previous next

[525] reports which he is sure to hear. Nevertheless, a careful observe may, without doing much injustice to any one, present such a statement as shall, until the reception of the official reports, partially relieve the anxiety of the public mind.

In endeavoring to give an authentic account of the battle of Perryville, I am certain I shall make some mistakes; and, although I am sure I shall give no credit not richly deserved, I may, by unintentional omissions, seem to do injustice. It is of course impossible to notice all the meritorious actions occurring upon so extensive a battle-field as that of Perryville; and, for the present, I must content myself with noticing no other than such as fell under my own observation, or were obtained from sources that no one would question.

I wish to speak in terms of moderation, but I confidently believe, from the opinions of those who have been at Pittsburgh Landing, Fort Donelson and Pea Ridge, that the severest action of the war (in proportion to numbers engaged) has just taken place, and that, all things considered, our arms have achieved a victory — not a brilliant triumph; not even a complete success, but still a victory, and one, too, which had it not been for our habitual failure to follow up our advantages, might have been final, so far as it concerned the rebel army under Bragg.

On the march from Louisville not a day passed without a skirmish, in which portions of our advance were engaged with small parties of the enemy's cavalry, and I am inclined to think that these repeated skirmishes induced our leaders to believe that they were closely pressing the entire rebel army.

That such, however, was not the case, I consider indisputable. I have the most positive testimony from people living in Springfield and vicinity, men, too, of good judgment and intelligence, that Gen. Bragg, with the main body of his infantry, passed through that town nearly a week previous to the arrival of our forces, and that his baggage and supply trains were sent on some time before. Whatever infantry was left after that, was either merely intended as a blind to deceive us, or consisted of small detachments which had been detailed for various purposes, and had not time to get away. I find this confirmed, also, by the rebel prisoners in our hands as far as I have conversed with the, and as far as they had an opportunity of knowing.

I suspect, however, that the rebel leaders will hereafter endeavor to make out that we were actually in close pursuit of them, and that they were compelled to fight the battle under the consequent adverse circumstances. This would to a certain extent relieve the disgrace which must attach to them for retiring from a battle-field of their own choosing, after a vain effort to drive our army from a neighboring position. Furthermore, it would enable them successfully to misrepresent their numbers; because if they were retreating in column, closely followed by our forces also in column, they could not get the different portions of their army into line any faster than we, and consequently could at no time outnumber us. We shall be obliged to adopt one of two conclusions: either that the main body of the rebel army was some days in advance of ours, and had time to mass their forces so as to assail our advance with overwhelming strength, or else that they most strenuously resisted, and came near beating us, with about equal numbers.

I am aware that neither of these conclusions does much credit to our generalship. If we adopt the former, we must doubt the sagacity of our leaders; if the latter, we shall fail to see any great genius displayed in their management upon the field. Considering the inferior equipments of the rebel army, the fact that large numbers of them are fighting unwillingly, and the generally superior physical strength of the individuals in the Union ranks, we ought always to beat equal numbers of the rebels, and when we do not, it may, without further question, be set down to the cowardice or incompetency of the men who command our armies.

In the battle of Perryville there was certainly no cowardice displayed by any officer, from Major-Generals McCook and Gilbert, commanding corps d'armee, down to the second lieutenants, who never retired from the presence of the enemy except when it was necessary to rally their men. Never did men show themselves more worthy the emblems of authority which decorate their shoulders, than did the officers of the Union army who fought at Perryville. There were, of course, a few exceptions, but they were very fe<*> indeed.

So far as a spectator could judge, the disposition of our forces upon the field was skilful; and, generally, they were ably managed during the course of the battle. The different division and brigade commanders were well satisfied with each other, and rebel prisoners who were taken to-day, say that their generals acknowledge our good management.

Now, as the rebels must have fought us with about equal numbers, only on the supposition that their entire army was closely pursued by ours; as in that case they must have been totally routed, without cowardice or incompetency on the part of our generals; as no such cowardice or incompetency appears, and yet we merely held our ground against them, I am compelled to resort to my first opinion, namely, that the rebel army was several days in advance of ours, and had abundance of time to dispose of largely superior numbers with which to withstand and assail our advancing columns. If this theory leaves the sagacity of our generalship somewhat at fault, it cannot be helped.

The enemy, then, thinking that he could beat a part of our army before the remainder came up, skilfully amused our generals by means of small parties of his cavalry, inducing them to believe that they were immediately upon his heels, while in reality he was many miles away, selecting his positions and massing his men. He did

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Braxton Bragg (2)
Daniel McCook (1)
C. C. Gilbert (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: