The Retreat After the Battle of Perryville

Written by Thomas L. Breiner


The Confederate withdrawal from Perryville begins between 1:00 and 2:00 a.m. on the morning of October 9. The last units depart Perryville around noon, without any opposition from the Union forces in the area. Bragg initially chooses Harrodsburg as a rendezvous point. Here the entire Confederate army could finally unite, establish a strong defensive position and await an attack from Buell. With the addition of Kirby Smith and Humphrey Marshall's troops, Bragg's army would be on nearly equal terms with the Union Army of the Ohio.

Buell is slow to start his pursuit of Bragg. The Union army does not begin to follow until the 10th. By the time Buell's army reaches the vicinity of Harrodsburg, Kirby Smith had combined forces with Bragg. Smith encourages Bragg to attack Buell. However, since the Confederates were in such a strong defensive position, Bragg decides that he would await the attack from Buell, an attack that would never come.

As with any decision made by Bragg during the campaign this too is subject to change. With information from Colonel Wheeler that Union cavalry were active on the Danville Road, he becomes concerned that Buell would more his entire army to Danville. Buell will arrive in Danville on October 13. This would block the direct route to the Cumberland Gap. Also Bragg is worried about the supplies gathered at Camp Dick Robinson. In light of these concerns, Bragg chooses to fall back again. This time he establishes a defensive line across Dick's River, with his headquarters at Bryantsville.

Buell moves towards the new Confederate position but again declines to take the initiative. Buell is more concerned that Bragg will eventually move in the direction of Nashville, Tennessee and plans a flanking movement to his right.

At this stage of the campaign, Bragg is aware that General R. E. Lee has already fallen back into Virginia from the Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam). On October 3 and 4 the combined commands of Major General Earl Van Dorn and Major General Sterling Price have been repulsed in their attempt to recapture Corinth, Mississippi. They would not be moving into Western Tennessee as Bragg had planned and definitely not joining Bragg in Kentucky. Also Bragg was very discouraged by the lack of support received from the Kentuckians. Recruits for the army were well below his expectations. Based on this information, Bragg determines to leave Kentucky without another battle. Polk, Hardee and Smith concurred with the decision. Buell is just as happy to see Bragg leave without a fight.

The combined Confederate armies slowly struggle towards Knoxville, Tennessee. Brigadier Humphrey Marshall will take his troops back into Southwestern Virginia. At Lancaster, Smith and Bragg split. Bragg proceeds towards Crab Orchard while Smith retraces his path over Big Hill to the Cumberland Gap. Upon his arrival in Knoxville, Bragg is met with orders to proceed to Richmond, Virginia to answer to Davis concerning all the complaints from his subordinates over the conduct of the campaign. Recriminations will continue for the rest of the participant's lives.

Buell follows the Confederates as far as London, Kentucky where he stops his less than aggressive pursuit and proceeds towards Nashville. On October 24, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, creates a new Department of the Cumberland and as a reward for his excellent defense of Corinth, places Major General William Starke Rosecrans in command. The Army of the Ohio is re-designated at the XIV Army Corps. The name Army of the Cumberland will not be adopted until after the Battle of Murfreesboro. Buell hears of the change in command through a newspaper article on October 29, effectively ending his career.


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