September 19, 1862: Battle of Iuka

A rather small battle, the battle of Iuka is notable for bringing General William Rosecrans to national attention, putting him on the path to eventual command of the Army of the Cumberland, and marking the beginning of the feud between Rosecrans and Ulysses S. Grant.

After the fall of Corinth, Mississippi in the aftermath of the Battle of Shiloh, the Civil War in northern Mississippi had entered a quiet phase.  This was shattered with Bragg’s invasion of Kentucky, with Confederate forces detailed to keep Grant busy at Corinth so that his Army of the Tennessee could not reinforce Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio in its operations against Bragg’s Army of Tennessee.  Confederate General Sterling Price, with his miniscule Army of the West, seized Iuka, a Union supply depot, about 20 miles east of Corinth, on September 14, 1862.  Price was to wait at Iuka to be joined by General Earl Van Dorn and his 7000 man Army of West Tennessee.

Grant, who was in overall command at Corinth, reacted by ordering General O. C. Ord to take three Army of the Tennessee divisions and attack from the North, while General Rosecrans took his 4500 man Army of the Mississippi and attack from the south.  The orders were Grant’s, but Rosecrans devised the plan.  Grant would accompany Ord’s force.

Having separated columns attack simultaneously is always a tricky business and so it turned out in this case.  On September 19, Rosecrans arrived at Iuka, and the battle began when his leading unit was attacked by a Confederate division at 4:30 PM.  Hard fighting ensued until nightfall, with Iuka still in Confederate control.  Ord, who was four miles from Iuka, had been ordered by Grant not to attack until he could hear the sound of Rosecrans’ attack.  Ord never heard the sound of fighting due to a strong north wind creating an acoustic shadow.

During the night Price withdrew from Iuka, not wishing to be trapped between Ord and Rosecrans.  Rosecrans found himself a national hero for taking Iuka, in spite of the escape of Price’s army.  Grant’s intial comments after the battle were quite laudatory to Rosecrans:

I cannot speak too highly of the energy and skill displayed by General Rosecrans in the attack, and of the endurance of the troops under him. General Ord’s command showed untiring zeal, but the direction taken by the enemy prevented them from taking the active part they desired.

However, Grant soon came in for newspaper criticism blaming him for Ord not attacking on the 19th.  False rumors began to circulate that Grant had been drunk.  Grant from that time forward had a decidedly cool opinion of General Rosecrans.  Here is Rosecrans’ report on the battle:

HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE MISSISSIPPI, THIRD DIVISION, DISTRICT OF WEST TENNESSEE, Corinth, Miss., September 29, 1862. MAJOR: Having received the reports of the commanders of the troops, list of stores and prisoners captured, I hasten to lay before the major-general commanding the following report of the battle of Iuka: Mower’s able reconnaissance, on the 15th, on the Burnsville road, to within 2 miles of Iuka, with other information, having established the fact that Price occupied that place with a force of about twenty-eight regiments of infantry, six batteries and a strong body of cavalry, you resolved to attack, and gave orders for Ord’s and Ross’ commands to concentrate at Burnsville,. while I prepared to do the same at Jacinto. I telegraphed you, proposing that the force from Burnsville should attack the rebels from the west and draw them in that direction, and that I would move in on their rear by the Jacinto and Fulton roads and cut off their retreat. Your approval of the plan having been received, I ordered Stanley to concentrate his division at Jacinto on the 18th, where they had all arrived by 9 p.m. I dispatched you that evening from Jacinto of the arrival of Stanley’s troops, jaded by a long march, and that in consequence of it we would not be able to reach Iuka until 2.30 o’clock of the 19th. The whole column, consisting of Stanley’s and Hamilton’s divisions, with five batteries, moved by daybreak of the 19th on the Tuscumbia road toward Barnett’s. I dispatched you at 7 a.m. that it had moved forward in good spirits and time and that I had hoped to reach Iuka by 2.30 p.m. We reached Barnett’s, a distance of 12 miles, by noon, having driven the enemy’s cavalry pickets some 2 or 3 miles. Here Sanborn’s brigade of Hamilton’s division took the lead; the rest of Hamilton’s division came next, and Stanley’s division followed. The advance drove the enemy’s cavalry skirmishers steadily before them until we arrived within 1½ miles of Iuka, near the forks of the <ar24_73> Jacinto road and cross-roads leading from it to the Fulton road. Here we found their infantry and a battery, which gave our advance guard a volley. Hamilton, pushing his First Brigade rapidly forward up the narrow road on the right hand, leading from the church at the forks, formed them astride it, amid the brush on the rough, wooded knoll (see accompanying map), placing Sands’ battery on the only available ground. The action opened immediately with grape and canister from the enemy’s battery directed at ours, and sharp musketry fire from his skirmishers. Having inspected General Hamilton’s dispositions on the front and found them good, I ordered Colonel Mizner to send a battalion of the Third Michigan Cavalry to reconnoiter our right, and Colonel Perczel, with the Tenth Iowa Infantry and a section of artillery, to take position on our left, on the road leading north. The remainder of Hamilton’s division formed in rear of the first line, and the head of Stanley’s division stood in column below the hospital awaiting the developments on the front before being moved into line. The position of the troops at this time, say 5 p.m., is shown very nearly on the map. The enemy’s line of infantry now moved forward on the battery, coming up from the woods on our right on the Fifth Iowa, while a brigade showed itself on our left and attempted to cross the road toward Colonel Perczel. The battle became furious. Our battery poured in a deadly fire upon the enemy’s column advancing up the road, while their musketry, concentrated upon it, soon killed or wounded most of our horses. When within 100 yards they received a volley from our entire line, and from that time the battle raged furiously. The enemy penetrated the battery, were repulsed; again returned, were again repulsed, and finally bore down upon it with a column of three regiments and this time carried the battery. The cannoneers were many of them bayoneted at their pieces. Three of the guns were spiked. In this last charge the brigade of Texans which had attempted to turn our left, having been repulsed by Perczel, turned upon the battery and co-operated in the charge. The Forty-eighth Indiana, which lay in its track, was obliged to yield about l80 yards, where it was supported by the Fourth Minnesota, and held its position until relieved at the close of the fight by the Forty-seventh Illinois. The Fifth Iowa maintained its position on the right against a storm of fire from the rebel left and center, and even when the battery was carried its left yielded but slightly, when Boomer with a part of the Twenty-sixth Missouri came up to its support, and maintained its position to the close of the fight. About this time it was deemed prudent to order up the First Brigade of Stanley’s division, which went forward with a shout. The Eleventh Missouri, filing into the woods, took its position on the right of the Fifth Iowa, slightly in its rear. Here the rebels made a last desperate attempt with two Mississippi brigades. As the first came bearing down upon the Eleventh Missouri, and when within 20 paces, an officer of the rebel ranks sprang forward and shouted, “Don’t fire upon your friends, the Thirty-seventh Mississippi.” He was answered by a volley which drove them back in confusion. The Second Brigade followed, and in the dusk of evening and the smoke of battle reached the very front of the Eleventh Missouri. The roar of musketry was terrific, but Mower met the shock and stood firm. The rebels recoiled and the firing ceased throughout the line. The troops rested on their arms. The Thirty-ninth Ohio and the Forty-seventh Illinois held the front, slightly in rear of the position of the advance regiments, which were withdrawn to replenish their ammunition. The Eleventh and Twenty-sixth Missouri took position in a depression of the ground in the open field in rear of the woods in which <ar24_74> the fight had occurred. The Tenth Iowa and the Eightieth Ohio held our left, on the road running north, at 8 p.m. During the early part of the night the enemy made great noise, as if chopping and constructing batteries. There was much moving of troops and commands of halting and aligning were heard, as if mussing in our front.

  Profoundly disappointed at hearing nothing from the forces on the Burnsville road, and not knowing what to expect, it became my duty to make dispositions for the battle next morning as if we were alone. To this end Stanley’s batteries were brought into position in the field south of the hospital on advantageous ground, and a line was selected for the infantry in case the enemy should attack us in heavy force, while Hamilton’s division, having borne the brunt of the battle, was ordered to the rear, in the next field below, with the intention of moving it thence across the field to the east, through the strip of woods, to attack the enemy’s left. The enemy’s trains were heard from at midnight, moving in a southeasterly direction, and it became evident that he was providing for their safety.

  Day dawned. No firing on the front. Our skirmishers, advancing cautiously, found the enemy had retired from his position. Skirmishers were immediately pushed forward and Stanley’s column ordered to advance upon Iuka. When within sight of the town, discovering a few rebels, he ordered some shells to be thrown. They were a few stragglers from the enemy’s rear guard, his entire column having gone by the Fulton road.

  Taking possession of the town and the stores left there General Stanley’s column pushed on in pursuit. The cavalry advanced by the intermediate road between the Fulton and Jacinto roads. Hamilton’s division faced about and marched by Barnett’s, following the enemy until night, when finding themselves greatly distanced the pursuit was discontinued, and our troops returned the next day to Jacinto, while the rebel column continued its flight, by Bay Springs and Marietta, to its old position on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. The enemy left his dead on the field, part of them gathered for interment, and his badly wounded in the hospital at Iuka. His loss was: Killed, 265; died in hospital of wounds, 120; left in hospital, 342; estimated number of wounded removed, 350; prisoners, 361. Total, 1,438. Among his killed were General Little and Colonel Stanton. How many other officers we do not know. Among his wounded were 26 commissioned officers.

