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Battle of Perryville, KY
in the American Civil War

Union Battle Summary

Perryville, Ky., Oct. 8, 1862. Army of the Ohio. Early in August, 1862, the Confederate forces under Gens. Bragg and E. Kirby Smith united for an invasion of Kentucky, in the hope of forcing the state to secede from the Union. Smith entered Kentucky via of Cumberland gap and moved toward Lexington. Bragg's column cross the Tennessee river at Chattanooga, moved rapidly through middle Tennessee, and on Sept. 13 was at Glasgow, Ky., the objective point being Louisville. If Louisville could be seized and held the states north of the Ohio river would be in danger of invasion. Leaving a sufficient force to hold Nashville, Buell pushed forward with the remainder of his army in a race with Bragg for Louisville, where the Federal advance arrived on Sept. 25, and the rear division four days later. At Louisville Buell found a large number of raw recruits from the states of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, and immediately set about the reorganization of his army by intermixing the new troops with the old without changing the old organization.

When reorganized the Army of the Ohio number about 60,000 men. It was composed of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd army corps, respectively commanded by Maj.-Gens. A. McD. McCook, T.L. Crittenden and C.C. Gilbert. McCook's corps embraced the 3rd and 10th divisions, commanded by Brig.-Gen. L.H. Rousseau and Brig.-Gen. J.S. Jackson; Crittenden's corps was composed of the 4th and 6th division, commanded by Brig.-Gens. W.S. Smith and T.J. Wood; Gilbert's corps consisted of the 1st, 9th and 11th divisions, commanded by Brig.-Gens. Albert Schoepf, R.B. Mitchell and P.H. Sheridan. Opposed to this force was the Confederate Army of the Mississippi under Gen. Braxton Bragg, the estimated strength of which was about 68,000 men. The right wing, under Maj.-Gen. Leonidas Polk, consisted of Cheatham's division and the cavalry brigade of Col. J.A. Wharton. The left wing, commanded by Maj.-Gen. W.J. Hardee, was made up of the infantry divisions of Brig.-Gen. J.P. Anderson and Maj.-Gen. S.B. Buckner, and the cavalry brigade of Col. Joseph Wheeler.

It was Buell's intention to start from Louisville on the last day of September and move against Bragg, who was then at Bardstown, about 45 miles south, but an order was received relieving him of the command of the army and turning it over to Maj.-Gen. George H. Thomas. The latter declined to accept, however, and was made second in command. This proceeding delayed the movement of the army for one day, and on Oct. 1, it marched out in five columns. The left moved toward Frankfort to hold in check the Confederates in that vicinity, and the other four moved over the roads leading via Shepherdsville, Mount Washington, Fairfield and Bloomfield to Bardstown. Each column encountered Confederate detachments a few miles out from Louisville and the delay occasioned by the almost constant skirmishing gave Bragg an opportunity to get away from Bardstown, the last of his infantry retiring about eight hours before Buell's advance entered the town. A sharp skirmish occurred between the cavalry and artillery, the pursuit of the Confederate rear-guard continuing for some distance in the direction of Springfield. Believing that the enemy would concentrate his forces about Danville, Buell ordered McCook to move toward that point via Harrodsburg while Crittenden proceeded on the Lebanon and Danville road and Gilbert took the direct road to Perryville. Shortly after leaving Bardstown Buell received information that Kirby Smith had crossed the Kentucky river near Salvisa and was moving to effect a junction with Bragg at Harrodsburg or Perryville. Orders were therefore sent to McCook to move directly to the latter place. Gilbert's corps arrived within 3 miles of Perryville on the afternoon of the 7th and was drawn up in line of battle, as the enemy appeared to be in considerable force and an attack was apprehended. Capt. Gay pushed forward with his brigade of cavalry and a battery, driving the Confederate rear-guard back about a mile and developing the enemy's position, which was such that it indicated he intended to make a stand at Perryville. As water had been somewhat scarce during the last three days, Buell's first step was to gain possession of Doctor's creek, a tributary of the Chaplin river, and to accomplish this Col. Daniel McCook's brigade of Sheridan's division was ordered to seize and hold a position commanding the creek. The enemy tried to prevent this, but McCook carried out the order just before daylight on the morning of the 8th. Orders were sent to commanders of the 1st and 2nd corps to move at 3 a.m. on the 8th and take positions on the right and left of Gilbert. These orders did not reach McCook and Crittenden until after 2 o'clock in the morning. The former marched at 5 o'clock and reached the field at 10:30 a.m., and the latter's command was not in the engagement at all.

