The battle of Perryville. [from the New Orleans (La.) Picayune, October 19, 1902.]
There was no action in the Civil war where the Confederate soldier displayed more desperate Courage— Bragg's men fought against overwhelming odds.
By Colonel Luke W. Finley, Confederate States Army.Can it be of any service to man to recount anything that was done at Perryville? Was the heroic in any way exemplified there? Is the heroic—consecration to duty—of any worth? Soldiers living have seen Forrest, the very impersonation of courage, exhibit the heroic on many fields. This does not mean that this is the highest type of manhood. The act of Forrest wherein he confessed, late in life, that he had been ‘building on the sand’ and witnessed before men his accountability to his Maker was the highest type.  The soldier who stands for duty, for law, for his State, is a high type. Forrest, at Memphis, in the midst of the mob, outraged by the murderer's savage wrongs, when he stood for law, was a very high type. A grand example it was, as it comes freighted from the past, in these latter days, when the sad influences of a severe war had broken up the foundations of the social fabric, and society needed great men to stay the passions of mankind. Let us, then, see if Perryville has any types worthy of treasuring up. No fairer land can be found than that area of Kentucky that centers around the triangular space marked by Harrodsburg, Danville and Perryville. The substantial elements of peaceful homes and prosperous conditions now distinguish it. It was not so thirty-nine years ago. Then armed soldiers traversed this once beautiful land. The sound of the drum, the roar of artillery were heard everywhere. The two great sections of the country were arrayed in hostile conflict. The South then, perhaps more than now, resolutely insisted upon the Constitution of the country in all its integrity. Mob violence was a rare thing. Her sons were trained to love the State; her statesmen were noted as defenders of the Constitution. Perhaps it is a tendency on the part of majorities to wield its power without regarding sacredly the limitations and principles that at an earlier date in national life were deemed fundamental. Majorities are like floods of a river—they overflow the channel. In that day the North, conscious of its power, stopped not to consider constitutional limitations. Had wiser counsels prevailed and constitutional limitations been regarded, doubtless the beneficent results, in some respects, of the great struggle would have been attained without so great a sacrifice of life and treasure. Providence did not so order. There was chivalry, intelligence and love of State in the Southern youth. They did not dislike the flag, but they loved the Constitution. The stories of the revolution were to them household tales. So, when the gleam of the bayonet and the flash of the sword appeared upon Southern hills, they sent their electric effect across Southern valleys, and those who bore them were deemed invaders; so the young men of the South rushed to arms. The South had drawn great inspiration, too, from Northern youth and Northern manhood. Many of her illustrious men had taught the Southern youth, men who afterwards became famous in American history. Seward and Douglas and Blaine and many others had instructed Southern youth, in Southern States. The South's roster of famous names gave their birthplaces to many in Northern States;  Quitman and Prentiss and Walker and many others noted in Southern life were of Northern birth. Many who had thus come, profoundly convinced of the right of the Southern cause, entered her armies and became distinguished. In 1862 the Army of Tennessee, having felt the first great shock of battle at Shiloh, the sons of the South were again ready to strike a blow in defense of their homes and firesides. The sons of the North, too, distinguished for their valor in that most desperate battle of the war, knew what it was to meet the Southern soldiery along the line of fire. The Army of Tennessee was in a state of fine discipline. Its chief did not equal in his genius for battle the fiery spirit and undaunted courage of its disciplined soldiers. We do not mean to detract from General Bragg. He loved the South. He was perhaps the best disciplinarian that ever controlled an army during the struggle. He could strike a first blow with great force. His strategy in forcing the Federal armies from Tennessee and adjacent States into Kentucky was simply masterly. Buell, who led the Federal forces, and who would not overstate the character of the Confederates, on the 4th of November, 1862, uses this language of the Confederate army:
