Son of Mississippi
It was October 4th, 1862, and Colonel William Rogers,
who'd spent most of his life in Mississippi, had come home as
commander of the Second Texas Infantry to wrest control of the
important railway hub of Corinth from the hated Yankees. It had
been considered an insult when William Rosecrans and his Union
army captured and occupied northern Mississippi and western
Tennessee, and Earl Van Dorn was determined to do something about
it with men like William Rogers leading the way. They would start
William Peleg Rogers was born December 27th, 1819.
Different references give different birthdates but the one given
by his daughter in her writings is considered accurate. He was
actually born in Georgia while his Alabamian parents were
visiting there. However, soon after his birth, the family settled
on a plantation near Aberdeen, Monroe County, Mississippi, and
Rogers always considered himself a Mississippian.
William Rogers ethnicity has always been a subject of debate, but
most believe he was part Chickasaw Indian, and he was said to be
half brother to Sam Houston's wife, Tiana Rogers, who was half
The Mexican War, which began in 1846, would launch Rogers on his
military career, and also demonstrate his aggressive personality
and his inordinate sense of fair play. This would bring him into
conflict with Jefferson Davis, whom Rogers felt used his command
improperly. Considering that Rogers was the first to scale the
walls of the fort at Monterrey, and that he and his command
performed admirably during the victory at Buena Vista in February
of 1847, his complaints seem justified. But Davis, a petulant
man, never forgave Rogers and this was no doubt the reason that
Rogers was only a colonel, leading troops into battle somewhere
behind the lines on an October day in 1862, rather than a major
general, as many thought he should have been.
When the Mexican War ended, Rogers returned to his wife and six
children in Mississippi, only to find that his brilliant war
record carried little weight in his home state. He lost an
election for Clerk of the Chancery Court and was turned down in
his quest for appointment as a federal marshal. He was about to
run for election as state auditor when his friend and former
commander in the Mexican War, Zachary Taylor, tossed him a
political plum by appointing him United States Consul at the port
of Vera Cruz in Mexico in 1849. Martha promptly informed him that
she would not take her children out of the United States, and
would go only as far as the new (1845) state of Texas; forcing
Rogers to go to Vera Cruz alone.
Things went well until 1851, when false allegations that one of
his agents had embezzled federal funds, forcing his abrupt
resignation. Impugning his character was the ultimate insult to a
man like Rogers. He returned to his family at
Washington-on-the-Brazos, and quickly became a man of prominence
as a defense attorney. He also became a professor in the law
department at Baylor University.
In 1859, he moved to Houston, where he became a fixture in the
secessionist movement, causing a split between himself and
relative such as Governor Sam Houston, who had labored mightily
to get Texas into the Union and then keep her there. Rogers
signed the ordinance of secession on February 1st,
1861 and would soon become a soldier in the new Confederacy.
At his wife's insistence, Rogers turned down a colonel's
commission in the First Texas Infantry, since it would have taken
him to Virginia, but accepted the rank of lieutenant colonel in
the Second Texas, destined for the western theater of operations.
No doubt in that day, Virginia seemed a world away to Martha and
she wanted her husband a little closer to home.
Combat was not long in coming, and Rogers would soon be leading
the Second Texas into battle at Shiloh, Tennessee on April
6th, 1862. It's been said that the bloody battle of
Shiloh caused both sides to realize that it would be a long and
costly war; and this was no doubt brought home to Rogers as the
Second Texas lost one third of its men. "The gallantry of our
regiment is spoken by all" Rogers wrote to Martha. He was
promoted to full colonel. In August of that year, the officers of
twenty regiments addressed a letter to the Confederate War
Department asking that Rogers be promoted to major general.
Rogers told his compatriots he was honored, but he knew that now
President Davis would never accede to their request.
Corinth, Mississippi, where the Memphis and Charleston railroads
and the Mobile and Ohio railroads intersected, was considered to
be of extreme importance by both armies for its strategic value,
and had psychological value for the South. It was from Corinth
that General Albert Sidney Johnson led his army to do battle at
Shiloh, and it was to Corinth that his defeated army retreated.
But they could not stay due to lack of supplies and no hope of
obtaining any. Under cover of night, they withdrew and the
Federal army of William Starke Rosecrans moved in.
Earl Van Dorn, over the objections of Sterling Price, had been
named commander of the Confederate armies of the west. Van Dorn
had a reputation as a brave but impatient officer who was not
very open to advice from his subordinates. Van Dorn was impatient
to recapture Corinth, and in mid September, wired Sterling Price,
asking that Price move his army to Ripley, Mississippi, just
thirty-five miles southwest of Corinth, where Van Dorn and his
command were waiting. Together they would form plans for the
retaking of Corinth.
At their meeting, Price suggested waiting until fifteen thousand
exchanged prisoners now in Jackson could be added to the twenty-two thousand troops now available. But Van Dorn did not want to
wait, believing that a surprise attack on Corinth before the
Yankees had time to strengthen their defenses would bring
victory. It was a bad miscalculation.
