Little has been written about the post-Shiloh Union advance on Corinth, Mississippi until now. With the release of Timothy B. Smith’s new volume on this campaign; Corinth 1862: Siege, Battle, Occupation that has changed. Once thought to be an overly cautious, glacially paced period of inaction this period has been brought to life. Included in this new work is a description of the small battle near Farmington, Mississippi that caught my attention. The seemingly insignificant affair had consequences far beyond the short fight and led to a lost Confederate opportunity.
As a wary MG Henry Halleck inched his way forward with his Union host, comprised of MG John Pope’s Army of the Mississippi, MG George Thomas’ Army of the Tennessee, and MG Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio, the Confederate leader faced a difficult choice. In the important railroad junction town of Corinth MG P.G.T. Beauregard realized to wait for the Federal arrival would mean certain failure in the face of Halleck’s multitudes. He understood that while he must prepare the defenses of the town he also had to create a means to strike a blow against any portion of the Federal juggernaut that exposed itself to even the odds. To locate such an opportunity he placed brigade sized elements well forward on the flanks of the Union advance. These units would keep an eye open for the chance that Beauregard was waiting for. The chance to strike was slow in coming. Halleck operating under the watchful eye of Assistant Secretary of War Thomas A. Scott was determined to avoid another Shiloh like surprise moved forward in well-coordinated moves followed by entrenchment at every stop. The painfully cautious advance was made even slower by the onset of violent rains that made the roads a miry mess. Nevertheless Halleck trudged forward is short spurts leaving little chance for successful implementation of his desire to strike. The Confederate outposts were driven back by the sheer weight of the solid blue wall. As the Federals armies approached Corinth the Confederate leader adjusted his defenses but continued to look for a chance to attack.
The approaches to Corinth were laced with water barriers that posed serious obstacles to the Union advance in the wet weather. They would force the Union army to break away from their unified formation to make use of the available crossings. Halleck was cognizant of the dangers the crossings posed and warned against a lack of vigilance whenever they were confronted. Any portion of his army that crossed would be semi-isolated from assistance by the inability to cross large bodies of support troops in an emergency. To avoid catastrophe he insisted on thorough reconnaissance before any passage would be made. These reconnaissance were then to cross back to the safe side of the river to make their report.
As John Pope’s left wing approached Seven Mile Creek during the first week of May Beauregard sensed the opportunity he had been waiting for. Knowing that Pope would have to conduct a reconnaissance in the area south to Bridge Creek he laid out his plan to trap the Federals between the two streams. When the Union foray came Braxton Bragg would confront them with two divisions (Ruggles and Trapier) while Earl Van Dorn with three divisions (Jones, Price, and McCown) marched to an area south of Farmington. When the Federals focused their attention on Bragg their flank would be open and Van Dorn could roll them up with an attack from the south. It was a simple plan but had every chance of being successful if the Union commanders acted as expected. There was no bait necessary, Halleck was coming for Corinth and to get there he had to enter the target area of operations. The only question were when he would do so; in what strength; and how careful they would be when they did so.Battle of Farmington (Campaign Series)