It was composed of veteran troops, well armed and thoroughly inured to hardships. Every circumstance of its march and the concurrent testimony of all who came within reach of its line attest that it was under perfect discipline.In one respect perhaps he overstates. Many were armed with the old muskets; and the cartridge was the ball with three shots. Their destructive force, however, was felt at Shiloh, and also at Perryville, for at night on that field many were completely equipped with the modern rifles captured that day. The Federal army, on the other hand, was magnificently equipped. Each had just recovered from the conflict at Shiloh, in which at the close of the first day the Federal forces were heavily re-enforced by Buell's army, and the latter were flushed with a victory, if one it might be called. After a short stay at Tupelo, a short period of drilling and discipline at Chattanooga, in the latter part of August, 1862, the Southern army started on the campaign into Kentucky— Bragg, with 20,000, passing Sequatchie valley, Sparta, Greensboro, thence into Kentucky, by way of Munfordville to the scene of severe conflict, of which we are about to speak, and Kirby Smith, with some 15,000, going from Knoxville across the Cumberland Mountains,  near Cumberland Gap, thence to Richmond, Ky., on his way to Frankfort. Buell concentrated his forces in middle Tennessee, pursuing thence a parallel course through Murfreesboro, Nashville and thence to Louisville. It is said that Buell had under his command at and near Louisville about one hundred thousand men. Bragg had in his command, including Morgan and Marshall, a little over 40,000. The Confederates having, after spirited engagement, captured Munfordville on the one route, and routed Nelson at Richmond on the other, moved on with vigor, anticipating battle and a victory. Sill and Dumont, with their divisions, moved toward Frankfort, and were distant from Kirby Smith about two days march. The veteran forces of Buell's army, outside of these two divisions, with some fresh levies, amounting to 58,000 men, under McCook, Gilbert and Crittenden, as his corps commanders, began rapidly to concentrate near Perryville. McCook by way of Mackville; Gilbert by way of Springfield, and Crittenden by way of Lebanon. On October 8, Withers' Division, about 5,000 men, had been detached, and ordered to make a junction with Kirby Smith not far from Versailles. This left Hardee's Corps of 10,000 men, Cheatham's Division of Polk's Corps, about 5,000, and two small detachments of cavalry under Wharton and Wheeler, Smith's Brigade of Cheatham's Division, was held in reserve between the points, Perryville on the south, and the mouth of Doctor's creek on the north. Gilbert's Corps—a little over 21,000, under the division commanders, Mitchell, Sheridan and Schoepf—were in position west of Doctor's Creek the evening of the 7th; McCook's Corps took its place to the left of Gilbert a little after midday October 8th; its right division commanded by Rousseau, and its left by Jackson; Crittenden's Corps was in line of battle at 4 P. M., and took its place to the right of Gilbert. Buell displayed no higher qualities of leadership on this eventful day than Bragg; he had his army too much separated until 4 P. M. Why he did not make a master stroke at that time, with over three to one, it is difficult to comprehend. On the other hand, it is difficult to see why Bragg did not concentrate his entire force at Perryville—returning Withers' Division to Cheatham, and bringing up Kirby Smith as rapidly as possible, who was scarcely beyond a day's march, for such men as he had—and utterly rout Buell's army in one decisive stroke. It is true he  would have had a disparity of forces, but with the soldiers under his order on that day, with their enthusiasm and ardor and impetuous force and determination to win at all hazards, he might have achieved a victory without a parallel. As it was, the battle was set in array as follows: The Federal forces under Crittenden, Gilbert and McCook along the western slope of Doctor's creek from the Springfield road across the Mackville road to near the mouth of Doctor's creek, with an obtuse angle at the point where the Mackville road crossed Doctor's creek, the Federal line extending toward the northwest, with its extreme left turned slightly to the rear to accommodate itself to a position along the hills. Hardee took position between Chaplin and Doctor's creek, with Johnson and Cleburne, near the obtuse angle in the Federal line, which was the center of the fight. Adams and Powell, with their brigades, were placed on the left of the Confederate line to protect from Crittenden. Cheatham's three brigades were moved to the extreme right along Chaplin creek, ready for an assault on Terrell and Webster's Brigades of Jackson's Division. Wharton, with a small command of cavalry, was placed at the Confederate right to strike the Federal left flank. Wheeler, on the other hand, placed at the extreme left. Semple's battery was placed near Seminary Hill, east of Chaplin creek, and maintained its position during the entire engagement. Preston Smith's Brigade was held in reserve. Smith, Turner, Carnes and other artilleryists did noble work as occasion, permitted. It was a bright, sunlit October day; the weather was dry. Water was scarce. Ponds in Doctor's creek and Chaplain were the only places whence the two armies could get water to drink. Cheatham's Division (except Smith's Brigade) on the 7th had made a march from near Danville and filed into bivouac at the great spring at Harrodsburg just at sunset. Preparations for a soldier's supper and for a night's bivouac were immediately made, counting on a good night's rest. These visions of sleep were soon disturbed. An order to be ready to march at a moment's notice made an active and busy camp. At 8 o'clock P. M. the old division was on its way to Perryville, ten miles distant, and shortly after midnight lay in bivouac along the line of Chaplain creek until the soldier's slumber was roused by the picket firing along the line, which foretold an action soon to take place.
