army memoirs of Lucius W. Barber, Company "D", 15th Illinois
volunteer infantry. May 24, 1861, to Sept. 30, 1865; Barber, Lucius
Complete history of the 46th Illinois Veteran Volunteer Infantry;
Woodbury, Henry H., supposed author
Michigan in the War - Michigan. Adjutant-General's
Ross' Texas Brigade; Victor M. Rose
Recollections with the Third Iowa Regiment; Seymour D. Thompson
Banners to the Breeze - The Kentucky Campaign, Corinth, and Stones
River; Earl J. Hess
Campaign for Corinth: Blood in Mississippi; Steven N. Dossman; from
the Civil War Campaigns and Commanders Series.
A Texas Cavalry Officers Civil War - The Diary and Letters of James
C. Bates; edited by Richard
Recollections of a Virginian in the Mexican, Indian and Civil Wars;
Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant; Ulysses S. Grant, Two volumes in
Battle of Davis Bridge – October 5, 1862, Timothy B. Smith, The
Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture
1 Van Dorn was loathe to rescinding the order but after consultation
with his subordinates relented.
2 Grant to Halleck; Oct. 5, 1862, OR, Vol. 17(I), pg 155
3 LTC E. R. Hawkins reported that his command with the attached
section of artillery from CPT Dawson’s St Louis Battery totaled 360
men. OR, Vol. 17(I), pg 392
4 Maury’s Division reported 2366 casualties (killed, wounded and
missing) at Corinth, OR, Vol. 17 (I), pg 383
5 The Darkest Days of the War, Cozzens, pg 279, footnoted to Maury,
“Campaigns against Grant”, pg 303
6 Dawson’s battery had an organic strength of four guns but was
supplemented by two additional guns captured at Corinth.
7 OR, Maury, Vol. 17 (I), pg 394
8 Nothing But Victory, Woodworth, pg. 237, footed noted to
Richardson, “On the Hatchie: How Gen. Ord Struck the Adjutant”,
National Tribune, March 25. 1886, pg. 3
9 Total losses for the 1st Texas Legion in the period of October 3-5
were 3 killed, 17 wounded, and 75 missing. OR, Vol. 17 (I), pg 382
10 Memoirs, Barber, pg 82
11 OR, Morgan, Vol.17 (I), pg 329
12 OR, Hurlbut, Vol. 17 (I), pg 306
13 Memoirs, Grant, pg 248
14 OR, Van Dorn, Vol. 17(I), pg 381
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