According to Kurt Holman, manager of the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site, the CWT recently has protected more than 200 acres of battlefield land located along Hays Mayes Road.
First, the trust secured 141 acres surrounding the historic Henry P. Bottom House. During the battle, this was the right flank of the Union 1st Corps. There, the 3rd Ohio and 15th Kentucky infantry regiments endured successive Confederate attacks from brigades led by Kentucky native and Confederate general Simon Bolivar Buckner.
“A lot of people fought and died there, and this property represents the most Kentucky-relevant portion of the battlefield,” Holman said. “Lt. Col. Matthew Jouett, Col. Curran Pope, and many other soldiers from the 15th Kentucky Union Infantry became casualties there.”
More than 200 members of the 15th Kentucky were killed and wounded at Perryville.
The Union troops that fought near the Bottom House were ultimately pushed back to other properties — about 75 acres — that the Civil War Trust recently acquired. The Battle of Perryville ended near this location. Both flanks of the Union army fell back toward the Dixville Crossroads, an important intersection. There, the remnants of Union brigades commanded by colonels William H. Lytle and George P. Webster fought Confederate troops led by brigadier generals Patrick Cleburne, S. A. M. Wood, and St. John R. Liddell.
The day’s fight proved dangerous for these officers. By the time the Union soldiers defended those fields and forests, Lytle, Cleburne, and Wood had been wounded. Webster, grievously injured, eventually died in a nearby farmhouse. The property includes the site of the John C. Russell House, headquarters of Union corps commander Alexander McCook, which was lost to a fire several years ago.
Late in the day, Federal artillery deployed behind the structure lobbed shells into the Confederate ranks. One witness noted, “The roar of the cannon was deafening; the earth trembled under their shock.”
Although Federal troops made an obstinate defense in the fields around the house, they were ultimately pushed back. Night fell, and Southern officers, having nearly seized the important crossroads, ended the attack. Had the rebels secured the intersection, McCook’s Union 1st Corps would have been cut off from the rest of the Army of the Ohio and annihilated.
One Northerner recalled, “Had it not been for darkness relieving us, I believe we would all have been killed.”
The fight’s aftermath illustrates the battle’s intensity at this property. On the night of the battle, Union Lt. Chesley Mosman of the 59th Illinois Infantry toured the crossroads where his brigade had been shattered. Mosman remarked that around the intersection “there were not 10 square feet of ground on which there were not one and sometimes two or three dead men lying.”
Union surgeons quickly converted most nearby structures into makeshift hospitals. Doctor J. G. Hatchitt visited the Russell House almost immediately after the fight. “I found about 150 wounded,” he wrote, “most of them lying on the ground in the yard, and (few surgeons) ... They had labored all night as best they could. No supplies having reached this hospital, they were compelled to amputate without chloroform.”
Hatchitt also discovered that a recent drought compounded sanitation problems. “Some surgeons told me that they could not get water enough to wash the blood from their hands for two days,” he wrote.
Russell’s house was a hospital for 17 days. One witness remarked that it was “a hospital and everything about it used and destroyed.”
Holman said the Civil War Trust is still raising funds to preserve the site.
“The Civil War Trust has been instrumental in protecting critically important battlefield land at Perryville,” Holman said. “During these difficult economic times, they have played a huge part in protecting this site for future generations. We couldn’t save this history without them.”
Stuart W. Sanders is the author of “Perryville Under Fire: The Aftermath of Kentucky’s Largest Civil War Battle,” which was published by The History Press.