September 19, 1862
As part of a larger Confederate offensive move into Kentucky, Confederate General Braxton Bragg ordered Major General Sterling Price, former governor of Missouri and victor of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, to march into Iuka to prevent Union Major General William S. Rosecrans from moving into Tennessee to reinforce a Union garrison at Nashville, thus potentially threatening Bragg’s forces.
Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Army of the Tennessee, feared that Price was moving to reinforce Bragg’s forces in Kentucky. Grant devised a plan to catch Price’s forces in a pincher movement in Iuka. Grant ordered Major General E. O. C. Ord to advance on Iuka from the west. Rosecran’s forces were to advance on Iuka from the southwest and make a coordinated attack on Price. Ord arrived on time but Rosecrans was delayed. Grant ordered Ord to await the sound of fighting between Rosecrans and Price before engaging the Confederates. Rosecrans arrived about mid-afternoon atop a ridge near Iuka and immediately engaged the Confederates.
Price posted two divisions north of Iuka to oppose Ord and was surprised by Rosecrans’ sudden appearance in his rear. The Confederates launched an attack and captured a six-gun Union battery while Rosecrans attacked from atop the ridge. Price reported that he had “never seen such fighting.” The battle raged even after darkness fell.
The Battle of Iuka was one of the bloodiest battles up to that time, with Union casualities of 782 out of a force of 4,500 and Confederate casualities of 1,516 out of a force of 3,200. Confederate Brigadier General Henry Little was also killed in action at the Battle of Iuka. Remarkably, neither Ord nor Grant heard the sounds of the battle due to what is known as “acoustic shadow.” Price’s army was able to escape during the night to join Major General Earl Van Dorn at Ripley. Union forces occupied Iuka and mounted an unsuccessful pursuit of Price.
Union forces carried the day but failed to capture or destroy Price’s forces. Price and Van Dorn in October 1862 launched an assault on Corinth which also resulted in a Union victory.