On October 8, 1862, a hot and exceedingly dry day, Union and Confederate forces classed in the Chaplin Hills just west of Perryville, Kentucky, a small market town located southwest of Lexington in the commonwealth’s central bluegrass.
Perryville-This Grand Havoc of Battle by Kenneth W. Noe, pg xiii
So begins Noe’s exhaustive work on the Civil War’s most obscure major battle.
Part of the reason for the obscurity is the location of the battle. The battlefield is not near any major interstate or large city. The largest city is near-by Danville, KY with a population of just over 16,000 as of 2010.
Another reason for the relative obscurity is simply because other battlefields such as Shiloh, Vicksburg, Stones River and Chickmauga in the west and Gettysburg in the east have been written about exhaustively. Those battles have been thought of being of greater importance than a battle fought in the middle of nowhere Kentucky.
Yet, the Battle of Perryville can be and should probably be thought of as the Confederate high tide in the Western Theater of Operations.
The Confederates under Braxton Bragg and Kirby Smith invaded the border State of Kentucky (a slave state) in order to encourage secession in the hopes of recruiting thousands of Kentuckians to the cause.
Secession leaning Kentucky politicians and Rebel Kentucky generals already in the Confederate camp were adamant in assuring Bragg and Smith that should they invade and that many southern leaning Kentuckians would flock to the colors and “fight for Kentucky’s independence” from the Union.
No such thing happened. Most Kentuckians were against secession despite the fact Kentucky was a slave state. Recruits to the cause were few. Most that did enlist preferred service in the cavalry rather than the less glamorous infantry where they were needed the most.
Nevertheless, Bragg and Smith did invade and for a time the invasion did provide a panic for the Union. A major Confederate success in Kentucky would have meant Louisville falling to the Confederates and probably would have pulled Kentucky out of the Union. Bragg was so optimistic that he thought he could cross the Ohio River and take Cincinnati.
Although obscure, The Battle of Perryville was not a small affair especially for the soldiers on both sides who had to fight it. Sam Watkins, the author of the well known memoir, Company H served in the 1st Tennessee (CSA) in nearly every battle and skirmish in the Western Theater of the War.
Here is Noe’s quote on Watkin’s experience at Perryville:
The ubiquitous Confederate infantryman Sam Watkins remembered Perryville, where he fought hand-to-hand for control of a federal battery, as “this grand havoc of a battle” and swore that he had never experienced anything else like it. “I was in every battle, skirmish and march that was made by the First Tennessee regiment during the war,: he recorded in his memoir, “and I do not remember a harder contest and more evenly fought battle than that of Perryville…Both sides claimed victory—both whipped….Such obstinate fighting I never seen before or since.
(Perryville-This Grand Havoc of Battle by Kenneth W. Noe, pg xiv
In late September, 2019 my wife and I traveled to South Carolina to visit her sister and her husband. It was an opportunity for me to scratch my life long interests in the American Civil War.
On the way home which took us through Tennessee and Kentucky we decided to visit the Perryville Battlefield for a day. My wife is very gracious in indulging my hobbies and over the years she too has developed an interest in American History.
We visited the battlefield many years before-before the birth of out son; almost as newly weds back in the late 1970’s. Back then, it was an impulsive stop and it occurred simply because we were close enough to it after we had visited Shiloh, Chickamauga, Fort Donelson and other better known battlefields.
I remember driving for miles and miles on a single lane highway in mid-summer wondering if we would ever get there. When we arrived I was disappointed. The battlefield was small and the visitor center was nothing to brag about. I knew little about the battle and that contributed to the overall impression that is was a long ride for nothing.
Over the years in furthering my study of the Civil War I thought the battlefield would be worth a second look. My expectations were not as high as they were previously and I researched the site (what did we do before the INET!) prior to our trip.
Since the 1970’s the size of the battlefield has grown considerably through the efforts of the State of Kentucky and Battlefield Trust. Land has been purchased and new visitor center built that features a small bookstore as well as a battlefield museum which given it’s size is quite impressive.
