The Battle of Iuka was an American Civil War battle fought on September 19, 1862, in Iuka, Mississippi. In the opening battle of the Iuka-Corinth Campaign, Union Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans stopped the advance of the army of Confederate Maj. Gen. Sterling Price.
On September 13, Confederate Maj. Gen. Sterling Price moved his Army of the West from Tupelo to the town of Iuka in northeastern Mississippi, about 20 miles east of Corinth. It was a small Union supply depot, the easternmost outpost that Grant had established on the Memphis and Charleston Railroad. Price's cavalry skirmished with pickets posted by the small Union garrison stationed there. On September 14, before dawn, the Union commander, Col. Robert C. Murphy, set fire to the supplies of the depot and marched his 2,000-man brigade back to Corinth. The Confederates dashed in and doused the flames, reaping a large collection of valuable supplies. Grant had Murphy arrested and court-martialed.
Price's army settled in Iuka and awaited the arrival of Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn's Army of West Tennessee, approximately 7,000 men. The two generals intended to unite and attack Grant's lines of communication in western Tennessee, which would prevent Buell's reinforcement if Grant reacted the way they expected, or might allow them to follow Bragg and support his Northern invasion if Grant acted more passively.
Grant did not wait to be attacked, approving a plan to converge on Price with two columns before Van Dorn, four days march to the southwest, could reinforce him. Grant sent Maj. Gen. Edward Ord with three Army of the Tennessee divisions (about 8,000 men) along the Memphis and Charleston Railroad to move to Burnsville, take the roads to the north of the railroad and move upon Iuka from the northwest. He also ordered the Army of the Mississippi, commanded by Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans, on a coordinated move along the Mobile and Ohio Railroad that would bring two divisions (9,000 men) swinging into Iuka from the southwest, closing the escape route for Price's army, while the remainder of that army protected Corinth against any threat from Van Dorn. (Since the departure of Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck for the East, Grant was serving as the commander of the District of West Tennessee, giving him operational control over Rosecrans's army, which was operating within the district boundaries. The relatively complex plan for the two-pronged assault was actually Rosecrans's, who had previously been stationed in Iuka and felt familiar with the area. Grant moved with Ord's headquarters and had little tactical control over Rosecrans during the battle.
Rosecrans's Union Army fielded approximately 4,500 men, organized as follows:
Edward Ord's two divisions did not participate in the main fighting at Iuka.
Ord arrived at Iuka on the night of September 18 and skirmishing ensued between his reconnaissance patrol and Confederate pickets, about six miles from Iuka, before nightfall. Rosecrans was late, having farther to march over roads mired in mud; furthermore, one of his divisions took a wrong turn and had to countermarch to the correct road. Ord demanded that the Confederates surrender, but Price refused. Price received dispatches from Van Dorn suggesting that their two armies rendezvous at Rienzi for attacks on the Union Army forces in the area. Price ordered his men to prepare for a march the next day. Rosecrans's army marched early on September 19, but, instead of using two roads as directed, it followed the Jacinto (Bay Springs) Road. After considering the amount of time that Rosecrans required to reach Iuka, Grant determined that he probably would not arrive on September 19, so he ordered Ord to await the sound of fighting between Rosecrans and Price before engaging the Confederates.
Rosecrans was within two miles of the town on September 19, pushing back Confederate pickets, when his lead element, Sanborn's brigade, was struck suddenly by Little's Confederate division at 4:30 p.m., on the Mill Road, near the forks of the Jacinto Road and the crossroads leading from it to Fulton. Hamilton deployed his force to the best advantage, his artillery being posted on the only ground available for the purpose. Col. Mizner with a battalion of the 3rd Michigan Cavalry was sent out on the right and the 10th Iowa Infantry and a section of the 11th Ohio Artillery formed the left.
Hébert's brigade (five infantry regiments, supported by cavalry) moved forward on the Ohio battery around 5:15 p.m., and although met by a volley from the entire Federal line at 100 yards, it succeeded in reaching the battery before being repulsed twice. On the third attempt the Confederates drove off the gunners and compelled the 48th Indiana to fall back upon the 4th Minnesota. (The 11th Ohio lost 46 of their 54 gunners and three of their four officers. Although the Confederates had captured all six guns of the battery, they were unable to take advantage of them, because all of the horses had been killed in the fighting.) At this time Stanley's division was brought into the action. The 11th Missouri was placed to the right and rear of the 5th Iowa, where it repulsed a last desperate attack of two Mississippi brigades. Fighting, which Price later stated he had "never seen surpassed," continued until after dark. A fresh north wind, blowing from Ord's position in the direction of Iuka, caused an acoustic shadow that prevented the sound of the guns from reaching him, and he and Grant knew nothing of the engagement until after it was over. Ord's troops stood idly while the fighting raged only a few miles away.
During the night both Rosecrans and Ord deployed their forces in the expectation of a renewal of the engagement at daylight, but the Confederate forces had withdrawn. Stanley followed, shelling the town, driving out a number of stragglers. He pushed on for several miles, but owing to the exhausted condition of his troops, his column was outrun and he gave up the pursuit.
Following the fighting on September 19, Price determined to reengage the enemy the next day, but his subordinates convinced him to march to join Van Dorn. Price's army evacuated via the uncovered Fulton Road, deploying a heavy rear guard. Rosecrans's army occupied Iuka and then mounted an unsuccessful pursuit on September 20. Grant accompanied the column for several miles, but he soon returned to his headquarters, and Rosecrans took that opportunity to call off the pursuit, much to Grant's displeasure. The Confederates joined Van Dorn for the Second Battle of Corinth in October.