The Battle of Perryville

Written by Thomas L. Breiner


The reinforced and reorganized Army of the Ohio departs Louisville on October 1 heading for Bragg at Bardstown. Three corps have been formed, the First Corps under Major General Alexander McDowell McCook, the Second under Major General Thomas Leonidas Crittenden and the Third under the recently promoted Major General Charles Champion Gilbert. In Gilbert's corps there is a new Division officer, Brigadier General Philip H. Sheridan. General Thomas is assigned to the dubious position of second in command. Buell will travel with Gilbert's Third Corps and Thomas will accompany Crittenden's Corps.

Meanwhile, Braxton Bragg leaves his army on September 28 with Major General Leonidas Polk in command at Bardstown to join Kirby Smith in Frankfort, Kentucky. Bragg is there for the inauguration of Confederate Governor Richard Hawes on October 4. The ceremonies are cut short and the participants are forced to make an unscheduled departure due to the Union artillery fire from the division of Brigadier General Joshua Sill. Bragg is convinced that Frankfort is where the main Union forces are concentrated.

With the advance of the Union Army of the Ohio, Confederate forces fall back to Perryville on October 6, while planning to continue on to Harrodsburg the next day. With the arrival of Major General William J. Hardee along with Buckner's division, cavalry under Colonels Joseph Wheeler and John Wharton are sent out to locate and track the Union advance. Due to the size of the Union force moving in the direction of Perryville, Hardee requests that Polk send Patton Anderson's division and the recently returned brigade of Patrick Cleburne to Perryville.

The Union army proceeds toward Perryville on three roads. On the Union left is Alexander McCook's First Corps, minus the division of Joshua Sill, advancing along the Mackville Road. Approaching Perryville in the center on the Springfield Pike is Gilbert's Third Corps. On the Lebanon Road is the Second Corps under Thomas L. Crittenden (the Second Corps will leave the Lebanon Road on the evening of October 7 to find water at Rolling Fork). The divisions of Sill and Dumont are threatening Frankfort.

Hardee establishes a defense perimeter covering the three roads into Perryville on the evening of October 7. The Arkansas brigade of Brigadier General St. John R. Liddell is place on Bottoms Hill extending from the Springfield Pike towards the Mackville Road. Liddell has the 7th Arkansas move forward to Peters Hill near Doctors Creek.

Advancing with the Third Corps, General Buell establishes his headquarters at a log house owned by John Dorsey about 5 miles from Perryville. He orders the First and Second Corps to advance at 3:00 a.m. on the morning of October 8, to be in position alongside the Third Corps in time for a 10:00 a.m. attack on the Confederates. However, McCook will not receive his marching orders until 2:30 a.m. and will not being moving until 5:00 a.m. Thomas receives the order to advance at 2:45 a.m. just as the Corps has stopped for the night. He delays for the troops to get some water and a little rest. It will be morning before they proceed. Buell, having fallen from his horse during the day, is unable to ride during the upcoming action. This will have a definite impact on how he manages his forces and not for the better.

The Third Corps of Major General Charles Gilbert encamps along the Springfield Pike about three miles from Perryville. In the quest for water, Gilbert's men discover that Doctors Creek contains some pools of the precious liquid. Sometime near midnight, the 10th Indiana is ordered to proceed across the creek to set up a picket line on Peters Hill. In the darkness they fail to discover the 7th Arkansas located at the top of the hill. At 2:00 a.m., Colonel Daniel McCook's Brigade, part of Sheridan's division, is ordered to secure Peters Hill. They run into the 7th Arkansas and the battle of Perryville begins. Perryville will be a fight for water!

The early morning phase of the battle has Sheridan's division contesting for control of Peters Hill with Liddell's brigade. Gilbert will continually stress to Sheridan that he is not to bring on a major engagement and not to waste artillery ammunition. Gilbert's demands will have an adverse effect on how the new division officer, Sheridan, reacts later in the day.

