Save 70 Acres at Perryville — and Substantially Complete the Preservation of the Battlefield
A Message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President
** Fundraising has ended **
Dear Friend and Battlefield Preservation Hero,
Will you help me do something that has rarely been done before in the history of our country?
Will you help me substantially complete the preservation of one of the most important battlefields of the entire Civil War?
I hope you just said yes. I also hope that today, instead of me writing a letter to you, you will let me have a conversation with you. My preference would be to call you and every other member to discuss this personally, but that is a little impractical.
Instead, please allow me to write out exactly what I would say to you if you were on the phone, or even better, here in my office, sitting across the desk from me. And will you indulge me to drive your side of the conversation, “suggesting” what I think you might say to me?
Sure, Jim. What is this about?
Well, it’s about our newest effort to save another 70 vital acres that will substantially complete the preservation of one of the Civil War’s most important battlefields – Perryville!
Think about that . . . finishing a battlefield . . . protecting it forever!
That sounds great! Go ahead and tell me about this effort.
You already know Perryville was the largest and bloodiest battle fought in Kentucky. What you may not know is that Perryville saw more casualties (7,600) than many other well-known battles – far bloodier than Champion Hill (6,700), Resaca (5,600) or Kennesaw Mountain (4,000). The one-day battle of Perryville saw more casualties than all of Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign combined!
In fact, even as far back as 1993, Congress named Perryville as one of the Top 11 most endangered sites in the entire country (out of 384 battlefields!), one “with critical need for action,” and one of only 45 “Class A” battles that had “a decisive influence on a campaign and a direct impact on the course of the war.”
Perryville is one of the key events of the war in the Western Theater, and when the Confederates under General Braxton Bragg withdrew after the bloody fight on October 8, 1862, Abraham Lincoln breathed a sigh of relief. What was it Lincoln said? Something like, “I’d like to have God on our side, but I must have Kentucky.”
Yes, I’m familiar with this. What part of the battlefield are we trying to save?
Well, if you will look at the map I have for you (and I hope you still enjoy these maps as much as I do), you’ll see the 70 acres printed there in yellow, on the northern section of the battlefield.
What happened there?
So much important history happened on this hallowed ground that this property has been called “the Western High-Water Mark of the Confederacy.” Preservation of this land is essential to the interpretation of the closing, climatic stages to the Battle of Perryville’s northern flank.
As the Confederates of General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s Division (specifically Maney’s Brigade), made their final push to turn the Union left flank, this hill was swept by twelve Union cannon. The First Tennessee Infantry, including the famous Sam Watkins (who, of course, wrote Company Aytch), attacked over this property, suffering a devastating 57% casualty rate.
Watkins wrote, “I saw W.J. Whittorne, then a boy of fifteen years of age, fall, shot through the neck and collar bone. He apparently fell dead, when I saw him all at once jump up, grab his gun and commence loading and firing, and I heard him say, ‘Damn ‘em, I’ll fight ‘em as long as I live!’”
Watkins also described the hell-on-earth he faced: “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 . . . It was death to retreat now to either side . . . 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.”
This land also contains what is the most important man-made structure on the Perryville Battlefield. This is a 430-foot long stone fence behind which Colonel John Starkweather’s brigade finally stopped the advance of Cheatham’s Confederate division, just 600 yards short of the entire supply train of Union First Corps.
The 1st and 21st Wisconsin Infantry regiments (of Starkweather’s Brigade) then used this fence to launch a slashing counterattack that drove the Confederates back. The Yankees then pulled back to the safety of the stone wall, ending the fight for the Union Left.
And what a fight it was. Artifacts recovered in this area testify to the literal hailstorm of lead that flew over this land. The highest concentration of fired Confederate bullets on the entire battlefield was found in the hillside at the base of this stone wall.
Likewise, the highest concentration of Union bullets was found on the front slope of the ridge where the Confederates were fighting. The distance between the battle lines was just under 100 yards, and thousands of those bullets found their marks in shattered limbs, horrific wounds, and lost lives.
Even more significant, many of those men still likely rest somewhere on this property. In 1867, the U.S. Government hired a man named Edmund B. Whitman to identify and collect the remains of all Union soldiers to be reinterred into National Cemeteries. He located many (but probably not all) hastily dug Union graves behind the stone wall. Contemporaneous records tell us that at least 27 Confederates are still buried in unmarked and unknown graves on their side of the wall.
