Civil War Love Letters: October 10, 1862
On October 8, 1862, James fought in his first battle at Perryville, Kentucky. Since his last letter on October 2, James and his regiment marched in the area between Mount Washington and Perryville. The men were part of a large force of Union troops—led by General Don Carlos Buell—that were chasing Confederate general Braxton Bragg and his men. Buell divided his forces into three columns. James was part of the 9th Division, III Corps, commanded by Major General Charles C. Gilbert, which was the center column that marched toward Perryville along the Springfield Pike. Gilbert’s corps skirmished with the rear guard of Bragg’s force on October 7. Buell also ordered Major General Alexander McDowell McCook’s I Corps and Major General Thomas L. Crittenden’s II Corps to Perryville. By the morning of October 8, Gilbert’s corps was the center column, with McCook’s corps on the left. Crittenden’s corps reached their position on the right by midday. At 2:00 in the afternoon, the Confederates started firing on McCook’s men, and the greatest part of the fighting occurred on this side. In the center column, the divisions in Gilbert’s corps, which included Major General Philip H. Sheridan’s division and James’s division, commanded by Major General Robert B. Mitchell, repulsed an attack and drove the Confederates back through Perryville. General Buell established his headquarters two and a half miles from the battlefield, and did not realize a battle was in progress. When Buell finally heard about the engagement at 4:00 in the afternoon, he ordered Gilbert to send some of his men to aid McCook. By early morning on October 9, the Union troops discovered that the Confederates had retreated, leaving their dead and wounded behind. In the end, the Union suffered 894 casualties, 2,911 wounded, and 471 captured or missing. The Confederates lost 532 killed, 2,641 wounded, and 228 captured or missing. Since Buell was not present on the field, he failed to order the movements that would have achieved a decisive victory. Bragg realized that he was short on men and supplies, and decided to retreat.
Camp near Danville
Oct 10th 1862
My Dear Molly
I scarcely know where to begin now, but we have seen the end of one bloody episode which may be called the battle of Perryville perhaps - though I dont know, it being a General Engagement & covers so much ground. The hardest fighting was just on our left, under McCook, but we were in the Centre & took Perryville, so I will call it so until I hear what General Buell (who knows the ground as I do not) calls it.
It was impossible to write before between the rain & the marching & the laying in line of battle, especially where we had no paper or pencil. We have been out now 10 days as we left Louisville on the 1st Oct. That day we made but little progress, as the streets were so crowded up till 1 o.clock but after that time even with our drunken crowd we made about 10 miles to Newberg, a most hot and disagreeable march. On the 2d at 3 A.M. we were under arms & remained to daylight when after a hearty breakfast we started & left the road & marched as it were all over the country, first towards Shephardsville, then towards Mount Washington & then as friends the secesh ran off again & again after each skirmish we turned towards the Bardstown Pike. Camped that night near Mount Washington, from which place after a wet day & a wet night, I sent off a note to you that I had commenced in the city, & here as you may occasionally not receive my letters I wish to say that when I could not forward to you on the march I wrote nearly every night or morning, & posted every opportunity making an average of at least one a week, save once when you had two in one.
