The Civil War Battle of Perryville, Kentucky – 150 Years Ago

Confederate Memorial outside the mass grave at the battlefield site.

“The spectacle presented by the battlefield was enough to make angels weep.  It beggars all description” - the day after the battle, Henry Fales Perry, 38th Indiana Infantry.

The Battle of Perryville, the largest Civil War battle fought on Kentucky soil, began in the early morning hours on October 8, 1862.  Usually at that time of the morning we have fog in central Kentucky – did the troops experience that?  Or was it a clear, crisp fall day?  Either way, after General Braxton Bragg, with 16,000 Confederate troops, invaded Kentucky with the purpose of taking the city of Louisville, on the Ohio River, Union General Don Carlos Buell, with 20,000 men, was forced to pursue.  And they met at Perryville, a small town with a population of roughly 300.

Note the cannon atop the hill.

The fighting was severe – even weathered veterans said it was one of the fiercest battles in which they had fought.  One said the ground became slippery with blood.  7,500 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed or wounded.  With such a small town, the citizens were overwhelmed with the dead and injured.  Every available space – homes, businesses, schools, churches, barns and sheds – became a makeshift hospital.  Due to a drought, there was very little water to be found, and lack of anesthesia took its tole on the severely wounded.

Confederate plot at Spring Hill Cemetery in Harrodsburg, KY.

There were so many wounded they were shipped to hospitals and churches and homes in nearby Danville and Harrodsburg – and other areas.  Spring Hill Cemetery in Harrodsburg has a plot for Confederate soldiers – most unknown.

William F. Grimsley, Private, Co. F 16 Tennessee Infantry, CSA 1836-1862

D. L. Richardson, born at Bethpouge, W.V. December 4, 1842, died at Lebanon, Kentucky, July 5, 1863

Captain Gabe S. Alexander, Co. H, 2 KY Cavalry, CSA, April 5, 1829 – July 23, 1863

In memory of Private James W. Powers, Co. G, 1 Tennessee Infantry, CSA, 1841-1862

To the memory of William Nance, Company I, 2nd Tennessee Regiment, CSA, 2nd son of Elder Josiah C. Nance and Bethenia H. Nance, born April 3, 1834, wounded at Battle of Perryville, Kentucky, October 8, 1862, died at Harrodsburg, Kentucky, October 25, 1862.  Greater than Lee, he did not surrender.  Erected by his sister, Bethenia H. Nance.

In memory of Prussian volunteer Baron Robert Von Massow, 1839-1927, Mosby’s Rangers, CSA

In memory of 2nd Lt. Chat Renick, Sgt. John Barker, Pvt. Foster Key, Pvt. Henry Noland, Pvt. James Noland, Pvt. William Noland, died January 1865, Quantrill’s Missouri Cavalry, CSA

The muffled drums sad roll has beat
The soldiers last tattoo.
Nor more on life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.

I suppose you could say these are the lucky ones – they had a proper burial.  I am reading Stuart W. Sanders’ Perryville Under Fire, an excellent book not only about the Battle of Perryville, but also the result it had on the wounded and dying that were left there – some as many as six months or more – and the consequence of such a small town having to shoulder the responsibility of caring for the soldiers that remained behind.  The town was decimated in the areas of food, water, medical supplies and firewood.  Many people’s stores for winter was used to feed the soldiers, and as mentioned earlier, a drought made water extremely scarce.  The armies had not planned well and little medical supplies were on hand.  Fences, furniture and lumber from barns were used as firewood.  After five hours of battle, not only were there many dead soldiers to immediately bury – 1,426 total – this number grew as many of the wounded died due to their wounds, lack of medical care or disease.  Shallow graves and mass graves were dug, but many of the dead, especially Confederate soldiers, were left as they lay for several days.  Henry P. Bottom, a farmer whose land was included in the battle, buried many soldiers.  Such a sad, sad time in our history.

In making my list of baptisms of St. Rose Church from Washington County, Kentucky, there are several baptisms listed as ‘baptized in a hospital near Perryville’.  Evidently the good fathers from St. Rose did their part during the war to bring comfort to those wounded in the battle.  I have no way of knowing if these soldiers recuperated and eventually made it home to their loved ones, or if they succumbed to their wounds and were buried in this area.  The following is a list of these soldiers:

  • William Beard, age 24 years, with Co. K, 32nd Regiment Mississippi, Vol. CSA, baptized November 7, 1862
  • Bright Byrd, age 24 years, of Dale Co., AL, CSA, baptized October 13, 1862
  • Wesley Pike, Co. B, 75th Regiment, Illinois Volunteers, USA, baptized October 14, 1862
  • Samuel Riles, CSA, native of Coffee Co., Alabama, baptized October 14, 1862

At our Mercer County Library there is an excellent exhibit of items found at Perryville after the battle – shells, swords, buttons, cannon balls, money from the period.

And this weekend nearly 2,000 re-enactors gathered at the battlefield in Perryville to recreate what happened 150 years ago.  Most are avid historians, trying to make history come alive.  But they also want to try to understand what happened and why it happened.  The Lexington Herald-Leader had a nice article with some great pictures.  As for the Confederate army, except for a few visits by John Hunt Morgan and his raiders, they gave up hope of taking Kentucky and making it a stronghold for the South.  The horror of a battle so long ago remains with us today.  Hopefully we have learned a lesson from it.