Our loss consists of: Commissioned officers killed, 6; commissioned officers wounded. 39; commissioned officers missing, 1. Total, 46. Enlisted men killed, 138; enlisted men wounded, 559; enlisted men missing, 39. Total, 736. Total officers and men, 782.(*) Some of the missing have since returned.

Among the ordnance stores captured were 1,629 stand of arms and a large number of equipments, a quantity of quartermaster and commissary stores, and 13,000 rounds of ammunition.  

Having thus given a detailed narrative of the battle, with sub-reports, appended statements, and a map,(+) I conclude with the following brief recapitulation:

We moved from Jacinto at 5 a.m. with 9,000 men on Price’s forces, at Iuka. After a march of 18 miles attacked them at 4.30 p.m., and fought them on unknown and disadvantageous ground, with less than half our forces in action, until night put a stop to the contest. Having lost about 265 killed, 700 or 800 wounded, 361 prisoners, over 1,600 stand <ar24_75> of arms, and a quantity of quartermaster and commissary stores, the rebels retreated precipitately during the night toward Bay Springs. Our troops pursued them for 15 miles, and finding themselves distanced, gave up the pursuit and returned to Jacinto.

After the detail of our operations it is with pride and pleasure I bear testimony to the cheerfulness and alacrity of both officers and men during the march and their courage and energy in action. With insignificant exceptions it was all that could be asked. Among the infantry regiments deserving special mention are the Fifth Iowa, which, under its brave colonel (Matthies) withstood the storm of triple fire and triple numbers; the Twenty-sixth Missouri, which nobly sustained the Fifth Iowa; the Eleventh Missouri, which, under the gallant Mower, met and discomfited two rebel brigades, and having exhausted every cartridge, held its ground until darkness and the withdrawal of the rebels enabled him to replenish; the Sixteenth Iowa, the Fourth Minnesota, the Forty-eighth Indiana, and Tenth Iowa, who shared in the combat, and the Forty-seventh Illinois, the Thirty-ninth Ohio, and others, who fought in the front or supported the rest. Sands’ Eleventh Ohio Battery, under the command of Lieutenant Scars, behaved nobly. The fearful losses sustained by this battery (16 killed and 44 wounded(*)) show their unyielding obstinacy in serving the battery. The cavalry (Third Michigan and Second Iowa) covered our flanks, reconnoitered our front, whipped the vastly superior numbers of Armstrong’s cavalry under the protection of their infantry, and kept them there during the battle and retreat.

I must not omit to mention the eminent services of Colonel Du Bols, commanding at Rienzi, and Colonel Lee, who, with the Seventh Kansas and a part of the Seventh Illinois Cavalry, assured our flank and rear during the entire period of our operation. Among the officers of the command who deserve special mention are Brigadier-General Hamilton, commanding the Third Division, who took the advance and held the front in the battle; Brigadier-General Stanley, who never failed to yield the most efficient and unwearying support and assistance; Brigadier-General Sullivan, commanding the Second Brigade of Hamilton’s division, whose determined courage rises with and has always proved equal to the occasion; Colonel Sanborn, commanding the First Brigade of the same division, whose conduct in his first battle was highly creditable; Colonel Eddy, Forty-eighth Indiana, and Colonel Matthies, Fifth Iowa; Colonel Boomer, Twenty-sixth Missouri, wounded in action; Colonel Mower, whose gallantry is equaled only by his energy, and numerous others, whose names appear conspicuously in the accompanying reports, are commended to the favorable notice of the major-general commanding. Besides officers of the line and their respective staffs I must not omit to acknowledge the services of the able and indefatigable chief of cavalry, Colonel Mizner. Colonel Lothtop, chief of artillery, also rendered services contributing much to the general strength and efficiency of his arm. Capts. Temple Clark, assistant adjutant-general, and Greenwood and Goddard, my aides, were very gallant and indefatigable in the discharge of their duties. The energy, painstaking, and care of Surg. A. B. Campbell, and the medical officers who attended the wounded, deserve most honorable mention.

W. S. ROSECRANS, Major-General.

    Maj. JOHN A. RAWLINS, Assistant Adjutant-General, District of West Tennessee.

Published in: on September 19, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on September 19, 1862: Battle of Iuka  
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