The Battle for Kentucky – 160 Years Ago

The Battle of Perryville (LC)

Sixteen decades ago today occurred the largest and bloodiest battle ever fought in Kentucky – the Battle of Perryville (or Chaplin Hills) on October 8, 1862. The engagement pitted Major General Don Carlos Buell’s U.S. Army of the Ohio against elements of General Braxton Bragg’s C.S. Army of the Mississippi outside the town of Perryville. In five hours of fighting, 7500 casualties occurred – one of the worst per-hour casualty rates of the Civil War.

After the battle, Bragg started a retreat that did not end until the Confederates were back in Tennessee, a decision which ended the dream of a Confederate Kentucky. This fact sustains the claim that Perryville ranks as the High Water Mark of the Confederacy in the West.

“It was not generalship there,” stated Private Theodore Herrling of the 1st Wisconsin about the battle’s result. “It was simply the fighting, staying qualities of the Federal soldier.”

In 2011 the American Battlefield Trust interviewed me about this superbly-preserved battlefield and its importance. You can read that interview here. 

I also was interviewed a few days ago for a podcast about the campaign.

The park (which has been called one of the best preserved battlefields in the U.S. and the most significant non-Federally-owned Civil War Battlefield) is owned and managed by Kentucky State Parks. This weekend is the annual commemoration of the battle.

Perryville’s website is here:

3 Responses to The Battle for Kentucky – 160 Years Ago

  1. We attended the 150th Perryville re-enactment in October 2012. An incredible experience, watching the “fighting” occurring on the actual battlefield.

  2. Chris, have you ever heard anyone refer to Bragg’s operation as an Rebel invasion of “the North?” I’m curious because Maryland is commonly referred to as “the North” when it clearly was not.

    1. Good question. Periodically I’ve heard that in reference to Kentucky, but it is not common. I think most people who refer to the border states as “the North” are not meaning it as a geographic term, but as a shorthand for states that remained loyal to the U.S.

      Western Theater historians (including myself) tend to use “the Confederacy” and “the United States” when referring to the respective sides. That usage also seems to be catching on more and more.

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