Things I have learned on the way to Atlanta – Sherman needs a Fixer.

John M. Corse, initially commissioned, major of the 6th Iowa Infantry, eventually rose to brigadier general, ending the war with a brevet to two-star rank.

John M. Corse began his war in 1861, as major of the 6th Iowa. By the summer of 1862, he commanded the regiment, and then a brigade. He distinguished himself at the Battle of Jackson, July 1863; and again at Missionary Ridge on November 25th, where he was badly wounded.

Upon returning to duty in the next Spring, instead of returning him to field command, William T. Sherman had other plans – Sherman needed a “fixer,” and Corse was that man. Though initially Corse served as chief of staff to the recently promoted James B. McPherson, Sherman soon appointed him Inspector General of the Military Division of Mississippi – his first mission: to visit Nathaniel P. Banks in an effort to extract the 10,000 men “loaned” to Banks from the Army of the Tennessee for the Red River expedition.

The personal letter quoted below reveals a personality equally sardonic and amusing. I can’t help but really like the man who penned it:

John M. Corse to Maj. T. E. Ennis: April 24, 1864

“On arriving [in Huntsville, Sherman] informed me that he had a steamer prepared for me with orders and instructions for that portion of his command lieing along the Miss. River, also dispatches for Genl Banks and other parties in the Department of the Gulf….Since when I have been going between New Orleans and Cairo up the Red-Black Arkansas and White Rivers executing this mission. That I had a pleasant time you can easily imagine.

My limited time and space forbids me going into details or I could make you a very interesting three vol. novel of my adventures at Cairo Memphis Vicksburg where I had a lively time with McDowell [possibly John A. McDowell, first Colonel of the 6th Iowa] and my intercourse with the great men of the south and west including Banks, by fight about two hundred miles from the mouth of [the] Red River, up that delectable stream killing rebels and alligators indiscriminately.

In short my hair breadth escapes and perils by flood ad fire and contact with the elements and heroic and successful escape from all, arriving here . . . yesterday—Sherman says I must stay with him now acting ostensibly as Inspector General of the Div. [of the Mississippi] but really as orderly and envoy extra-ordinary to foreign commands, he further assures me I shall have ample opportunities to be slaughtered.”


Throughout the campaign, Sherman used Corse as an extension of his own eyes-and-ears, supervising problematic commanders and important missions. In August he was finally assigned to a field command, replacing the one-armed Thomas Sweeny in command of the 2nd Division, 16th Corps, after that officer attempted to beat up his corps commander, Grenville Dodge, in the wake of the battle of Atlanta.

Battle of Allatoona

This placed Corse in fate’s way. In October, 1864, Corse stood off Confederate Samuel French’s division at Allatoona; where he suffered a wound  that fractured a cheekbone and took off half an ear. Sherman’s telegram-“Hold on, I’m coming”-inspired a song and elevated Corse to the national stage. When they met after the battle, Sherman is said to have joked, “why Corse, they almost missed you, didn’t they.”

2 Responses to Things I have learned on the way to Atlanta – Sherman needs a Fixer.

  1. Thanks, Dave. There are so many uncelebrated heroes from the war. Course, of course, was one. Others would make a very long impressive list. I think of a few, Thomas Humphrey – Colonel of the 95th Illinois, John Mudd, 2nd Illinois Cavalry, John Bross, 29th USCT. I always enjoy learning about “new” heroes of the time. Thanks again.

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