Official Report of Maj. Gen. Alexander McCook

Battle of Perryville - October 8, 1862



Alexander McDowell McCook
Major General Alexander M. McCook (Library of Congress)

Camp, near Crab Orchard, Ky., October 18, 1862.

COLONEL: I have the honor to report that, in compliance with written instructions from you, dated October 7, 8 p.m., and reaching me at my camp at Mackville, Ky., at 2. 30 a.m. on the morning of the 8th instant, I marched at 5 a.m. on the Perryville road. I had but a portion of my corps with me—Rousseau's and Jackson's divisions—the Second Division, under General Sill, having been detached to march upon Frankfort, Ky. The Tenth Division (General Jackson's) was entitled to the advance, but it being composed entirely of new troops, I ordered General Rousseau's division to take the lead. General Rousseau was ordered to march with great caution, I having heard previously that the enemy were in force at Harrodsburg; also your letter informing me that the enemy would resist your advance into Perryville; also that you intended to attack them that day. Hearing artillery in the morning, our march was hastened. Mackville is equidistant from Perryville and Harrodsburg—distance, 10 miles. My instructions required me to advance on the Perryville road until I reached a point 3 or 3½ miles of Perryville or until I came up abreast with Gilbert's corps. The head of my column reached the point designated at 10.30 a.m. General Rousseau advanced his cavalry and a portion of his infantry to the front in order to see if the ground was clear, the artillery (Loomis' battery) being halted on the hill in rear. General Rousseau soon sent me word that the enemy was reported advancing in force on the position assigned my corps. I then rode forward and examined the ground, and saw a few of the enemy skirmishing with the left of Gilbert's corps. My attention was then directed to General Gilbert's left. I saw his infantry in line about 400 or 500 yards to our right. I called General Rousseau's attention to this fact, marked out my line of battle, and ordered him to form on it, having directed Loomis' battery to be brought up and put in position on a commanding piece of ground to the left and near Russell's house (called Clarke's on your map). I had previously ordered General Rousseau to throw forward a line of skirmishers to examine the woods on our left and front; also sending Captain Wickliffe, with his company of the Second Kentucky Volunteer Cavalry, to reconnoiter the ground on the left of the skirmishers. General Gay's cavalry was making a reconnaissance in front and toward Perryville. I was then well satisfied that the enemy that had engaged Gilbert's left had retired from the field.

I then informed General Rousseau that my instructions required me to report in person to General Buell; that I was about to leave the field, but would return in a short time. I had given particular instructions to Capt. J. A. Campbell, my assistant adjutant-general, to post General Jackson's two brigades on a commanding piece of ground immediately to the right of the Mackville and Perryville road, and to hold them there in column, so that they could be moved in any direction that occasion required. I then galloped off to report to General Buell, whose headquarters were about 2½ miles in rear and right of my line. Having reported, I then received verbal instructions from General Buell to make a reconnaissance down to Chaplin River. I immediately returned to my troops, finding that General Rousseau had advanced the line on the right, occupying a commanding ridge about 800 yards in front and to the left of Russell's house. The enemy had placed three batteries in position and were firing upon his line; Loomis' and Simonson's batteries were replying. There being then no infantry of the enemy in sight, I sent an order for these batteries to cease firing and economize their ammunition. The command suffering greatly for water, I then prepared to make the reconnaissance toward Chaplin River, as ordered. Having been informed by my guide, Capt. Beverly D. Williams, acting assistant quartermaster on General Jackson's staff, and also by Col. L. A. Harris, commanding the Ninth Brigade, that by moving a short distance to the left of the Perryville road I could get high commanding ground for a portion of my line, I went forward in person to the high ground overlooking a portion of Chaplin River, advanced to within 600 yards of the river, and saw the water. Having previously ordered a portion of the Thirty-third Ohio Volunteers into the woods on the right as skirmishers to ascertain if any enemy was present in that vicinity, I then sent for Generals Jackson and Terrill, showed them the water, marked their line of battle, and ordered a battery to be posted on this line, with strong support. General Terrill was ordered to advance a body of skirmishers cautiously down the slope of the hill to the water as soon as the line was formed.

During my presence on this ground no enemy was seen, save some rebel cavalry on the opposite hills, across the river, who I suppose were threatening my train in the rear. A few well-directed shots from Stone's First Kentucky Battery, posted to the left and rear of this position, put them to flight. Not being apprehensive of an attack, I left this position and moved toward the right of the line. This was about 1.30 p.m. in the day.

