The Battle of Hatchie’s Bridge

This entry is part 10 of 10 in the series The Western Theater Part Two
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The Battle of Hatchie’s Bridge

The final engagement of the Iuka-Corinth Campaign was the Battle of Hatchie’s Bridge on October 5, 1862. It took place at Davis’ Bridge over the Hatchie River.

After the Battle of Corinth, Grant had anticipated that Maj. Gen. William Rosecrans would order his victorious Union troops to pursue the defeated Confederate Army of West Tennessee. However, Rosecrans spent the entire afternoon of October 4th resupplying and resting his men. Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn moved his force away from the battle field to the west and safety.

General Earl Van DornWith the exception of capturing stragglers, Rosecrans troops stayed in place. Meanwhile Maj. Gen. Stephen Hurlbut drove his men hard all day. They rose at 3:00 AM and marched some 23 miles on the 4th. By nightfall they were less than 7 miles from the Davis’ Bridge.

On the morning of the 5th, Hurlbut’s force met up with a force under Maj. Gen. Edward Ord, who took command of the combined forces due to seniority. At that point the Union force included two brigades of infantry and a provisional division.

The Union column advanced against the ineffective resistance of Van Dorn’s cavalry skirmishers for several miles. The terrain was very rough, broken and heavily wooded. The Union attackers emerged from the woods on top of the 40-foot bluffs overlooking the river. They were about 600 yards from the bridge. At this point, Ord assumed command.

Van Dorn had sent a brigade of infantry and a battery of artillery to assist the cavalry. His objective was to keep the escape route open until his supply wagons and his troops could cross the bridge. The infantry was badly depleted from the hard fight at Corinth and had not eaten or rested for some time. They were spread at on the river bottom when the Union attackers arrived.

The Confederate artillery began to fire and the Union guns responded. A spectacular artillery duel took place over the river for an hour. One Illinois soldier wrote, “…The air was filled with their awful thunderbolts, hurled at each other, and the shock was grand and awful beyond the power of pen to describe.”

At about 10:00 AM, the Union infantry brigade moved forward in a line of battle, trailed by the artillery batteries. The Confederate defenders put General Edward Ordup a weak resistance and after a brief fight either surrendered or fled. Some jumped into the river and attempted to swim to safety. Some made it and some drowned. The Confederate 4-gun battery was captured.

Ord who was unknown to most of the troops misunderstood a maneuver of one of the regiments and when he began to yell at its colonel, his troops leveled their guns on him. He withdrew unscathed but shortly after was wounded by the enemy. But not before he managed to get his command into quite a mess.

Ord, who was unfamiliar with the terrain, ordered his force of less than 6,000 across the bridge where Van Dorn’s Army outnumbered his by a three-to-one ratio. The area to the left of the bridge where he ordered them to go did not have sufficient room for the regiments to maneuver. The troops were crowded and quickly became disorganized. Out in the open they became a target for several Confederate artillery batteries positioned on high ground a few hundred yards east of the river.

Shortly after the commander of the lead brigade, Brigadier General James C. Veatch, went down with a wound, Ord himself took a bullet wound in the leg. Fortunately, Hurlbat arrived at about the same time, about 11:00 AM, and resumed command of the Union troops. He immediately straightened out the mess that Ord had caused and organized his regiments in proper order.

This took some time to accomplish and while it took place, the troops on the right side of the bridge, nonchalantly lay behind a rail fence, despite being under continual enemy fire. Once everything was in readiness, the troops rose, fixed bayonets and began to advance. Again, Confederate resistance was feeble and quickly collapsed. Within a half hour, they took the Confederate artillery position.

General Stephen HurlbutThe battle settled down to a stalemate. Hurlbut brought up his artillery and a second artillery duel ensued. The Confederates attempted several infantry assaults but they were repulsed. By 3:30 PM, they had enough and they retreated to the south, denied the use of the bridge.

Hurlbut realized that without Rosecrans troops, he would endanger his smaller force by pursuing Van Dorn. Rosecrans had not begun to pursue the enemy until the morning of the 5th. He was encumbered by wagons and artillery and according to one Illinois soldier the march “was oppressively slow.”

Despite a dispatch from Grant urging him on, Rosecrans camped for the night after 8 miles, still 13 miles from the bridge. Brig. Gen. James McPherson, with his brigade, managed to skirmish with Van Dorn’s rear guard but stopped well short of the river.

Without pressure from Rosecrans, Van Dorn managed to march 6 miles south and cross the river at Crum’s Mill. He then proceeded to prepared defenses at Holly Springs, Mississippi. On October 7th, Grant ordered his troops to break off pursuit of the Confederates and return to Corinth.

The Union forces sustained about 500 total casualties while the Confederates had a total of 400.

 

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