Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Iuka: The First Two Hellish Hours on the Left

Rosecrans's Army of the Mississippi (US) had stumbled into Price's Army of Tenessee (CS) at 4:30 pm on 19 September 1862. Leading the Union's vanguard was Hamilton's Third Division and with them my great-great-great uncle, Private George Bedford of the 16th Iowa Volunteer Regiment (Infantry). General Hamilton, as was noted previously was a bit of a jerk, but he nevertheless kept his division moving forward. The Fifth Iowa had established a perimeter along with the 26th Missouri, securing a ridge overlooking the battlefield.

Colonel Sanborn, the brigade commander, quickly set up the cannon of the 11th Battery, Ohio Light Artillery on the crest of the ridge and flanked it with the Fifth Iowa on the right and the 48th Indiana on the left. Both of these infantry regiments were relatively fresh troops, and the 48th was as green a unit as they came. Still, the men fell into line and readied themselves for the attack that was sure to come. Sanborn placed the 26th Missouri on the extreme left flank to protect the line from a Rebel flank attack. He then placed his only veteran regiment, the 16th Iowa, behind the Ohio gunners in reserve. The remainder of his brigade, the 10th Iowa and the 4th Minnesota, to the left of the 48th Indiana.

Meanwhile on the Confederate side, Herbert's Brigade, consisting of amalgamated 14th and 17th Arkansas Regiment, 3rd Louisiana, 40th Mississippi, and two dismounted Texas cavalry regiments (Texas Legion and 3rd Texas), all lined up in front of the Federal line and made ready to attack. The 3rd Texas Cavalry was broken up to provide a picket line of skirmishers ahead of the Texas Legion and the 3rd Louisiana. The other regiments formed a second line behind.



Almost immediately the Texas skirmishers came under fire from the Ohio gunners, and soon the regiment was pulled back behind the others and reformed to take on the left flank opposite the 48th Indiana. All at once the Confederates charged the Union line, their own cannon supporting the attack from a nearby hill. These guns could fire over the heads of their comrades and hit the exposed Indianians on the opposite ridge. To add to the Hoosiers' (Indianians) problems, they had been deployed too far back from the crest of the ridge, which blocked their line of sight to the advancing Texans until they were virtually on top of them. It also allowed the Confederate gunners to fire on them until the last possible moment before the Texans charged.

The Hoosiers began receiving fire from the Texas Legion as they advanced into musket range. Meanwhile the 3rd Texas Cavalry, itself as battle-hardened as the Indianians were green, managed to find a gap between the 48th and the 4th Minnesota and moved some companies in to exploit it. The Hoosiers now had artillery breaking up their ranks, Texans shooting from the front and the flanks, and could still not see their enemy. Then, suddenly the 3rd Texas sprang over ridge line and into the Indianian lines. The 48th disintegrated completely and the survivors ran as fast as they could, Texans hot on their heels.

Sanborn reacted quickly and rushed to rally the Hoosiers. When they refused to obey he shot two soldiers with his revolver, but still they fled. The regiment's own colonel managed to rally a few squads and began to form a new battle line when he was struck five times by Confederate bullets (which he miraculously survived!). That was it. The 48th packed it in and broke for good. Overzealous Texans were running amongst the retreating Indianans causing further confusion.

Realizing the 48th was a lost cause, Sanborn rode to the 16th Iowa and ordered them to be ready to give the Texans a volley once the Indianans were out of the way. For reasons obscured by the fog of war, but most likely because of the confusing nature of seeing Texans mixed in with the Indianans, the Iowans let loose their volley before the 48th could get clear. The Indiana regiment lost more men in this volley than they had up to this point and were now flatly and fairly demoralized. Still, the Texans were halted and forced back over the ridge, chased by the 16th Iowa which moved forward to reoccupy the 48th's old position. It was 6pm, with only 10 minutes of daylight remaining.

When the 16th arrived they ran flat into the advancing Texas Legion, which was taking fire from the Ohio battery. The veteran Iowans fired first, shattering the forward companies of the Texas Legion. But the dismounted cavalrymen gathered themselves and returned fire. The two regiments exchanged volley after volley, and it wasn't until the 3rd Texas regrouped and joined the firefight that the Iowans were slowly pushed back. With a few well aimed volleys, the Texans had cut through the Iowan line, and the regiment was forced to retire, having lost 72 killed and hundreds wounded. Private George Bedford was among the 16th Iowa's dead.

Despite this, the sacrifice of the 16th Iowa had completely depleted the two Texas regiments. Furthermore, while victorious,  the Texans were unable to push forward due to the arrival of Rosecran's fresh Second Division. Instead, the cavalrymen were forced to shift their attack to the right and assault the Ohio battery head-on with the darkness of night only minutes away...

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