Today we welcome guest author Stuart W. Sanders. Stuart is the former executive director of the Perryville Battlefield Preservation Association. He is the author of three books, including Perryville Under Fire: The Aftermath of Kentucky’s Largest Civil War Battle and The Battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky. His latest book, Maney’s Confederate Brigade at the Battle of Perryville, was just published by the History Press.
In 1872, the remains of Confederate Colonel Charles McDaniel of Carroll County, Georgia, were disinterred from a central Kentucky cemetery and returned home. Ten years earlier, McDaniel, a college professor in civilian life, had been severely wounded at the Battle of Perryville. Taken ten miles to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, the thirty-two year old McDaniel died there from his wounds ten days after the fight.
Born in DeKalb County, Georgia, on November 27, 1830, McDaniel graduated from Emory College. In 1855, he took a teaching position at Bowdon Seminary, located in Carroll County, Georgia. Recognizing that students in western Georgia needed an institution of higher learning, in 1856, he helped establish the Bowden Collegiate Institute in a two-room house. The college grew quickly; within four years, the campus was expanded and the school had 177 students. In addition to being a founder, trustee, and the first president of Bowdon College, McDaniel was recognized as “a splendid teacher and a magnetic orator.”
The 1860 census lists McDaniel as a professor of “Belles Lettres.” He and his wife, Victoria, had three children, a girl and a boy, all under the age of five. McDaniel owned $1,750 in real estate and $4,300 in personal property, including two male slaves, aged twenty and fifteen.
When the Civil War erupted, McDaniel’s students hoped to enlist in the Confederate army. Therefore, the trustees ended the 1861 session early, and, that May, 130 students and several graduates formed an infantry company. Highlighting McDaniel’s popularity, the students elected McDaniel as their captain. Called the “Bowdon Volunteers,” the Civil War took its toll on these student volunteers. According to a Georgia state historical marker, “128 of the 144 students died” during the conflict.
Although McDaniel’s company was sent into Virginia to fight, in January 1862, McDaniel asked for a leave of absence in order to return to Georgia to raise an infantry regiment. The plan was approved and McDaniel organized the 41st Georgia Infantry Regiment, which was primarily composed of men from Cobb, Troup, Taylor, and Heard counties. In March 1862, McDaniel was promoted to colonel. Although he hoped that his new regiment would be sent to fight with other Georgians in Virginia, his troops went west.
By May 1862, McDaniel’s soldiers were in Corinth, Mississippi, with Confederate General Braxton Bragg’s army. When Union Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio threatened the vital railroad junction of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Bragg transferred his troops to the Volunteer State before advancing into Kentucky. By early October 1862, McDaniel’s green regiment found themselves embroiled in some of the hardest fighting at the Battle of Perryville.
The 41st Georgia and four Tennessee regiments were part of Brigadier General George Maney’s brigade. Shortly after the fighting began at Perryville, these troops were tasked to crush the Union left flank, located immediately north of the present-day battlefield museum. After crossing the Chaplin River, Maney’s men advanced in two lines, marching from east to west. The raw 41st Georgia formed the far right of Maney’s first line. After moving through some woods, the troops were fired upon by Union artillery and infantry located on a steep ridge that is now known as Parsons’ Ridge. The Confederates halted at a split-rail fence and exchanged gunfire with the Federal troops. Major John Knight of the 41st Georgia reported, “as soon as it was in view the enemy opened upon them a most terrific and deadly fire, when our regiment responded and halted for several minutes. It was a fearful time.”
Despite the barrage, Confederate officers urged the men forward. Knight noted that the regiment suffered severely at the fence, having “sustained one-half, if not two-thirds, of [the regiment’s] entire loss during the battle.” Another Georgian recalled the danger of the advance. He wrote that when his regiment was “within one hundred and fifty yards of the enemy, they opened on us with grape and canister. When within fifty yards, they opened on us with musketry, and now the fight became general and looked like the whole world had been converted into blue coats, whistling balls, bursting shells and brass cannon. Right here it was almost impossible for mortal men to stand up in the face of such a rain of lead.” The men, however, stormed the ridge, drove off the Union infantry, and captured most of the cannon. Knight added, “Never perhaps did troops fight more desperately than did these on occasion.”
Maney’s Brigade moved down the back slope and pressed into a cornfield, driving off the 21st Wisconsin Infantry. More Union artillery on a hill west of the cornfield bombarded Maney’s Brigade, which surged forward and ultimately shoved the Union left flank back several hundred yards.
McDaniel, however, did not share in this success. Upon moving through the cornfield, the Georgia officer was grievously injured. Knight noted, “Our noble colonel (Charles A. McDaniel) fell late in the evening, severely wounded, in the corn field beyond the belt of woods we passed through.” Maney lamented that McDaniel was “severely wounded,” having sustained a broken hip and a shattered arm, which was nearly falling off by the time he was removed from the field. Maney mourned the loss, stating that McDaniel was “an amicable and Christian gentleman [and] a fine discreet and daring officer.”
Many of McDaniel’s troops also lay scattered across the field. Having gone into the fight with 520 men, the regiment suffered 42 killed, 106 wounded, and 3 missing, or a loss of nearly thirty percent of the regiment. After the battle, the outnumbered Confederates departed, taking most of their wounded ten miles away to Harrodsburg. Approximately 1,700 men were left in Harrodsburg, including McDaniel.
The Georgia colonel lingered for ten days before he died. On October 21, Harrodsburg gunsmith Benjamin Mills, who had been master armorer at Harper’s Ferry during John Brown’s raid, wrote a letter to a Texas woman whose husband, Captain Mark Evans, had also died. Mills noted that Evans’s “Masonic brothers helped to get his coffin and to bury him. He and Col. McDaniel, of [the 41st Georgia], were buried at the same time. Their bodies now lie in the Masonic grounds where they can be removed.”
McDaniel lay buried in the Masonic lot in Harrodsburg’s Spring Hill Cemetery for nearly a decade. In 1872, his brother, George, paid $400 to have the body moved to Bowden, Georgia, where the colonel was re-interred.
After the battle, Maney sought to commemorate McDaniel’s memory. In April 1863, Confederate authorities directed Maney to engrave two captured cannon with “the names of four of the bravest Tennessee men who were killed on the field.” In response, Maney noted that Georgians also comprised his brigade at Perryville. Therefore, Maney wanted to inscribe one of the cannons with McDaniel’s name. In paying tribute to this Georgian, Maney said that “the Southern Army lost neither a truer soldier or more amiable and admirable gentleman on that field than Col. Charles A. McDaniel.”