In Mid-September of 1862, a small Confederate army commanded by General Sterling Price scattered a Union Cavalry detachment at Iuka, Mississippi. Sterling Price was fortunate to have a talented young Brigadier in charge of his 1st Division. General Henry Little was a veteran U.S. Army officer before the Civil War. Although his home state of Maryland was being held in the Union by force, Little had made the tortured decision to resign his commission and join the Confederate service. On the afternoon of September 19, 1862, Price called on Little again… this time to counter attack Rosecrans troops in the woods South of Iuka.
Little sent two brigades (Hebert’s & Martins) to Price who took direct command at the battle South of town. These Confederates captured 9 Union cannons and forced the Federal infanty to withdraw some 600 yards. Then tragedy struck the Southern army. Colonel Thomas Snead later wrote: “After starting his men forward (his other two brigades), Little himself galloped to the front and joined General Price in the thickest of the fight. While they were consulting, a minie-ball, crashing through Little’s forehead, killed him instantly.”
The Battle of Iuka had begun late on the afternoon of September 19th. As darkness began to fall and word spread through the Confederate regiments that General Little had been killed, the fighting and killing came to an end. General Price, stunned by the death of his close friend and most reliable officer called a meeting of his other Generals. It was agreed that though the little Southern army had gotten the best of the Yankees in the days battle, it had also been a stroke of luck that Grant and Ord’s troops had strangely remained idle. Price could not count on that being the case the following day. He gave the order for his army to retreat and quietly in the middle of the night Price’s entire force (including the captured Union supply train) vanished, right under Grant’s nose.
Although many areas of the battlefield are now covered with concrete, the story of the Battle of Iuka continues to resonate throughout the community via the audio Tour Stops. A Mississippi historical marker stands on the spot where Confederate Brigadier General Henry Little was killed in battle on September 19, 1862.
The Iuka battle was small in both number of troops engaged and its timeframe but it produced a vicious close-up infantry fight that cost both sides dearly: In his official report, Confederate Commanding General Sterling Price stated: “The fight began and was waged with a severity I have never seen surpassed.” On the Union side, General Charles S. Hamilton recalled, “I never saw a hotter or more destructive engagement.”