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Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle

Kenneth W. Noe
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 520
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    " Winner of the Seaborg Award A History Book Club Selection On October 8, 1862, Union and Confederate forces clashed near Perryville, Kentucky, in what would be the largest battle ever fought on Kentucky soil. The climax of a campaign that began two months before in northern Mississippi, Perryville came to be recognized as the high water mark of the western Confederacy. Some said the hard-fought battle, forever remembered by participants for its sheer savagery and for their commanders' confusion, was the worst battle of the war, losing the last chance to bring the Commonwealth into the Confederacy and leaving Kentucky firmly under Federal control. Although Gen. Braxton Bragg's Confederates won the day, Bragg soon retreated in the face of Gen. Don Carlos Buell's overwhelming numbers. Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle is the definitive account of this important conflict. While providing all the parry and thrust one might expect from an excellent battle narrative, the book also reflects the new trends in Civil War history in its concern for ordinary soldiers and civilians caught in the slaughterhouse. The last chapter, unique among Civil War battle narratives, even discusses the battle's veterans, their families, efforts to preserve the battlefield, and the many ways Americans have remembered and commemorated Perryville. Kenneth W. Noe holds the Draughon Chair in Southern History at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama. He is the author of several books and articles.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-2623-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of maps
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xxii)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)
  7. 1 Divided We Fall
    (pp. 1-21)

    On a gray, rainy day in January 1862, one of many that dreary winter, English novelist Anthony Trollope crossed the rising Ohio River from Cincinnati into the Commonwealth of Kentucky. He was in the midst of his second tour of North America, compiling information for a projected travel narrative to be written more or less in the manner of his celebrated and controversial mother, Frances. Kentucky was as far south as Trollope traveled that war-torn season, yet what he observed there immediately elicited the sympathy of an already pro-Confederate Briton. “Less inclined to rebellion, more desirous of standing by the...

  8. 2 A Brilliant Summer Campaign
    (pp. 22-41)

    Braxton Bragg took command of the Army of the Mississippi with reluctance and, if he was being honest, grave depression. “Have a despatch from the President,” he telegramed Beauregard, “direct, to relieve you permanently in command of this reluctance. I envy you and am almost in despair.”¹ To his men, however, he presented a braver face. “Great events are pending,” he promised his soldiers, “... A few more days of needed reorganization, and I shall give your banners to the breeze—shall lead you to emulate the soldiers of the Confederacy in the East.”²

    Rhetoric aside, Bragg would need more...

  9. 3 The Enemy Is Before You
    (pp. 42-62)

    In the summer of 1862, 1st Lt. Harrison Millard may have been the most contented soldier in the Union army. Normally a regular assigned to the 19th U.S. Infantry, Millard had left his regiment to serve as Brig. Gen. Lovell H. Rousseau’s aide-de-camp and division inspector in garrisoned Huntsville, Alabama, after Rousseau superseded Ormsby Mitchel. Huntsville, according to Millard, was “a delightful and sympathetic little city, with a large stream of the purest water running through its center.” Fully expecting to occupy the lovely borough for several more months, he happily sent to New York for his wife to join...

  10. 4 The Great Foot Race
    (pp. 63-79)

    The Confederate Army of the Mississippi certainly had not marched to reinforce Lee, as Abraham Lincoln worried, but it meant trouble for the Union war effort nonetheless. Skirting to the east of Nashville, it had moved steadily northward toward the Kentucky border since the twenty-eighth. Hardee’s and Polk’s wings crossed Walden’s Ridge at two different points and then dropped into the Sequatchie Valley before rejoining temporarily in Pikeville, at the head of the valley, on September 1. Two days later, the van of the army, Cheatham’s division, entered Sparta, Bragg having eschewed the McMinnville Road and any direct encounter with...

  11. 5 A Babel of Confusion
    (pp. 80-106)

    In May 1862, hard on the muddy heels of Anthony Trollope, yet another curious Englishman arrived in Louisville hoping to understand and describe Kentucky’s Civil War. Journalist Edward Dicey, a fervent supporter of the Union unlike the pro-Southern Trollope, entered a city that in his estimation already had “suffered terribly” from a year of conflict. Instead of the lovely provincial city Trollope described, Dicey’s Louisville reeked with stagnation. Because of the loss of its once lucrative Southern trade, as well as much of the profitable nonmilitary shipping that plied the Ohio River before Fort Sumter, the town’s storefronts sat largely...

  12. 6 Blissful Ignorance
    (pp. 107-123)

    In 1781 or thereabouts, acting upon the accounts of the explorer Dr. Thomas Walker, a party of Virginians led by Walker’s son and one James Harberson fled their war torn state and crossed the Appalachian mountains into Kentucky. Settling among the rolling green hills of the central Bluegrass near Harrodsburg, then seven years old and Kentucky’s oldest surviving white settlement, the group constructed a fort on the western bank of the Chaplin River near a spring and above a cave, and dubbed their new home Harberson’s Station. Trouble followed. Although they had left behind the set-piece violence of the American...

  13. 7 To Strike a Blow
    (pp. 124-143)

    Braxton Bragg first learned of Sill’s diversionary advance on October 2 while consulting with Kirby Smith in Lexington. As Buell hoped, it completely disoriented his opposite number. Days earlier, the news would have immediately precipitated the planned retreat, but now, brimming with the unreasonable confidence he found between Bardstown and Lexington, it only served to stir Bragg’s fighting blood. He hurriedly sketched out a plan to crush the Yankees. While Kirby Smith held the line against Buell, Polk would bring the army north and hit the Federals in the flank. “It may be a reconnaissance,” he warned Polk, “but should...

