Saturday, February 18, 2017

"Let Us Charge the Cannon !"

Colonel Hinche Mabry

General Sterling Price had all the evidence he needed – a Yankee attack was coming. Horribly spattered with the blood of his comrade, the scout before him needed little to convince the portly Missourian. Just southwest of Iuka, Mississippi, he had encountered a Federal cavalry detachment on the San Jacinto Road. Price sent an infantry brigade, under General Louis Hebert, to counter the threat. A Union army, under the command of General William Rosecrans, was indeed marching steadily toward Price from the southeast. At the same time, a second army was advancing on him from the northwest. Under the overall command of General Ulysses S. Grant, both armies were executing a classic pincers move to trap Price in Iuka. Price would have to move quickly to avoid the trap. Hebert sent the Third Texas Cavalry regiment out ahead to find and screen Rosecrans’s advance – an overwhelming task at best.

The Third Texas Cavalry was actually the Third Dismounted Texas Cavalry. Consisting mostly of planters from Northeast Texas and armed prodigiously with shotguns, the Third had shed their mounts to become infantry. Their commander felt there were too many cavalry units in Mississippi. Encamped at the railroad junction of Corinth, the dismounted Texans learned the rudiments of infantry drill during the spring of 1862. They suffered staggering losses from disease and Corinth’s foul water supply. Fortunately for their health, but not their moral, the Confederates were forced to evacuate Corinth before a massive Federal offensive. Under the command of General Braxton Bragg, the Confederates later retook the initiative by invading Kentucky. Sterling Price was left behind to guard Mississippi. The newly appointed commander of the Vicksburg, Mississippi garrison, General Earl Van Dorn, requested Price to join him and invade West Tennessee while Bragg was in Kentucky. Price would have to get out of Iuka before joining Van Dorn.

Rosecran’s deployed his regiments to meet Hebert’s brigade. In the center of the line, directly in front of the Texans, was the 11th Ohio Artillery. The Federals were aligned along the south slope of a ravine. No sooner had the 3rd Texas descended into the ravine, when a shower of canister shot forced them to hit the dirt. Sgt. W. P. Helm recalled:

“The roaring artillery, the rattle of the musketry, the hailstorm of grape and ball were mowing us down like grain before we could locate from whence it came. We were trapped; there could be no retreat, and certain death was in our advance. We fell prostrate to the ground.”

The certain death was a gruesome decapitation if you stood up. There was only one solution - charge the battery and take the guns. With a rebel yell, the Third got to its feet and charged into the Union line. To the right of the battery, the 48th Indiana, a regiment consisting of green recruits, bolted to the rear when the Texans hit their line. Their brigade commander, Colonel John B. Sanborn, ordered them to stand and fight, drawing his pistol and shooting two who didn’t. The regiment directly behind the 48th, the 16th Ohio, was swept up by the 48th’s rout – a domino effect. The battery, however, kept many of the Texans back. To make matters worse, they were being fired on by their fellow Confederates behind them. After three attempts, the Third’s Colonel Hinche Mabry rallied his men for a fourth. “Boys if we are to die, let it be by Yankee bullets, not by our friends,” he cried. “So let us charge the cannon.” The Ohioans fought with an unmatched fury. Helm recalled, “Sword and bayonet were crossed. Muskets, revolvers knives, ramrods, gun swabs – all mingled in the death dealing fray."  Only a handful of the fifty four artillerymen were still standing when their battery was captured. One of the dead was found holding the bridles of his battery horses with a firm death grip. The horses were dead as well. Respectfully, the Texans released the survivors, but kept their six cannons. Of the 388 men in the Third Texas, 22 were killed and 74 were wounded - the highest loss the regiment suffered in battle. The Third continued serving in Mississippi until the end of the Civil War. They eventually regained their mounts and became part of the famed Sul Ross cavalry brigade. The brave charge of the Third Texas held up Rosecran’s advance and helped Price make his escape.