The staff member (who could not show us around that day) spent a lot of time explaining the battle and guiding us in how to use the map. We spent the better part of the day hiking around the battlefield in the sequence the staff member suggested. Perryville Battlefield, Kentucky State Park
This gave me an excellent understanding of the battle in how it started, how it progressed and how it finally ended.
If you do not take the time to listen to the guide and then read all the plaques all you will see is rolling hills, tall grass, fences and a few cannon standing guard over ground where brave men bled and died.
The staff member, whose name I have forgotten, has our thanks for providing the framework for an immersive experience that both my wife and I enjoyed.
When we returned to the visitor center I purchased Perryville-This Grand Havoc of a Battle by Kenneth W. Noe. I’ve rarely read a more compelling and interesting account of a Civil War battle. I will probably write a review of the book as it will serve in a big source way for my planned series on the battle.
On a side note, I do have a couple of personal connections to the battle, although both are indirect.
The first connection are the Wisconsin infantry regiments and artillery batteries that were present at the battle. McCook’s Corps of the Army of the Ohio fought the lion’s share of the battle and within that Corps three Wisconsin infantry regiments served. The veteran 1st and 10th Wisconsin and the brand-new 21st Wisconsin all fought with the 21st being particularly roughly handled. A blog post just on that is planned.
The 21st was recruited in my hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. At the time, Milwaukee was heavily German so many Germans served in many Union regiments recruited from the heavy German areas such as Milwaukee, St. Louis and Cincinnati.
My own family immigrated to the US from Germany in the 1870’s so I do not have a direct link that I can establish as a Civil War ancestor. Yet, I can find our family name among the rosters of other Wisconsin regiments. It simply serves me to understand that had I been born in Milwaukee 15-18 years prior to the Civil War I probably would have been in it! Such is the providence of God that I was not.
The second connection is also indirect.
My wife’s great-grandfather immigrated from Scotland to Kentucky in 1853 at the age of eighteen. He enlisted in the 3rd Kentucky Cavalry (Union) in 1861 and served about a year according to his records. He missed Perryville.
Brigadier General William Terrill from Kentucky recruited the 3rd Kentucky when the war began. Terrill would die at the battle.
My wife’s great-grandfather, James Robertson, would re-enlist; this time in the 42nd Wisconsin Infantry. As a veteran I’m sure he was eagerly accepted and I’m sure the $300.00 bounty Wisconsin was providing certainly provided the needed incentive.
The 42nd spent it’s service time in and around Cairo, IL where a huge Union supply base was located. Compared with the horrors of Perryville and other Civil War battles grandpa had pretty nice duty.
Grandpa settled in Wisconsin after the war marrying my wife’s great-grandma, Jessie. They had 13 children together. Grandpa lived until 1913.
Perryville was worth the out of the way trip for anyone interested in the Civil War. Take your time, use the guide and seek to understand. it’s worth it.
In September we took a vacation to visit my wife’s sister in South Carolina. While there e took the opportunity to see some of the sites with her sister and her husband.
We went to Charleston for a few days and spent the better part of one touring Fort Sumter, the place the American Civil War started on April 12, 1861.
Visiting Sumter is something I’ve always wanted to do. The first thing I noticed is that the fort is a lot smaller than I imagined. Here’s the vital stats from Wikipedia:
Named after General Thomas Sumter, Revolutionary War hero, Fort Sumter was built after the War of 1812, as one of a series of fortifications on the southern U.S. coast to protect the harbors. Construction began in 1829, and the structure was still unfinished in 1861, when the Civil War began. Seventy thousand tons of granite were transported from New England to build up a sand bar in the entrance to Charleston Harbor, which the site dominates. The fort was a five-sided brick structure, 170 to 190 feet (52 to 58 m) long, with walls five feet (1.5 m) thick, standing 50 feet (15.2 m) over the low tide mark. It was designed to house 650 men and 135 guns in three tiers of gun emplacements, although it was never filled near its full capacity.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Sumter
While smaller than I thought the fort was a significant fortification that guarded Charleston harbor. In 1861 was it was under gunned and undermanned. As the Confederates took control of the other Union installations around Sumter it became cut off from reinforcement and was forced to surrender.
