The Battle of Perryville in Kentucky one of the most important battles of the American Civil War, but most people, including many Civil War buffs, know little about it..
Sam Watkins was there and he wrote about it in his famous memoirs. Sam served in the First Tennessee, Company H, and fought in every major battle that this Confederate unit was engaged in – Shiloh, Corinth, Stones River, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, the Atlanta Campaign, Franklin, and Nashville.
There were over 55,000 Union and nearly 17,0006,800 Confederate troops in the area. These numbers make Perryville the largest battle to have been fought in the Bluegrass State.
He writes about his experience,
“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.”
The morning of the battle dawned, and the two sides “seemed to be eyeing each other.” Finally about noon, “they opened their war dogs upon us… and from one end of the line to the other seemed to be a solid sheet of blazing smoke and fire.”
The Yankees and the Rebels were locked in “a mortal struggle” as the Rebels advanced. Then Sam’s company encountered four cannons that fired into them:
“We did not recoil, but our line was fairly hurled back by the leaden hail that was poured into our very faces… It was death to retreat now to either side.”
These cannon were Napoleon guns, capable of firing 12-pound shots.
The Rebels charged ahead and were soon in hand-to-hand fighting. Neither side wanted to yield. Sam described it:
“Such obstinate fighting I never had seen before or since….it seemed the earth itself was in a volcanic uproar.”
Confederate General Braxton Bragg also commented on the battle saying,
“for the time engaged it was the severest and most desperately contested engagement within my knowledge.”
Sam Watkins also wrote,
“I do not know which side whipped, but I know that I helped bring off those four Napoleon guns that night.”