At 2 p.m. an attack was made by the enemy on the skirmishers of the Thirty-third Ohio Volunteers. I then ordered the remainder of the regiment, under Lieutenant-Colonel Moore, to support the line; also the Second Ohio Volunteers to support the Thirty-third.

My line of battle at this moment was formed as follows: The right of Rousseau's division rested near a barn on the right of the Perryville and Mackville road, extending to the left, on a commanding ridge, through a corn field (the corn being cut and shucked), to the skirt of woods occupied by the Second and Thirty-third Ohio Volunteers. The right of Terrill's brigade, of Jackson's division, resting on some woods running along to the left, on the commanding ground overlooking a portion of Chaplin River to the north, his left forming a crotchet to the rear, in order to occupy the high ground on his left and rear. Starkweather's brigade and Stone's and Bush's batteries, of Rousseau's division, were posted to the left and rear of Jackson's left, on high, commanding ground. Webster's brigade, of Jackson's division, was posted to the left of Russell's house, and in the rear of the center of Rousseau's line, on the right.

The attack on my line now became general. My attention was directed principally to the left, where the attack was most fiercely made. I had no apprehension about my right, as it rested near Gilbert's left. A fierce attack being made on Terrill's brigade, General Jackson being killed at the first fire, this brigade in a few moments gave way in confusion, General Terrill doing everything in the power of a man to steady them.

At this juncture, at 2.30 p.m., seeing that I was assailed by at least three times my numbers, I dispatched my aide-de-camp, First Lieut. L. M. Hosea, Sixteenth U.S. Infantry, to General Sheridan, commanding Gilbert's left division, to request him to look to my right and see that it was not turned.

At 3 p.m. I dispatched Capt. Horace N. Fisher, of my staff, to the nearest commander of troops for assistance. He first met General Schoepf, marching at the head of his division, and reported my condition to him. General Schoepf expressed a desire to come up, replying that he was moving to the front for some purpose, and requested Captain Fisher to see General Gilbert, who was riding with the column. Captain Fisher then reported to General Gilbert that my entire command was engaged and the reserves were all in line and the safety of my corps was compromised. General Gilbert referred this officer to General Buell, to whom this officer reported at 3.30 p.m.

I also dispatched another aide, Capt. W. T. Hoblitzell, to General Schoepf, commanding the First Division and reserve of Gilbert's corps or to the commander of the nearest troops in the rear to inform him of my condition and ask for troops.

I remained in rear of my left center until I saw the enemy's right completely routed and driven back by the gallant brigade of Starkweather, so admirably posted for the work they performed so well. I then galloped to the right of the line, but only in time to see it turned by a large force of the enemy. I then ordered Colonel Webster, of the Ninety-eighth Ohio, to move his troops to the right and repel this attack, if possible. It was in obeying this order that this gallant officer received a mortal wound. Retiring to Russell's house, I ordered my chief of artillery, Maj. C. S. Cotter, to bring up a section of artillery to stop their advance. This was done promptly. The guns were well handled, but could not stop this determined attack.

Perryville Battlefield
View from Lumsden's Confederate Battery towards Rousseau's lines of McCook's Corps. (Steve Stanley)

At this time the right of Rousseau's line was compelled to fall back to prevent it from being enveloped by the enemy. The enemy then placed a battery in the open field, about 800 yards from Russell's house, near Bolton's barn. The fire from this battery, was so heavy that the point near Russell's house could not be held. Loomis' battery, having exhausted all its long-range ammunition, had been retired from its position in the afternoon to a commanding ridge about 150 yards in rear of Russell's house and on the right of the Perryville road, supported by three companies of the Michigan Mechanics and Engineers, commanded by Major Hopkins. I ordered Captain Loomis to reserve his canister for close work. This battery opened fire and repulsed this wicked attack for the first time. I then went to the point where the Dicksville and Springfield road crosses the Mackville and Perryville road. Near this point I met Captain Hoblitzell, with a brigade of General Robert B. Mitchell's division. This brigade was commanded by Colonel Gooding, of the Twenty-second Indiana, and consisted of his own regiment, the Fifty-ninth and Seventy-fifth Illinois Volunteers, and Capt. O. F. Pinney's Fifth Wisconsin Battery. I ordered the posting of his infantry, and then placed Captain Pinney's battery in position near the cross-roads and in a small skirt of timber to the right.

