The Columbia Journal
Columbia Tennessee, Wednesday May 30, 1900
Bloody Battle of Perryville Described by an Ex-Confederate
Maury Countians in the Fight
A Hand-to-Hand Fight Was Engaged In – No Glory in War for the Private Soldier – Great Mortality
Seeing some notice in the public press in regard to the Federal Government establishing a National Park at Perryville, and knowing that many of the old boys who took part in that memorial battle will assemble in a grand reunion at Louisville this week, and deeming it not improper or out of place for one of the old boys who carried a musket and pulled a trigger to add his humble mite to the memory of a cause that will never die, and to put the battle of Perryville in history as the grandest battle of the whole war, and in its proper place where it belongs.
Many of the old boys who took part in that great battle “have crossed the river.” There are many hobbling about on their crutches that are old and feeble now, but who then had just entered young manhood in all the vigor and prime of youth.
Where are the one hundred and twenty boys who belonged to Company H, First Tennessee Regiment during the war? Where are they? What has become of the one hundred and twenty men that belonged to the “Brown Guards,” or Company G, First Tennessee?
Where are the five hundred that belonged to the “Rock City Guards,” the “Rutherford Rifles,” the “Williamson Greys,” the “Martia Guards,” the “Railroad Company” and the German Yergers?” What has become of Fulcher’s battalion and Turner’s battery? Now an echo answers; “only the memories of the past.”
Pardon me, reader, I am trying to write up the battle of Perryville, as many of us will remember it, and who will be at the reunion at Louisville.
On the morning of October 8, 1862, Polk’s corps was drawn up in line of battle on the East of Perryville. The Federal army under Buel[l] was approaching from the West. Kirby Smith, with Cleburne’s division and Preston Smith’s brigade had fought the battle of Richmond a few days before, while Hardee was holding Lexington, and Polk’s corps was at Harrodsburg and Danville.
But now the two armies were about to meet and they were approaching each other like jaws of a monster vise. It was an open field and a fair fight. It was a sheer knock down and drag out affair in which neither side had the advantage.
We could see the cloud of dust and the glitter of bayonets and hear the rumbling of the cannon and the wagon-trains. The enemy were advancing. Both armies seemed to be eying each other like two tigers crouching low, each about to spring at the other in mortal combat. Both sprang at the same moment; then the blood and fur began to fly. The crisis had come and the battle opened. At 12 o’clock, high noon, cannon on both sides were belching and blazing fire, and the air was full of bursting shells, and sulphuric smoke, and blaze of musketry was like a great forest fire among the dry leaves of autumn.
The buildings and fences between the two armies were soon ignited by the exploding shells. Fire and smoke seemed to burst forth everywhere. At length we were ordered forward. With a fierce rebel yell, and at a bayonet charge, we struck the main line of the enemy. Then began the work of death in earnest. Bayonet thrusts and blows from the but[t]s of our guns crashed on all sides. We would drive them back a few yards, then we would in turn be driven. The very leaden hail, like rain-drops, and as thick, was poured into our very faces, fairly hurling us back, but Col. Hume R. Field would still form his broken and shattered ranks and renew the charge. We were right among the wheels of their Napoleon guns in a hand-to-hand conflict. A part of the time they would be in our hands, and the enemy, under Yankee General, Jackson, would charge and recapture them. They would tuck their heads, rush forward and grab the coupling poles of the cannon, then we would beat them in their faces with but[t]s of our muskets; the men were falling dead and dying, and smoke and fire was blazing everywhere, “like the very pit of he--, peopled by contending demons [part of original missing] men killed and wounded in proportion to the numbers engaged then any other battle of the war. It was like two immense giants grappling with each other.
The sun poised over our heads, a great red ball sinking in the West, yet the scene of blood and carnage went on until blessed night, with her sable shroud, in mercy threw her mantle over the scene.
And the two giants fough[t] until completely exhausted that they fell and went to sleep almost in each other’s arms.
The two armies slept on the battlefield. Our guns and the Yankees’ were stacked almost on the same ground within a few feet of each other and this was used as the line of demarcation which neither side was to cross while looking up their killed and wounded.
I helped bring off our wounded that night. Ah, reader, did you ever see a battlefield after the battle was over. In this battle friend and foe were lying dead and dying side by side. The infirmary corps was gathering them up and carrying them to the field hospital. Ah, reader, there is no glory in war for a private soldier. All the glory that a private soldier ever gets is broken bones, mutilated flesh, hard marches, scant rations, and if he is killed gets the glory of being left on the battlefield to be eaten by buzzards and mangy curs and for his bones to bleach upon some lonely hillside, while his scull grins a ghastly smile from the top of an old stump that is called “glory.”
That night we gathered up all the wounded and left the dead where they fell.
I could recite many a scene that I witnessed on the field of battle and after the battle was over.
I remember the spot where [Lt.] Col. Patterson fell, and I believe I could go within three feet of the place to-day. I remember the spot where the eight color-bearers were killed at one discharge of their cannon. The Maury Greys and the Rock City Guards were the two center or flag companies – Capt. Kelly commanding; Capt. Ledbetter commanding the right wing and Capt. Flournoy the left.
I remember of helping to bring off Sam Campbell, Bryan Richardson, Joe Thompson and Gus Allen. Col. Alfred Horsly, John Tucker and myself brought off Crawf. Irvine, and had it not been for Col. Horsly, Crawf. Irvine would have died that night – would have bled to death.
I remember seeing Bill Whitthorne fall, shot through the neck and shoulder, and immediately jumping up and saying, “they have killed me, but I will fight them as long as I live.” I helped bring off Bill that night, then a mere lad of fourteen or fifteen years. But Bill still lives and is the hero of two wars, and is always ready to fight for his country when she needs his services.
I remember others. But after three decades and a half has marked its impress on the dial plate of time, old grey beards and old vets, like myself, cannot recite the many scenes they saw and witnessed.
Perryville was the hardest and most evenly contested battle that was ever fought during the war, or even any war, and there was a greater mortality in killed and wounded than any other battle on both sides in proportion to the number engaged.
I was in all the battles fought by the Army of Tennessee, from Shiloh to the surrender, on April 26th, 1865 at Greensboro, N.C.
I was on every march and in every battle, was slightly wounded five times, but not enough to hurt or get me a furlough. I never was in a hospital or ever answered sick call or even asked the doctor for a dose of medicine, and I answered Here! to my name every time it was called, from start to finish. Six times is as many times as I ever shot in any fierce battle of the war, and I shot as many times as anyone else did, and I never shot only when I had dead aim. Of course I may have shot a thousand times on skirmish or picket, but not in a regular pitched battle, and I can still say that Perryville was the hardest battle of the war.
COL. SAM R. WATKINS