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The Battle of Iuka–A Complete and Graphic Description


September 1862

From The Missouri Democrat, Tuesday, September 30, 1862.


A Complete and Graphic Description of the Fight.

September 21st, 1862.

Editors Missouri Democrat:

Another battle, surpassing in fierceness any that has been fought in the Southwest, has just come off, and the heroes of New Madrid, Island Ten and Shiloh have proved themselves as ever, victorious.  Price has been met and utterly routed by a force far inferior to his own and compelled to beat a precipitate retreat, leaving his dead and wounded on the field.  Rumors to the effect that the enemy intended making an attack upon us had been in circulation for some time, as Price, with a heavy force, was advancing northward threatening our line of defenses on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, and compelling Gen. Rosecrans to evacuate Iuka.  On the 17th inst., the third division, under command of Brig. Gen. C. S. Hamilton, left Jacinto and moved in an eastwardly direction on the main Iuka road.  The second brigade, composed of the 4th Minnesota, 5th Iowa, 26th Missouri, and Sands’s 11th Ohio battery, had the advance and arrived at what is known as White’s farm on the 18th inst.  Continued skirmishing had been going on between the enemy’s advanced pickets and our cavalry, which comprised the 2d Iowa and the 3d Michigan, with another battalion, the name of which I forget.  The whole of our effective force at this time could not have been more than five thousand, and they successfully engaged and repulsed the enemy with overwhelming loss as the sequel will show.

From White’s farm to the field of battle the enemy pickets became more frequent and daring, being upon us from every spot that would afford concealment, and contesting every inch of ground.  The country over which our route lay was uneven and hilly, with numerous ravines, the sides of which were thickly wooded, and now and then large clearings that gave the rebels a good chance to harass and annoy our movements.  The 5th Iowa having the extreme advance, companies E and D were deployed as skirmishers—company E taking the right and D the left of the road, while company G acted as a reserve.  The skirmishing force was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Sampson, of the 5th Iowa, who was ably seconded by Captains Lee and Banbury and Lieut. Lamper.  Forward pushed the gallant boys, over fences, fields, woods, swamps, and impenetrable morasses where they sank to their knees in mud every step.  But unfalteringly they crowded on, driving the enemy steadily before them.  At 3 P. M. they were relieved by two companies of the 26th Missouri, Lieut. Brown.  The main column wound slowly along the road, halting frequently for the skirmishers, who found the enemy strongly posted in every nook and corner.  Two of them were killed, and quite a number severely wounded.  Towards night the skirmish firing lulled, and many were led to believe that the enemy would make no stand at all, when just as the head of the column was rounding a neck of the woods, a tremendous volley was poured into them on the front by an unseen foe.  The skirmishers, who were about two hundred yards in advance of the main body, were thrown into confusion for a few moments, but soon rallied and returned the fire with vigor.  It soon became evident that the enemy had at last chosen his battleground, and whatever preparations we had to make must be done on the spur of the moment.  The enemy had every advantage over us in regard to position; their main infantry force, which consisted of two divisions, being posted on the right and left of the road which wound along a high ridge extending east.  On either side were ravines and deep depressions of ground, covered with underbrush, which effectually screened them from observation, while the high ridge at their front covered them from our fire.  The battle ground was situated a mile and a half west of Iuka, and the line of the opposing forces extended at first north and south.  Our right was protected in part by the ridge of which I spoke, while our left was strongly posted behind a thick belt of timber.  Immediately in our rear was an open field cut up with old gullies and watercourses, on which was placed our reserves, mainly composed of Ohio, Indiana and Missouri troops.  The line of battle as thus formed was arranged in the following manner.  The 5th Iowa was placed on the right of the road, and drawn up behind a small comb of the ridge in the extreme advance, to their left was planted the 11th Ohio battery, the 48th Indiana acting, while to their right stood the 4th> Minnesota, 17th Iowa and 80th Ohio.  The formation of the ground would not permit the engaging of our whole force at the same time, and on these troops the enemy’s fire was principally concentrated, they seeking to break the center and turn our right flank.  By the time that all the various preparations were completed it was 6 P. M.  The sun was fast sinking behind some heavy clouds, tinging them with a significant hue of fiery red.  Generals and all were quite confident that the troops would merely lay on their arms that night, and commence the contest on the morrow.  Let the reader take into consideration the fact that the troops have marched quite a distance over rough and dusty roads, and that the advance had been skirmishing with the enemy all the afternoon, while no one had even a chance to make a cup of coffee, and he will readily perceive that they were not exactly in the trim for fighting, but their devotion, bravery and discipline overcame all obstacle and rewarded them with the blessed fruits of victory.