The battle on the 8th began with the attempt of the Confederates to drive McCook from his position covering Doctor's creek, and was opened with artillery. McCook ordered Barnett's battery to the right of his line to reply, and after about three-fourths of an hour Barnett succeeded in silencing the enemy's guns. Buckner then commenced massing his troops in the edge of the woods in which McCook had placed his skirmishers. Gay's cavalry started toward Perryville, but was stopped by Buckner. Dismounting part of his command, Gay joined the skirmishers of the 54th Ohio and soon became engaged with Buckner's force, consisting of two brigades of infantry. The 2nd Mo. and 44th Ill. were then sent forward to the support of the skirmish line, driving the enemy from the woods and back across an open field. In the meantime the divisions of Mitchell and Sheridan had been moved to a position where they could come quickly to McCook's support, with orders to hold their ground until the army was prepared to attack in force. About the time that Buckner was driven back across the field Rousseau's division came up on the Mackville road and formed in an open field on the left of Gilbert, but with considerable space between the two commands. At 2 p.m. the enemy made an attack on the skirmishers of the 33rd Ohio. The remainder of that regiment and the 2nd Ohio were sent to the support of the skirmish line and in a short time the action became general, the heaviest assault falling on the left of the line, where it was gallantly repulsed by Starkweather's brigade. Gen. Jackson was killed at the first fire, and this caused a portion of his division to give way in some confusion. Brig.-Gen. W.R. Terrill, commanding the 33rd brigade, lost his life while trying to rally the men, and 10 pieces of his artillery were left on the ground, though 8 of these were afterward recovered. The Confederates next took advantage of the gap between Rousseau's right and Gilbert's left, pressing the attack at that point with an overwhelming force. Rousseau's right was turned and his line was being forced back, when Gooding's and Steedman's brigades of Gilbert's corps came to his assistance, driving back the enemy and reoccupying the ground near the Russell house. Steedman posted his battery along with that of Pinney's near the Russell house and opened a terrific fire on the Confederate lines, while the batteries of Sheridan's division caught the enemy on the left flank and poured in a heavy enfilading fire from that direction. Carlin's brigade of Mitchell's division now reinforced Sheridan, a charge was made with such intrepidity that the Confederates were completely routed and forced back through the town, Sheridan capturing 2 caissons and 15 wagons loaded with ammunition, as well as the guard with them, consisting of 3 officers and 138 men. This ended the battle, though the Union commanders spent the greater part of the night in perfecting their plans for a renewal of the fight on the following morning. At daylight on the 9th the Federal camps were astir and at 6 o'clock the corps of Crittenden and Gilbert moved forward to attack the enemy's front and left flank. When the advance reached the town it was discovered that the enemy had abandoned his position during the night and fallen back toward Harrodsburg.

The Union losses in the battle of Perryville were 845 killed, 2,851 wounded and 515 missing. Bragg reported his losses as being 510 killed, 2,635 wounded and 251 missing. This engagement ended the Confederate invasion of Kentucky. The effort to force the state to secede had failed. On Oct. 12 Bragg made a report from Bryantsville, in which he said: "The campaign here was predicated on a belief and the most positive assurances that the people of this country would rise in mass to assert their independence. No people ever had so favorable an opportunity, but I am distressed to add there is little or no disposition to avail of it. Willing, perhaps, to accept their independence, they are neither disposed nor willing to risk their lives or their property in its achievement." In the same report he also says: "Ascertaining that the enemy was heavily reinforced during the night, I withdrew my force early the next morning to Harrodsburg and thence to this point. * * * My future movements cannot be indicated, as they will depend in a great measure on those of the enemy." The only "reinforcement" added to Buell's army on the night of the 8th was Crittenden's corps, and this was near enough to have been brought into the action at Perryville, had the commanding general deemed it necessary. As "the enemy" showed a disposition to act on the aggressive, Bragg hurried to get out of Kentucky, retreating via Cumberland gap into Tennessee, the Union army continuing the pursuit as far as London, Ky., harassing the rear-guard and capturing a number of stragglers. (This engagement is sometimes called the battle of Chaplin Hills.)

Source: The Union Army, Volume 6, Cyclopedia of Battles, 1908


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