Back from the Dead: The 11th Ohio Battery at Corinth

    The smoke was pouring from the battlefield north of Corinth, Mississippi on the hot afternoon of October 3, 1862 when Colonel John B. Sanborn of the 4th Minnesota spied a sight that he remembered vividly 22 years later. “Amid the hurrahs and tears of the infantry that had seen it destroyed under the terrible fire of the 19th of September” rode Second Lieutenant Henry Moore Neil at the head of the 11th Ohio Battery. Now re-quipped and with his ranks filled with volunteer infantrymen from General Napoleon Buford’s brigade (including Sanborn’s 4th Minnesota), Lieutenant Neil had rushed his battery into Corinth without an escort to take part in the battle. The astonished infantrymen “now seemed to feel that the battery men, horses and all, had come back from the regions of the dead to aid in the terrific struggle now going on between the same armies,” Sanborn wrote.

Captain Henry Moore Neil served with the 11th Ohio Battery through Iuka and Corinth, then was promoted to command the 22nd Ohio Battery in early 1863. Captain Neil lived until 1929, passing away at age 96. He is buried at Greenlawn Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio.

Two weeks before the battery had been annihilated at Iuka (for the full story click here) leaving Lieutenant Neil as the last standing officer of the battery. He had been wounded twice during the engagement. First Lieutenant Cyrus Sears had been badly wounded and would later be awarded the Medal of Honor for his leadership at Iuka. Another lieutenant had been wounded while a third had been captured, leaving Neil in command of the broken battery. The casualties were horrific: 57 of his 97 enlisted men were either dead or wounded; only eight of his 54 cannoneers were capable of duty.  The battery’s entire contingent of horses had been killed with the exception of three. The six guns had all been spiked. The battery was a complete wreck.

The following morning, Lieutenant Neil rallied the survivors and set to work. “All members of the battery were ordered to a rendezvous. They were all assembled at 5 a.m. and after reverently burying our dead, the men turned their attention to securing the guns and equipment scattered over the field,” Neil remembered. “The drivers cried softly as they removed the harness from their faithful mounts. In one mass lay 18 dead horses. These three teams, instead of trying to escape, had swung together and died together,” Neil stated.

The above historical marker for the 11th Ohio Battery located just south of Iuka was recently run over by a car. First Lieutenant Cyrus Sears commanded the battery at Iuka and was later awarded a Medal of Honor for his heroism at the engagement. (Photo courtesy of Gary Milligan)

Regardless, Neil was undaunted and thirsted for vengeance. Armed with an order from General Rosecrans directing him to refit the battery, Neil set his men to removing the spikes from the recaptured guns of the battery and repairing the battered caissons. Colonel Sanborn met Neil on the morning of September 20th and noted that “he was besmeared with blood” but “full of pluck. ‘If I can have 100 men detailed from the infantry and horses furnished, I will have the battery in fighting trim in two weeks,’ Neil said. Neil drilled his men constantly to try and get the volunteers up to speed on the nuances of fighting a battery.

Fast forward two weeks to Corinth, Mississippi. General William S. Rosecrans army was engaged in a desperate fight with the combined armies of Confederate generals Sterling Price and Earl Van Dorn to maintain control of his important railroad junction. The first day’s fighting had fallen in favor of the Rebels and Rosecrans’ forces were falling back towards their entrenchments closer to town.

Private William H. Dixon
11th Ohio Battery

General Buford’s men had ample reason to be glad that the 11th Ohio had arrived at Corinth that afternoon. The Buckeyes had shown herculean pluck and determination at Iuka and with the battle at Corinth going against them, it was felt that Neil’s battery would soon have ample opportunity for hard work yet again. As Neil arrived, Colonel Sanborn greeted him and learned that the young Ohioan had one simple request: he wanted the 4th Minnesota to be his support. “I want you to stay right by my battery with your regiment when it goes into action here, and if you will, no Rebel battalions can take it this time,” he said. Sanborn (and apparently General Buford) readily agreed to the request.

