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The Battle of Iuka.


September 1862

From The Missouri Democrat, Saturday, September 27, 1862.



The Preliminary Movements—The Demand for a Surrender—Attack on Rosecrans’s Division—Failure to Co-operate—Losses on Both Sides—Price’s Adjutant Killed—Incidents of the Battle—Scenes on the Field—Attack on a Railroad Train—Escape of Capt. Taylor—Rosecrans in Pursuit—Destitution of the Rebels—Good Spirits of our Army.

[Correspondence Missouri Democrat.]

CORINTH, MISS., September 22, 1862.

For some time past it has been evident that an attack upon some apparently vulnerable point or our widely dispersed forces has been contemplated by the rebels, and the greatest vigilance and care have been exercised by General Grant and his subordinates to prevent the possibility of a surprise, and consequent disaster to our force.  Information was received about the 13th [?-illegible] instant of the presence of the enemy in considerable force in the vicinity of Iuka, twenty-three miles south of here on the Memphis and Charleston railroad; and the troops that could be spared with safety from this place and surrounding parts were immediately ordered forward to check the advance of the enemy.

By the 19th inst., a Federal force numbering at least twenty thousand effective men under Gen. Grant, had nearly enveloped the rebel army who occupied the village of Iuka in force, as had been satisfactorily ascertained by previous reconnaissances.  On the 19th a flag of truce was sent in to the rebel commander with a summons to surrender at once and unconditionally, and in lieu thereof, threatening an immediate attack.  This flag was sent the distance of six miles, I am reliably informed, and against the judgment of many officers cognizant of the circumstances, who wished instead to make an immediate and combined attack upon the enemy, who was not aware of the formidable force with which he had to contend.  The day was mostly spent in this parley, which it might have been foreseen, would result in no advantage to ourselves, and as it subsequently appeared, gave the enemy the opportunity of making the attack, which he improved by attempting to cut his way out of the precarious situation in which he found himself, having notified Gen. Grant in reply to his summons to surrender, that not until the independence of the Confederate States was acknowledged would he lay down his arms.

The attack was made by the rebels in three lines, by brigades, on Rosecrans’s division, strongly posted a mile and a half southeast from the village of Iuka, on a commanding ridge, about 6 p. m.  General Rosecrans gallantly sustained the shock of the whole rebel force, numbering, exclusive of cavalry and artillery, more than fifteen thousand men, having only four thousand men to oppose them.  The battle continued with tremendous fury and obstinacy until darkness put an end to the scene.  The rebels were forced to withdraw, leaving us in undisputed possession of the field, but under the cover of night managed to effect his escape southward.

A general attack had been ordered to take place on the morning of the 20th, but it was one day too late.  Had an immediate attack been made on the 19th, as every on wished and expected, Price—for this redoubtable chief was in command—and his whole force would doubtless have been captured.  As it was, only Rosecrans’s gallant division was engaged, the balance of the army not being aware of what was going forward until it was too late to be of assistance.  We always manage to fight the rebels at disadvantage.

Our loss in killed, wounded and missing, is estimated at from five to six hundred; that of the rebels fully eight hundred, and a large number of prisoners captured.  We lost several guns of the 5th Ohio battery, but as an offset captured a rebel battery.  It is impossible now to obtain a list of the casualties.

Price’s Adjutant General, Henry Little, formerly of the United States Army, was found shot dead, lying on the field.

Col. Mourey, of the 11th Missouri, is reported wounded.

The 5th Iowa suffered severely.  Company B, of that regiment, went into the fight with 47 men; a Second Lieutenant and seven men only could be mustered after it.  This is said to be a fair sample of the loss of the balance of the regiment.

The 11th Missouri also suffered severely, and lost almost two-thirds of her men, but wavered not during the time this havoc was being made in its ranks.

The 5th Ohio battery was captured when not a horse was left alive to draw it away, and scarcely a man to work it.  All our troops engaged behaved most splendidly, and fought with a determination to hold Price at bay or die on the field.  Shocking barbarities were perpetrated on our wounded, who, during the fluctuations of the fight, fell into the hands of the rebels.  An officer who rode over the field and examined it attentively, saw numerous instances where our wounded men had been mercilessly bayoneted by these fiends—some bodies having several wounds of this character.  A poor fellow, whose locomotion had been destroyed by a shot in the leg, says he saw several of the blood-thirsty demons searching over the field with fixed bayonets for these helpless creatures, and when one was found he was thrust through and through with this terrible instrument.  He only escaped similar treatment by feigning death so well that he was passed by.  This statement is confirmed from so many other sources as to render the doubt of its truth impossible.

Companies F, D, and K, of the Sharpshooters, under the command of Captain M. Piggot, of St. Louis, a skillful officer, were ordered to Burnesville as early as the 13th instant, and were constantly employed as a reconnoitering force, also acting as skirmishers, in which capacity they were of great service.  This battalion numbering only about seventy men, deployed as skirmishers, drove upwards of two hundred rebel cavalry before them for upwards of two miles, and until within long rifle shot of their main force, on the 19th instant, the object being to feel the enemy and ascertain his number and position, all of which was successfully accomplished.

During the progress of events, before the occurrence of the battle of the 20th, a train of cars was captured and partially destroyed by the rebel cavalry, between Burnesville and Iuka, together with a locomotive.  The train was sent out, for some purpose unknown to me, when the rebels got between our force and the train by a dash in our rear, tore up several rails, and thus cut off its retreat.  They then attacked the train and partially demolished it.  Captain Taylor, of Company K, Western Sharpshooters, was the only armed man aboard, and having a “Henry rifle,” succeeded in killing three of the enemy and wounding several others before leaving his post.  The gallant Captain then succeeded in effecting his escape amid a shower of bullets, by a prodigious stampede into the woods, and reached our troops by making a circuit around the enemy.