Bragg fought three to one.Such a scene, as these two armies in battle array on either side of Doctor's creek on that eventful day, was not witnessed during the Civil war. It would seem to be a desperate venture—a well-equipped army on one side, outnumbering its adversary by over three to one, in the plain open field, and the smaller ready to deliver battle, is one of the mysterious and unaccountable things that makes Perryville a remarkable battle from this standpoint alone. General Rosseau, who commanded one division of McCook's Corps, speaking of Buell's army, said:
I am satisfied that the discipline of Buell's army was far better than that of any Army I have ever seen—better drilled and better disciplined.The order for attack is given. Preparations are made. Witness at this time the brigades of this small army getting ready, conscious that in a very brief time the conflict would be on. It is halted; fronted—it is ordered to be ready for immediate action. The knapsacks are placed on the ground with the soldier's wardrobe and cooking utensils. They stand ready now with the musket, the cartridge box, with forty rounds of ammunition to the man, and canteens filled with water. How stands the army? McCook faces Jackson on the extreme left, a sheet of water in Chaplain's creek, a few hundred yards to his front, plainly visible. They await the onset and do not have to wait long. Wharton, with the Eighth and Fifty-first Tennessee of Donelson, added to his cavalry, makes a flank movement, strikes the Federal left with force. Colonel John H. Savage, with the Sixteenth Tennessee, the Fifteenth closely following him on his left, climbs the heights, strikes the Thirty-third and Second Ohio and brings on the desperate fight. Maney and Stewart being close at hand, but not near enough for the desperate odds, for Jackson has 5,000 men under his brigadiers (Terrill and Webster). Maney files to the right to get upon the bluff, forms line of battle, and moves to the left to take position on the right of Savage, and enters the fight. A soldier falls here, and now there; the battle is on. The Sixteenth Tennessee makes a splendid movement, staggering at times under the furious fire of the Nineteenth Indiana battery and other artilleryists and their infantry supports, but again advances and scores the first victory in the Confederate line. It was a costly one,  though—forty-one gave their lives and over thrice that number sealed their devotion to duty with their blood—and Parsons and Stone and Bush pour furiously their hurricane of shrapnel and shot in death-dealing blows upon the advancing men of Cheatham on the Federal left. Stewart is held for a brief space in reserve, then thrown in on the left of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Tennessee, and the Federal left is broken by the combined movement of the three brigades. Sheridan, of Gilbert's Corps, on the Federal center, was ordered forward across Doctor's creek, covering the Springfield pike, with Mitchell to his right and rear, and Schoepf to his rear. Powell and Adams, accommodating themselves to the conditions of the fight, advance and retire so as to preserve the left. Gilbert moves a part of his own corps to the left, nearer McCook's right; occupies the hill just left of where Doctor's creek is crossed by the Mackville road at the obtuse angle of the Federal line. Confronting him are Johnson and Cleburne, of Buckner's Division, with Brown and Johnson, of Buckner, and Wood, of Anderson's Division, to the right, close up to Cheatham's left. The skirmishing is over; the battle begins in earnest from left to right. The line of fire is about the strong position in the center and extends to the Federal left, where the three brigades of Cheatham are steadily moving forward, turning McCook's left back on itself, who is pressed back and back to the rear. Wood is engaged furiously with the right of Rousseau. Cheatham's old division, assisted by Wharton moves steadily forward—gun after gun is taken. The Nineteenth Indiana Light Artillery battery loses four pieces and Parson loses seven. Terrill and Webster and Jackson successively fall, and the division is irretrievably driven back. Starkweather moves to the assistance of the broken columns, but under the driving blows of Maney and Stewart, following the movement of Wharton and Donelson, is forced to retire, taking with him a part of Bush's Battery and