When the Confederates took over they brought the fort up to snuff by installing 95 guns with a garrison that could man them.
The harbor itself became a haven for blockade runners with quite a few making their way through the Union blockade. The Union Navy was not idle and mounted a siege of the fort for 20 months. A naval landing party of sailors and marines attempted a landing but were easily repulsed.
The Confederate version of Fort Sumter never fell from the sea but rather in January, 1865 it fell, because General Sherman in his march to the sea took it from the landward side.
After the Civil War the fort remained in service until 1876. It was in disrepair until 1897 when the impending war with Spain caused the fort to be upgraded. A small army garrison occupied the fort during the WW1. During WW2 a couple of 90mm anti-aircraft guns were installed. In 1948 the fort was handed over to the National Park Service. Not a bad history for a fort that was built in 1829!
We chose to take the ferry that allowed you to disembark at the fort. You get about an hour to tour the fort. The staff, like at all National Parks were very helpful, taking the time to explain the details surrounding the initial Confederate bombardment and the subsequent Union siege of the fort.
Being the Civil War geek that I am, I was fascinated by the size of the 100lb Parrot guns. These guns were designed to sink ships! At the time this meant wooden ships since the Monitor and the Merrimac ironclads were still about a year away in their making.
The top tier of the fort was blown away during the siege by the Union Navy. On the lower tiers you can still still embedded ordnance as well as damage to the brick and mortar that was never repaired.
An insight museum gives further insight and instruction regarding the momentous events of 1861-65 in Charleston and around the fort.
My only regret was you only had an hour to tour the fort and the museum. There’s a great video and other information about planning your visit to Fort Sumter here.
Did you have a choice of where you were born? Did you have a choice as to your parents? Did you have a choice as to what year you born? Did you have choice as to what culture you were born into? Did I?
The answer to all these questions is of course not. All of us, regardless of ethnic origin, economic status, country of origin came into this world at a time and place and into a family and culture of not our own choosing.
Whether you are a theist or atheist or something in between everyone recognizes that’s just the way it’s always been.
Think for a moment how your family upbringing has influenced you. Think of how your education has helped shaped you. Think of how your faith (or lack there of) has shaped you. Think of how your culture and peers have shaped you and still seek to shape you. Each one of us is influenced and shaped by numerous factors that are current to our time and place in history.
Today, the far left wanna be Marxists are on an unholy crusade to cleanse us of all aspects of our history that they find offensive. This is illustrated by the demands to take down statutes of not only Confederates but also remove paintings that feature George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. These men either held slaves or fought for a cause that held to slavery. Therefore, argues the left, let’s erase them as if Washington or Jefferson had nothing to contribute to the founding of the nation.
The presumption of their “judges” is that these men should have known better; they should have been ahead of their times; they should have, should have, should have….but because they did not we need to erase them from our history lest anyone think slavery\racism is a good thing.
The self appointed left wing judges judge historical people of the past by standards they would never apply to themselves. One hundred years from now people from that time will look back and wonder how could people of our time and place believe in, fill in the blank.
Willful ignorance of US and world history is the main culprit. This can be laid at the feet of Marxist professors that do not teach history in any kind of objective manner.
The judges reduce those who came before us to card board cut outs without understanding much, if anything, about the times, culture, families, faith or other factors that shaped them in their time and place. The self-righteousness of the judges is disguised as the moral high ground as if they had lived in such and such a time and place they would be different because they are so enlightened.
Consider the letter below. It’s from a Confederate soldier to his wife during the Civil War. Take the time to read it.