Between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m., Polk meets with his officers and determines that, due to the size of the Federal force at Perryville, an attack is not advisable at the time. He recommends that the Confederates take a defensive posture with the option to develop an offensive attitude later, in other words a defensive-offensive strategy. In Harrodsburg at 8:00 a..m., General Bragg expects to hear the sounds of Polk's attack. Being unsure of the situation and knowing Polk, Bragg heads for Perryville.

Expanding the area of operations on the morning of October 8, Gay's Federal cavalry brigade is moved to the Union left to a position on a hill overlooking the H. P. Bottom House. Accompanying Colonel Gay's cavalry is Hotchkiss' 2nd Battery Minnesota Light Artillery. Hotchkiss's two 12-pounders begin shelling the Confederates on the eastern side of Doctors Creek. By 9:00 a.m., the McCook's First Corps is approaching Dixville Crossroads (the intersection of the Mackville and Benton Roads), behind Gay's position. At 10:00 a.m., Loomis's Battery is assigned to relieve Hotchkiss. The six longer-range rifled Parrots of Loomis'x Battery are better able to contend with the Confederate artillery located on the adjoining hills.

Bragg arrives in Perryville about 9:45 AM to find Polk with his troops in a column more prepared to retreat than attack the Federals. Bragg is definitely not in agreement with Polk's defensive-offensive strategy. He sets up his headquarters at the Crawford House on the Harrodsburg Road and for the next hour, conducts a reconnaissance of the area west of the Chaplin River. Bragg orders an attack to begin at 12:30 p.m. In preparation for the attack, Polk moves Cheatham's division to the north along the Chaplin River. This movement is intended to place Cheatham on the Union left flank, believed to be on the Mackville Road.

Due to the later arrival of both the First and Second Corps, Buell decides to cancel his attack for the day. Instead, he will position his army for a morning attack the next day. Buell, still suffering from his fall, settles into his headquarters to await the consolidation of his army. Around noon, Colonel William Lytle receives orders from his division commander, Brigadier General Lovell Rousseau, to form a line on the hill above the H. P. Bottom House in line with Loomis's Battery. General McCook proceeds to Buell's headquarters to report the arrival and position of his corps.

At 12:30 p.m., the time for the Confederate attack arrives. The artillery batteries of Darden, Lumdsen, Semple and Carnes open fire. With the additional Confederate artillery firing, Rousseau has Captain Peter Simonson's 5th Battery, Indiana Light Artillery proceed to support Loomis. Lytle sends the 10th Ohio to the eastern side of Doctors Creek advancing toward the Chaplin River in search of water. Buell is at the Dorsey House having lunch with General Gilbert. Bragg is at the Crawford House again waiting for the sounds of the attack he has ordered. General Polk now receives a report from Colonel Wharton, his cavalry commander scouting the Union left flank, that the Union line extends north of the Mackville Road. Polk delays Cheatham's attack. Bragg quickly notices that there is no infantry firing - only artillery. He rushes from the Crawford House looking for Polk.

It takes Bragg nearly an hour to reach Polk. After hearing the report from Wharton, Bragg orders Cheatham's division to move further north along the Chaplin river to the area of Walker's Bend. Wharton is sent on a sweeping maneuver along the Dixville Road near Wilson Creek to ensure that Cheatham's troops are not surprised upon reaching the top of the bluff. He is also to determine the location of the Union flank.

McCook's two divisions deploy to the north of the Mackville Road. Harris's brigade extends Lytle's line north along the hill with Webster's brigade to Harris's left. Starkweather's brigade marches, without orders, north along the Benton Road from Dixville Crossroads to the heights overlooking Wilson Creek. Bush's and Stone's batteries are positioned on the heights. Fortunately, when General Rousseau locates Starkweather, he determines that brigade is in the position desired.

Finally at 1:30 p.m., General Thomas sends a courier to Buell reporting the arrival of the Second Corps on the Lebanon Road. Thomas does not report in person as the orders had specified. Thomas has very little influence on the battle and does not provide Buell with any counsel. This is by far the worse performance of what is otherwise a very illustrious career. Colonel Harris has the 33rd Ohio advance toward the Chaplin River to get water for his units. They will quickly return to the main line, without the water, when they discover the forming brigade of Confederates at the top of the river bluff.