William Rosecrans, master planner that he was, already knew of
the Rebel army to his south, due to reconnaissance by his
cavalry. His only mistake was believing he faced forty thousand
Rebels, but this worked in his favor, as he called in all
available reinforcements, bringing his total to twenty-five
thousand. He now outnumbered Van Dorn.
Meanwhile, Van Dorn, who thought his movements toward Corinth
disguised his intentions as to just where he was going to attack,
ran into a problem when he found the bridge across the Hatchie
River partially destroyed. He was slowly losing any hope of
surprise, and lost all hope of surprise when he ran into a force
of reconnoitering Federal cavalry. Another commander might have
reconsidered, but Van Dorn was intent on retaking Corinth. He
called his officers together and described his intentions. All
became disgruntled when they realized they would be attacking a
prepared enemy. Sterling Price would later say that only one
person wanted to go through with the attack – Earl Van Dorn
Van Dorn would actually be attacking a series of defense lines,
some built by the South and some by the North. Confederate
General Beauregard had built the original line of light defensive
entrenchments two-and-a-half miles from Corinth, that extended
around the line in an arc. During the Union occupation, Major
General Halleck, who loved building entrenchments, had built
another line one-and-a-half miles from the city, and the key to
Corinth, a strongly built system of breastworks and gun
emplacements, constituted a third line. The key to this last line
was two exceptionally strong positions, known as Battery Williams
and Battery Robinette. At battle's end, whoever held these two
positions would be the victor.
At 10am on October 3rd, 1862, the battle for Corinth
begins. The first day goes surprisingly well for the Confederates
and they carry Rosecrans' outer defenses. Nightfall finds Van
Dorn's army drawn up in battle line around the inner defenses of
Corinth. But again Van Dorn has miscalculated, overestimating
himself and underestimating his enemy. While all of his army has
been engaged during the first days fighting, he doesn't realize
he will be facing fresh Union troops in the morning. He is so
flush with victory that he wires Richmond – "We have driven
the enemy from every position. So far all is glorious, our men
have behaved nobly."
At 4am October 4th, the Rebel army is awakened and
heartened by their artillery shelling Yankee positions. But with
dawn they quickly become disheartened when they see what awaits
To their four-hundred yard wide front lies an abatis of felled
trees with the branches interlaced, causing one Rebel to say
– "the most obstructive abatis it was my misfortune to see
during the entire war." Behind the abatis is Battery Robinette,
in front of which is a six-foot high wall of dirt and directly in
front of the wall of dirt is a ditch six-feet deep. Robinette has
three twenty-pound siege guns, and not far away on a hill is
Battery Williams with its four twenty-pound siege guns and two
eight-inch howitzers trained directly in front of Robinette. On
the crest of that hill waits Battery F of the 2nd U.S.
Light Artillery with its six guns also trained on the clearing in
front of Robinette. Just down from Battery F is infantry, the
47th Illinois armed with Springfield rifles. The
43rd Ohio and the 11th Missouri man
breastworks that flank Batteries Williams and Robinette. To the
right of Robinette is the 63rd Ohio. North of the
breastworks are two more artillery batteries.
General Maury's command, which includes William Rogers, now an
acting brigadier general in command of the 2nd, the
Sixth and Ninth Texas, a company of the 42nd Alabama
and a portion of the 35th Mississippi, is ordered to
make a frontal attack on Battery Robinette, while other units
will attack all along the line at 10am.
Colonel Rogers knows what he's facing, so he puts on an armored
vest and pins a short note on his clothing, giving his name, age,
rank, command, and the address of friends.
Rogers' command begins taking galling artillery fire even before
they line up to attack. They hug the earth and wait for Van
Dorn's 10am signal.
The attack does not go off as planned. General Hebert's division
never gets into the fight, as he reports sick and his next in
command, suddenly finding himself in command of a division, takes
no action. Only Maury's division gets into the fight on time, and
the gallant Rogers lines up his men in a woods west of his
assignment, Battery Robinette.
Captain Oscar Jackson of the 63rd Ohio describes what
he saw – "In my campaigning I had never seen anything so
hard to stand as that slow, steady tramp of Rogers and his men.
They made not a sound but looked as if they intended to walk
right over us. I afterwards took a bayonet charge when the enemy
came on us at the double quick but it was not so trying on the
nerves as that steady, solemn advance, with the man leading them
astride a sleek black stallion."