Stone's four pieces, and takes a position on the crest of the hill and grove to the right in the rear of the cornfield, awaiting the final attack. Rousseau is pressed back, the fight is now with Gilbert, slowly giving way before Cleburne and others. Brown and Cleburne and Wood and many others are wounded. McCook is driven back of the Mackwell road, Gilbert a mile to the rear. Powell and Adams press back, watch the Confederate left, the skirmish line of the Federal right penetrating into Perryville. The Federal right, however, halts. Semple, from the Seminary ground, continues the line  of fire. Sunset slowly approaches, Cheatham still presses on, Hardee holds the center in a very severe death grapple with Gilbert, pushing him to the rear, however. At 3:30 the Thirtieth Brigade of Mitchell's Division goes to the assistance of Rousseau. Gooding, the Brigadier, says: “On reaching the field I found the forces (McCook's) badly cut up and retreated (they then having fallen back nearly one mile) and were being hotly pressed by the enemy.” * * * ‘I again ordered the brigade to the support of the brigade fighting on my left, which as soon as I had become engaged, retreated and fell back in confusion. The battle now rages furiously. Here we fought alone and unsupported for two hours and twenty minutes.’ * * ‘Although my men fought desperately, it was of no avail, for being overwhelmed by vastly superior numbers, they were compelled to withdraw from the field. Retreating under cover of a hill, the brigade was again formed in line of battle by the senior officer of the brigade, when, after consultation, learning that we had no support within one mile distant, it was deemed advisable to withdraw from the field and fall back upon our lines, which they did.’ Hardee states: ‘By this time Cheatham being hotly engaged, the brigades of Johnson and Cleburne attacked the angle of the enemy's line with great impetuosity near the burnt barn, while those of Wood, Brown and Jones dashed against their line more to the right on the left of Cheatham. Simultaneously the brigades of Adams and Powell on the left of Cleburne and Johnson assailed the enemy in front, while Adams, diverging to the right, united with Buckner's left. The whole force thus united then advanced, aided by a crushing fire from the artillery which partially enfiladed their lines. This combined attack was irresistible and drove the enemy in wild disorder from the position nearly a mile to the rear.’ So that Hardee and Colonel Gooding agree upon this fact. It was now a little after 5 P. M. Two incidents may well be related here which occurred about the same time. The sun was about setting, Jackson's line had been broken and Starkweather had placed Stone and Bush on the crest of the hill covering the approach from a cornfield extending a quarter of a mile or so in front. Certain other troops were to his right in the grove. The enemy behind the fence and in the cornfield were engaged in a furious fight with Cheatham's men. The word ‘Forward!’ rang along the line. Forward moved the  Southern battleflag toward the crest, from which Stone and Bush belched forth a stream of shot and shell. Forward the Confederates moved and the Federal line broke. They pursued the fleeing Federals until they had captured or killed nearly all in the cornfield and silenced the battery on the crest of the hill. After having approached within a few paces of the battery which had been silenced, they met an enfilading fire from the left, possibly Starkweather's Brigade; the command was ordered to lie down. They were then ordered to load and pour a volley into the soldiers enfilading them, which being done, the Federals retired and the battle was over on the Federal left. The men of Stewart and Maney then moved to the right, to the water gap, and there reformed. No further fighting occurred in that part of the field and this small force marched back and took its position in the division line. About the same time, further to the Federal right, Liddell, with his brigade, having been ordered ‘to move upon the enemy where the firing was the hottest,’ met General Cheatham, who urged him to push on and relieve his troops from the heavy pressure upon them. After overlapping Cheatham's line he commenced firing. He says:
