Monday, October 8, 2012

150 Years Ago Today - The Battle of Perryville

In honor of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky, I would like to share a private soldier's comments on the fight. These words come from Sam Watkins of Columbia, Tennessee, who was a member of Company H, 1st Tennessee Volunteer Infantry Regiment, and it truly expresses how hard fought this too often overlooked clash was.

"In giving a description of this most memorable battle, I do not pretend to give you figures, and describe how this general looked and how that one spoke, and the other on charged with drawn sabre, etc. I know nothing of these things - see the history for that. I was simply a soldier of the line, and I only write of the things I saw, I was in every battle, skirmish and march that was made by the First Tennessee Regiment during the war, and I do not remember of a harder contest and more evenly fought battle than that of Perryville. If it had been two men wrestling, it would have been called a 'dog fall." Both sides claim the victory - both sides whipped."

A little later in his narrative Watkins continued,  "The battle now opened in earnest, and from one end of the line to the other seemed to be a solid sheet of blazing smoke and fire. Our regiment crossed a stream, being preceded by Wharton's Texas Rangers, and we were ordered to attack at once with vigor. Here General Maney's horse was shot. From this moment the battle was a mortal struggle. Two lines of battle confronted us. We killed almost every one in the first line, and were soon charging over the second, when right in our immediate front was their third and main line of battle from which four Napoleon guns poured their deadly fire.

We did not recoil, but our line was fairly hurled back by the leaden hail that was poured into our very faces. Eight color-bearers were killed at one discharge of their cannon. We were right up among the very wheels of their Napoleon guns, and we were soon in a hand-to-hand fight - every man for himself - using the butts of our guns and bayonets. One side would waver and fall back a few yards, and would rally, when the other side would fall back, leaving the four Napoleon guns; and yet the battle raged. Such obstinate fighting I never had seen before or since. The guns were discharged so rapidly that it seemed the earth itself was in a volcanic uproar. The iron storm passed through our ranks, mangling and tearing men to pieces. The very air seemed full of stifling smoke and fire which seemed the very pit of hell, peopled by contending demons.

Our men were dead and dying right in the very midst of this grand havoc of battle. It was a life and death to death grapple. The sun was poised above us, a great red ball striking slowly in the west, yet the scene of battle and carnage continued."

The horror that was Civil War combat had to have been truly terrible. Still, these men seemingly thought their lives were worth sacrificing for their respective causes; something difficult for most of us who are not in our nation's military service have a difficult time imagining. For them, their families and their willingness to defend our rights, I give thanks.

No comments:

Post a Comment