|Bryan Bush at the Polk home (Kentucky State Parks)|
the wounded after the battle left 7,600 casualties and a strategic Union victory.
Besides his medical practice, Polk was also a traveling minister, newspaper publisher, temperance lecturer and abolitionist,” says a press release about the talks. “His account of the aftermath of the Battle of Perryville is one of the more vivid and horrifying descriptions of the destruction resulting from a major battle during the Civil War.”
|Dr. J.J. Polk|
Polk and his son, William Tod Polk, also a doctor, treated the wounded at makeshift hospitals and the elder Polk’s home and office in Perryville. The two structures survive and are part of the town’s Merchants Row, a collection of buildings that are more than 170 years old. Many are occupied today by businesses catering to tourists and residents.
Dr. J.J. Polk documented some of what he saw in his autobiography.
“The first hospital I entered was Mr. Peters’ house. Here were about two hundred wounded soldiers, lying side by side on beds of straw. Notwithstanding they were wounded in every possible way, there was not heard among them a groan or complaint. In the orchard close by a long trench had been dug, in which to bury the dead; about fifteen were lying in a row, ready for interment.”
According to one history, Polk treated the wounded in a barn at the Goodnight property, where the farmer played a fiddle and gave the wounded whiskey to dull their pain. The musical group Granville Automatic recorded the song “Goodnight House” a few years ago about the scene.
The doctor wrote other vivid passages about what he encountered.
“I noticed at one spot six dead horses, the entire team of a rebel cannon. Turning my steps south toward Perryville, I saw dead rebels piled up in pens like hogs. I reached my home, praying to God that I might never again be called upon to visit a battlefield.”
|The Polk home is part of Merchants Row, below (Courtesy of Main Street Perryville)|
“Some of them were there for a year following the battle.”
|Dr. Polk's office in 2007 (Courtesy of Main Street Perryville)|
Polk treated and befriended a captured Confederate officer from Prussia – Karl Langenbecker – who eventually helped treat others but died two months after the battle. “He is buried in Dr. Polk’s plot with a very nice headstone right next to Dr. Polk’s monument,” says Goode. Polk died at age 79 in 1881.
|The office interior|
on Jan. 25, Feb. 15, March 14 and April 11 at 1 p.m. Tickets are $4 for adults and $3 for children ages 12 and under. The state historic site is near the town of Perryville.