In the fall of 1862, Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg launched an invasion into the Union-held border state of Kentucky, hoping to support pro-Confederate sympathies there and to gather more recruits for his Army of Mississippi. A victorious Confederate army in Kentucky would not only complicate the state’s supposed neutrality, but could threaten Union cities all along the Ohio River. Bragg's movement north drew Federal forces out of northern Alabama and middle Tennessee in pursuit of his force.
On October 7, the Federal Army of the Ohio under Maj. Gen. Don Carlos Buell, following Bragg north and numbering nearly 55,000 men, converged on the small crossroads town of Perryville, Kentucky. Union cavalry first skirmished with Rebel infantry where the Springfield Pike crossed Bull Run Creek. As more gray-clad infantry arrived, the fighting became more general on Peters Hill further west on the turnpike. Movement and fighting on both sides were hampered by the lack of water in the area; Kentucky was in the midst of the worst drought in years, and the small pools of water in the nearly dry creek beds around Perryville drew both armies to the area.
At dawn the next morning, fighting began again around Peters Hill as the Union division of Brig. Gen. Lovell H. Rousseau advanced up the pike and met the Confederate battle line. After noon, a Confederate division under Brig. Gen. Benjamin F. Cheatham from Maj. Gen. William J. Hardee’s Corps crossed Doctor’s Creek, striking the Union left flank and forcing it to fall back. When more Confederate divisions joined the fray, the Union defenders made a stubborn stand near the Open Knob along the Benton Road, counterattacked Cheatham’s brigades, but finally fell back with many regiments completely routed. Although his I Corps commanded by Maj. Gen. Alexander M. McCook had been fully committed and fought hard all day, Buell did not know of the happenings on the field, completely misinterpreting the sound of battle in the distance. During the day’s fight, only minor elements of Buell’s other two corps would make contact with the enemy. Even so, McCook’s left flank, reinforced by two brigades, stabilized their line and the Rebel attacks sputtered to a halt. Hardee struck the Union right near Squire Henry Bottom’s family farm, but his progress was slowed by the undulating terrain and well-placed Union artillery batteries.
Late in the afternoon, a single Rebel brigade under Col. Samuel Powel assaulted Maj. Gen. Phillip Sheridan’s Union division on the Springfield Pike but was repulsed and fell back into Perryville. Sheridan’s men pursued, and some skirmishing occurred in the streets of the town as darkness fell. Around that time, Union reinforcements from the III Corps division of Brig. Gen. Alfred M. Shoepf threatened the Rebel left flank. Although he had won a tactical victory, Bragg, short of men and water, withdrew during the night, and, after pausing at Harrodsburg, retreated by way of Cumberland Gap into eastern Tennessee. The Confederate offensive was over, and the Union would control Kentucky for the rest of the war.
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