Awaiting orders to join Bragg, this day 150 years ago Price received a fateful courier from Van Dorn. Van Dorn had been placed in command of all Confederate forces in Mississippi and in East Louisiana by Davis. He ordered Price to take captured Federal supplies and and march for Baldwyn to join Van Dorn's command under Lovell. Price secured the supplies and issued orders to move on the morning of the 20th.
Grant, aware that a combined Confederate force could be dangerous to his department, elected to strike at Price's vulnerable force at Iuka before he could join Van Dorn. Gambling that it would take Van Dorn four days to reach Corinth, he elects to trap Price in between his armies and the Bear Creek Swamps. In a bold move, Grant strips Corinth of everything but a small holding force of three regiments, and move the five divisions stationed there to destroy Price.
Grant turned to Rosecrans to develop a plan for destroying Price. Rosecrans' plan was complex, but Grant approved. The plan featured two Federal columns, one under Rosecrans, and the other under Ord, converging at Iuka. Rosecrans, leading the two division Army of the Mississippi, would approach Iuka from the south, while Ord's three division Army of the Tennessee marched from the Northwest to demonstrate in Price's front. When Price had fixated on Ord, Rosecrans would strike the rear of the Confederate Army. Upon hearing Rosecrans' guns, Ord would attack and catch the Rebel Army of the West in a pincer movement.
Rosecrans' moment was delayed, and had a much longer march route. His divisions were commanded by David Stanley and Charles Hamilton with about 4,700 men. Ord's route was much shorter, and by September 18th his lead division was actively skirmishing with Price's pickets.
When Rosecrans reached the blocking position south of Iuka, he made a mistake of only blocking one of the two southward roads leading out of the town. Already seven hours late, Rosecrans elected to wait until he was closer to Iuka to cover both roads. Rosecrans' delay leads Grant to conclude that there will be no fighting on the 19th.
In Iuka, Price was quite surprised to learn that there were two Federal forces closing in on him. To his credit, Price acted immediately. His small Army of the West had only one division in Iuka of 3,100 men, arrayed in line of battle to the northwest, expecting Ord to attack him. He quickly pulls Brigadier General Louis Hebert's Brigade off the line to delay Rosecrans and reinforces that brigade with John D. Martin's command. He sends his favorite subordinate and close friend Brigadier General Henry Little to oversee this.
Rosecrans' lead elements encounter the Confederates on a reverse slope of a ridge south of Iuka and are surprised. Hebert's brigade strikes Hamilton's division along it's center. Fighting is particularly brutal, with fierce hand to hand combat. Little hit Hamilton's center around the 11th Ohio Battery of six guns along the ridge three times. The third assault broke the Union center and the battery was overwhelmed. Hamilton reformed and counterattacked, retaking the battery. The Confederates reformed and attacked again, driving the Federals off the ridge.
Price himself arrived on the field of action in time to direct the deployment of Martin's Brigade. He confers with Little about following up the successful attack when a bullet, barely missing Price, strikes Little in the head and kills him.
Two more Union counterattacks are repulsed. Taking friendly fire from Stanley's deploying division in his rear, Hamilton elects to withdraw and ends the fighting. Rosecrans contemplates attacking with Stanley's fresh division, but nightfall forces him to abandon such hopes.
Unaware of Rosecrans' predicament, Grant and Ord do not hear the sounds of Battle. Instead of attacking the vulnerable Rebel command, Ord stands down at nightfall. The opportunity to destroy Price slipped away as the grieving Missourian moved his command out from Iuka down the road that Rosecrans had left unguarded the next day. Though he had lost his best subordinate, Price had won a tactical victory and had escaped destruction.
Battle losses were recorded as 790 Union losses and 525 Confederate losses, but there is heavy evidence to suspect that Price falsified his casualty returns. Most historians believe that at least 700 Rebels fell while some estimate that Confederate losses were high as 1,500.
Price and Van Dorn combined at Baldwyn. The next stage in the Corinth Campaign began.
Major General Sterling Price, commanding the Army of the West (CS)
Major General William Rosecrans, commanding the Army of the Mississippi (US)