Account of the Battle of Perryville Ky, by Lt. Col. Shanklin

Account of the Battle of Perryville Ky., October 8, 1862
By Lt. Col. James M. Shanklin, 42nd Indiana

Source: The Soldier of Indiana in the War for the Union, Vol. 1.  
Published by Merrill and Company, Indianapolis, IN, 1866.  pp 620-624

The following letter from (then) Major Shanklin records the part taken by the Forty-Second (at Perryville):

"The night before the battle we encamped near Maxville. Our orders were to march at six in the morning, but events transpired during the night which caused us to march at four. After a few miles we heard cannonading, increasing in volume and intensity, until we reached a hill from which our batteries could be seen. The Rebel artillery being beyond in a strip of woods, which concealed it from our view, the smoke of their guns alone showed us their position.

"We were first ordered to support one battery, Loomis', which had been thrown rapidly forward, and was then beginning to open fire. Scarcely had we taken this position, when one of Rousseau's aids rode up, stating that the occasion for supporting the battery had ceased, and ordering Colonel Jones to take the regiment down into a ravine in front of Loomis' battery to get water. This ravine was nothing less than a creek, which, owing to the drought, never in the memory of the oldest settlers equaled before, had become completely dry. In front of the creek, that is facing the enemy, the bank rose gradually towards the woods, where the Rebel guns were, the space between the creek and the woods, about a quarter of a mile, being an open field. All back of us, excepting the road down which we came, and which had been cut out, was a precipitous rocky bluff, from twenty-five to fifty feet high, up which it was impossible to ride a horse, and only possible for a man to climb. This bluff extended down the creek about a quarter of a mile, where the bank gradually ascended again to the place where Loomis had his guns.

"While we were down here an incessant cannonading was kept up, our regiment being between the two fires. Loomis' shells passed over our heads, and although the Rebels did not see us, their shells occasionally dropped in among us. About one o'clock, Captain Bryant and I were lying under a tree eating a sweet potato, when the Captain remarked, 'Loomis must have dismounted some of their guns, they have quit firing.' I said, jokingly, 'Suppose a couple of regiments of cavalry should come down on us through this ravine, wouldn't we be in a nice fix?' We talked several minutes in this way, not dreaming that our conjectures were soon to be realized. The truth is, our Generals did not dream anything of the kind either, or we never should have been put down into such a slaughter trap.

"The Rebel guns had really ceased, but our cannoniers kept blazing away at the place where they had been, jubilant, I suppose, at the idea of having silenced them. The cause of the silence was soon explained. It seems that about half past twelve, Rebel scouts discovered us, and reported our position to one of their Generals, who is said to have ex-claimed, 'There is one regiment gone up, anyhow.' He immediately ordered the batteries which were playing against Loomis to move to our right, to a position commanding the ravine. I can imagine how they laughed in their sleeves at our batteries blazing away at their position, while they were quietly pulling theirs round to a point which would give them every opportunity they could ask. We had no pickets nor skirmishers in that direction.

"I had hardly finished my remark to Captain Bryant when he said, 'Listen! Do you hear that?' We could plainly hear the command given by the Colonel of some regiment up in the woods marching towards us by the flank, 'By company, into line! March!' and immediately afterwards, 'Forward into line by company, left half wheel H!' to form the regiment into line of battle.

"So confident was I, even then, that there was no enemy up there, that I said, 'That is one of our regiments taking position on our right.' The men were lying round with their guns stacked, when suddenly a few stray shots from some of the enemy, whose impatience got ahead of the word of command, came whizzing by us. Colonel Jones immediately called attention, and the men sprang to their arms. The enemy poured down a volley of musketry, and commenced sweeping the ravine with the artillery which we had thought silenced. The first three or four rounds they did not get our range, consequently few were struck.

"At the first shot I mounted my horse, a young stray colt, which, my own horse being lame, I had picked up on the road. He became unmanageable at once; the saddle turned with me, and I dismounted, holding him by the bridle.

"Colonel Jones swung the right wing round, and gave orders to fire; but the enemy was completely hidden by the woods and the fire was quite ineffectual. At this juncture Colonel Jones received an order to fall back. He told Colonel Denby to take the right wing out, and he would accompany the left I remained in my position, and saw Colonel Jones come down past me. I could not hear what he said, but seeing the right wing give way, I supposed the intention was to take the regiment out of the ravine, if possible.

"It was a terrible position. In front a concealed enemy firing volley after volley; on our right a battery throwing grape, with little accuracy, it is true, but all the time getting nearer the range; behind, a steep precipice, up which the men must climb, exposed to the fire of sharpshooters. Colonel Jones rode down the ravine to the place where the bluff ceased, and managed to get out; Colonel Denby and a part of two companies succeeded in getting back up the road that we came down; but the main body was compelled to clamber up the bluff the best way it could. I started up the bluff, climbing rock by rock, grape-shot striking all round. I did not know what the orders were, or whether there were any, and when, on looking back, I saw Captain French's and a part of Captain Eigelman's (it should be Eigenman's) companies still down in the ravine, firing from behind a little island in the bed of the creek, I turned round and went back, thinking it best for all of us to stay with them. I had been there but a few minutes, when Lieutenant St. John, of Lytle's staff, rode down to the edge of the bluff and waved his hand. His words I could not hear, but I supposed that we were ordered to leave the ravine. Captain Eigenman ran up ahead, and shouted back to me, 'Major, they are flanking us; they are coming down the ravine.' We all then started up the bluff.

"It is a miracle the regiment got out so well. I thought we never could get the regiment together again, and my misery was great; but the men proved themselves true metal, coming up slowly over the lull in line of battle, and looking desperate and determined. We were ordered across the field by the flank, to take position in the woods, and wait the advance of the enemy, now coming up the hill in beautiful style, cheering as though the victory were won, and throwing shell and grape furiously. The screams, the wild, terrible demon yells of the bombs, and the snake-like hissing of the bullets, made that march over Peter's farm decidedly the most interesting trip I ever took. We were very near the woods when, simultaneously with the bursting of a shell over my head, I felt a stunning blow, and fell to the ground. Two of the men sprang to me, and carried me off. It was only a scalp or flesh wound, however.

"A little after sunset the firing ceased almost entirely. Our regiment had made a splendid charge, during which Captain Olmstead was instantly killed while bravely leading his men and cheering them on. The regiment was again met by overwhelming numbers, and fell back in perfect order, after firing every round in their cartridge-boxes. At this time Colonel Denby's horse was killed, and fell on him. In extricating himself he got behind, and got lost, and he did not find the regiment until late the next morning.

"Do not think the regiment fell back in disorder. None could have done better. The whole brigade was forced back. It was no retreat, only a falling back in obedience to orders. The whole battle was disastrous. Buell is the most stupendous failure on record."



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