Some Hideous Dream: The 4th Minnesota at Iuka

     Sergeant Major William T. Kittredge saw battle for the first time at Iuka, Mississippi. "I tell you the sensation was a strange and awful one," the 27-year-old confessed to his father Dr. William F. Kittredge back in Ohio. "I cannot describe the next hour. It will live forever in my memory, but words fail utterly to picture its horrors."

    Kittredge's regiment, the 4th Minnesota Infantry, went into action the afternoon of September 19, 1862 wet and weary but determined to take a crack at the Rebels. For the past few days, the regiment had marched all over the muddy roads and bogs of northern Mississippi trying to fend off General Sterling Price's army. But as the men marched towards Iuka, up ahead lay the Confederate battle line in position along a thickly wooded ridge. The Federals quickly took position, the 4th Minnesota taking position to the left of the 11th Ohio Battery commanded by First Lieutenant Cyrus Sears. (to see the 11th Ohio Battery story, click here). The fighting soon broke out in earnest as the Confederates made a bold attempt to overrun the battery. "My position in the line brought me to the extreme left of the brigade from the the circular position of the line, I could witness the entire scene," he wrote. "As soon as the Rebels came up in full view, the infantry opened fire on them and they replied. The din was awful, awful!"

    Kittredge survived the battle and his heroism at Iuka and later at Corinth earned him a battlefield commission; by the end of the year he was the regimental adjutant and finished the war as a captain in the Adjutant General's Department of the U.S. Army. After the war, the Ohioan moved to the west coast and took up farming in Los Angeles County, California. An active member of the G.A.R., he died January 3, 1892 and is buried at Santa Rosa, California.

    Kittredge's letter was published in the October 7, 1862 issue of the Norwalk Reflector of Norwalk, Ohio; Kittredge's father was a Norwalk resident and shared his son's description of Iuka with the Reflector's editor. 

 
Captain William T. Kittredge (1835-1892), 4th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry
Kittredge was awarded a brevet promotion to the rank of major on March 13, 1865
(Photo courtesy of Find-A-Grave)

In camp near Jacinto, Mississippi

September 26, 1862

Dear Father,

          A hasty scrawl dated the 20th instant has I trust reached you ere this and relieved your anxiety on my account. I now sit down to sketch the events of the past two weeks. Two weeks ago, we broke camp here and moved off we know not whither. Since that time, we have endured almost everything man can endure and live.

          We have marched by day and by night through mud, rain, and scorching heat without food or drink or a change of clothing, sleeping when we slept at all fully dressed with our arms by our side and in momentary expectation of an attack. Add to this that we have fought a bloody battle and you will not wonder that we are rejoiced to have a short rest and review the past which now seems like some hideous dream.

          It has been known for some time that General Sterling Price was advancing towards Corinth with a large force. We had but one division at Corinth. Our division, the Third, was in Kentucky with the exception of our brigade (the First) and General Sullivan’s brigade (the Second). We held the advance of our army about 20 miles from Corinth, two brigades of about 3,000 men each. To us was assigned the duty of holding our long picket line so as to conceal the weakness of our forces, to watch the advancing enemy and attack him at every opportunity. General Schuyler Hamilton, the commander of our division, discharged this duty splendidly. Our train was sent away, excepting the ammunition wagons, and we went hither and thither, forward and back, with a celerity that would have astonished Stonewall Jackson himself. Whenever the Rebels dashed at our pickets, away went nearly our whole force to strike at them and thus we completely fooled Price and kept him from attacking our lines.

Map of the Battle of Iuka with the location of the 11th Ohio Battery highlighted; the 4th Minnesota Infantry took position to the left of the battery and assisted in driving back the ferocious Confederate assault that eventually overran the battery. The 4th Minnesota then took part in the counterattack that recovered the guns. 

          He turned off to the right and took Iuka 29 miles northeast and drove away our small force. Away we went after him, General Sullivan’s brigade following us. About noon on the 19th, we met his pickets and drove them steadily back for several miles with slight loss until about 4:30 p.m. when we suddenly came upon them in force and in line of battle. We formed in line with the 5th Iowa on the right, the 4th Minnesota on the left with the 11th Ohio Battery in the center. I cannot describe the excitement of that time. The Rebels fired rapidly at us from the woods and brush. We came up on the double quick, forming our line in the face of their fire on a ridge semi-circular in form, and opened fire.