  14. 8 Enough Boys, for This Morning
    (pp. 144-159)

    As both armies converged on Perryville on October 7, most of the town’s citizens hastily loaded up whatever they could carry on their backs or in their wagons and fled. Sam Watkins remembered the town as all but deserted by the early morning hours of October 8—a handy fact when he and another man ransacked “a citizen’s pantry, where we captured a bucket of honey, a pitcher of sweet milk, and three or four biscuit. The old citizen was not at home—he and his whole household had gone visiting, I believe. In fact,” Watkins continued, “I think all...

  15. 9 A Small Sized Hell
    (pp. 160-180)

    By late morning, units of Gilbert’s III Corps held Peters Hill and for a brief time Bottom Hill beyond it, and the combatants were now drinking from the precious water. Still, the struggle for the hills mattered little to Don Carlos Buell as he watched his overall battle plan fall apart. Sore, still unable to ride due to his fall the previous evening, Buell lay on his cot reading a book during the Peters Hill fighting, confident that he had perfected his plans. He expected to launch his attack at ten o’clock, commanding from an ambulance if necessary. As that...

  16. 10 Forward
    (pp. 181-213)

    At 11:00 a.m., just as Hardee’s wing began moving west toward Buell’s Federal army, Frank Cheatham’s division pulled out of line on the Confederate left and marched rapidly toward the army’s extreme right, heading for the critical gap Bragg had located at Walker’s Bend. Spearheaded by the brigade commanded by sixty-one-year-old planter and West Pointer Brig. Gen. Daniel Donelson, the late president Andrew Jackson’s aging nephew, Cheatham’s soldiers jogged through town on the Lebanon-Harrodsburg road as far as Bragg’s headquarters at the Crawford House. There they turned off the main road to the west and marched down a narrow, wooded...

  17. 11 A Square, Stand-Up ... Fight
    (pp. 214-241)

    From a cedar-strewn bluff high in the Confederate rear, Braxton Bragg and his staff looked on with unfeigned pride as Cheatham’s division opened the army’s assault against the Federal left. As Donelson’s thin ranks slammed into the fulcrum of the enemy’s lines, a new flourish of musketry drew Bragg’s eyes farther to his left as Hardee’s divisions commenced their part in the terrible drama. Bragg aide Stoddard Johnston described “the air filled with the sound of battle, while shot and shell were screaming overhead or plowing up the ground around us.” Hoping for a better view, Bragg rode closer to...

  18. 12 Up the Hill Came the Rebels
    (pp. 242-276)

    As three o’clock came and went on the Confederate right, Brig. Gen. Alexander Stewart might well have pondered what thus far had proven to be his unlucky stint as a brigade commander in the Army of the Mississippi. Nicknamed “Old Straight” by his men, Stewart was a forty-one-year-old Tennessean, West Pointer, and former mathematics instructor who commanded artillery early in the war and first led a brigade at Shiloh. Everything at that bloody battle seemingly had gone wrong for the new brigadier. Sent in relatively late after Tecumseh Sherman’s front line broke, Stewart quickly lost control of his units upon...

  19. 13 I Want No More Night Fighting
    (pp. 277-305)

    All afternoon, while the battle was swirling to his left, Phil Sheridan had kept his division hunkered down on and behind Peters Hill, nervously anticipating that the enemy would confront him in force as it had Alexander McCook. Despite I Corps’s increasingly dire position, Sheridan had done little more to help than to occasionally enfilade the enemy’s advancing lines with artillery and permit a ten-minute artillery duel with Slocomb’s battery of Washington Artillery. Frustrated beyond measure, his men lay flat on their bellies, raising their heads only slightly to watch with horror as Lytle’s and Harris’s shattered brigades gave ground...

  20. 14 Scenes of Blood and Suffering
    (pp. 306-326)

    High above the Chaplin Hills west of Perryville, the brilliant harvest moon that illuminated Liddell’s attack reached its apex near midnight, shining so brightly that Louisianan W. L. Trask paused to pick up and eventually read a copy of theSt. Louis Republicanhe discovered on the ground. Tragically, that silver moon also revealed a grimmer harvest that sickened Trask and drove him to the rear. All across the once peaceful fields and pastures, from the lines of early morning to the final fronts of night, men and animals lay dead or dying by the thousands, their bodies often hideously...

  21. 15 Tramp, Tramp, Tramp
    (pp. 327-343)

    Slowly and sullenly, the Army of the Mississippi retraced its steps down the Harrodsburg Pike. It moved in three columns, wagons and artillery occupying the road while the infantry hugged the edges in two parallel columns. Wharton’s cavalry continued to serve as the rear guard. The morale of many soldiers remained surprisingly good, especially when assured by their officers that they were only falling back to link up with Kirby Smith and “make Buell’s annihilation complete.” Some expected a fight even before reaching Harrodsburg. The more pessimistic, however, expressed anguish at surrendering the battlefield or passing up an opportunity to...

  22. 16 The World Has Changed
    (pp. 344-368)

    Hospitalized in Nashville during early November, Charles P. Carr of the battered 121st Ohio wrote sister-in-law Lib Rathburn a letter brimming with loss and despair. The cherished, happy days of their youth, the soldier lamented, were gone forever, much like their many friends who already had died in the war. “The world has changed,” he sadly wrote, “... little did we think in our single days that ... a cruel war would separate us from our dear ones but sutch is the case.” He longed to see his wife, and he knew that Lib missed her husband. Would they all...

  23. Appendix 1: Order of Battle, October 8, 1862
    (pp. 369-380)
  24. Appendix 2: Artillery at Perryville
    (pp. 381-386)
  25. Notes
    (pp. 387-448)
  26. Works Consulted
    (pp. 449-472)
  27. Index
    (pp. 473-495)