This Confederate soldier died at Gettysburg. He served in a North Carolina Regiment. He loves his wife and is grateful to God for the small plot of land they own in North Carolina. He wants to come home; yet feels duty bound to remain with his comrades.
He makes note of Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation to raise an army to force the seceding southern states to remain in the Union. The Lincoln proclamation was the catalyst for more southern states to secede since they could not abide by an invasion of their fellow southern states.
Right or wrong, that’s how the southern states viewed their relationship to the federal government. Most level headed historians agree that slavery was the catalyst for the Civil War but States Rights was the bigger issue. Lincoln himself said that if he could avoid war he would not eliminate slavery. (This does not mean Lincoln was for slavery. He was not. It simply means he believed holding the Union together was more important at that moment in time and many if not most Northern soldiers felt the same way.)
The Confederate soldier in his letter says the proclamation appears noble and yet states, that he would not fight if the argument was just about keeping another man in bondage. He says he’d walk away and that God knows his heart.
Judging from his words (actual evidence) he does not appear to support slavery and it is quite certain he did not own any slaves himself. Yet he fought for North Carolina, a State that seceded from the Union. How do we interpret this?
At the time of the Civil War people in general were far more loyal to their individual states or lcoality than they were to far away Washington D.C. Today Washington dominates the news cycle. This was not the case in 1861 when mot people did not wander more than 10 miles from their homes. This is a significant fact that is nearly always over looked when discussing the motives of the average Confederate soldier and even their generals. Robert E. Lee for example fought for Virginia after being offered command of the entire Union Army!
None of that justifies slavery; slavery of any type is horrible and a manifestation of man’s total depravity. What I’m saying is context and actual motive should matter when judging people of the past. Like this soldier writing to his wife many southern soldiers would not fight to keep others in bondage; but would fight for hearth and home. That is a big difference.
While I am not certain if General James Longstreet ever said this I think it captures what many southerners believed. In the movie Gettysburg, (1993) Longstreet is discussing the causes of the Civil War with a British officer who is traveling with the Confederate Army. Slavery is mentioned (Britain abolished slavery in the early 1800’s). Longstreet says, “we should have freed the slaves and then fired on Fort Sumter.” I do believe the words capture the sentiments of many southerners of the time. You can see this clearly in the North Carolina soldier’s letter to his wife.
He goes on to state in almost prophetic terms what was at stake in his mind. He fears what many of us fear today-a federal government with too much power as well as a government that would one day deny the gospel! He laments the taxation and coercion that would result should the south lose the war. Many southerners viewed the Civil War as the Second War of Independence-a reaction to what they believed to be a tyrannical government akin to King George III during the American Revolution..
The Confederate statues that can be found in many of the southern states are interpreted by the Marxist left exclusively as representing the defense of slavery. I get that but that view does not allow for a deeper conversation about substantive issues regarding State’s Rights, the role of the Federal Government and just exactly how much power the Federal Government should actually have.
The soldier would die at Gettysburg where there is a monument to the North Carolina Confederates who died there. He, like other Confederates fought for his state, his small plot of land and his fellow soldiers who were in the same situation as he. The monument is to their bravery so why can’t we just leave it at that and learn from our past?
In 1975 there was a lot if interest in the upcoming Bicentennial. A friend and I put aside our interests in Napoleonic wargaming to produce war-game armies for what is now called the American War for Independence or AWI for short.
At the time metal war-game figures were just becoming readily available and they were more costly than the few plastic sets then available. War-game armies of the time often featured both metal and plastic figures with many of the plastics being conversion work. The pictures below are a sampling of what you’ll find on the link.
As reported elsewhere I eventually sold my collections off and dropped out of the hobby for 25 years or so. When I got back into contact with old friends (2014) who still war-gamed I discovered that they kept either all or some of their collections from back in the day.
