Saturday, April 9, 2011

Iuka: The Right Flank

The fight on the right flank of the 11th Ohio Light Battery was just as fierce, if not more so, than the one on the left. Sanborn moved his 5th Iowa Volunteer Regiment up to protect the battery's right flank. Unlike the 48th Indiana, there were no other regiments guarding its flank. The regiment knew that its position was critical and that they held the key to the Union line-failure was not an option.

The Confederates hit the 5th at the same time they hit the 48th Indiana, coming on in full force. Opposite the Iowans was the 3rd Louisiana Regiment, both veterans of the western campaign. The Confederate troops met with stern resistance and were forced back several times. This was due in large part to the leadership of Colonel Charles (Karl) Matthies, commander of the 5th Iowa.

Colonel Charles (Karl) Matthies
5th Iowa Regiment
Matthies, a Prussian military veteran, who could only speak in broken English, really knew his stuff. He was well loved by his men and took great pains to speak with them as often as he could to gauge their morale. Now, fully knowing the importance of the situation, the Prussian turned to his troops and commanded his men to hold to the last against all hazards.  

The Iowans delivered volley after volley into the Louisiana regiment, and in turn took horrendous casualties. Smoke from both sides obscured the battlefield to such a point that one veteran recalled that he couldn't distinguish the lines but for the flash of the musket volleys. Soon the Texas Legion, opposite the 11th Ohio Light Battery, began to push into a position where it too could fire onto the Iowans. Matthies withdrew some of his most badly exposed companies back to cover the small gap between the artillery and his main line, but that was not enough. The Confederates smashed the Iowans as they moved and the Fifth began to waver as a large gap developed between them and the cannon.

Colonel George Boomer
26th Missouri Regiment
Positioned directly behind the 5th Iowa was Colonel George Boomer's 26 Missouri Regiment. Boomer, upon his own initative, rushed four of his companies up to fill the gap between the Iowans and Ohioans. No sooner had these companies marched up the hill and into place than they received a volley of fire from the 3rd Louisiana. The Missourians went to ground to avoid the worst of it, but the Louisiania troops' fire grew accurate and more casualties mounted. Boomer rode to retrieve the rest of his six companies, but found they had disappeared for where he had left them. Upset and with no time to go find them, he returned to the fight.

The Missouri companies began to break and Colonel Boomer attempted to rally the men. Some stayed and fought, others skulked off. Suddenly, Boomer was hit by a minnie ball through the lung and only then did he reluctantly order his four companies to retreat. Of the 162 Missourians that rushed to the top of the hill, 97 were killed, wounded, or missing.

Boomer's withdrawal exposed Matthies' flank to the 3rd Louisiana and the Prussian was forced to pull back himself, leaving the Ohio gunners on their own in the center of the line.

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