Battle of Perryville
Forces present for the battle:
C.S. Gen. Braxton Bragg Army of Mississippi 17,000 men
U.S. Gen. Don Carlos Buell Army of the Ohio 60,000 men (only 22,000 engaged)
The only major battle that took place in Kentucky opens before 6:00 AM—or it should have---when Union forces are advancing toward the Confederate positions near Perryville, with skirmishers engaging the Southern pickets south and west of the town.
At first, Bragg is not at the location, and so Gen. Leonidas Polk becomes the default commander of the Southern troops on the field. Polk sends a wire to Bragg, announcing the advance units of the enemy, at around 6:00 AM, and promises to hit them hard:
B. Gen. Donelson’s brigade charges into the middle of McCook’s line, and one regiment, the 16th Tennessee, finds itself isolated and caught in a crossfire; by the time they can withdraw, the regiment loses 219 men out of the 370 present for duty. Maney’s brigade attacks on McCook’s right, and captures several of the 8 Federal guns on the crest of the Open Knob, breaking the Federal line’s left anchor.2 The Federals form a firmer line farther back, and after heavy fighting all afternoon, Cheatham sends Maney’s brigade in again, and it is broken and driven back.
A few miles away, Gen. Buell and Gen. Gilbert are enjoying lunch. As the sound of a few cannon come his way, he sends a note to Gen. Sheridan (commanding Gilbert’s corps when he is absent) to stop wasting gunpowder. Other sounds of the battle were not heard, apparently due to some acoustic shadow, and Buell does not know there is a battle until it has been going on for three hours. Gen. Gilbert does not believe there is a fight, either, and does not return to his corps until much later.
In the center, Anderson’s Rebel division goes forward in a piecemeal attack across Sinkhole Valley, without orders, and is beaten back with heavy losses. On the Confederate left, the brigades of Johnson, Cleburne, and Adams (under Buckner’s command) all converge on three sides of Lytle’s Federal division, which puts up a brave fight all afternoon, and is finally driven back.
Bragg sends Powell’s Brigade to support the flank of this attack, and Powell runs into Sheridan and his division and the whole III Corps of Buell’s army. A counterattack by Carlin’s Federal brigade causes Powell to retreat. Carlin and another brigade under Wagner pursue Powell, and they end up at the outskirts of the town, with the vital crossroads just beyond their grasp. Gen. Gilbert finally takes command of his III Corps, and at that moment, around 4:00 PM, sends an order to Mitchell to withdraw Carlin and Wagner and to pull back into line, thus wasting the opportunity.
But meanwhile, Cleburne and Adams are ordered forward again to pursue the withdrawing Federals, and they are supported by Liddell’s and Woods’ brigades, all pressing toward a crossroads where McCook’s troops were beginning to clump. Elements of two Federal brigades received the brunt of the Rebel attack, but resistance stiffens. At one point, Liddell’s troops are firing, and voices ahead call on them to them to stop—that they are firing on friends. Gen. Polk is nearby, and so he rides forward to see who the unknown Southern troops are, and finds himself in the midst of the 22nd Indiana Infantry. To carry off his ruse and escape capture, Polk rides down the Yankee line, pretending to be a Federal officer, roaring at the Indianans to cease fire. When they stop shooting, Polk spurs his horse over to the Confederate line, and orders Liddell’s men to open fire. A vicious volley tears the 22nd Indiana apart, inflicting nearly 65% casualties, and killing their colonel.
As dusk settles over the field, McCook pulls his battered corps back out of danger, including all of his wagons, and pulls back to a higher ridge. Bragg, meanwhile, is learning through scouts and reports that the main Yankee force is ahead of him, three corps’ worth, and that he has barely escaped disaster, had Buell been aware enough to press his advantage. Gilberts’ corps was only partly engaged, and Crittenden’s was not engaged at all, and could have easily flanked the Rebels. As it is, only about 1/3 of Buell’s army is engaged. During the night, Bragg withdraws his army back to Harrodsburg Overall, a slipshod, mismanaged battle---but it ends the hopes of the South to bring Kentucky into the Confederacy, and thus end the war with a truce. Stalemate / Union strategic victory
Losses: Killed Wounded Captured or Missing Total
Union 894 2,911 471 4,276
Confederate 532 2,641 228 3,401
—George Templeton Strong, of New York City, records in his journal: