I thought it would be helpful to give a real quick run down of the pre-story leading up to the Battle of Iuka. So I'll nutshell the living crap out of the first 16 months of the Civil War in the west.
First off, something on the western campaign. A lot of people, including many historians, inexplicably ignore the western campaign. A majority of attention is focused on the eastern campaign, which includes famous battles such as Manassas, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Fredricksburg, Gettysburg, Petersburg, and Appomattox Courthouse. The western battles, while still noteworthy are usually relegated to second place as some sort of "side show".
Personally I call this a Confederate conspiracy, since the western campaign was as embarrassing for the CSA as the eastern one was to the USA. Since the Civil War is one situation where the losers and their ancestors seem to have to written the majority of the history books and documentaries, it is therefore not surprising that they have focused on the east where all of the major confederate victories are congregated. I believe is that the fate of the Civil War is rooted deep in the western campaign, which isn't to detract from the eastern battlefields and the sacrifices made there. That's just my opinion, but its a pretty damn good one.
Anyway, now that that axe is out for the grind, lets get to the general history.
The war in the west focused on the Mississippi river system. The Mississippi divided the CSA in half and whoever controlled it controlled the entire supply network of the Confederacy. Early in the war neither the North or South were prepared for major campaigns. It was the Union that made the first major move by launching a series of attacks against Confederate forts Belmont, Henry, and Donelson. During these battles one name rose above the rest: Ulysses S Grant. Due to his victories, Grant was promoted up from a colonel in 1861 to Major General by 1862.
In April, Grant was moving south toward Mississippi and the Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston rushed to stop him. The two forces clashed at Shiloh in early April 1862. The Union luckily snatched victory from the rebels, and Johnston was mortally wounded leading a charge. The loss of Johnston would be a terrible blow to Confederate morale and some believe he was the south's only chance in the west. Still if the guy is dumb enough to lead a charge, get shot in the knee and bleed out refusing medical attention that could have saved his life, I'd say he probably wasn't all that. The thing to take away from the Battle of Shiloh is that it was the Union's first big win and it filled the western armies with confidence, just as Manassas had done with the Rebs the previous year.
Shortly after Shiloh the war in the west kicked off in a big way when the Union navy under the command of Admiral David Farragut forced its way through the Confederate fortresses surrounding New Orleans, then the largest city in the Confederacy. General Butler's Union troops captured the town at the end of April, sealing the Confederate port for good. The fight would now begin for the remainder of the Mississippi.
The Confederates needed to take the initiative in the west, but things were proving difficult. After Shiloh Grant moved south and captured the important rail hub of Corinth, Mississippi. Five major railroads converged on Corinth making it vitally important to the CSA. However it was now in Union hands, and Johnston's shattered army was in no shape to recapture it. General Braxton Bragg assumed command of all Confederate forces in the west and hatched a plan to draw out Grant's and Union General Buell's armies and destroy them before they could come together.
|General Sterling Price, CSA|
Bragg marched against Buell and sent his subordinate General Sterling Price to attack Grant. However in-fighting in the Confederate camp prevented Price from accumulating the necessary forces to take the offensive against Corinth. Critical to success in Corinth was Confederate General Earl Van Dorn's army. Price implored Van Dorn to join him, but Van Dorn was obsessed with recapturing New Orleans, sending a portion of his force peicemeal into Louisiana only to be defeated.
Price was forced to leave Van Dorn to his devices and took up an active defense while he waited for Bragg to compel Van Dorn to move north. Part of this active defense involved sending his cavalry brigade north to cut Grant's line of communications, cause general chaos, and gather intelligence. Unfortunately for Price his cavalry was not up to any of these tasks, having never reached Grant's line of communication, being defeated in a battle with the 16th Iowa in Bolivar, Tennessee (more on this later), and reporting Grants force at well below 50% of its actual size.
With this horribly inaccurate information, Price decided to make a move on Grant, and to do that he would have to hit the Union garrison in Iuka...