American Civil War: Battle of Perryville

General Braxton Bragg. Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Battle of Perryville - Conflict:

The Battle of Perryville was part of the 1862 Kentucky Campaign which took place during the American Civil War.

Armies & Commanders at the Battle of Perryville:



Battle of Perryville - Date:

Bragg and Buell clashed at Perryville on October 8, 1862.

Battle of Perryville - Background:

In the summer of 1862, General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Army of Mississippi, began making plans for the invasion of Kentucky. Timed to coincide with General Robert E. Lee's attack into Maryland, it was hoped that a successful campaign in Kentucky would sway the state into joining the Confederacy and would provide a source of supplies and men for the Southern armies. Moving north from Chattanooga, Bragg's main army was supported by a second force led by Major General Edmund Kirby Smith which was advancing from Knoxville.

Crossing into Kentucky in late August and early September, Confederate forces occupied Lexington and Frankfort. Learning of the Confederate's advance, Union Major General Don Carlos Buell halted his march towards Chattanooga and began to concentrate his Army of the Ohio at Nashville. Rapidly moving north, Buell sought to prevent Bragg from capturing Louisville. Arriving in the city, Buell dispatched 20,000 men under Brigadier General Joshua Sill towards Frankfort with the goal of distracting Kirby Smith and preventing the Confederates from uniting.

Reinforced at Louisville with thousands of raw recruits, Buell began advancing towards Bragg's army at Bardstown with a force of 58,000 men. Moving on three separate roads, Buell's army compelled the outnumbered Confederate to fall back to Perryville. This retreat was led by Major General Leonidas Polk, as Bragg had departed for Frankfort to attend the inauguration of a Confederate governor.

As the armies moved, they were both plagued by a lack of water as the area had been suffering through a severe drought.

Battle of Perryville - It Begins Over Water:

Arriving near Perryville on October 7, Buell's cavalry engaged the Confederate rearguard. Upon learning that Polk was deploying infantry near the town, the Union commander resolved to launch an attack the next day. Due to delays in bringing his men forward, Buell was forced to alter his plans and set the attack for October 9. The Army of the Ohio suffered a reverse later that day when Buell was thrown from his horse and injured. Unable to ride, he established his headquarters three miles from the front and effectively played no role in the approaching battle.

The fighting commenced early on the morning of October 8, when troops from the 10th Indiana and 7th Arkansas exchanged shots over a water source. Wishing to secure the water, Buell ordered the division of Brigadier General Philip Sheridan forward to capture Peters Hill. This was done and the Confederates were driven away. Returning to his troops, Bragg believed that the main Union army was located near Frankfort and sent orders ahead to Polk to attack the Union troops near Perryville.

Arriving in town, he was angered to find that his men had taken defensive positions.

Battle of Perryville - The Union Holds:

On the Union side, Buell's three corps were strung out to the west of Perryville, with Major General Alexander McCook's I Corps to the north, Major General Charles Gilbert's III Corps in the center, and Major General Thomas Crittenden's II Corps far to the south. As Buell was unavailable, there was little coordination between the corps and McCook's men bore the brunt of the fighting on the 8th. Focusing the bulk of his army on McCook's position, Bragg issued orders for three attacks to proceed en echelon. Due to an acoustic shadow, Buell was unaware of the scope of the battle until late in the day.

Commencing at 2:00 PM, the first Confederate attack, led by Brigadier General Daniel S.

Donelson, encountered stiff resistance and took heavy casualties from Union guns on a hill known as Open Knob. Seeing this, Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham sent Brigadier General George Maney's men forward to clear the hill. Storming up the slope, they overwhelmed the Union defenders and pursued them through a field to another ridge where they were stopped by Colonel John Starkweather's brigade. Falling back after heavy fighting, Starkweather established a strong position on ridge lined by a stone wall from which his men repulsed each subsequent assault.

At 2:45, troops in the Confederate center began their advance. Meeting intense fire from Brigadier General Lovell H. Rousseau's division, their attack was repulsed. At the same time, the brigades of Brigadier General Bushrod R. Johnson and Brigadier General Patrick R. Cleburne assaulted Colonel William H. Lytle's brigade. Fighting stone wall to stone wall, the Confederates slowly pushed Lytle's men back. Finally, Lytle's brigade, along with Colonel Leonard A. Harris' brigade, was able to halt the Confederate advance.

The final Confederate push came against McCook's center, located near the Dixville Crossroads. The assault, made by two Confederate brigades, was defeated by the arrival of Union reinforcements. These had arrived as a result of Buell finally learning of the battle around 4:00, and ordering Gilbert to send men to McCook's aid. At the same time, Sheridan's division on Peters Hill easily repulsed an attack by Colonel Samuel Powell's brigade.

Though his brigade commanders wish to continue attacking, Polk halted the assaults near the crossroads and ended the battle.

Battle of Perryville - Aftermath:

The Battle of Perryville cost Buell 894 killed, 2,911 wounded, and 471 captured/missing, while Bragg's losses numbered 532 killed, 2,641 wounded, and 228 captured/missing. As a result of his performance during the battle, Buell was replaced with Major General William Rosecrans on October 24. Despite having won a tactical victory, Bragg's situation remained precarious as Crittenden's corps threatened his rear. After meeting with his officers that night, Bragg began retreating back to Tennessee, ultimately taking a position near Murfreesboro.

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