Perryville Battlefield

Photo above: Squire Bottom's House on the Perryville Battlefield, 2006, Hal Jesperson. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Right: Battle of Perryville, Starkweather's Brigade, Strobridge, and Compay. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Battle of Perryville

Battle of Perryville

It's such a battlefield preservation success that you're constantly surprised it's not a National Park, but Perryville, the imperative battle for control of Kentucky in 1862 is still a state historic site, with a constant mission to preserve more and more of its battle land, as the campaigns of the Civil War Trust, now the American Battlefields Trust, attests. The park commemorates the October 8, 1862 battle between 71,000 soldiers of the Federal and Confederate armies, which had been battling for supremacy in the border state during the summer of that year. The neutrality of 1861 was gone; both sides now wanted Kentucky. In 1862, the intention of the Confederate Army under General Braxton Bragg was to pull Union forces from Vicksburg and Chattanooga to defend against an invasion into northern territory and control of the Ohio River.

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Battle of Perryville

Perryville Battlefield Then

Since the 1840's, the small town of Perryville had been a prosperous merchant's town, with its verdant farmland of the Chaplin Hills to the north of town replete with crops that filled its storehouses. But when Braxton Bragg and his Army of Mississippi, with only sixteen thousand men, met the forces of the Army of the Ohio under General Don Carlos Buell, with forces of fifty-five thousand and twenty-two thousand engaged, those fields became the acreage of an early October battle of which Kentucky had never seen before or since.

By the end of the second day of fighting, the Confederates could claim a tactical victory. Union General Buell, behind the lines, did not realize that a major battle was occurring and did not send in his remaining reserves. With the Confederate disadvantage in troops, their victory was initially impressive, but it had come at such high cost by percentage of men and material, that they would retreat back to Tennessee anyway by way of the Cumberland Gap, and never make it back to Kentucky territory again. Seven thousand, six hundred and twelve soldiers from both sides were casualties. More Union perished than Confederate.

Photo above: Harper's Weekly image of the Battle of Perryville, 1862, Harper's Weekly. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Below: Cannon from Parson's Battery on the Perryville Battlefield at Open Knob, 2007, Hal Jesperson. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Cannon at Perryville Battlefield

Perryville Battlefield Now

About as pristine as you can get for a battlefield, with additional lands being purchased at regular intervals. You won't have to worry about traffic into a fast food location next to a cannon, at least up to now. When you visit Perryville, particularly the park, but also the town, envisioning the time of the battle and the actions of the brave men who fought there is a rather easy task. The park has a small museum, several monuments, trails and interpretation throughout its over one thousand acres.

There are locations such as the Open Knob, the Bottom House (private, please view from a distance), and the Steeltown site to visit. Steeltown tells a post Civil War story. It was the site of a town where former slaves and veterans of the Civil War created a community.

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Things You Should Not Miss

1. Take a hike around the battlefield. Fifteen miles of trails take you past many of the important locations of the battle, forty-six in all per last count on the trails map.

2. Visit the museum, bookstore, and watch the 25 minute film.

3. Take the time to visit downtown Perryville, walk Merchant's Row, gaze at Elmwood Mansion, and take the house tour. It will give you an idea about what regular life was like in the mid-1800's.

4. If you're lucky enough to be in town during the early October anniversary weekend, take advantage and enjoy the lectures and tours.

Photo above: Sketch of the skirmish line after the Battle of Perryville at Salt River of Company A of the 32nd Indiana, October 9, 1862, Adolph Metzner. Courtesy Library of Congress.

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