Iuka, MS: After we left the warm Florida coast and Olustee, Moose and I continued our trip home from visiting my aunt and I made the snap decision to cut west and visit the site of the battle of Iuka, in Iuka, Mississippi. We found The Victorian Inn online and reserved a room soon after we left Olustee. The direct route back to Kansas City would have taken me through Atlanta, Nashville and up to St. Louis and over to Kansas City. There were many sites in Atlanta that would rate a visit, but I feel that we will make the Atlanta area subject of their own feature visit. Since I was trying to make it home in time to attend a job fair, I wanted to visit a relatively easy to tour site. I had previously called the Tishomingo History Museum and asked about touring in the area. The gentleman on the phone was extremely gracious and helpful. He also gave me a great piece of advice. He told me “Do not make a special trip to Iuka.” Now since this a travel magazine, I feel it is important to pass that on to you, the reader. Do not make a special trip specifically to Iuka! After the historical narrative, I will tell you the best way to tour Iuka.
I like to open each article with a quote in regards to the military action that occurred there. Here at the Battle of Iuka, speculation would grow as to Major General Grant’s fitness to lead troops in battle. Here rumors would spread, perhaps unjustly. I am not a General Grant detractor and I tend to follow General Eisenhower’s assessment of General Grant. But the opening quote from Federal Captain William Stewart of the 11th Missouri does lead one to speculate. I do tend to believe that Grant suffered from migraine headaches and Grant’s reputation as a drunkard was something that was propagated by his pre-war isolation off the frontier Army.
The Battle of Iuka occurred in September of 1862 and had some significant strategic implications. If you recall what was happening in the late summer and early autumn of 1862, the Confederate Army was on the offensive. General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia were on the march in Maryland and General Braxton Bragg was also on the offensive in an attempt to bring Kentucky into the Confederacy’s fold. There is a significant amount of academic speculation that leads one to believe that a Confederate victory on Northern territory in the late Summer, would have brought Great Britain into the war on the Confederate’s behalf. At the very least, it would have caused the British Navy to lift the Federal blockade of the southern coast. Previous to the Battle of Iuka, there was concern among Federal command that Confederate Major Generals Sterling Price and Earl Van Dorn had resolved to march north to join Braxton Braggs forces now operating in Kentucky. With Bragg’s forces, the addition of Price’s and Van Dorn’s forces would have given the Confederates enough to of a punch to defeat Federal forces under Major General Don Carlos Buell’s forces defending Kentucky. So, with all that in play, Iuka was no longer an obscure and remote battle in a secondary theater, Iuka now took center stage in that horrid opus the American Civil War, and the stakes could not have been higher.
As stated, Moose and I were on our way home from a family emergency in Florida and a stop in at the Victorian Inn in Iuka, Mississippi brought an end to 13 hours of drive time. The time had been increased by a stop at the Olustee State Historical site in Florida, and a traffic stop in Georgia, thank you Deputy for not being quick to write a ticket. All that said, I tend to prefer to travel via automobile instead of flying for a couple of reasons. The first is that the act of flying will generally burn a day either way. Between travel time to the airport, your special one-on-one pat down with your favorite TSA agent, waiting in security, picking up luggage and the time and expense of a rental car, you generally have wasted a day. With the road trip, you have your own vehicle, the cost of travel is dramatically reduced, you can stop along the way and the drive is actually beautiful. Often when I drive long stretches, regardless of what music is being played on the radio, my mind cuts to that scene from “Forrest Gump” where Forrest “just ran…”, complete with the song “Running on Empty” playing in my mind. For me, the road trip is therapy and the ascetics of a drive off the interstate across the deep south in the spring with all the world a bloom is a very beautiful sight to behold. That stretch of road that leads from western Georgia, across Alabama and into northeastern Mississippi offered a plethora of small rural communities with neatly sculpted and cultivated fields and beautiful southern styled barns that dotted the entire pathway.
As the day turned into evening and as we were passing through western Alabama, near the Mississippi state line, I noticed signage that pointed us towards Major General Joseph Wheeler’s home. Joe Wheeler is one of the best Confederate cavaliers of the Civil War, every bit as good as Stuart, but I can’t say he was as good as Forrest. That, however, is a conversation for another day. General Wheeler also has the distinction of being one of two former Confederate Generals to serve as US Army Generals in the Spanish American War, commanding future President of the United States and Medal of Honor Recipient Colonel Theodore Roosevelt. So being that General Wheeler was just “Bully” of a man, I wanted to visit his home. But we had passed through the area well after they would have closed for the day and I will have to come back another time.
A seemingly short time later, we had arrived at our destination for the night. If you are in the Iuka area, the Victorian Inn is an economical choice for a night’s rest and a shower. That said, we did not pay a Hilton price and we got what we paid for. The staff was friendly and helpful and there were two beds in the room and a hot shower. In the morning, after eating a quick breakfast burrito at the local McDonald’s, we toured the Iuka battlefield, which largely consists of a few acres off of Lee Highway, State Highway 72 and Veteran’s Memorial Drive. The McDonald’s is strategically placed on the actual battlefield on what must have been Major General Price’s Army of the West’s far right line. Touring the site took roughly 20 minutes, and I was instantly reminded of the phone conversation I had a few months ago with the Tishomingo History Museum, of not to make a special trip.
By 9:00 AM I made the call to head the 20 miles west to Corinth, MS from Iuka. When we passed through in 2017, we only had 20 minutes to explore the interpretive center. So we went to revisit some of Corinth that we did not get the chance to see before. The Interpretive Center has changed a bit since 2017. There were two very high-quality movies and there was a new exhibit hall that featured some Mississippi unit’s regimental flags that I did not recall seeing last time. After the tour of the Interpretive Center, we went out on the lawn and paid tribute to the valor displayed by the Texas assault on Battery Robinette. To the State of Texas’ credit, they have as recently as 2010 placed a new monument on the property and it was very well done. After that, we left the Interpretive Center and went on a driving tour around Corinth. For me, the big payoff was walking the siege lines of both the Union and Confederate forces in the first Battle of Corinth, or the Battle of Farmington. Both are the same place and it is one of those Sharpsburg/Antietam deals, where one side called the battle Corinth and the other called it Farmington. After we finished up the siege lines walk, both Moose and I were covered in ticks, so make sure you bring plenty of bug spray if you are going out tramping the siege lines. After we finished pulling the ticks off, it was time to get on the road, as I had a phone interview with a prospective client coming up and I wanted to ensure that I was in an area of adequate cellular coverage.
After some reflection, I have come to the best conclusion I could on how-to best tour Iuka. There are a couple of ways to efficiently and effectively do it so you can see an incredibly significant battlefield, but avoid a letdown. If you are passing through the area naturally on your route of travel, Iuka is an easy tour, but I think it would be best to tour Iuka as part of a Shiloh, Corinth Civil War Tour. I highly recommend touring Corinth in the same trip as Shiloh and with Iuka just a short 20 miles away from Corinth, I feel this is the best course of action to take to visit this field of valor. But even better would be a four-day weekend of Shiloh, Corinth, Iuka and a short drive east into Alabama to General Wheeler’s home. The phone interview went well, and the rest of the trip back to Kansas City was uneventful. The weather had called for rain, but thankfully Mother Nature decided to cut me some slack and thus ended my trip to say “goodbye” to my aunt. I will see you down the trail.