The game itself represents incidents that occurred in upstate New York during the Saratoga Campaign (1777). Loyalists to the Crown know as Tories and their Iroquois allies often raided the frontier. It was frontier warfare with all the ferocity of what that implies. Eventually, George Washington send Continental Regulars to reinforce the patriot militia forces facing the Tories and Iroquois. The Continental troops effectively reduced the Iroquois \Tory raids and in the end it was the Iroquois who suffered the most. (That is a topic for the History portion of this blog.)
This entry is all about reconnecting in a period we gamed in c. 1976. My friend painted the figures over 40 years ago. It’s good to see them back on the table after that long in a box on some dusty shelf in his basement.
This ad in the November 22, 1943 edition of Life Magazine caught my eye.
The art work is neat; just the kind of thing to catch your eye and have you buy more war bonds. The insignia is supposed to be the insignia of the 332nd Fighter Squadron. The description in the upper right of the photo reads as follows:
The double-bodied dragon-fly represents the twin-engine flying power of the P-38 fighter planes. The lighting flash stands for the relentless striking power of their fast-firing aerial cannon.
Below the insignia we see a P-38 Lighting aircraft. The P-38 saw service primarily in the Pacific Theater of WW2. The paragraph just under the insignia on the left reads as follows:
Miles high in the sky, miles higher than the Himalaya’s highest peak, that’s where the “Lightning Bugs” slug it out with the enemy. They’re high steppers, high flyers, hard hitters-these sluggers of the 332nd Fighter Squadron who sweep through the stratosphere in Lightning Interceptor planes armed with aerial cannon. Good luck and good hunting, men of the 332nd, and happy landing always!
So far, the ad is accurate. Consider this entry from Wikipedia:
The problem is there was not a 332nd Fighter Squadron equipped with P-38 Lightning aircraft. Seeing as the ad appeared in wartime it’s not really a mystery that the insignia would be ascribed to a fictional air group. Those things tended be secrets. A quick image search on Google shows the graphic above on Pinterest but that’s it. Clearly, the Oldsmobile Division of General Motors in co-operation with Army Air Force was just trying to sell war bonds with a cool insignia\logo.
If you search for 332nd Fighter Squadron you will find that it was a real squadron. It was the squadron of the famous Red Tails, the all African-American squadron that won fame for their record and for the fact they were all black in the still segregated U.S. Military.
The designation of 332nd rang a bell with me. Recently, I purchased for the sum of $2.00 the below marketing promo:
The promo speaks for itself-Tuskegee Airmen-Red Tail Project. So. what was (is) the Red Tail project?
The Red Tail Project is America’s tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen. It’s a museum. The card above is actually a puzzle for kids and simply served as a promotion for the Red Tail Project. The welcome on the website reads as follows:
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is committed to telling the inspirational story of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel.
They are on a mission to educate people of all ages about these important American icons so their strength of character and ability to triumph over adversity may serve as a means to inspire others to rise above obstacles in their own lives and achieve their goals.
We invite you take a deeper dive to learn more about the remarkable Tuskegee Airmen, and be inspired to tap into the ability within yourself to overcome barriers and find success.
The men of the 332nd Fighter Group did not fly the P-38. When the squadron was first assigned to North Africa and then Italy they flew the P-40 (Curtiss Warhawk, Kittyhawk to the Brits) a fine early war fighter that by 1943 was inferior to the German Messerschmidt’s and Focke-Wulf’s.
The 332nd eventually received the excellent P-51 Mustang, the fastest fighter from WW2 that was not a jet (German Me-262 was the world’s first operational jet fighter).
I enjoy looking at the war ads from Life Magazine. Many of the companies involved in the war effort are still in existence today. General Motors is one of the best examples as they produced aerial cannon for the P-38 as well as other parts for airplanes and of course, motor vehicles!
The misidentification of the 332nd is not a big deal and is only misleading if a person does not know the true story or anything about war time secrecy.
It was fun for me to put this all together and to recognize the contributions of the Tuskegee Airmen-the real pilots of the 332nd Fighter Squadron.