The Battle of Perryville, fought near the small town of Perryville, Kentucky, on October 8th, 1862, was the largest Civil War battle fought in the Bluegrass State. Though it is less well known than some of the other battles of the Civil War, the Battle of Perryville is comparable to other major battles of the war in terms of casualties, intensity of fighting, and significance.
In the late summer of 1862, two Confederate armies under Generals Braxton Bragg and Edmund Kirby Smith marched north from Tennessee into Kentucky. Bragg, who was the overall commander of the operation, believed that the invasion of Kentucky, a state that had remained in the Union but was a slave state with a large number of Confederate supporters, would provide supplies and recruits for the Confederate army. (Regiments from the state served in both the Union and Confederate armies). The capture and control of Kentucky would put a Confederate state just across the Ohio River from Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.
Bragg advanced toward Louisville, while Smith moved toward Richmond, Kentucky, where he won a lopsided victory over a force of nearly 6900 Federals on August 30th, followed by the capture of Lexington the same day. Bragg captured the 4200 man garrison at Munfordville on September 17th. Meanwhile, the Union Army of the Ohio under Major General Don Carlos Buell was in quick pursuit of Bragg, attempting to beat his army to Louisville. Bragg decided to join forces with Smith rather than engage Buell, and the Army of the Ohio marched into Louisville.
Buell left Louisville on October 1st, and the Confederate forces concentrated at Perryville on October 6th. Initial contact between Buell and Confederate forces occurred the next day to the northwest of the town of Perryville, at Peters Hill, one of the Chaplin Hills (the battle is sometimes referred to as the Battle of Chaplin Hills). On October 8th, as more reinforcements poured in, the battle commenced in earnest. The Confederates attacked the Union left flank, pushing back the Federals, who counterattacked, and were driven back again before more reinforcements arrived and held the line. Attacks and counterattacks continued throughout the day, with Confederate forces slowly pushing Union lines back a mile or so before darkness halted the fighting. The Federals then consolidated their lines and set up a strong defensive position, with more reinforcements on the way. With more Union reinforcements closing in, and his already outnumbered army in need of resupply, Bragg decided to withdraw from the field, and back into Tennessee.
About 22,000 Federals had engaged 16,000 Confederates in the Battle of Perryville, but the Union had about 33,000 more in the area. Although there would continue to be cavalry raids and minor actions in the state, this was the last large Civil War battle in the Bluegrass State and Buell’s strategic victory at Perryville kept Kentucky in the Union. It had been costly on both sides. Union casualties totaled 4,211 (845 killed, 2,635 wounded, and 515 missing or captured) while the Confederates had 3,401 (510 killed, 2,641 wounded, and 251 missing or captured.
Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site
The Perryville Battlefield, both at the time of the battle and today, is hills and farmland, and looks much the same as it did in 1862. The battlefield is not a Federal site; instead, it has been a part of the Kentucky State Parks system since 1936 and is nicely preserved. There is a visitor center with a museum containing artifacts from the battle; a film explaining the battle is also shown. There is no charge for admission to the park itself; a nominal fee is charged for admission to the museum. There is a driving tour that hits some important places in the battle, and there are nearly 20 miles of hiking trails that will take a visitor throughout the battlefield. Over 50 interpretive signs are present on the driving tour and hiking trails. The park is located about 45 miles southwest of Lexington at 1825 Battlefield Road, just outside of Perryville.