Kurt Holman has been hearing Civil War history from his grandmother since he was a child.
“My grandmother’s grandfather fought in the Civil War, and they were very close,” Holman said.
His great-great-grandfather passed down stories from the war on to Holman’s grandmother, who passed them on to him.
It only makes sense that this early influence would instill a deep interest of Civil War history in Holman.
In 1981, he moved from Iowa, where he heard his grandmother’s stories, to Kentucky to work for his father, who owned multiple businesses in Danville. Holman was trying to decide what to study in school. Of course, being so close to Perryville and having such an interest in Civil War history, he had to visit Perryville Battlefield.
“Here I am, 10 miles away from a Civil War battlefield, so I am all over this place,” he said.
Holman began studying more about the Civil War and Perryville, and that’s what lead him back to school.
Holman completed a history degree at Centre College and began working with the Kentucky Historic Society in Frankfort, giving tours of the two capitol buildings and the two governor’s mansions. Eventually, he was able to begin working at Perryville Battlefield and moved into the position of park manager.
As park manager, he has been diligently working to create a database of casualties from the battlefield. Using this database, Holman is able to help people in search of information about family members who fought there. In some cases, he can even pinpoint what regiment they fought with and, if they were Union soldiers, where they might be buried. Most Union soldiers were retrieved from the battlefield to be buried at Camp Nelson.
He also is working to make the diaries, letters and other texts from those who fought in the Battle of Perryville into editable text, to enable him to cross-reference. This will help historians and visitors alike to understand more of what happened there.
“People come here looking for information. They go to a resort park looking to play golf … but a historic site, what they want is information. I take that to heart,” he said. “I want them to be able to leave with that information.”
Holman has a deep appreciation for history, calling himself a World War II aviation buff, and having a bucket list that included meeting one of the Doolittle Raiders. These men are a group that went into Japan following Pearl Harbor on an expected suicide mission. Some were captured and killed, but some survived.
“These guys were rock stars; they were heros. They all knew they were going to die,” he said.
Holman explains that there are only five surviving members and all are in their 90s now. “I got to shake the hand of one. Under the wing of the only flyable B-29 bomber still in existence.”
Even if he retires, Holman knows he will still be passionate about Perryville Battlefield, saying, “it’s not that I’m passionate about the job, I’m passionate about the place.
“There’s some kind of a hold it has,” he said.
That’s why he jokes about being such a romantic. “When I was dating my wife, it was, ‘here, hold this clipboard while I read the name off of this tombstone,’” Holman said, explaining that it was often in the quest to help locate some of the soldiers’ graves at Camp Nelson. For a while, his family lived in what is now the museum. As park manager, Holman was required to live on the property. In fact, living on the battlefield is all his 15-year-old son knows.
“My son has lived his entire life on the battlefield. This battlefield,” he said.
However, despite Holman’s best efforts, his son hasn’t quite caught on to the history bug.
“He wants to be an engineer, wants to go into something more marketable,” Holman said.
For Holman, his work is focused on learning more about the soldiers who were here. This is another reason he pours over diaries left by soldiers. He does it for “the guys who came here 150 years ago and never left.
“It’s what motivates me. It’s what keeps me going, trying to do well by their memory,” Holman said.
In his job as park manager, Homan doesn’t believe in micromanaging.
“Managing is about managing people. … I try to get the best people I can that know their jobs,” he said.
The focus of the park is to inform visitors and preserve history for future generations. That is what Holman strives to do. He and the park staff make a conscious effort to restore things to the way they once were.
“Most of the stuff we deal with here is restoration,” he said.
Often, when they gain new property for the battlefield, they try to take away the man-made things that are now there, to revert the land back to the way it was when the battle was fought.
“There’s preservation, and there’s restoration. One of the big things about this battle was ponds, water. It’s an oversimplification … but it’s a big part of it. I have this thing about standing water on the battlefield,” Holman said. He says he imagines the men “dying of thirst, with nobody to bring them a canteen.”
“Now, the spot that they died has some farm pond on it. To me, that’s insulting,” he said.