General Rosecrans is in hot pursuit of Sterling Price and his force, and will probably capture or annihilate it in a short time.

Citizens and prisoners taken, represent them as in a state of semi-starvation, and without shoes to wear, and they are clothed in filthy tatters.  The appearance of the dead and prisoners fully confirms this statement, for a more cadaverous, shoeless, ragged set of men were never led by a military chieftain.  A lady resident of Iuka says she saw famished Butternuts kill a swine in the street, and eat its flesh raw without salt.  Price subsists his army entirely upon the inhabitants of the country through which he passes, and ruin and starvation is the lot of hundreds of families left in his rear.  Such is war.

With the present feeling of confidence and buoyancy animating the hearts of our troops here, and in consideration of our recent decisive victory over Price, no force the rebels can send against us will be able to appall or whip us.  Negroes are constantly occupied in throwing up such works of defense as is deemed necessary or useful in case of attack.

At no time since the war began have we been more sanguine and confident of the speedy termination of this most unholy rebellion; and with the enthusiasm and energy which characterizes our people, we will carry it on until not another traitor is left.  The rebellion has not yet felt the ponderous weight of the mighty hand of the North, but she will soon feel it and lay prostrate at our feet.                                                                                                                      Yours, &c.      ***

Another Account of the Fight—Letter From a Private Soldier.

IUKA, MISS., Sept. 20, 1862.

Editors Missouri Democrat:

As I was in the late battle near this place I thought I would write you what I saw.  It seems that General Price entered this town about ten days ago.  On hearing of the fact our Generals gathered up about fifteen thousand men and marched out to attack him.  We found their pickets stationed six miles from the town, at the same fortifications they had thrown up before.  The 5th Iowa infantry regiment was in the advance, and on finding their pickets, General Hamilton ordered three companies of the Iowa 5th to deploy as skirmishers.  This was soon done, and the whole column moved forward.  The skirmishers being constantly engaged, caused us to move slowly.  At about 3 o’clock the skirmishers of the Iowa 5th were called in and three companies of the 26th Missouri sent out in their places.  When the skirmishers of the Iowa 5th came in they had killed four and wounded two wagon loads of the rebels, while our loss was two wounded.  As soon as the 26th Missouri sharpshooters were deployed we marched on, continually fighting, until we came within a mile of town, when  we receive a whole volley from a rebel brigade.

Just then General Rosecrans came up and ordered the 11th Ohio battery into position, with the 26th Missouri in support.  The Iowa 5th formed on the right, and the Minnesota 4th on the left; the 48th and 59th Indiana were on the flanks.  The other divisions were in close supporting distance in the rear.  We had no sooner formed than the rebels fired a second volley and followed it by a charge, determined to take our battery, but they went skedaddling back without accomplishing anything.

Now the work had just commenced, and one volley after another was poured in by both sides, until it become [sic] a perfect storm of bullets.  They seemed to try the right wing the hardest, and the noble boys of the Iowa 5th had to stand a raking cross-fire from three directions.  The rebels made a second charge, and were repulsed with great loss.  Now Gen. Price withdraws his Missouri troops, and brings in a new brigade of Mississippi, Alabama and Texas troops.  This time they charged en masse, and so outnumbered our men that the Missouri 26th was compelled to fall back and give up three pieces of the 11th Ohio battery.  In this charge the 37th Alabama came up to take the Iowa 5th’s colors, and yelled at the top of their voices that they were friends, and not to fire on them.  Our boys stopped, but when Col. Matthias saw them making straight for the flag he ordered the boys to fire, and they poured in one volley.  The Alabamians charged bayonets and the two regiments cam together.  They snatched for the colors, but were glad to get back with their arms.

Thus the fight continued until after dark, when the rebels blew the bugle to cease firing, and the firing was stopped on both sides for a short time.  Gen. Rosencrans [sic] brought up a fresh brigade, fired one volley, made a desperate charge, and took back the three pieces of artillery that had been taken from us.  Now both sides lay down on their arms and waited for daylight, to renew the battle, but before day Price withdrew his forces, and left the field in our possession.  The 12th Wisconsin threw a few shell about daylight into Price’s rear guard as he was leaving town.

This was one of the hardest battles of the season for the length of time and the forces engaged.  The fight lasted two hours and fifteen minutes.  Our loss was about six hundred killed and wounded, and the rebels lost a great many more.  Of these the Iowa 5th lost 268.  They went into the fight with 463 men, and came out with 185 men.  They lost 87 killed and 181 wounded.  All honor to the Iowa 5th for her gallant conduct on that eventful occasion.  Other regiments did their duty, but none was placed in such trying circumstances.  All this I was an eye witness to, and can testify to its truth.

Yours, with respect,


P. S.—Our forces followed Price up, and at 4 P. M. captured his whole train.  We have heard heavy cannonading all the afternoon, and the general belief is that we will capture his whole force.  As I was wounded in the leg, I had to stay here, but I am able to walk some, and I have been around town and inquired about the strength of Price’s army.  All the prisoners and reliable citizens say he had thirty-five thousand men.  Colonel Barret of the 26th, was wounded.  Col. Danborn of the 4th Minnesota, and two or three other Colonels wounded.  Capt. Cotton of company I, 5th Iowa, killed; Lieut. Breaky of company I, 5th Iowa, killed; Capt. Brown of company H, 6th Iowa, wounded in three places; Lieut. Jarvis, of company D, Lieut. Sample of company G, Lieut. Matier of company B, and a great many more of the Iowa 5th officers wounded.  Gen. Price left all his killed on the field and wounded in town, with about 200 sick.