Buford’s brigade was attached to General Charles Hamilton’s division and occupied the Union right at Corinth located just northeast of town. On the morning of October 4, 1862, Van Dorn hurled his concentrated army against the Corinth defenses in a series of ferocious if doomed headlong assaults. While Confederate assaults on the center and left crashed against the Union line (and at one point entered the town itself), things remained quiet until late morning out on the right. But soon a Confederate force in two lines marched out from under the cover of a forest and started towards Buford’s position.

Field glasses in hand, Neil spied the distinct flag of Sterling Price’s Army of the West; a deep red banner with a white crescent moon in one corner amid a field of 13 white stars. Neil had to smile grimly; the flags indicated that he was facing the same brigade of Confederates who had overrun his battery at Iuka: Louis Hebert’s old brigade of six western regiments now under the command of Colonel W. Bruce Colbert. The flags of the 14th Arkansas, 17th Arkansas and 3rd Louisiana were in the front line, while those of the 1st Texas Legion, the 3rd Texas Cavalry (dismounted), and the 40th Mississippi were in the second line. “Boys,” Neil called out to his battery, “these are the same troops that fought us at Iuka. Are you going to let them touch our guns today?’ The yell of rage that went up was more ominous than a Rebel yell ever tried to be,” Neil wrote.

During a visit to Captain Neil's gravesite in Columbus, friend of the blog Gary Milligan holds his autographed copy of A Battery at Close Quarters, a talk that Captain Neil delivered to the Ohio MOLLUS in 1909 that discusses the Iuka and Corinth engagements. 

Colonel Sanborn watched Neil ride out ahead of the line. “Lieutenant Neil was seated on his thoroughbred from 20 to 40 feet in front of the battery between the line of fire of the guns of the middle section. It was an elegant thoroughbred Kentucky horse fully caparisoned on which the lieutenant was sitting erect with his hat in his hand. He was standing out in front of the battery between the lines of fire of the two center guns, seemingly conscious that if he moved to the right or left, he would be torn to atoms, the lieutenant was waving his hat in the air and bidding defiance to the foe,” Sanborn continued. “He requested the colonel of infantry to keep his eye upon him and whenever he beckoned with his saber, to have the infantry rise up and deliver their fire.”

‘Come on! Come on if you think you can play Iuka again!’ Neil reportedly shouted at the Rebels.   

“Now the assaulting lines of the Rebel armies come on like a wave of the sea, rolling over breastworks and batteries,” Sanborn noted. At 600 yards, Neil ordered his battery to open fire with shell. “The men worked like tigers in their desperate resolve that their beloved guns would never again feel the insult of a Rebel touch,” Neil recalled. “Three times they charged and three times they were repulsed. Each time they came so close that we resorted to double charges of canister and never a Rebel reached the muzzles of our guns.”

Colonel John B. Sanborn
4th Minnesota Infantry

Colonel Sanborn remembered that Lieutenant Neil arranged to signal the infantry support when to rise and fire, but the Minnesotans had little chance due to the rapid and deadly fire rendered by the six guns. “Three times the lieutenant signaled the infantry to rise and fire and each time they rose to hear him say, ‘No, No, they have broken again.’

“By 4 o’clock, the Confederates were staggering back or surrendering in squads. From some prisoners taken at Corinth it was learned that they were still unnerved from the moral effect of their assaults at Iuka,” Neil concluded. “For a half mile in front of this battery after the battle were large areas covered with the dead and dying which told with what terrible effect it had been served during the assault,” Colonel Sanborn noted.

Confederate casualties in the battle totaled 4,233 (473 killed, 1,997 wounded, and 1,763 captured or missing) while Union losses came to roughly 2,500 men. It was the bloodiest battle fought on Mississippi soil during the Civil War, and it was a decisive Union victory. It also ended Van Dorn’s tenure as an army commander, and the amorous Mississippian would meet his fate at Spring Hill, Tennessee the following May.

Iuka had been clearly and decisively avenged, and the brave men of the 11th Ohio Battery would go on to see further action during the Vicksburg campaign. But the battery would never again be tested the way it was during the battles of Iuka and Corinth.

Source:

Neil, Henry M. A Battery at Close Quarters: A Paper Read Before the Ohio Commandery of the Loyal Legion October 6, 1909. Columbus: np, 1909



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