By 2:15 p.m., Brigadier General Daniel Donelson's brigade is across the Chaplin, up the bluff and forming for his advance. The Confederate artillery has to dig out a narrow farm lane in order make a passage for the cannon to reach the top of the ridge from the river bottoms. This lane will become known locally as the Dug Road. Brigadier General William Terrill's Union Brigade along with Captain Charles Parson's Improvised battery advances to an Open Knob below Starkweather's position on the heights. The 123rd Illinois moves forward as the 105th Ohio advances to support Parson's battery. Both regiments are made up of raw recruits.

Donelson begins his attack at 2:30 p.m. on what he believes to be the Union left flank. He quickly learns that his brigade is making a frontal assault into the center of the Union line. Colonel Thomas M. Jones's brigade from Patton Anderson's division advances across Doctors Creek and past the Widow Bottom's house coming into line on Donelson's left. Donelson is surprised to receive artillery fire from his right flank. Parson's battery is in a position to enfilade Donelson's brigade. The initial Confederate attack is repulsed with heavy losses.

Cheatham's other two brigades now reach the top of the bluff over the Chaplin River and form for their assault. Brigadier A.P. Stewart's brigade is positioned to support Donelson, while Brigadier General George E. Maney's Tennessee brigade is moved to the right to contest Open Knob and storm Parson's battery. The 123rd Illinois is suddenly surprised to find Maney's brigade cresting the ridge in their front. The unit proceeds to a fence line midway between the two units. The green 123rd regiment rushes forward. A fierce slugfest develops at the fence line with Maney's veteran Tennessee regiments. While the inexperienced troops show a remarkable amount of courage, they are no match for the more seasoned Confederates. After absorbing numerous casualties, the 123rd Illinois is routed and runs back to and over the Open Knob through the ranks of the 105th Ohio and Parson's battery.

Near 3:00 p.m., Bushrod Johnson's brigade, located north of the Mackville Road, receives their orders to advance. In a most confusing fashion, each regiment proceeds on their own toward Doctors Creek. The 25th and 44th Tennessee regiments move to their left across the path of the rest of the brigade. The regiments then proceed to storm a battery on the hill to their left. Confederates are fighting Confederates. The battery in questions is Slocomb's Washington Artillery. Due to the steep cliff along a portion of the creek, the remainder of Johnson's brigade is funneled to the crossing of Doctors Creek and the Mackville Road, near the H. P. Bottom House. This now jumbled mass of troops take up a position behind a stone fence along the creek and begin exchanging fire with the 3rd Ohio situated behind another stone fence just west of the house and the 15th Kentucky near the top of the hill. Johnson does nothing to improve the alignment of his units. He exhibits very little control over his brigade this day.

By 3:30 p.m., Maney has driven the 123rd Illinois from the fence line and proceeds to capture Parson's battery on the Open Knob. In the hand-to-hand combat, Lt. Charles Parson is forced to leave seven of his eight cannon behind. Brigadier General James S. Jackson, the Federal division commander, is killed in the defense of the battery. Terrill's brigade retreats to Starkweather's position. As the brigade falls back through a cornfield between the two locations, they run through the ranks of the 21st Wisconsin regiment that was ordered into the cornfield to slow the pursuing Confederates. The 21st Wisconsin is another of the many newly recruited regiments that will receive their baptism under fire this day. The on-rushing Confederates quickly route the inexperienced unit.

Bushrod Johnson's disorganized brigade tries to move across the yard of the H. P. Bottom House but is driven back by the fire from the 3rd Ohio. Now, Brigadier General Patrick R. Cleburne's brigade is ordered to relieve Johnson. At the same time, the Louisiana brigade of Brigadier General Daniel Adams proceeds from the hill near Sam Bottom's house (nearl the Springfield Pike), completely across the front of Sheridan's division to Doctors Creek. Adams's brigade will attack the right flank of Lytle's brigade above the H. P. Bottom house. Sheridan does nothing to stop Adams's advance due to the continued harassment he receives from General Gilbert for wasting artillery ammunition or advancing infantry and beginning an engagement. For this reason, Sheridan's troops will observe the action but do nothing to relieve the pressure on the beleaguered First Corps.