The 11th Ohio battery having got into position, commenced plunging a few shots in among the enemy to ascertain his location but failed to elicit any reply.  An ominous silence reigned along the lines, broken only by the heavy tramp of infantry and rumble of artillery.  So close were we to the rebels that we could distinctly hear them forming in line and distinguish the commands of the officers, although the ridge hid them from our view.  Pretty quick a Major came riding up to where the 5th Iowa was formed, saying, “Look out, boys, the rebel sharpshooters are coming just over the hill.”  He had not more than spoke before a broad sheet of flame issued from a battery and spread along the whole line.  It seemed as though all the fiends of hell were let loose.  The roar of artillery, the crash of musketry, the whistling balls and the bursting shell, swelled up in a volume of sound that was deafening.  The battle now raged furiously on the right and center.  The gallant 5th, although opposed to two rebel brigades, commanded by Green and Marton, stubbornly held their ground and poured in a hot and deadly fire.  Three times they charged and drove the rebels over the brow of the hill at the point of the bayonet.  The rebels made a desperate attempt to turn our right flank, but repulsed in this, they charge on the battery.  For some reason the 48th Indiana was forced back and the enemy took possession of the guns, but the fire of the firm infantry became too hot for them and they had to relinquish the ground.  At times the guns of the combatants were muzzle to muzzle.  Here our superiority with the bayonet was fairly proved, for charging on them with a yell that could be heard above the roar of artillery, our boys routed them in every instance.  Again the enemy attempted to turn our right flank, but the 3d Mich. Cavalry, Col. Misner, took position on the extension of our extreme right and repulsed them with great loss.  A dense cloud of smoke now enveloped the engaging forces so that it was impossible to distinguish friend from foe, but the balls kept pouring in like hail stones, cutting off the twigs of trees, and throwing up the dirt in all directions.  There was no lulling in the fire.  A thousand Niagaras seemed concentrating their might sound while the earth fairly trembled beneath the tread of the combatants.  No words of mine can convey a proper description of the magnitude of the strife.  The rebels resorted to many treacherous devices to get within our lines, and once or twice they appeared with Union flags.  Three desperate attempts were made to capture the 5th Iowa’s stand of colors, but it was no go.  The gallant boys who have marched under their folds for sixteen months had no idea of relinquishing them to rebel hands, and they rallied and fought, and struggled with the most valorous heroism.  By this time the cartridges were running low, but the brave Col. Matthias, who never exhibited more sang froid and coolness in his life, still held them to their work.  He was well aware of their critical position, but knew that if he abandoned the field the day was lost.  At this juncture the 5th was relieved by the 11th and 26th Missouri, who stood up nobly and poured in a murderous fire, till darkness put an end to the conflict.

Generals Rosencrans [sic], Hamilton and Sullivan, were continually on the ground exposed to a heavy fire, urging and animating the troops by their presence.  General Hamilton’s horse was killed under him, and he also had a narrow escape, a minie ball shattering his sword belt.  They are entitled to the highest praise and confidence of the soldiers and people.  Gen. Grant was to effect a junction with his division from Corinth, but failed to arrive in time, the rebels having obstructed the road by felling trees, so that his progress was slow.

The rebel force consisted of two divisions under Gen. Price, and it was their intention to crush us before Grant could render any assistance.  In this they were most wo[e]fully disappointed as they were compelled to abandon the field, leaving their dead and wounded, and falling back, as is supposed, to Tupello [sic].  The actual time that our forces were engaged was one hour and a quarter, though to those who were in the hottest of the fire it did not seem over ten minutes.  The 11th Ohio battery suffered severely.  Of one hundred and thirty men who went into the engagement, but twenty are unhurt, while nearly every horse was killed.  The enemy succeeded in capturing some of the guns, but they were re-captured the next morning with three other pieces.

