Resurrection and Redemption – The Eleventh Ohio Independent Battery – Part Two
by Phil Spaugy
The next morning (September 20th) Lieutenant Neil woke the surviving battery-men from their bivouac on the reverse slope of the hill where the Eleventh Battery had made their stand. Following closely behind the skirmishers of the 39th Ohio as they cautiously crested the hill, the Federals were surprised to find the Johnnies gone and horrified at the indescribable scene of carnage around the Eleventh’s battery position. Dead and dying horses and men lay intermingled. The men found driver John Dean, who had refused an order to leave the horse team of his limber, lying dead still holding the bridles of two of his horses-also dead. Many of the surviving drivers openly wept at the sight of their dead horse teams. With great emotion and reverence, the sixteen dead battery-men were gathered together by their comrades and buried near a large tree just to the rear of the position they had so gallantly defended.
It was with no little surprise that the six artillery pieces of the battery, captured at such a high cost, were found a short distance down the hill. The Rebs, obviously hampered by the lack of horses and harnesses to move the guns, had crudely spiked the pieces by driving files into their vents. Even with the guns spiked and the gun carriages all shot up, the men of the Eleventh rejoiced at their recovery.
It was early that same afternoon when General Rosecrans ordered Neil to immediately refit the Eleventh Battery. By slipping away during the night, the Confederate army had successfully stolen a march on the Federals, and “Old Rosey” (as Rosecrans men called him) was giving chase. Neil’s men went to work removing the files from the vents, and starting to repair the bullet-scarred gun carriages. While this work was getting underway, Neil started filling his depleted ranks with volunteers from the infantry regiments of Sanborn’s brigade. Once this was done, Neil started the training that would turn the foot soldiers into artillerymen. Amazingly, by late afternoon on October 1st, the young lieutenant had his command refitted, trained and ready to move. General Rosecrans had left orders for the Eleventh that, upon completion of their reorganization, they were to rejoin his forces gathering to defend the vital rail junction at Corinth, Mississippi against the combined Confederate armies of Price and Van Dorn.
Declining to wait for a cavalry escort, Neil procured some extra horses and used some of his battery-men as his advance guard. The Eleventh departed Iuka for Corinth on the morning of October 2nd and made the 20-mile march to Corinth without incident, arriving late that same afternoon. After being assigned to an unfamiliar brigade, the battery went into camp for the night.
On the morning of October 3rd, Neil requested that the unit be moved and assigned to their old brigade (Sanborn’s). This request was granted, and the battery soon broke camp and moved to join their old comrades of this brigade who had fought so valiantly in defense of the battery at Iuka. As the battery rolled into the brigade’s bivouac, it was met with loud cheers and more than a few tears. Notes by Colonel John Sanborn related that his soldiers recognized that Neil, …“came upon the field with his battery fully manned, equipped and drilled, amid the hurrahs and tears of the infantry that had seen it destroyed under the terrible fire of the 19th of September, and who now seemed to feel that the battery men, horses and all, had come back from the regions of the dead.”
The following morning (October 4th) found the Eleventh Battery in position on the far right of the Federal line as fight for Corinth began. The Confederate attack began on the Federal left, rolling towards the center, and finally, that afternoon, the action reached the battery’s position. Writing 20 years later, Colonel Sanborn gave his eyewitness account of both Lieutenant Neil and his battery that day:
“……when the irresistible assault of the rebel army came, the Eleventh Ohio Battery was in position commanding the whole rebel line and the Fourth Minnesota Infantry in line flat upon the ground close in its rear. Lieutenant Neil was seated on his thoroughbred from twenty to forty feet in front of the battery, between the line of fire of the guns of the middle section. He requested the Colonel of the infantry to keep his eye upon him and whenever he beckoned with his saber, to have the infantry rise up and deliver their fire.
Now the assaulting lines of the rebel armies come on like a wave of the sea, rolling along over breastworks and batteries. He orders the men to open fire and, still in his advanced position, waves his hat constantly to the advancing lines of rebels, and shouts, ‘Come on! Come on! if you think you can play Iuka over again.’ A strange coincidence was that the same rebel battalions came against this battery that had captured it on the 19th of September. But they could not come on here. Three times the Lieutenant signaled the infantry to rise and fire, and each time they rose to hear him say, ‘No, no, they have broke again.’
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.
The sight of the Lieutenant, after twenty years, brought up these occurrences—this whole scene, and made it as fresh as if it had transpired yesterday, and made me resolve to commit it to writing before I died, feeling that none of us had done him justice in our reports of these battles.
The scene at Corinth, if it could be placed on canvas, would be thrilling even to strangers. An elegant thoroughbred Kentucky horse fully caparisoned, on which the Lieutenant is sitting erectly, with his hat in his hand, is 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, and trusting himself wholly to his rider, the Lieutenant is waving his hat in the air, and bidding defiance to the foe; advancing in masses and lines upon his positions, the artillerymen with superhuman power and skill, amid the smoke that rolled incessantly from the muzzles of every gun, loading and firing, is a picture before the mind at this distance plainer than can be placed on canvas by the most skillful artist. It is such men and such services that saved this nation in the war. They were not conspicuous nor vain-glorious, perhaps not heard of before the war, nor afterwards; but in the midst of it, meeting the full demands of the great occasion and leaving the reward to posterity.”
The above description should leave little doubt that in the space of two weeks, the “Resurrection and Redemption” of the Eleventh Battery was complete, achieved against the very same rebel units that had captured the battery at Iuka!
Up next: A Letter from the Front – The Eleventh Ohio Battery – Part Three.
Cozzens, Peter. The Darkest Days of the War. The Battles of Iuka and Corinth. Chapel Hill NC, 1997
Fox, William. Regimental Losses in the Civil War. Dayton, Ohio, 1997
Neil, Henry M. A Battery at Close Quarters. Google Books.
Library of Congress, Chronicling of America, National Tribune
Library of Congress, Chronicling of America, Wyandot Pioneer
Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series 1, Part 17, Volumes 1 and 2.