Gooding's attack, assisted by Pinney's battery, drove back the enemy and reoccupied the position at Russell's house. At this moment Brig. Gen. James B. Steedman reported to me with his brigade, of Schoepf's division. It was now nearly dark. He posted his battery on the right of Pinney's and opened fire. I then conducted his brigade to a position on the right and front of these batteries. The two battalions of the Eighteenth Regulars, under Maj. Frederick Townsend, were posted on a commanding ridge in an open field, the right resting on a wood; the Ninth Ohio on the right of Townsend, the right resting on a field. The other regiments of this brigade were in the second line and supporting the batteries. The line of Steedman's brigade was about 200 yards to the rear and right of Russell's house. By this time it was dark and the firing had ceased on both sides.

I remained in front of Steedman's line until 9 p.m., when I rode to the left and found the line there had been retired by General Rousseau. Believing that the enemy would renew the attack at daylight I ordered him to throw his line back, his left resting upon the Mackville and Perryville road, and his line extending to the right, on commanding ground, to the left of Steedman's brigade. This movement was executed about 12 o'clock at night. When General Terrill's brigade gave way, a portion of his troops fell back with him to the position occupied by Stone's and Bush's batteries, and at this point, when in the act of rallying his broken troops, at 4 p.m. he was struck in the side by the fragment of a shell, carrying away a portion of his left lung. He died at 11 p.m. When Terrill's brigade gave way seven guns of Parsons' eight-gun battery fell into the hands of the enemy. At 6 p.m. four of the guns of Harris' Nineteenth Indiana Battery also fell into the hands of the enemy.

The posting of Starkweather's brigade and Stone's and Bush's batteries saved my left and secured to us the Mackville road, upon which stood our entire ammunition train and ambulances. The ground to the right of the road being rough and rugged prevented the train from being taken off the road and parked.

I have previously stated that the firing on both sides ceased at dark. The enemy posted their pickets about 50 yards from ours, but the main body escaped during the night, and with such precipitation that they left their dead and wounded and could not carry the guns captured from the new batteries from the field. The guns were all recovered next morning, except two Napoleon guns of Parsons' battery, that were kindly exchanged by the enemy for two 6-pounder field guns. The enemy retreated across Chaplin River to the Harrodsburg turnpike, about 1½ miles distant from the battlefield; thence to Harrodsburg.

The battle-field was a chosen one for the enemy. They marched from Harrodsburg to give our army battle at or near Perryville. The ground upon which the battle was fought was very much broken by hills and deep ravines, which afforded every facility to them for concealing their troops. I was assailed by at least three divisions of the enemy. The bluffs and dry channels of Chaplin River and Doctor's Fork afforded them every advantage for concealing and massing large bodies of troops.

I have since been reliably informed that General Bragg commanded the enemy in person and that Polk's and Hardee's corps were present upon the field.

Thus ends my account of the part taken in the battle of Chaplin Hills by my corps, the bloodiest battle of modern times for the number of troops engaged on our side. Rousseau had present on the field 7,000; Jackson, 5,500; the brigade of Gooding amounted to about 1,500. The battle was principally fought by Rousseau's division, and if there are or ever were better soldiers than the old troops engaged I have neither seen nor read of them.

Great discrimination must be exercised in making a perfectly fair statement respecting the conduct of the new regiments; exposed as some of them were to a terrific fire at the onset of the enemy, it would be extraordinary to expect in them the steadiness and composure of veterans. It was also clearly perceptible that the resolution and obstinate resistance displayed by the old troops in the same brigade or in close proximity had a salutary effect in animating and encouraging the new troops; for instance, the Ninth Brigade. When the Second and Thirty-third Ohio, Thirty-eighth Indiana, and Tenth Wisconsin fought so well, I was proud to see the Ninety-fourth and Ninety-eighth Ohio vie with their brethern in deeds of heroism. Commanders have found occasion for severe reflection on individuals, whose conduct did not entirely justify the confidence reposed in them by their State and country. These cases, happily but few, compel me the more strongly to awaken the attention of our authorities to a more rigid and careful selection of officers who may join to their other qualifications the essential ones of courage and honor. The material of the new levies is evidently as good as in the old regiments. My apology for the misbehavior of some on this day is want of discipline and confidence in their field and line officers.

