CHANNAHON, Ill. — The battle of Perryville, Ky., on Oct. 8, 1862, is considered one of the bloodiest battles fought during the Civil War. Casualties and losses were great — 4,276 on the Union side and 3,401 on the Confederate side.
It would become known as the Battle for Kentucky, with the Confederate Army eventually pulling back into Tennessee. But not before Union soldiers retreated for a time and then gained back their ground to keep control of the critical border state through the end of the war.
The win was a strategic victory for the Union.
The 18-hour battle was re-enacted at Dollinger’s Farm this past weekend, over a two-day period.
Major General George Henry Thomas of the Union Army announced the sequence of events on Saturday, as hundreds of onlookers watched, many covering their ears as the sound of cannons pierced the air.
“That is the sound that hurts the ears of little babies,” Thomas said. “You can imagine 150 of those going off at one time.”
As Union and Confederate infantrymen advanced on each other in line formation, shooting and reloading their rifles, cavalry soldiers fought with swords on horseback.
The irony is that they were all Americans, said Thomas; Americans with differences of opinions.
“The tremendous price they paid was 7,500 Americans were killed or wounded,” he said. “I am afraid this is a bad day for Mr. Lincoln.”
Those that come to watch a Civil War battle at Dollingers have grown tremendously over the years, as have the number of re-enactors.
“Bob Bierman started this with 10 (re-enactors) 16 years ago. Now we are feeding 800,” said Thomas. “It’s one of the biggest and best in the Midwest.”
This weekend marked the 17th Civil War battle at Dollinger’s Farm and Bierman, who has since retired, was honored at both performances.
Pete Curtis, leader of Weblos Troop 108 from Mendota, brought 17 Scouts to see the re-enactment Saturday. Curtis spent six years as part of Taylor’s Battery, one of the Union battery units that participated over the weekend.
Taylor’s Battery was an actual unit during the Civil war and was led by Ezra Taylor, said Curtis.
“What’s great about re-enactors is they are not glorifying the war, they are glorifying the history of it,” said Taylor.
Doug Purcell, drummer for Taylor’s Battery, said the Confederates were able to capture Union cannons, which was one of the reasons for the Union retreat.
Typically, when a battery unit is planning to retreat, they drive a stake through the vent hole of the cannon, preventing the enemy from using the cannon against its owners.
“We didn’t have time to spike the cannons,” Purcell said. “The Confederates came on the side of us, forcing the Union to retreat.”
At the end of Saturday’s re-enactment, with the Union pulling back, many soldiers lay wounded or dead on the field.
Back at the unit camps, demonstrations of Civil War era surgeries and amputations were going on.
“It’s only for the non-squeamish,” Thomas warned the audience. “It’s very graphic.”
Sunday would depict the final hours of the battle as the Union reorganized and the Confederates gave up the fight for Perryville.
“This is the best living museum for the Scouts,” Curtis said. “(The re-enactors) are sharing with these children what they love.”