Ronald Grey

Divided We Fall: Kentucky’s Battle of Perryville

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“I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky.” — Abraham Lincoln

“As the weather was very dry and warm we suffered very much,” a soldier thought of the drought that plagued him seven days into a long and heavy march.

But the only water the soldier and his 9th Kentucky Infantry Regiment found along their dusty march from Louisville was quickly evaporating in stagnant pools. Afraid of losing more casualties to the scorching heat, the regiment pushed ahead: U.S. Army intelligence reported there was water to be found sixty miles to the southeast, in a small Kentucky town by the name of Perryville.

Having reached the outskirts of town, Army scouts searched for water but found to their surprise instead an element of Confederate soldiers doing the same. So began in the early morning hours of October 8, 1862 the American Civil War’s most decisive battle.

For an interested observer across the Atlantic such as economist Karl Marx, America had reached a pivotal moment. He understood how through economic, social, and intellectual relationships, Kentucky had natural sympathies for the South. Some residents had even volunteered to serve in the Confederate army, with a government that had a star in its flag to show they considered Kentucky as one of their own.

In addition to sharing such deep, interpersonal relationships, Kentucky was located in a geographical position that offered possibilities for Confederate forces to advance into Chicago or the nation’s capital and divide the nation. Such ominous potential was why Marx agreed with President  Lincoln, who said, “To lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game.”

References

Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 9 vols., (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1953-1955).

Winston Churchill, The Great Republic (New York: Random House, 1999).

Lowell H. Harrison, The Civil War in Kentucky (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

John Keegan, The American Civil War: A Military History (New York: Knopf, 2009), 153-155.

Brian Holden Reid, America’s Civil War: The Operational Battlefield, 1861-1863 (Amherst: Prometheus, 2008).

Stuart S. Sprague, “Civil War,” in The Kentucky Encyclopedia, ed. John E. Kleber (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1992).

Margaret E. Wagner, Gary W. Gallagher, and Paul Finkleman, eds., The Library of congress Civil War Desk Reference (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002).

Marcus Woodcock, A Southern Boy in Blue: The Memoir of Marcus Woodcock, 9th Kentucky Infantry (U.S.A.), ed. Kenneth W. Noe (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1996).

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