Around 3:45 p.m., the combined attack of Cleburne and Adams gets underway, driving the 3rd Ohio and 15th Kentucky of Lytle's brigade away from the H. P. Bottom house to a position north of the Mackville Road. Cleburne's horse is shot from under him near Doctors Creek and he is wounded for the second time during the campaign. He was wounded in the mouth at the Battle of Richmond and now in his foot. However, he continues on with his brigade driving the Union forces back toward the Russell House near the Dixville Crossroads. Colonel Lytle is wounded during this part of the battle and captured. The Confederates take him to the H. P. Bottom house, and believing his head wound to be fatal, and eventually leave him behind when they retreat early the next morning.

Over on the Springfield Pike, Patton Anderson orders Colonel Samuel Powell's brigade to attack the better part of two Union Corps. While the concept is poor, in the end Powell manages to delay reinforcements from going to the support of the McCook's Corps. General Gilbert is reluctant to send any troops to McCook until he is sure that the situation in his front is under control. In addition, Buell finally realizes that a major battle is in progress when a courier from McCook arrives at his headquarters requesting support from the Third Corps. An acoustic shadow has prevented Buell from hearing the heavy and sustained firing taking place on McCook's front.

On the far Union left, Maney's and Stewart's brigades capture the heights defended by Starkweather. However, both Confederate units fall back to the Open Knob only to be ordered to recapture the heights, which they succeed in accomplishing by 5:15 p.m.. Union General Terrill is mortally wounded during this action. Starkweather, Terrill and Webster fall back to the next ridgeline on the Benton Road. The Confederates will attempt to drive them away, but fail. During this final action on the Union left, Colonel Webster is killed (the three general officers, Jackson, Terrill, and Webster had discussed the chances of any one of them being killed in battle, the previous evening and determined that the chances were extremely small. Now all three are dead). With the repulse of Maney and Stewart, fighting effectively ends on the Confederate right. Around 5:30 p.m., Cheatham's division retires to the Open Knob. The Union line falls back to the Dixville Crossroads.

Along the Mackville Road, General Rousseau establishes a new defensive line near the Russell House. Support from the Third Corps arrives in form of Gooding's brigade, which successfully stops Adams and Cleburne, although Cleburne is hindered more by a lack of ammunition than the Union defenders. Either way, Cleburne retires to the eastern side of Doctors Creek. Adam's brigade is forced to retire due to a lack of support.

With the repulse of Powell's ill-advised attack, Colonel William P. Carlin's brigade of the Second Corps along with 6 guns move into Perryville. Here is the opportunity to block Bragg's line of retreat to Harrodsburg, but unfortunately for the Union no one is coordinating the advance. Captain Samuel Sherer's Company B 36th Illinois Cavalry along with the 38th Illinois Infantry regiment captures several Confederate ammunition wagons belonging to Slocomb's battery, near Perryville but nothing else is accomplished.

The final Confederate advance is ordered at 6:30 p.m.. St. John Liddell's brigade, who started the battle some 18 hours earlier, is ordered to replace Cleburne's brigade. Liddell advances along the Mackville Road driving the Federals from their position near the Russell House. Only the onset of darkness prevents Liddell from reaching the intersection of the Mackville and Benton Roads. Fortunately for McCook and the battle weary First Corps, Brigadier General James Steedman arrives with his fresh brigade at dark to bolster the Union line. The battle of Perryville ends.

Liddell's brigade and the rest the Confederates hold their positions until ordered to begin the retreat at midnight. Buell is not made aware of the Confederate retreat until Crittenden's Corps advances into Perryville around 10:30 a.m. the next morning.

Casualties for the battle are as follows:

Buell losses are 845 killed, 2,851 wounded and 515 captured or missing for a total of 4,211.

Bragg losses are 510 killed, 2,635 wounded and 251 captured or missing for a total of 3,396.


Refer back to the Bragg's Kentucky Invasion Page.