Friday, June 8, 2007

Lew Wallace taking the wrong road

The area between Savannah and Corinth can be thought of as a rough triangle with Purdy in the northwest corner forming a right angle. Purdy is roughly 22 miles north of Corinth and 20 miles west of Savannah. The camps around Pittsburg Landing are about 25 miles from Corinth along the longest leg of the triangle. Roughly halfway between Savannah and Purdy is Adamsville, one of Lew Wallace's brigades was camped here. Another brigade was two miles east at Stoney Lonesome and the third brigade was two more miles east at Crump's Landing. Savannah is about 2 more miles to the east.

The road network in this area consisted of a few good roads and many small paths utilized by local farmers. The largest road in the area was the Corinth Road which traveled the long leg of the triangle from the landing to Corinth. The Hamburg-Savannah Road went north-south along the river connecting those two points on the river by land and passed right through the Union camps and is also referred to as the River Road. Hamburg and Purdy were also connected and this road was the third major road to bisect the battlefield. Each of Wallace's brigades had a road that lead from their position to the battlefield.

The road from Crump's Landing was the River Road. The road from Adamsville angled to the southeast and joined with the River Road just north of Snake Creek. The road from Stoney Lonesome, called the Shunpike, angled to the southwest until it was clear of Snake Creek, then it turned south and intersected the Hamburg-Purdy Road.

It the weeks before the battle the Union commanders were more worried about the Confederates striking Wallace's exposed division than the major camps. Sherman and Wallace had decided to use the Hamburg-Purdy Road and the Shunpike in case of attack. They had corduroyed sections of the road to keep it dry so that it would be ready for any emergency. When Wallace was given orders to come to the aid of the army he decided to take the path Sherman had intended to take to help him. There is, and was, some debate over whether or not those initial orders stated which road to take. The only copy of the order has long since been lost so that is a mystery we'll never solve. The route Wallace choose would bring him onto Sherman's right flank, as long as he was able to hold onto the Owl Creek bridge. Sherman though was unable to hold onto the bridge and Wallace did not learn that the path was blocked until well into his march. Unless he wanted to try to cut his way through the Confederate army, an idea he later said he thought about (but probably didn't), he would have to back track and take the River Road to reach Grant's army.

Wallace could have taken the river road and arrived closer to the landing. If Wallace had taken the river road he would arrived somewhere around 2-3 P.M. He would have then been able to re-enforce any of the troubled areas. These fresh units might have been enough to prevent the capture of Prentiss’s Sunken Road defenders.

If Wallace had arrived earlier he could have turned the tide of combat on day one. This delay was critical, however, knowing what Wallace knew it was not a bad decision to take the route he best knew.

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