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Battle of Perryville

October 8, 1862

The Battle of Perryville, also known as the Battle of Chaplin Hills, was the decisive engagement of the Confederate Heartland Offensive of 1862.

By the middle of 1862, Confederate fortunes were declining in the Western Theater of the American Civil War. Union forces controlled western Tennessee and the upper reaches of the Mississippi River, as well as the southern port city of New Orleans, Louisiana. Federal forces had driven the Confederate Army of Mississippi from the important railroad hub at Corinth, Mississippi to Tupelo, Mississippi, and Union General Ulysses S. Grant was making plans to capture the fortress city of Vicksburg, Mississippi on the Mississippi River.

On June 27, 1862, Confederate President Jefferson Davis relieved General P.G.T. Beauregard of command of the Army of Mississippi and replaced him with General Braxton Bragg. Hoping to end the string of Federal successes in the West, Bragg devised a plan to shift the focus of the war in the Western Theater by invading Kentucky. Bragg believed that the majority of residents in that border state supported the Confederacy and that many of them would join the Southern army if given the opportunity.

Leaving 32,000 soldiers in Mississippi to deal with Grant, Bragg moved his remaining 34,000 men to Chattanooga, Tennessee to launch his invasion of Kentucky. Once in Kentucky, Bragg planned to combine forces with Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith's 18,000 soldiers, stationed near Knoxville, Tennessee and move against the Union Army of the Ohio, which was commanded by Major General Don Carlos Buell.

Initially, events went well for the Confederates. Smith left Knoxville on August 14, 1862, and he defeated a Union garrison at Richmond, Kentucky on August 30. Bragg's army left Chattanooga in late August and on September 17, it captured an important rail station at Munfordville, Kentucky, along with 4,000 Union soldiers, at the Battle of Munfordville (September 14-17, 1862). On October 4, events were so promising that Bragg participated in the inauguration of Richard Hawes as the provisional Confederate governor of Kentucky.

Throughout September, the two-headed Rebel onslaught forced Buell back toward Louisville, Kentucky. There, soldiers from across the Ohio River, in Indiana, reinforced the Army of the Ohio. In early October, with up to 60,000 men under his command, Buell left Louisville and became the pursuer. The Confederates were unprepared for Buell's advance. Smith and Bragg had still not combined their armies, and Bragg's army was spread between Bardstown and Frankfort. Buell sent a small force toward Frankfort to convince Bragg that the focus of his counterattack was the Kentucky capital. Meanwhile, the bulk of Buell's army departed southeast from Louisville in three columns in search of Bragg's army.

The march from Louisville was brutal because Kentucky was suffering from one of the worst droughts in memory. The unusually high autumn temperatures took a toll on Buell's army, and drinking water became precious. On October 7, 1862, Buell's three columns approached the small crossroads town of Perryville, Kentucky. Advance scouts reported that there were some shallow pools of water remaining in the bed of Doctor's Creek near the town. As the first of Buell's men began to arrive during the evening, they engaged in skirmishes with Confederate cavalry guarding the water. Before darkness fell, fighting became more intense when Confederate infantry, commanded by Major General Leonidas Polk, moved to reinforce the cavalry. During the night, more soldiers from each side arrived in the area, and their commanders began establishing battle lines. Buell intended to launch a major assault against the Rebels the next day, but delays in the arrival of his men caused him to postpone the attack until October 9. On the Confederate side, Bragg was still convinced that the bulk of Buell's army was targeting Frankfort. Believing that Polk's army outnumbered the Yankees near Perryville, Bragg ordered Polk to attack the next day.

As events would have it, the battle began around 2:00 a.m. the next morning, when Union soldiers, commanded by Brigadier General Philip Sheridan, advanced to take possession of some pools of water in Doctor's Creek near Peters Hill. Meeting little resistance, Sheridan's men captured Peter's Hill and drove the Rebel defenders beyond the creek. Sheridan was ordered to hold the hill, and little else happened during the remainder of the morning.

Bragg arrived at Perryville about 10:00 a.m. and was angered to find that Polk had established defensive positions, rather than follow his orders to attack the Union lines. Polk had good reason not to comply; he was sure that he was facing more than a diversionary force. Still clinging to his belief about the size of the enemy force that Polk was facing, Bragg took control, re-deployed the soldiers, and ordered an attack, which began with a bombardment at 12:30 p.m.

The first infantry push came from the Confederate right. The Rebels met stiff resistance but succeeded in driving the Federals back. Buell failed to send reserves to repulse the attack, because he was away from the action recuperating from falling from his horse the day before. At 2:45 p.m., the Rebel center began its advance but made little headway. The final Confederate assault came from two brigades against Major General Alexander McCook's center. Buell, by now aware that he was engaged in a full-scale battle, reinforced McCook's troops, who stopped the Rebel advance. By dark, the remainder of Buell's army had arrived at Perryville and was threatening the Confederate left flank. Overnight, Bragg realized that he was engaged with nearly the entire Union army. Outnumbered nearly three-to-one, and running low on ammunition and supplies, Bragg withdrew.

Ohio units that participated in the Battle of Perryville included:

Infantry units:

  • 2nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 3rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 6th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 9th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 10th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 13th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 14th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 17th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 19th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 24th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 26th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 31st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 33rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 35th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 38th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 41st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 50th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 51st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 52nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 59th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 64th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 65th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 90th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 94th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 97th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 98th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 99th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 101st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 121st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Artillery units:

  • Battery B, 1st Ohio Light Artillery Regiment
  • Battery C, 1st Ohio Light Artillery Regiment
  • Battery D, 1st Ohio Light Artillery Regiment
  • Battery F, 1st Ohio Light Artillery Regiment
  • 6th Ohio Light Artillery Battery

Cavalry units:

  • 1st Ohio Volunteer Cavalry Regiment
  • 3rd Ohio Volunteer Cavalry Regiment

The Battle of Perryville was a Confederate tactical victory but a strategic loss. The Rebels suffered fewer casualties (3,196) than the Federals (4,211), and they succeeded in pushing the Federals back before the battle ended. Nevertheless, the arrival of nearly all of Buell's army by the end of the day forced Bragg to concede everything his soldiers had gained. Moreover, Bragg's retreat from Perryville effectively ended the Confederate Heartland Offensive.

After withdrawing from Perryville, Bragg fell back to Harrodsville, Kentucky, where he finally joined forces with Kirby Smith. The combined Confederate army was now comparable in size to Buell's army. Nevertheless, Bragg lost his enthusiasm for the campaign. The Kentucky recruits that he expected never materialized, and he believed that his supply lines were too vulnerable and insufficient to remain in the state. Over the objections of Smith, Polk, and other subordinates, Bragg decided to end the campaign and evacuated Kentucky, leaving the state in Union control for the remainder of the war.

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