When darkness put an end to the conflict the battle-ground was occupied by our troops, and all expected a renewal of hostilities.  All of the troops stood to arms, but when the sun rose at last clear and glorious, and the mist and battle smoke that hung languishingly over field and forest was cleared away, no enemy was to be found.  The echoes of the challenging cannon that had been planted in the night, spoke out loud and defiant, but failed to provoke a reply.  The battle was over at last, and victory rested on the beautiful Stripes and Stars.  But few prisoners were taken on the field.  They all agreed that the rebel force was much larger than ours, but said that it was impossible for any troops to withstand our fire.  The 6th Missouri rebel regiment was almost annihilated, while whole brigades were so cut to pieces that they could not be rallied again.  Brigadier General Little was killed, while all of their field officers of lesser note were disabled.  The rebel loss cannot fall short of eighteen hundred in killed, wounded and missing.  Two hundred of their dead were buried by our men on the field.  I have no means of ascertaining the total loss on our side but did not think that it will exceed five hundred.  As evidence that the rebels were badly beaten, they left all of their wounded and prisoners that they had captured at Iuka, not even taking the trouble to parole the latter.  The whole of their retreat was a complete rout, and it is doubtful whether Price can ever collect his scattered forces so as to make another stand in the State.  If he is properly followed up and not allowed to fortify himself in any position, the war will, indeed, be virtually closed in the Southwest in less than four weeks.

The officers in many of our regiments have suffered sorely.  Col. Boomer, of the 26th Missouri, had his arm shattered by a ball.  Col. Eddy, of the 80th Ohio, was slightly wounded; Adjutant Patterson, of the 5th Iowa, received an honorable scar, and many others whose name I do not recollect, but who will be held in lasting remembrance by a grateful posterity.  And then the long, long sad list of privates  whose forms now lie low on the battle field, who died the death of the glorious, with their breasts to the foe; who never flinched or murmured in the leaden storm, are they not immortalized?  The 5th Iowas suffered the most, as they were in the advances, and bore the brunt of the conflict.  Had they retreated or even wavered, the day would have been irretrievably lost.  Of four hundred and forty-six who went into the action, two hundred and sixteen are killed and wounded.


Now came the melancholy task of attending to the wounded and burying the dead, and now for the first time the horrors of war were fully apparent.  Many of the former had lain on the field all night, and their sufferings were inconceivable, I directed my footsteps to where the battery was planted, for there the strife had been most hot and bloody.  Never shall I forget the sight which met my gaze.  On every side were ghastly corpses stiffened, with their rigid features turned upwards, and the warm, bright sunlight playing over them.  Some were laying down as if they sank peacefully to rest, with arms folded on their breast, or placed naturally by their side.  Others had been struck while leading their guns and died with them firmly grasped in their hands.  Here was a man, once strong, healthy, vigorous, in the prime of life, with the hands clenched till the nails entered the flesh, and teeth set hard, who had died in agony.  Beyond was a youth with the morning dew lying wet on his matted locks, whose countenance bore the impress of a smile, as though his last thoughts had been of the dear ones at home.  Artillery horses shot dead in the traces, scraps of harness, broken caissons, knapsacks and guns were strewed promiscuously over the ground; also the ravine opposite the 5th Iowa, the ground was literally covered with dead bodies, while a great number had been dragged away by the rebels in the night.  Some of our own dead were found here.  Their pockets had been rifled in every instance, reflecting much credit on Southern chivalry and honor.  The trees around showed that the conflict had been a fierce one.  For a distance of fifteen or twenty feet they were riddled with balls, while the brush were shorn smooth as though the reapers had been at work.  Everything that could possibly inconvenience the rebels in running was thrown away, and cartridge boxes, blankets, and cards were found in thick profusion.  From the abundance of the latter I should judge that Hoyle was much more anxiously studied than Hardee in the rebel camp.

From the statement of prisoners, it appears that Price’s forces consisted mostly of Mississippi and Texas troops, amounting in the aggregate to 20,000, but these statements are not to be relied on.  But one thing is certain:  the greatest battle that was ever fought in the Southwest, considering the number of forces and shortness of time engaged, has been fought, and victory has perched upon our banners.  Gen. Rosencrans [sic] with his respective commands, is now at Jacinto, and the people of the North may rest assured that when the Army of the Mississippi again moves they will win fresh laurels.  It is rumored that Price intends making another stand at Boonville or below.