Then there was a lull and we could collect our thoughts. I knew then that I was actually in a battle for the first time and I tell you the sensation was a strange and awful one- hard to be described. A battery came up on our left and wheeled into position. Officers rode about, speaking to the men. The wounded were carried to the rear, their groans and cries being distinctly audible. Then the Rebel colors were brought out on a ridge in front of us and distant about 300 yards and their line was formed. I for one looked curiously at them. Then on they came three regiments deep towards the 11th Ohio, the evident point of attack. I cannot describe the next hour. It will live forever in my memory, but words fail utterly to picture its horrors.

"For nearly three hours the roar of musketry was incessant; the monotonous roar of small arms was accentuated by the sharp, quick explosions of the bronze Napoleons of the 11th Ohio Battery and the pieces of the enemy. The spiteful whistling of Minie balls with the serpent-like hiss of canister as both went tearing through that thick underbrush in a way that was intended to scare a green soldier such as we were right out of his boots." ~ Private Thomas M. Young, Co. A, 4th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry

Our battery opened first, report following report in quick succession. My position in the line brought me to the extreme left of the brigade and from the circular position of the line I could witness the entire scene. As soon as the Rebels came up in full view, the infantry opened fire on them, and they replied. The din was awful, awful! Our fire told with terrible effect on their dense ranks, but they pressed on to within 50 yards when they broke and fell back, only to reform and come on again. And thus, it went on for little over an hour!

Colonel John S. Sanborn
4th Minnesota Infantry

At length the 11th Ohio Battery was taken when three-fourths of the men and all its horses but three were shot and the infantry on its flanks being outflanked were borne back by sheer weight of numbers. The firing died away, and the air rang with the exultant shouts of the Rebels. But our reserves were ordered up, our regiment was withdrawn from the left, and hurried around to the spot. All I remember was a rush, a deafening volley, another and another, and we held the battery again, while the Rebels fell back to return no more. Darkness came on and there we lay in line ready for action amid the dead and wounded until 9 p.m. when we were relieved by part of Sullivan’s brigade and went to the rear for fresh ammunition. We then formed in line again and lay there awaiting dawn to open another battle. All night long as we lay there, fresh troops came pouring in and we felt that victory was sure on the morrow. I had not eaten a morsel since daylight and was parched with the terrible thirst of battle and shivering with the cold, wet dew as I lay there without any covering. And then the groans and yells of the wounded men as they lay upon the field…I slept but little I assure you.

          Morning came and the roar of artillery brought us to our feet, and we trudged on, forgetting everything in the excitement. But the Rebels had left town during the night and by 6 a.m. we were in possession of Iuka while fresh troops pressed on in pursuit. All that forenoon we were bringing in the wounded, burying the dead, etc. Such sights as I witnessed there, such awful mutilation, such agony of suffering, I do not like to think of it. All that one has read comes short of reality. In the afternoon, we marched back about six miles and halted for rest. Foraging parties were sent out and we soon had plenty of fresh beef and sweet potatoes and they were eaten with hearty relish. About 4 p.m. we started again and marched 15 miles to where we now are.

          We have lost in all 55 men from our regiment but our brigade of about 2,100 men lost 584 killed and wounded and 24 missing, nearly one out of every three engaged. A fearful loss for so short a time. Our sheltered position alone saved us. We lost nearly all of our in that few minutes we were near the battery. Our division command General Hamilton says we did nobly- obeyed every order and held every position assigned to us though for the first time under fire. General Buford who commands our brigade was absent and Colonel John S. Sanborn of our regiment took command and in the opinion of all earned the stars of a brigadier and will very likely get them.

 

Your affectionate son,

Will


Sources:

Sergeant Major William T. Kittredge, 4th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, Norwalk Reflector (Ohio), October 7, 1862, pg. pg. 2

Private Thomas M. Young, Co. A, 4th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, Ohio Soldier, March 31, 1888, pg. 524

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