Monday, October 8, 2012

The Battle of Perryville at 150

150 years ago on today's date, the armies of Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg and Union Gen. Don Carlos Buell finally meet, but not on a field of their choosing. Both armies were plagued by a lack of water. In fact, the first shots were fired over a meager water source. Soon, 16,000 men of Bragg's army were fiercely engaged with Buell's 60,000 men in the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky. When the battle is over the next day, Federal forces will suffer 845 dead, 2,851 wounded and 515 missing. The Confederate toll will be 3,396.

In 1899, my great grandfather, Nathan Oakes, wrote in a letter to the editor of The Confederate Veteran, that the Battle of Perryville was “the first battle of consequence” in which his regiment participated. His regiment, the 32nd Mississippi Infantry, suffered heavy losses in the battle, although the official reports are sparse. Most of the brigade commanders were wounded. Great Grandfather's colonel, Mark Lowrey, had to take command of the brigade after Gen. S.A.M. Wood was seriously wounded in the head. Lowrey was also painfully wounded in the left elbow.

The Battle of Perryville, October 8, 1842
Source: Civil War Trust
Wood's Brigade (of Buckner's Division) was in line of battle at the left of Cheatham's Division, and joined in a successful charge on the enemy, capturing the battery of Jackson's Division, after repeated charges in which they sustained many casualties (some of these from "friendly fire" from a Florida regiment and a Confederate battery)According to Gen. Hardee's report, "Cheatham and Wood captured the enemy's battery in front of Wood and among the pieces and among the dead and dying was found the body of Gen. James S. Jackson, who commanded a division of the enemy at that point."

Jessee Cheeves, whose company fought alongside my great grandfather's Company D, described how his friend, W.H. Rees, “lost his left arm… by a cannon ball. The man in the rear rank behind Rees was struck by the same ball and knocked ten or twelve feet and instantly killed… We were exposed to a terrible fire of solid shot and shell.”

As a result of its action, the 32nd Mississippi Regiment of Wood's Brigade earned an honorable mention in the official reports. General orders, December 21, 1862 states:
The regiments of the brigade of Brigadier-General Wood, which, on the memorable field of Perryville, participated in the gallant and desperate charge resulting in the capture of the enemy's batteries, will, in addition to the name of the field on their colors, place the cross-cannon inverted
The regiment was entitled to carry this distinguished insignia throughout the remainder of the war. It won't be the last time that this unit will distinguish itself on the battlefield.

Bragg won the battle tactically for the Confederates, but he wisely decided to pull out of Perryville and link up with Gen. Kirby Smith. Once Smith and Bragg join forces, Bragg will decide to leave Kentucky and head back to Tennessee, taking a defensive position at Murfreesboro. The Confederate army will never return, and the Union will continue to control Kentucky for the balance of the war.

Although Buell will check the Confederate advance at Perryville, unfortunately for him, he does not pursue the retreating Confederates quickly enough following that battle on October 8. As a consequence shortly thereafter, Buell will be relieved of his command and will be replaced by Gen. William Rosecrans.


To view my blog about Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes and the 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment, visit:

Sources: The Confederate Veteran; Mississippi Military History, 1803-1898, Dunbar Rowland; Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle, Kenneth W. Noe; Official Records, Vol. 16, Parts 1 & 2

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