Full Union attention now fell on Rogers and his men, and fire is
concentrated on them. They hack and scramble their way through
the abatis while shrapnel explodes over their heads. Once through
the abatis, they reform while Battery Robinette switched from
shells to grape shot and canister, cutting huge swaths in the
advancing Southerners. One Confederate later wrote home to his
father – "We advanced through open hilly ground from which
there was no protection. It was as if hell had been let loose,
shells bursting all around, round shot plowing the ground and
canister sweeping the ground by the bushel. It is a miracle how
anyone escaped." But most did and soon they were in rifle range,
and the Springfields of the 47th Illinois open up. The
siege guns switch to bags of buckshot and fire into the coming
Again Oscar Jackson reports what he saw – "The column was
in full view and only about thirty yards distant ... boys, give
them a volley. As the smoke cleared away, there was apparently
ten yards square of a mass of struggling bodies in butternut
clothes. Their column reeled like a rope shaken at the end.
Still, they deployed their columns and gave us a volley, but
fired too low. We gave them another volley and they broke back in
The Southerners are forced to fall back. One of their many
casualties was Halbert Rogers, son of the Colonel, who is carried
off in a blanket.
Oscar Jackson goes on – "When I saw the enemy fall back I
remarked that we would not have to fight these men again this day
as I thought it would be impossible, but strange to say, just
forty minutes later here they came again with that slow steady
step and that gallant officer still astride his black steed. Then
they came at us with a yell on the double quick. They dashed
themselves against us like water on a rock and were again
repulsed and driven back."
At this point the colors of the second Texas fall to the ground
as the fourth colorbearer of the day goes down. This time Rogers
himself scoops up the flag and gallops back to his men. He waves
the standard and asks who will return to the fight, who will
follow him. Amazingly, the Southerners give a shout of approval
and reform their ranks. Who wouldn't follow Colonel William
Rogers holds the colors aloft, keeping his horse at a slow pace
so as to not outdistance his men. Soon, they reach the ditch in
front of Battery Robinette. Rogers jumps his horse over the
ditch, dismounts, scrambles up the side of the battery and plants
the colors upon the fort. The Rebels yell and follow Rogers into
the fort, scattering the defenders. Robinette is theirs!
The Texans, Alabamians, and Mississippians are jubilant, but alas
their jubilation is short lived. They look up to see an ocean of
blue advancing upon them. It's the 63rd Ohio, the
43rd Ohio, and the 11th Missouri launching
a counterattack. They may have been driven off by the
irresistible charge of Rogers and his men but that does not mean
they are beaten. William Rogers knows he is beaten; so he pulls a
white handkerchief from his pocket and waves surrender. But some
of the Southerners do not see his sign of surrender and begin
firing at the attacking Unionists, sparking return fire from the
men in blue, who return a fierce volley. Eleven bullets hit
Colonel William Rogers and he falls to the ground dead. No doubt,
if he knew he was destined to die in battle, he would have
preferred to die on this spot.
In essence, the Battle of Corinth was a fight between an
aggressive commander who believed a frontal attack by the right
troops at the right spot in the line would bring victory, as
opposed to a cautious commander who believed careful planning for
the employment of well equipped, rested troops would win any
battle. The aggressive commander this day, Earl Van Dorn, was
wrong, and the cautious commander, William Starke Rosecrans, was
right. But October 4th, 1862 did not belong to either
of these men. From that day until this day, when the Battle of
Corinth is the topic of discussion, one name stands out –
William Peleg Rogers.
Both friend and foe were effusive in their praise. One Northern
correspondent reported – "It is the concurrent testimony of
all who witnessed it that the charge made by the head of the
rebel column on our breastworks, on Saturday had no parallel in
this war for intrepid, obstinate courage and none to equal it in
history. The Second Texas Infantry, under Colonel Rogers,
lead[sic] the charge, and the Colonel himself fell on our
breastworks, with the colors of his regiment in his hand. After
the battle, but four of his Regiment was[sic] left alive and
three of these were wounded and taken prisoner."
William Rosecrans inspects the field at battle's end, discovers
the body of William Rogers, and asks his men to uncover the face
so he can see it. "He was one of the bravest men who ever led a
charge. Bury him with military honors and mark his grave to be
sure he will be found."
Van Dorn was lavish in his praise – "I cannot refrain,
however from mentioning here the conspicuous gallantry of a noble
Texan, whose deeds at Corinth are the constant theme of both
friend and foe. As long as courage, manliness, fortitude,
patriotism, and honor exist, the name of Rogers will be revered
and honored among men."
The American Civil War would grind on for two-and-a-half more
years before we stopped killing each other. No one man could have
reversed the result of the war, but we cannot help but wonder,
had Rogers lived, what further glory he would have attained.
Many men who made their mark during the Civil War continued doing
great things when they returned to civilian life. Had Rogers
decided against a third charge at Battery Robinette, he might
well have been one of those classic citizen soldiers.
The Second Texas
The author tenders special thanks to Margaret Greene
Rogers of the Confederate Museum in Corinth,
A Comprehensive History of Texas
The Battle of Corinth
by Don Haines
... who is a U.S. Army Cold War veteran, American Legion Post 191
chaplain, a retired Registered Nurse, and freelance writer; whose
work has previously appeared in this magazine as well as in
World War Two History, and many other