The Civil War – Perryville and its role in the war

Submitted by C.J. Johnson

In 1860 Kentucky was a slave state with almost 20% of her population enslaved. The Governor of Kentucky was a Southern sympathizer. Her citizens were divided. When Lincoln requested men to serve the Union cause in early 1861, the Governor declined to send men or money to support the Union.

Several sources stated that Abraham Lincoln said in 1861, “I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game.” Lincoln was also quoted as saying, “I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky.”

More recently, according to a Kentucky history website, historian Dr. James M. McPherson stated, “It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the Confederacy would have won the war if it could have gained Kentucky…and, conversely, that the Union’s success in retaining Kentucky as a base for invasions of the Confederate heartland brought eventual Union victory.”

In May 1861, the State of Kentucky declared herself to be neutral. In spite of that declaration, Kentucky would become a true battleground state. Initially, the neutral status was honored, although both sides had troops in place close by. While the state was neutral, men from Kentucky joined the side to which they were loyal.

Neither the Union nor the Confederacy allowed Kentucky to remain neutral for long. During the summer and fall of 1862, Yankee and Rebel forces collided in what was called the Kentucky Campaign or Invasion. In an effort to move attention and troops from the Mississippi River area and middle Tennessee, Confederates invaded Kentucky. They also hoped regain territory and recruit volunteers from area as well. By the fall, in spite of success on the field of battle, there were few recruits and little assistance from Kentucky for the Southern Cause.

The bloodiest, biggest battle of the campaign was the October 8, 1862 fighting at Perryville, a small crossroads town. The day before, Union forces (55,000 men) commanded by Gen. Don Carlos Buell entered Perryville. Rebel troops arrived later in the day. Fighting began in earnest at dawn on the 8th. Union forces attacked; Confederates counterattacked. After a while, the Federal line fell back, some units in disarray. Fighting continued until nightfall. The Rebels claimed the tactical victory. During the evening, the Confederates withdrew to Tennessee, short on supplies and facing an increasing Union force.

Casualties were heavy for both sides. For the 22,000 Union soldiers, there were around 4,200 casualties: 845 dead, 2,851 wounded, 515 missing or captured. Confederate losses were about 3,400 for the 15,000 troops engaged: 510 dead, 2,635 wounded, 251 missing or captured.

All said and done, the Confederates were withdrawing from the state of Kentucky. They would not invade again. Kentucky would remain under Union control for the remainder of the war.