It being twilight, however, with a bright full moon shining and dress not clearly distinguishable, my men mistook the enemy for friends; at the same time the cry came from the enemies' line “you are killing your friends,” which serving to strengthen the impression, I gave the signal to cease firing, intending to push up the line, but at this moment Major-General Polk, who had joined me a few moments before, ordered the ranks to be opened for him to pass, and riding hastily up to the line in front of us, distant not more than twenty-five paces, quickly returned, exclaiming: “They are enemies, fire upon them!” Heavy volleys were at once rapidly poured into this mass of men, and after the lapse of some ten minutes I again ordered the firing to cease, and when the smoke had cleared away nothing was visible of the enemy but their wounded, dying and dead.With these two engagements the contest ceased. The sun having gone down, the moon advances in the east above the horizon. Nothing breaks the stillness of the night but the call of soldiers to their living and wounded comrades. The wounded are carried to the field hospital—the captured arms are carried to the rear. Soon the soldiers bivouac upon the field. The battle of Perryville is over.  The Confederate loss was: Killed, 510; wounded, 2,635; captured, 25—total, 3,396. The Federal loss was: Killed, 845; wounded, 2,851; captured, 55—total, 4,241. Casualties in Cheatham's Division were over 33 1/4 per cent. The Confederates captured were taken into Perryville chiefly, and not on the line of battle. The Confederate line had entire possession of the field of battle at 6 P. M. The troops engaged who survived the battle and were ready for duty, quietly arose from their bivouac and marched toward Harrodsburg, and in a few days were at Camp Dick Robinson. The leaders in this battle were offered great opportunities. Had Bragg concentrated his forces, as he easily could have done, he had better opportunity than Frederick the Great in the Seven Years war, when he successively attacked the French, the Austrians and the Russians. November 5, 1757, he routed the French, 60,000 strong, with 22,000, at Rossbach; December 5, 1757, he put the Austrians, 80,000 strong, to rout with 42,000 at Leuthen; then he turned his banner against the Russians, and with an inferior force drove them in August, 1758, at Zorndroff, and Prussia from that day became a dominant power in Europe. So Jackson, in the Shenandoah Valley, with a small command, successively and successfully met Milroy, Banks, Fremont and Shields, each with a superior force. Hardee seems to have fully taken in the situation. In his report of December 1, 1862, he says:
On the 7th I informed General Bragg, who was at Harrodsburg, that the enemy was moving in heavy force against my position. With the view of inflicting a decisive defeat, or at least of pressing him back from any further advance against our line of communication in the direction of Danville and Cumberland Gap, I urged the concentration of our whole army at Perryville. On the evening of the 7th, my wing of the army having been re-enforced by the division of Cheatham, and orders having been issued to engage the enemy on the following morning, I again earnestly urged upon General Bragg the necessity of massing his forces on that important point.On the 23d of November, 1862, at Tullahoma, Tenn., General Bragg issued the following order:
The several regiments, battalions and independent companies engaged in the ever memorable battle at Perryville, Ky., on October  8, in which they achieved a signal victory over the enemy, numbering three to their one, and drove him from the field with terrible slaughter and the loss of his artillery, will inscribe the name of that field on their colors. The corps of Cheatham's Division, which made a gallant and desperate charge, resulting in the capture of three of the enemy's batteries, will, in addition to the name, place the cross cannon inverted.General Polk, speaking of these three brigades, says: ‘This charge of these brigades was one of the most heroic and brilliant movements of the war. Considering the disparity of the number of the troops engaged, the strength of the enemy's position the murderous character of the fire under which they had to advance, the steadiness with which they endured the havoc which was being made in their ranks, their knowledge that they were without any supporting force, the firmness with which they moved upon the enemy's masses of infantry and artillery, it will compare favorably with the most brilliant achievements of historic valor.’ There were some officers in that engagement who afterwards attained eminence. On the Federal side Sheridan, who again gave way before these same veterans at Murfreesboro, and subsequently won notoriety in the Valley of the Shenandoah for his merciless devastation of its beautiful homes, and military fame for his success as a cavalry leader at the head of a well equipped and superior force. Thomas, who won eminence at Snodgrass' Hill, Chickamauga, when at 6 P. M., September 19, 1863, these same veterans, standing where the monuments of stone tell the story of his forces, leaving the positions under orders, pressed them in their obedience—who again won distinction at Nashville in December, 1864, when, with three times and more the force, he let Hood and near 15,000 veterans escape him when they were nearly surrounded. On the Confederate side, beside Bragg and Polk and Wheeler, there were Cleburne and Cheatham; Cleburne, the patient, silent soldier, that disciplined in camp and led in battle his splendid division on many fields—gifted, brave, heroic, whose genius for war was elevated and refined by the Christian faith. Cheatham, the brave, generous, heroic soldier, whose very soul was set on fire by his devoted and gallant division. Both self-made men, great men, without whom Tennessee and Arkansas would have lost—whose souls were ablaze with patriotism, and whose lives were ready to be offered up at any time. Brave souls, they have departed, both in the Christian  faith, and while tradition recalls the faithful spirits who stood ready at any and all times with their veteran followers to give their lives for freedom, and history recounts the deeds of patriots, the name and the fame of Cleburne and Cheatham will shine. And Hardee, conservative, gallant, soldierly, a field marshal of the South, whose genius grasped the situation at Perryville—let his name be numbered among the glorious sons of the South. Can we recall the ascent of those hills of Doctor and Chaplin creeks, the storming of those batteries defended by such brigades as Gooding led, or Starkweather commanded, without a feeling of pride as Americans both? Let those who never faced a line of fire nor stormed a battery say they died in vain who fell on this fated field. Before such scenes of heroism those deeds of modern noteworthiness fade into insignificance. No field of the Civil war shows to the military critic a more splendid heroism; nor to the lover of liberty a more self-sacrificing valor than these veterans of the South on that eventful day. Gooding, with his brave command, lost in killed 10 per cent. of his men and in wounded 25 per cent.—perhaps the most bloody record of that day, and his witness is this: ‘Although my men fought desperately, it was of no avail.’ An incident of the retreat of that old division illustrates the spirit of the command. In that desperate charge on the right of the Confederate line a soldier—still living—was shot with a ram-rod; he went to the hospital, and it was still sticking through his body, and the Confederate surgeon, Dr. Frank Rice, extracted it from the soldier. As his brigades started towards Cumberland Gap the orders were strict—no soldier was to leave his place in the line. He fell out of ranks with gun and cartridge box completely equipped. The field officer of the day asked him if it would not be better to march in his place in the ranks. He replied: ‘It would look better, but it would not feel better to me.’ ‘Have you a permit?’ said the officer. At this he handed the surgeon's certificate. ‘How were you wounded?’ said the officer. Baring his breast and exposing the wound, he said: ‘It went in there,’ and turning his back, he said: ‘it stuck out there, and the surgeon pulled it out.’ He was ready for duty at any moment. We have not mentioned others, brave ones, who on the Federal side on that day performed feats of valor and deserved honorable mention at the hands of their superiors; nor those on the Confederate  side who, like Field and Govan and many others, witnessed a good fight in behalf of the flag of the South and in the struggle for constitutional liberty. Well may America, reunited, rejoice in this common heritage. No true citizen can look upon such exemplifications of heroism and fail to feel a thrill of satisfaction that they in common illustrated American valor.