Friday, October 14, 2011

Walking the fields at Perryville

His failure to chase Braxton Bragg's army after the Oct. 8, 1862, Battle of Perryville in Kentucky cost Union Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell his job. While brave and organized, Buell was cautious and lacked the ingenuity to overcome unexpected circumstances.

Last month, I finally was able to visit Perryville, stopping at the visitors center for exhibits and a movie, before taking a self-guided tour over much of the battlefied.

It was a beautiful late summer afternoon, puffs of clouds hovering over the green rolling fields. With the exception of one couple, we had Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site to ourselves.

Bragg’s autumn 1862 invasion of Kentucky had reached the outskirts of Louisville and Cincinnati, but his far-outnumbered army was forced to retreat and regroup.

According to a National Park Service summary of the battle, Buell's army, numbering nearly 55,000, converged on the small crossroads town of Perryville in three columns.

The undulating hills in the area had a strange effect, we had learned, making it difficult to hear the din of battle from portions of the battlefield. Buell, who wasn't aware of the fierce fighting until late in the day, failed to send a large number of reserves to stem the Confederate assaults.

We walked up and down the terrain where Maney's men in gray attacked the Union flank and forced it to fall back. When more Confederate divisions joined the fray, the Union line made a stubborn stand, counterattacked, but finally fell back with some troops routed, according to the NPS.

The Yankees regrouped and were able to push some Confederates back into Perryville.

"Bragg, short of men and supplies, withdrew during the night, and, after pausing at Harrodsburg, continued the Confederate retrograde by way of Cumberland Gap into East Tennessee. The Confederate offensive was over, and the Union controlled Kentucky."

Casualties were estimated at 7,407, 4,211 of them Federal.

The Civil War Trust is trying to purchase a 141-acre tract on the extreme southern portion of the battlefield, where Rebels had smashed into the Union line.

A Louisianian described the fighting on this tract as "the grandest but the most awful sight, ever looked upon ... the enemy stood firm," according to the trust's website.

Despite surprising the Federal forces holding the line near the Squire Henry Bottom house, the fighting had quickly devolved to a bloody, stand-up fight. "All along our front, a solid line of dead and wounded lay, in some places three deep, extending to the right from the barn."

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