PERRYVILLE — When Confederate soldiers were approaching Perryville for battle in the fall of 1862, they came from the northeast, from Harrodsburg. The Union troops moved in from the west in three prongs, from Mackville, Springfield and Lebanon.
When re-enactors converge on the battlefield this year for the 150th anniversary, they will march along the very same routes as their real-life counterparts did as they prepared to engage each other. They will travel through private property and land newly acquired by the Civil War Trust that has not seen a soldier since those who fought and died in 1862.
“This is totally new and probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing, because it’s the 150th,” said Joan House, preservation specialist for Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site. “It’s a great honor to get on this property. It’s a big deal.”
House’s husband, Chad Green, will lead the federal troops toward the battlefield on Friday for Saturday’s big showdown. A re-enactor for 25 years, Green has participated in recreating Civil War battles around the country, including Gettysburg and Manassas. The opportunity to follow in the boot prints of the real soldiers as they prepared to meet their fate is creating a big buzz among the most serious re-enactors, he said.
“I’ve talked to some of those boys on the other side whose ancestors fought in this battle, and they will be able to retrace their footsteps,” Green said. “On some of this land, I don’t think there has been a soldier on it in 150 years, so it’s very special to be able to do that.”
Lorenzo Hankla has made his property east of the battlefield available for Rebel troops to bivouac on Thursday night, prior to their march toward the battle on Friday. It will provide them with a unique opportunity to see the lay of the land that has remained mostly unchanged and imagine what it must have been like on the eve of the battle.
Some Union soldiers will camp Thursday night on Green’s farm to the west off of White Road and then make their march toward fate the next day in preparation for Saturday’s main re-enactment.
Both sides with feature hundreds of soldiers on foot and horseback, and each will travel roughly three miles from their camps to the site of the confrontation. They will conduct tactical maneuvers and engage in brief skirmishes along the way, Green said.
The Friday journeys toward the battle are called Preservation Marches, as they will raise funds for the Civil War Trust, which obtained 121 acres of important land — where some of the bloodiest fighting took place — adjoining the Perryville state site earlier this year.
Participants won’t be charged a premium to join the march, but re-enactors are being asked to contribute extra to help the trust, whose mission is to preserve land around historic battlefields, pay for the land and have it properly interpreted for visitors.
“The spectator money goes to the state, but all of the re-enactor money goes toward preservation,” Green explained.
Perryville has always been attractive to the most serious re-enactors because it affords them the opportunity to recreate a battle on the location where it was actually fought. The Preservation Marches are designed to kick the authenticity factor up a notch.
“We tend to get the most authentic re-enactors,” House said. “We’ve got guys coming in from England and Wales, and a lot of eastern states. To have access to these routes is a real big deal for them.
“We don’t just want to put on a dog and pony show out here,” she continued. “This is where those men died. It was hell on earth. It was a big deal to the state, it was a big deal to the nation. We have the utmost respect for that.”