On Oct. 8, 1862, shots rang throughout an area to the northwest of Perryville. By late that evening, the battle was over, and more than 7,000 men were missing, injured or dead. However, it wasn’t until 90 years later, Oct. 8, 1954, that Perryville Battlefield officially opened and became nationally protected.
According to civilwar.org, the Perryville Lions Club began rehabilitating the location, attempting to preserve the area that was marked in the 1880s as a Confederate cemetery. The group worked to convince the Kentucky State Conservation Commission to create a state park there.
In the late 1880s, a monument, called the Goodknight Monument, was erected near the land believed to be a burial ground for many Confederate soldiers. These men had been treated in a house-turned-hospital owned by a man named Goodnight. The monument reads, “erected by the United States,” which leads many to believe that it is the first monument erected to honor the Confederate war dead.
According to Kurt Holman, manager at Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site, a movement began in 1898, during which a group known as the “Battlefield Commission” bought a .25 acre plot of land from Henry P. Bottom. A monument was erected and a stone fence built around the area, officially dedicated in 1901 to honor the Confederate soldiers.
“For most of the Confederates (that died during the battle), they just dug a hole and buried them, in unmarked graves,” Holman said.
The Battlefield Commission went on to purchase more of the surrounding land, which had been fought on during the war. Holman explains, in 1922, it purchased an additional 3.84 acres from the Bottom family, including an access road.
Over the course of the next few years, an additional 21.8 acres were purchased, enabling the park to be connected to the main road in 1928, which was the year Congress approved funding for the Union Monument to be constructed.
By 1931, the U.S. Veterans Administration was ceded the original property, consisting of 3.84 acres, which included the monuments and cemeteries. The group continued to hold that property for 40 years.
The land surrounding the original plots officially was turned over to the commonwealth of Kentucky and turned into a state historic site. The buildings were added, additional land was purchased, and an easement was acquired for the land across the road from the park.
In 1979, the Veterans Administration turned its acreage over to the state. The preserved land total was now 106 acres, and remained that way until 1995.
The importance of continually growing the park is to enable people to step through history and save the area for future generations.
“It’s all about preservation and making more land. It’s also greenspace, too,” Holman said.
The Civil War Trust now handles all land purchases for the park, as well as accepting donations to pay for these purchases, all at civilwar.org.