To the valiant soldiers of the army of the United States, who bravely fought and heroically fell in the Battle of Perryville, October 8, 1862. This monument in grateful memory of their loyal service and noble sacrifice has been erected by the reunited republic they died to save.

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8 responses to “The Civil War Battle of Perryville, Kentucky – 150 Years Ago

  1. Thanks for mentioning my book! Hope you are enjoying it.
    Also, thanks for listing the information on post-battle baptisms. That’s really interesting to see. Kurt Holman, the Perryville park manager, has compiled a database of soldiers killed and wounded during the battle. Email him at Kurt.holman@ky.gov and he can probably tell you what happened to those soldiers.
    Thanks again!
    Stuart Sanders

    • Thank you for the email – I would love to know what happened to these soldiers! Your books is fascinating and I am enjoying it thoroughly! We’ve been to the battlefield many times, and knew the number killed and wounded, but your book gives a clear picture of how this was so overwhelming to the town of Perryville and its small population! I had not thought about that aspect of the war! Thanks for visiting my blog!

  2. Came to post my news and I see the reference that Kurt Holman may have a database with same. Oh well. Here it goes anyway. The short answer. All four died on or soon after their baptism. All four are today ‘burial unknown’, unless you find a stone somewhere. One would have expected to find the one US soldier in the VA database, but he is not there. I’ll post the men separately.

  3. Bright Byrd, age 24 years, of Dale Co., AL, CSA, baptized October 13, 1862

    Bright Byrd is ‘William Bright Byrd, he was born July 19,1841. He enlisted March 14, 1862 om Greenville, Alabama. as a private, Company I, 33d Reg’t Alabama Infantry. Some records have him as dying October 16th, 1862, but it appears he held on much longer. I find records that have him dying of his wounds October 23,1862.

    Having neither wife or child, there was no pension request. His father made a request for past wages. “The State of Alabama, Dale County. Before me, M.R. Sims, an acting Justice of the Peace, in and for said county personally came Nathan Byrd, who being duly sworn deposed and says that he was the father of W.B. Byrd, late a private in Captain Needham Hughes company I, 33d Reg. Alabama Volunteers that the same W.B. Byrd died at Perryville, Ky on or about the 24th day of October 1862 leaving neither wife nor child surviving him and that he is therefore entitled to receive the arrears of pay to that may be found due the said W.B. Byrd due from the Confederate States. And at the same time also appeared James Carroll, who being sworn, says that he is acquinated with the said Nathan Byrd and knew the said W.B. Byrd and that the facts as sworn to by the same Nathan Byrd are true and that he is disinterested therein. Sworn to and subscribed before me this 13th day of April 1863. W. R. Sims, Justice of Peace.

    It was further found that Bright Byrd owed the Confederate States two dollars for clothing drawn. He is entited to commenuration from the 14th Sept to the 24th of Oct. 1862. Said W. B. Byrd was engaged in the Battle of Perryville Ky on the 8th of October 1862 where he received his death wounds.

    Amount found due: $64.80

  4. William Beard, age 24 years, with Co. K, 32nd Regiment Mississippi, Vol. CSA, baptized November 7, 1862

    W. Bearde pvt, Capt. Ben J. Kizer’s Company, Lowrey’s Reg’t, Mississippi Volunteers (CSA). Joined for duty and mustered in Aug. 15, 1861 in Inka, Miss. He was transferred to Capt. Hawkins Company of Sharpshooters prior to Perryville. Wm Beard, Pvt Co K, 32 Miss Regt, Appears on a List of Confederate soldiers who have died in the District of Central Kentucky. List dated Lexington, Ky., April 2, 1863.
    Where captured: Chaplin Hills, Ky.
    Cause of death: Wounded thigh and pneumonia
    Date of death: November 7, 1862
    Place of death: Hosp in Perryville, KY

  5. Wesley Pike, Co. B, 75th Regiment, Illinois Volunteers, USA, baptized October 14, 1862

    Wesley Pike enlisted 11 Aug 1862 in Lyndon, Illinois where he working as a farm laborer. He was 19. He may be the Wesley Pike of this family in the 1850 census.
    1850 Census, Erie, NY
    Abner Pike 57
    Matilda Pike 52
    Charles Pike 16
    Wesley Pike 8

    One can speculate that he was baptized before his left leg was amputated.
    Date of death: Oct 15, 1862
    General Hospital Perryville Kentucky
    Amputated left leg from gun shot wound, Jas G. Hatchitt, S.

  6. Samuel Riles, CSA, native of Coffee Co., Alabama, baptized October 14, 1862

    Samuel F. Rials, enlisted Feb. 22, 1862 in Elba, Coffee County, Alabama. He was a musician, assigned to Company A, 33rd Alabama Infantry.
    Sam’l Rials, Co. A, 33d Regt. Name appears on a register of claims of deceased officers and soldiers from Alabama which were filed for settlement int he Office of the Confederate States Auditor for the War Department.
    By whom presented: Aaron Rials
    When filed: Mar. 30, 1863.

    Here’s the family in 1860:
    Aaron Rials 40
    Sarah A Rials 40
    Samuel Rials 21
    Jesse Rials 15
    Ivey Rials 13
    Martha Rials 9
    Elizabeth Rials 8
    Edwin Rials 5
    Elmira Rials 1

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