“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.
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.
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
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.