Thursday, April 21, 2011

Iuka: The Wrap Up

By nightfall Sanborn's brigade was shattered. All but his 4th Minnesota had been broken on the field of battle and forced to regroup. The Federal commanders had also failed to establish a reserve line to fall back upon, something that could have been done by Fuller's brigade which was showing up at about this time.

On the far left flank, the 4th Minnesota was spooked by the fight for the 11th Ohio's position and had pulled back out of the clearing they were stationed in and into the tree line behind where the regiment became badly disorganized. This created an even larger gap between them and the rest of Hamilton's division further south. The regiment took no real part in the fight except to open fire on the advancing Mississippians moving up to exploit the gap that had opened up with the withdrawal of the 16th Iowa. The Minnesotan fire was largely ineffectual, but it did cause some confusion within the Mississippi ranks, which in turn resulted in some friendly fire incidents. The combination of friendly fire and the volleys of the Minnesota regiment compelled the Mississippians to withdraw, thinking they had run into a fresh Federal brigade.

Both sides settled into an uneasy night, the result of the battle far from decided. The north had suffered heavy casualties, but the regiments quickly bounced back and reformed, ready for the following day. The rebel regiments did the same, but they, as a division, had lost much more.

Brigadier General Lewis Henry Little (CSA)
During the charge of the 3rd Texas and 1st Texas on the 16th Iowa and the left section of the 11th Ohio battery, Brigadier General Henry Little, commander of Price's First Division, rode forward to oversee the attack and personally direct the approaching Mississippi regiments that were marching down the Iuka road. General Price met him at the road junction and began discussing the tactical situation. Little requested that he receive immediate reinforcements to follow up the Texans' and Louisianans' breakthrough, but Price resisted. Soon a small argument between the commanders erupted and Price began waving his arms about add a little emphasis to his point. Just then a Minne bullet passed under Price's raised arm and through the head Little. The general was killed instantly. Confusion swept through Confederate ranks as a shell-shocked Price struggled to get a handle on the situation. Instead he placed General Herbert in command and removed himself from the battlefield.

With the loss of Little the Confederate army lost its initiative. The reinforcements Little had ordered to push forward never received their orders and they simply stood down as nighttime approached. Campfires lit up and the men of both armies spent an eerie night amongst the dead and dying.

During the late hours of 19/20 September, Price's general staff tried to reason witht he grieve-stricken commander. He could not make any straight decisions, however he insisted that he would continue the fight against Rosecrans at first light. However, his advisors had received very convincing evidence that Ord's army was rapidly approaching from the north and with him General Grant. To stay where they were would certainly risk being cut off and surrounded by Union forces. After many long hours they finally convinced Price to retire from the battlefield. The withdrawal would begin at 5am.

Rosecrans, who was busily preparing his lines for the battle he was sure would come at first light, discovered Price's intention to withdraw only after most of the Confederate army was on its way south. Cavalry was sent out ahead to try and cut the rebels' retreat route, but they were unable to get through the Confederate rearguard. With a heavily damaged army, Rosecrans was forced to let Price go, a decision shared by Generals Grant and Ord.

Confederate losses at Iuka were approximately 520 killed, 1300 wounded, and 181 captured. Union losses at Iuka were 141 killed, 613 wounded, and 36 missing. By retiring, Price gave Rosecrans a victory, though the battle could have been won had he not frozen up after the loss of Little. He could have overrun the shattered remains of Sanborn's brigade and smashed into the approaching Union reserves while they were in column formation. It is very likely that he could have secured a decisive result, but instead he delayed and allowed Ord and Grant to threaten his flank.

And so ends the story of the Battle of Iuka. Price's defeated army retreated and eventually joined Van Dorn in an ill-fated attack on Corinth. Rosecrans' command returned to Corinth to oversee the city's defenses and once again met Price and defeated him. With the victories of Iuka and Corinth, the Grant was poised to establish his famous siege of Vicksburg and thus seal the fate of the western campaign and with it the hopes and dreams of those damned dirty rebels.          

No comments:

Post a Comment