I hope to live through the horrors ahead & after this chase is over receive a whole cord of letters from you at once, but always recollect that from me, no news is generally good news, as if anything happens to me, you will hear soon enough by letter or in the papers. I have it so arranged however. Thus on the 2d we made about 12 miles, on the 3d we marched towards Bardstown but we only made Salt River, as the roads were dreadful rocky, & hills steep so the wagons could not get along - part of our way was through the fields. We made 8 miles, day warm & sunny, skirmishing still in front & dead horses in the road & field, dead & wounded men reported in the houses. Next day the 4th it took us nearly all day to cross Salt river, but we went 6 miles after dark, again it rained on us & no cover, nor no dry clothes, not even a fire. Our road after dark was up a creek or rather a crooked ravine with a flat rocky bottom. The rock consisted of a curious deposit of Sea shells just such as I or you have often gathered on the coast of Ireland, mostly of the small & delicate sort however, thin as Gossamer, & fine as piercers, where the current washed or the travel ground it. There was a fine shell road same as youve seen on the shore often, & moreover the farmers put it on their corn & tobacco fields, as we would on our wheat or potatoes. That night we camped in a Burr patch almost impossible to sleep as Blankets & clothes were covered with them. On the 5th we made a wrong start & had to come back to the same old creek again for miles, followed it until we got on the Bardstown Pike 5 miles from town into which place & through which we drove the enemy, who were cheered by the presence of Bragg in person. We passed through & camped at the creek 1 mile towards Springfield. At this place Buell came out & took command in person, greater part of the command took the Lexington road & some the Danville. We in the center took the Springfield road, our Division being on the front on the 6th. We had made 14 miles that day & passed a cold night without Blankets, heavy frosty dew. We lay by the fire, but had little sleep as we wanted, much turning. Our camp was we understood on Rolling Fork. On the 6th we made an early start & as the enemy was reported in full retreat by the cavalry we made a forced march of 25 miles after him. Got in early & camped on Beech Fork 5 miles on this side Springfield, our cavalry skirmishing & driving their rear guard all day. As we had travelled the Pike, our wagons came up in good time, so after a good supper, we got our Blankets & slept well.
On the 7th we started at 7 A.M. but at the Bridge 1 mile off we found the enemies pickets which we drove off & went again in full chase through several villages full of badly skared people mostly women & children however, some Union, some secesh, all very outspoken, to us & amongst themselves. Most of the men were out with their guns. Secesh had joined Braggs new Regiment. They dared not go as Guerillas here. Old Kaintuck would annihilate them. The Union men had started out also, & where ever a "Grayback" left his ranks to get water or to rest behind the main body, there our brave Home Guards pounced on them, made them prisoners & brought them in to the nearest troops rejoicing, when off they would with their long six foot rifles on another chase & as they know every mountain path, soon are in ambush again & thus until the foes leaves their doors & firesides far behind. When they at once go home again to their wives & sweethearts, after a hunt much more exciting than chasing the wild deer.
Well as I said we chased their rear & skirmished heavily all day. All our troops coming up on one side or other & amid ominous preparations, with naught but ammunition, wagons & cannon. We suddenly found ourselves in front of Braggs whole army drawn up in Battle array & the fight begun by the Artillery on our side. We were all hidden away in ravines so that we could not see or be seen & also in the timber wherever possible & we thus did not see a road for the next three days, & dare not go up on the hills even to look at the enemy. Towards 4 o,clock although General Mitchell had had strict orders to evade a general engagement, the firing became fast & furious & our companies had to be sent out as skirmishers to deter the enemy from taking our cannon. So it went on momentarily getting hotter as we found out the position of the enemy, they keeping very quiet as if waiting to see where we were. Soon they seemed as if they wished to silence our cannon, the shots from which was annoying them very much, when we were at once formed in line of battle first just behind the crest of the hill a few yards off the battery, then we were moved into the woods on the left of it & away in front, but we did not get a shot as another battery began to give them a cross fire of grape & canister, while they lay or marched through corn fields & mowed them down so fast that it got too hot for them & they retired double quick & also took their battery out of sight on the hill beyond. Such was what passed on the center. On the wings, it was much the same, both parties getting close together & trying to find out the force & position of the others. They were well posted however, & it was only their advance & skirmishers we could see, but we drove these back within their line of battle all along the line before morning, as our Division or Corps D'Armie had done early in the afternoon in the center. It was now seven o'clock, a clear moonlight night & our Brigade was withdrawn from its position shortly after (I had in the meantime fell asleep laying down in ranks as we all were) to the ravine where we had been before commencing the action, that is half a mile in the rear, leaving the ground to the regular pickets & to the advance vedettes of cavalry. They ventured nearly half a mile beyond our advance & so we lay in line of battle all night listening to the continuous roar of the cannon, which at intervals bayed from every battery along the whole line, directing their fire at any point where our pickets or skirmishers were attacked, & shelling thus the woods in every direction