JC Starkweather
John C. Starkweather (Library of Congress)

If it were not a great pleasure my duty compels me to call the attention of my superiors and my Government to the conspicuous gallantry and good conduct of Brig. Gen. L. H. Rousseau on this hotly contested field. The manner of posting his left and the way it was maintained render him one of the most conspicuous lights of the war. The attention of my superiors is called to the good conduct and gallantry of Col. L. A. Harris, Second Ohio, commanding Ninth Brigade; Col. J. C. Starkweather, of the First Wisconsin, commanding Twenty-eighth Brigade; also Col. W. H. Lytle, of the Tenth Ohio, commanding Seventeenth Brigade. These officers deserve promotion.

Captain Loomis, of the First Michigan Battery, handled his battery with great success and ability. Capt. O. F. Pinhey, of the Fifth Wisconsin Battery, greatly distinguished himself during the close of the action, as did the entire brigade of Colonel Gooding, sent me from General Robert B. Mitchell's division.

For favorable mention of other officers and men I refer you to the reports of General Rousseau; also to the adjutants-general of Generals Jackson and Terrill and Colonel Webster, herewith inclosed.

To my personal staff, Lieut. Col. J. V. Bornford, Sixteenth U.S. Infantry; Lieut. Col. E. Bassett Langdon, First Ohio Volunteers; Capt. J. A. Campbell, assistant adjutant-general; Capt. W. T. Hoblitzell, aide-de-camp; Second Lieut. S. W. Davies, First Ohio Volunteers, aide-de-camp; First Lieut. L. M. Hosea, Sixteenth U.S. Infantry, aide-de-camp; Maj. Caleb Bates, volunteer aide-de-camp; Capt. H. N. Fisher, volunteer aide-de-camp, and Capt. James P. Colliery volunteer aide-de-camp, I return my sincere thanks for their conspicuous gallantry and intelligence displayed on the field of battle. Lieutenant-Colonel Bornford was twice wounded while posting a regiment in line.

My orderlies, Privates Isaac Bailey, Second Indiana Cavalry; George L. Richardson, Thirty-fourth Illinois Volunteers; Henry Kline, First Ohio Volunteers; Avery Lapham, Thirty-fourth Illinois Volunteers, and Privates G. Benning Jenness, William Edwards, and Harvey Knowles, escort, behaved with coolness and bravery on the field, and I recommend them to their superiors for promotion.

To Surg. G. B. Beebe, medical director of my corps, my thanks are due for his good conduct on the field and the kind care he has taken of the wounded. Favorable mention is also made of Surgeons Marks, Tenth Wisconsin; L. J. Dixon, First Wisconsin; Williams, One hundred and twenty-first Ohio Volunteers; Wright, Seventy-ninth Pennsylvania; Beckwith, Thirty-eighth Indiana, Sinnet, Ninety-fourth Ohio, and Fowler. Also Assistant Surgeons Taft, One hundred and fifth Ohio; Devendorf, First Wisconsin; Albright, Seventy-ninth Pennsylvania; Mitchell, Tenth Wisconsin; Reeve and Fuller, Twenty-first Wisconsin, and Shannon, of the Second Ohio.

Maj. C. S. Cotter, First Ohio Artillery, my chief of that arm (artillery), behaved with conspicuous gallantry and good judgment during the entire action. He was unfortunately taken prisoner after dark.

Capt. Beverly D. Williams, assistant quartermaster, was my guide during the entire day. The battle was fought near his birthplace. He was of inestimable service to me.

Lieut. M. B. Gratz and Volunteer Aide Henry Duncan, of Kentucky, of Jackson's staff, reported to me for duty after the fall of their gallant general.

Lieut. C. C. Parsons, Fourth U.S. Artillery, also reported to me for duty after his battery had fallen into the hands of the enemy. He behaved with great bravery the entire day and the loss of his battery was no fault of his; he remained with it until deserted by every man around him.

Capt. W. P. Anderson, assistant adjutant-general to General Terrill, also reported to me after the fall of his chief, and behaved with coolness and bravery during the day.

My casualties during the day were very large. The nation is called upon to mourn the loss of such spirits as Jackson, Terrill, Webster, Jouett, Campbell, Berryhill, Herrell, and others, who fell upon this bloody field.

A list of killed and wounded of the Third and Tenth Divisions is herewith inclosed.

All of which is respectfully submitted.

Major-General, Commanding First Corps.
Col. J. B. FRY, Chief of Staff.

Perryville Left Flank
Artist's rendering of Starkweather's defense of the Union left at the battle of Perryville (Library of Congress)


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