Okay, so this land is rich with real history. What is the condition of the land today?
Fortunately, this hallowed ground is virtually unchanged from its 1862 appearance. Perryville is – thanks in large part to you, my friend – one of the best-preserved battlefields in America, with 957 acres under protection.
So the preservation of these 70 acres will not only put us over the 1,000-acre mark, it will mean that this battlefield is – for all intents and purposes – saved!
As you can see on the map, there are still a few unprotected areas that I would consider “important to have,” to save some land where troops maneuvered, and where we could possibly save some high ground to protect the viewshed of the battlefield.
But in reality, once we get these 70 acres – even if we were never able to get another acre here – you and I could be proud of the legacy we have created at Perryville.
Okay, I really like the idea of “completing” the major battlefields of the Civil War – that is quite a legacy. Now we get down to the bottom line: How much is it going to cost us?
The purchase price is: $595,000. Not the most expensive land we’ve ever purchased, but still a lot of money.
Well, I assume (as usual) we’ve got some matching fund sources lined up that would multiply the value of anything I could send, right?
Absolutely! If we can raise 50% of that amount, or $297,500, we can get another $297,500 from the federal Civil War Battlefield Preservation Program.
So let’s see . . . this means that every $1.00 I give for this effort will be matched. My gift is DOUBLED, correct?
Yes, that’s correct. But before you make your decision, let me ask you to focus on the amazing work we have accomplished together. I have for you what I believe to be one of the more impressive maps we’ve ever produced, to the left.
Tell me what I am looking at.
This map shows you the unprecedented progress we have made over the years in saving the Perryville battlefield. We are within striking distance of preserving nearly the entire battlefield where, about 25 years ago, Perryville was rated by Congress as being “one of the most endangered sites in the entire nation!” This is a tremendous accomplishment.
This map perfectly shows what I mean when I say we always work toward saving the “critical mass” of a battlefield, so that visitors 200 years from now can go there and understand what happened.
When I look at this map, it shows how you and I are creating a premier Civil War battlefield destination, saving threatened land before it is lost to development, and leaving a priceless gift to future generations.
That’s pretty impressive . . . and very fulfilling. Is there anything else I should know?
Only that when you divide the $297,500 I still need to raise by 70 acres, it works out to being able to save an acre of hallowed ground at Perryville for $4,310.
I know not everyone can afford to “buy” an acre or two, but even $50 or $100 from every member at this critical moment would put us over the top. Please consider making as generous a tax-deductible gift as you can. It would really help.
May I “pull back the curtain” and let you in on a piece of “battlefield preservation business intelligence?” In more than 16 years of fighting to save hallowed ground, we almost never raise as much in member contributions for Western Theater battlefields as we do for Eastern Theater sites.
It’s a shame, because you and I both know how important a place like Perryville is to telling the full story of the Civil War; but it is the truth. It would be just as much of a crime to see this hallowed ground desecrated by houses or other development in coming years, as it would be to lose 70 acres at Gettysburg, Antietam or Chancellorsville, don’t you think?
Was the blood spilled by soldiers on Western Theater battlefields any less worthy or patriotic than that of soldiers east of the Blue Ridge? Of course not.
That’s why today, I hope you will be able to help me make this effort – to save 70 acres at Perryville – the most successful Western Theater project we have ever attempted.
Well, Jim, I think I’ve got all the information I need. Let me think about this and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
That’s all I could ever ask. Just remember, that with the preservation of these 70 acres at Perryville, this battlefield is essentially preserved. Forever. That, my friend, would be a remarkable accomplishment.
Thank you so much for your generosity, and for your dedication to such an important cause. I wish you and yours a prosperous 2016 and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
P.S. Don’t forget that there is a wealth of information on this website about this important effort. Just go to www.civilwar.org/perryville16, for more photos, maps, history articles and many more resources. You can also make your gift securely online – putting your generosity to work at nearly the speed of light! Please help with your gift today of any amount. Thank you again! And speaking of heroes, YOU are the real hero of this story, for all that you are doing to save our country’s vitally important history. You are the indispensable person in this fight. And you are the one who deserves all the credit. And for that, I salute you and I thank you.