Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Stage is Set at Perryville

On this the eve of battle, we see that once again the particulars of force deployment are influenced by the War Department's instruction to "live off the land".  Would it not be better to position your troops on considerations of strategy rather than constantly foraging for food and water? 


HAYESVILLE, October 7, 1862-6 p.m.
Major-General BUELL:

About 2 1/2 miles west of this place I can get a camp on the Rolling Fork where there is said to be an abundance of water. As there is no water here I propose to camp there. It will only throw us about 1 1/2 miles farther from Perryville. It was reported to me on my arrival that the rebels had 200,000 pounds of pork at Lebanon. At first I ordered a regiment to go there and seize it. I afterward learned that it belonged to a company of pork-packers, who profess to be Union men. I therefore concluded not to send or seize it, as we can get it at any time by sending for it.

Maxey's brigade is also reported as leaving Lebanon to-day for Danville, via Bradfordsville and Hustonville, with a train loaded with flour and pork from Lebanon. Shall I send and intercept him now or capture him hereafter?

 Very respectfully,

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Map showing approximate movements of Buell's Army of the Ohio from Louisville to Perryville (blue) and Bragg's withdrawal from Bardstown toward his base of supplies in Danville (red).

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OCTOBER 7, 1862-7 p.m.
General THOMAS, Second in Command: 

The Third Corps (Gilbert's) is within 3 1/2 miles of Perryville, the cavalry being near, perhaps 2 1/2 [miles]. From all the information received to-day it is thought the enemy will resist our advance into Perryville. They are said to have a strong force in and near the place. We expect to attack and carry the place to-morrow.

March at 3 o'clock precisely to-morrow morning without fail, and if possible get all the canteens filled and have the men cautioned to use water in the most sparing manner. Every officer must caution his men on this point. Send back every team and animal that is not absolutely necessary with the troops, as they will suffer for water. All the wagons which come must move in rear of your troops.

The right of Gilbert's corps is opposite to Gordon's place, which is on the Lebanon pike, and from Gordon's to Gilbert's right is about ` 2 or 2 1/2 miles. When the Second Corps gets up to that vicinity, that is to say about 3 or 3 1/2 miles from town, let the front be halted and put in order of battle, and the whole column closed up and the men allowed to rest in position and made as comfortable as possible, but not allowed to scatter.

The commander of the corps must then immediately have the front reconnoitered and gain all the information he can of the position of the enemy and his strength, and also of the nature of the country, in his front. This must be done by inquiring of the inhabitants and by personal examination of the officers and by reconnaissance.

When the column has got into position you will please report in person at these headquarters with all the information you may have been able to obtain, and instructions for the further movements will be given. Send orderlies back with bearer to learn where our headquarters are. All the usual precautions must be taken and preparations made for action. There is no water near us, and we can expect but little, if any, until we get it at Perryville. Nothing has been heard of you since we parted this morning.

Respectfully, &c.,
Colonel and Chief of Staff.

Apparently, similar guidance was sent to General McCook,  as his train with every spare team and animal was sent to Springfield, Kentucky, about twenty miles from Perryville.  The Seventeenth Kentucky Volunteer Infantry was ordered to guard that train and spent this evening at Springfield.  If McCook had been familiar with the Seventeenth's performance at Fort Donelson and Shiloh, he likely would have kept colonel McHenry's men by his side. 

Editor's Note: Those who are descendant from veterans of the Seventeenth Kentucky are eternally grateful for this assignment as the likelihood of our presence was greatly improved by their absence from McCook's First Corps on the day that follows.

The stage for the Battle of Kentucky has been set at Perryville on this evening in 1862, the call to "Places" passed to Buell's corps commanders and "Curtain" to follow at three o'clock in the morning. The tragic flaw in Buell's script is to be found in Colonel Fry's last paragraph.  There will be no more water for his army until they defeat Bragg or drive him from Perryville. Whether this predicament was a reckless disregard of basic needs or intended as a motivational challenge, this would prove to be the turning point of Buell's carefully crafted Pursuit of Bragg.

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