So we slept, tired & exhausted from a new excitement. We slept sound too, I did. We were not allowed to light our usual camp fires, neither to make any noise & each one also wanted to make the best of his time, so the night passed quickly. I believe with all on our side, as we had but few if any wounded or killed on our side as yet, though there must have been many of the enemy. We all dreamt & feared for the morning, for Buell had said the enemy were in force & well posted, being thus equal or superior to us, & such being the case he wished to bring up all our reserves & send word to Crittenden, Thomas & McCook, & also perhaps Lew Wallace, who is on the Cincinnati side or North of Bragg. Tomorrow he would let us fight & so we awaited the morrows sun, which was to set in Blood for thousands on both sides. Before daylight on the 8th we were in line of battle, but all hands were allowed to make small fires before sunrise so as to boil coffee. This we drank & eat from our haversacks, enjoying it much being hungry. All this to still deceive the enemy as to our numbers. Then what was the rear of our Division yesterday marched at once to the front & soon after Sunrise the fight begun at once both fast & furious. Our Divisions all formed in three lines of battle. We were in the third line today but the fight was so hotly contested all along for ten miles or more that even our reserves were soon in it or so close as to resist or charge themselves at any moment. So it went all day with varied fortunes, sometimes we gaining, sometimes the enemy, bloody work it was, every where, batteries charged on, taken & retaken, death in a thousand shapes, & worse than Death to many. The next Regiment to us the 2d Missouri took two cannon that were annoying us just in front. They were to be supported by a Michigan Regt. but Michigan didn't come to the scratch, so they fought over it by themselves, took it & lost it, & took it again & finally brought off two pieces & lost 80 men in that charge. All this before our eyes just then we were in reserve to defend our battery. Soon our Division took Perryville & drove these batteries through the town at the point of the bayonet, but had to leave again suddenly as Bragg began to shell us out. We retired out of range there to the top of the hill where secesh battery had stood just before & played across at them again on the bluff beyond the town from there & other points. We shelled them until night closed in & we remained on the field, shifting our position to the right or left, & advancing all the time as the enemy moved up till 10 oclock, the day being ours & gloriously so - with but little loss to us & with much to the enemy, their dead & much of their wounded being piled & scattered all around us. Our's were all spirited away at once, so much so that I have not seen a single dead Union soldier. I have seen many wounded however & that is more horrible to me
I hear of over 1400 wounded on our side perhaps much more but these were mostly on the right & left of us as I said very few in the Centre, but just so we had to go to sleep, lunching from our haversacks or going to sleep without, our guns quiet at last, but the enemy still sullenly firing at us from a distance. Meanwhile on our right Crittenden had been fighting hard & had been driven back over a mile at one time, but when his reserves came up he regained all this & more & late at night was in line with us having also driven them across the creek, with much loss on both sides - so far so good, but on our Left was the Chamber of horrors par excellence where McCook & Thomas had been trying to flank them. They threw all their available force on McCook - & threatened for hours to overwhelm him - his reserves one after another came up until all were in the fight but still they drove him back & took his best battery after a dreadful fight, the slaughter of thousands, before leaving it our men choppd the spokes off the wheels of the cannon & wagons, so that they might not carry them away, his horses & cannoniers being nearly all killed, so he had to leave it. This bloody field was contested all night & after dark part of our Division was ordered over to assist. We were but fortunately were not at hand at the time, having just advanced but the remainder were taken & got very soon badly cut up - & so the night closed, a small corner here being forced to be left in the hands of the enemy.
But I must close as the mail leaves.
With much love my dear dear girl good bye I hope not forever
James E. Love
Read the original letter by James E. Love.
Read more letters.
Read more about the project.