Sunday, June 24, 2012

Just Finished Reading

My favorite chapter of Kenneth Noe's book Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle (2001) was the final one, "The World Has Changed", which examined the repercussions of the October 8, 1862 battle. So, I was naturally pleased to hear a while back that my friend and work-colleague Stuart Sanders was going to publish on this very topic.

Perryville Under Fire: The Aftermath of Kentucky's Largest Civil War Battle reminds us that, although the Civil War has been romanticized over the last 150 years, it was in fact filled with wounds - both physical and mental - death, and destruction, which not only affected the soldiers fighting, but also those at home pining for their return, and those caught in the war's wake.

Sanders brings to light many stories that vividly illustrate the fury of this rather short (in terms of duration) but intense battle in central Kentucky. To start the book he provides a brief overview of the battle to help provide the reader with a proper context, and then fills the balance of the book with stories from Union soldiers, Confederates soldiers, and also civilians, of the damage the battle caused to both person and property.

A couple of these stories stand out in my memory. One was the spectacle that an artillery shot caused. Apparently, after the battle closed, it was discovered that - what I presume to be an arching solid shot - hit four charging Confederates killing them in a neat vertical row file. The first soldier was hit in the top of the head, which was taken off, the second was hit full in the face, the third in the chest and the fourth in the abdomen. This particular spectacle drew remarks from a number of visitors, both military and civilian.

The other story is that of Henry P. Bottom, who owned a significant amount of land on which that battle was fought. His property was damaged heavily from the fighting and one of his barns burned during the fight. Other Bottom buildings were used for field hospitals and army shelters. His crops were ruined and his animals were confiscated by the Union army for use or consumption. His post-war attempts to recover monetary compensation from the government for his losses covered many years, but ultimately proved unsuccessful. Bottom used part of his land to bury a large number of the unidentified Confederates killed in the battle. Today this last resting place for those Southerners is marked with a large memorial -provided by the sate of Kentucky in the early twentieth century - and stone fence at Perryville State Historic Site.

Perryville Under Fire not only covers the immediate town near where the battle occurred, but also the nearby larger town of Danville (which housed a significant number of wounded soldiers), the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Harrodsburg and Bardstown. All of these local communities felt the impact of the terrible battle that left over 7,500 men killed, wounded or missing.

One benefit of the book that I especially enjoyed was the large number of images and pictures that are provided. These help the reader better understand the facilities that were available for doctors to use for surgeries and for soldiers' to use for recovery. Unfortunately a number of these structures are no longer around, but some, such as the Elmwood Inn in Perryville and Henry P. Bottom house on the battlefield have survived.

Although some mention is made about the battle's psychological damage to both soldiers and civilians in the book, I would be interested to find out more about how individuals coped mentally with the terrible scenes of death and destruction experienced at Perryville. For many of the soldiers (especially on the Union side) this was their first battle and I would assume there were cases of what we now call post traumatic stress disorder that incapacitated them for service. Service records and pension applications would probably prove fruitful resources.

I really enjoyed reading Perryville Under Fire. The number of accounts that have survived that mention this battle's intensity and destructiveness are amazing. As mentioned above, it is well that we are reminded of war's high toll. It not only demonstrates the large sacrifices that were made on both sides during the Civil War, but hopefully it also sticks it the back of our minds when we ponder present and future military actions.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Perryville Under Fire: The Aftermath of Kentucky's Largest Civil War Battle a 4.75.  Well done sir!

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