Charge of the 2nd Iowa Cavalry
As the situation at the creek developed a frantic call for troops to assist the two hard pressed brigades went out. About 1000 a harried aide approached LTC Edward Hatch of the 2nd Iowa Cavalry with an order to rush “with all possible speed” to the front. Within minutes the Hawkeye regiment, “that did not exceed 500 men”, was galloping the two mile distance to the trouble area. The troopers arrived just as Paine’s men fell back on Loomis’s brigade at the creek. As they broke out of the wood line they were immediately taken under fire by Confederate artillery. The scene was described in a regimental history;
“Hurrying to the top of a hill near, we came in full view of a Confederate battery of eight guns. They all opened on us, and the few minutes we remained there inactive awaiting orders, were far more trying than any other I ever experienced as a soldier.”
The disintegrating situation at the infantry line was about to make that a grand overstatement. The two brigades there were being battered by Confederate guns as well and faced the very near term prospect of an all-out assault by the advancing wave of enemy infantry. The desperate situation called for a desperate solution. The disorganized Federal line needed time to gather itself and execute a retreat across the lone available bridge. The artillery bombardment was making reorganization impossible and the threat of a complete collapse was imminent. Paine needed relief from the shelling to bring order to his troops so they could make their move back into the main Union line on the other side of the creek. Newly arrived and still in good order the 2nd Iowa cavalry offered an opportunity to gain some measure of respite from the deadly barrage. As the Confederates were attempting to place guns in a position that would command the bridge Paine issued orders to protect his escape route. He ordered Hatch to “charge that right hand battery with this cavalry and hold it at all hazards.”
It was an impossible order but Hatch ordered eight companies, about 400 men, to draw their blades. They dutifully “spurred into the conflict”, riding head first into the enemy batteries.” The received a warm greeting.
“About halfway between where we started the charge and the object of our mad ride was a ditch so deep and wide that not over one half of the horses could cross it. This, with the balls from the foe, so completely broke our ranks that men could not keep with their companies or officers with their men; still all spurred onward.”
Hatch, seeing the futility of the attack, tried to recall the regiment, but in the chaos and noise his orders went unheeded. As the charge neared the battery a line of infantry rose up and fired a volley. Luckily their aim was not true and the majority of the rounds passed high over the surging troopers. Those that completed the charge managed to temporarily drive the gunners away from one battery, but the position could not be held and there was little strength left to affect the others. After a very brief stay the men and well blown mounts retreated in the face of overwhelming odds to a swampy area to regroup. The charge cost the Iowans 51 casualties (2k 45w 4m). Coupled with 5 losses (1k 4w) in a skirmish with Confederate cavalry during the reconnaissance on the 8th the 2nd Iowa Cavalry easily led the casualty report for this two day affair. Their loss was not in vain, however, the brief pause in the artillery fire and associated actions caused by their attack allowed the Union infantry to retire. There is some evidence that the excitement of the charge caused several of the Confederate guns to hastily adjust and miscalculate, missing their target and firing into the backs of their own advance. The 36th Mississippi was broken and other regiments became disorganized by the fire from the unexpected direction. The infantry attack was stalled. A disorganized Union escape allowed as they reformed. The 11th Missouri, acting as rear guard was the last to cross over the bridge. One Confederate participant called it a foot race to the creek in which they finished second. The only question that remained was; where was Van Dorn?Battle of Farmington (Campaign Series)