The Battle of Perryville

The H.P. Bottom House

I have been blessed with the privilege of owning one of the most historic buildings in the Civil War western theater. My wife and I are currently into a major restoration of the H.P. Bottom house, on the Chaplin Hills battlefield (or Perryville, Kentucky). I first saw the Bottom House almost 36 years ago, the week I had my sixteenth birthday. That was the same week I passed my driver's test and had my first taste of real freedom - for I had "wheels." Being an adolescent Civil War aficionado, and living in Cincinnati, Perryville Kentucky was the closest actual Civil War battlefield to home.

The first weekend of my newfound freedom, I borrowed Dad's car for the morning (of course, I didn't tell the whole truth as to my destination), and began what was to turn into a life long quest. Driving from Cincinnati to Perryville in those days was no easy matter. The only direct route was a two-lane highway - US 127. What I thought was going to be a two-hour drive, turned into an all-day affair After what seemed hours (it took about five), I rounded a sharp bend on US 68, at which point I saw the historic marker identifying General Braxton Bragg's headquarters. I had read every thing I could about this battle (which at that time wasn't much) and now I was finally there.

In the town of Perryville, I stopped at the gas station to fill up and have a snack, as well as to gather information as to what was available to see. I was smart enough to make a collect phone call to my father to let him know I would be a little late. Dad (to my surprise) was not very understanding as to my whereabouts. Soon as he could talk again, without using words that he learned while in the Army, he said he would call off the search and rescue mission, which the Ohio National Guard was currently conducting. I was also informed that I should have a good time, for this was the last time I was going to be given the privilege of driving his car again until at least my 40th birthday.

After eating, and getting gas, I started out for the Park. I studied every location and site I could recognize. With Battles and Leaders of the Civil War as my guide, I combed the hills looking for signs of the battle. Driving down a small country road, I came to a little steel bridge crossing Doctor's Creek. That's when I first saw the H.P. Bottom house, just as it appeared in Battles. It was as white as fresh bed sheets, sitting back from the road lined by a path of mature sugar maples. Nestled in the valley between Doctor's Creek and ridge known as Loomis Heights, the small house appeared to be simply waiting for the care it rightly deserved. The house was clearly a veteran of the battle which raged in its front yard. I knew then, that someday I would be part of the preservation of these types of sites.

The Bottom house changed ownership in the late 1880's and then again early 1970's. One day I made an off-hand comment to Mary Breeding, then Director of the Perryville Enhancement Project, that someday I would love to be the owner of that house. Well it wasn't long until the Project was made aware of the owner's desire to sell the Bottom House. Knowing that this property and building was vital to the battlefield, but not having the resources to purchase it, Mary called me. I was dumbfounded; here was my opportunity to accomplish my life-long goal, and save one of the most important Civil War structures in America. I called my wife from the car, asking her what to do, to which she replied "Why are you wasting time talking to me? Buy it!" I called Mary back and by the end of the week we closed. I now owned one of my dreams.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Battle of Perryville and the role of the Bottom House, Henry P. Bottom was a landed Squire of what is now Boyle County, Kentucky. The majority of the furious fighting took place on his property. Bottom was a slaveholder, and it was Henry and his slaves who, a few days after the battle, buried the Confederate dead in two mass graves on what is now the Perryville Battlefield State Park. His home was situated virtually in the middle of some of the hardest fighting that took place on October 8, 1862.

The Bottom House, from a picture taken in 1885.

On the ridge above the house (facing west, down the Mackville Road), rested the right flank of the First Corps of the Army of the Ohio, commanded by Cincinnatian Major General Alexander McCook. The units present on the ridge were commanded by Colonel William H. Lytle, another Cincinnatian, and straddled the crest of the ridge above the house running to the North, with the 10th Ohio and the 15th Kentucky on the far right, with the 3rd Ohio, the 42nd and 38th Indiana to their left.

To the east and across the Doctor's Creek, and up the next hill was Major General Simon B. Buckner's 3rd Division of the Confederate Army of the Mississippi. Forming to attack was the brigade commanded by Brigadier General Bushrod Rust Johnson. Johnson's Third Brigade was made up of the 17th, 23rd, 25th, 37th, and 44th Tennessee, and the 5th Confederate. They made the first assault down the hill into the fields, then across the creek and front yard of the Bottom House, to attack the Federal line, just to the west. The Federal line held, Johnson's exhausted troops were out of ammunition, and began falling back to the yard around the house.

Around 3:30 p.m., Patrick Cleburne's Second Brigade, made up of the 2nd, 35th, 48th Tennessee, and the 13th and 15th Arkansas moved into position to reinforce Johnson's Brigade. At about the same time Brigadier General Daniel Adams Second Brigade of the Second Division had moved around the creek to the south and crossed into a field behind the Bottom House. Soon thereafter Cleburne made an assault to the front of Lytle's Federal line, with a coordinated attack on the flank by Adams. This assault pushed the Federal line back off the ridge and back about one-half mile to the rear. Lytle was wounded and captured during this assault and was taken to the Bottom House, which was by now a field hospital for the Confederates.

The Confederate advance was halted by the coming of night. This was a complete Confederate victory up to this point. That night, realizing the strength of Buell's Army of the Ohio (there were more than 70,000 troops in front of him), Bragg gave up the field. The Army of the Mississippi pulled out of Perryville in the middle of the night and fled to Harrodsburg, then crossed the mountains at Cumberland Gap into the safety of Tennessee. The Kentucky campaign of 1862 was over. Buell did not mount a pursuit.

The Bottom House served as a hospital for approximately six months after the battle. The battle had left the building with so many scars to its siding that it had to be totally replaced soon after the armies left. Today there are still bullet holes in the walls where the balls came through the windows and between the logs. The door in the western upstairs bedroom, which still sits on its jambs, was hit by a .58 caliber Minnie ball. The blood from the numerous soldiers, both North and South, still stain the floors where the surgeons did their work in the days immediately following the battle.

We have taken pains to preserve the original fabric of this structure. The house has had four major additions over its history. The original structure was a one and a half story log cabin; with clapboard siding and cedar shake shingles. This we believe was constructed in the 1790's. In the 1840's, the second addition was built onto the log cabin and consisted of a "post and beam" structure, again with clapboard siding and made to adhere with the original roof and pitch. This is the way the house appeared during the Civil War.

Alan Hoeweler, with friend and Perryville battle expert Darrell Young, at the Bottom House.

There is also evidence of slave quarters to the rear that were in the earliest photo we have, but were torn down to make room for the third addition around the turn of this century. Three rooms were added to the south side of the house, and in the 1960's a kitchen and bathroom were added to the rear of the house, which is how the house appears today. Our family uses it as our get-away place, and weekend retreat. The Perryville Battlefield Preservation Association and the Kentucky Civil War Sites Commission have used it as their home while in Perryville.

My wife and I are proud we can preserve this structure for future generations to enjoy. The history of the American Civil War, the battles that were fought, the people who suffered and sacrificed, and the sites where these events took place must be saved. Today the Perryville Battlefield Protection Association is striving to preserve this battlefield and other sites. I realize that most individuals are unable invest to the extent some can. To accomplish the mission of preservation, we all must do what we can. If it is buying and preserving a piece of a battlefield, or simply making a contribution to you favorite preservation group, whatever you can do is more than we have now, and greatly appreciated.

I hope you enjoyed the story and look forward to seeing you at the Bottom House some day.

Alan E. Hoeweler
Glendale, Ohio