HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE MISSISSIPPI,
Knoxville, Tenn., November --, 1862.
SIR: I have the honor to submit the following as my official report of the battle of Perryville:
At Bardstown, on September 28, the Army of the Mississippi, by order from General Bragg, was placed under my command. Up to that time I had command of the right wing only, General Hardee having command of the left. My orders from the general commanding, who was called on public duty to the capital at Frankfort, were to press in the enemy's pickets upon Louisville and to maintain my position. If the enemy advanced upon me in moderate force, to attack him; if in large force, I was to fall back upon Harrodsburg, marching in two columns via Perryville and Mackville respectively. The enemy having made a general advance, I moved upon Harrodsburg, and in consequence of the state of the roads marched the whole column by the Springfield and Perryville pike. The object of this movement was to form a junction with the Army of the Kentucky under General Kirby Smith, who was to move for that purpose upon Harrodsburg also from the north side of the Kentucky River. Another object was to cover our base, which after the evacuation of Cumberland Gap by the enemy was established at Camp Dick Robinson, in the forks of the Dick and Kentucky Rivers. On arriving at Perryville I communicated with the general commanding the forces then at Harrodsburg, informing him that the right wing, under command of General Cheatham, had been ordered forward to take a position on the farther side of that town, and as there was a scarcity of water I had ordered General Hardee to halt Buckner's division near Perryville and to post Anderson's on Salt River between the two towns. These dispositions were carried into effect and I reported to the general commanding in person.
The enemy had been held in check along the whole line of march from in front of Louisville up to our present position by those gallant cavalry commanders Colonels Wharton and Wheeler, and we were constantly advised of his position and movements. He left Louisville in five columns on as many different routes, extending from the road to Elizabethtown around to that to Shelbyville, and we had reason to believe that much the larger portion of this force was concentrated upon Bardstown and followed our retiring army in the march to Perryville. The rest of his force pursued a route farther north to threaten General Kirby Smith.
Information having been received through General Hardee that the enemy was pressing with heavy force upon his position it was resolved by the general commanding the forces to attack him at that point. He accordingly directed me on the evening of the 7th to order Anderson's division, of Hardee's wing, to return to Perryville and also to order General Cheatham, with Donelson's division of his wing, to follow it immediately, and to return myself to that place, to take charge of the forces and attack the enemy next morning. I urged the strong expediency of concentrating all our forces upon the point to be attacked, and at all events the necessity of having the remaining division of the Army of the Mississippi (Withers') placed at my disposal. To this the general objected, upon the ground that General Kirby Smith had informed him that the enemy was in force in his front and that his troops could not be spared from that part of the field, nor could the division of Withers be spared, as he thought the force in front of Smith made it necessary for him to be re-enforced. He therefore proposed to order Withers to the support of Smith and to take charge of those combined forces himself in person. Generals Anderson and Cheatham proceeded to Perryville and reported to General Hardee as ordered, and on arriving were posted by that officer in a line of battle which he had selected. I followed as soon as practicable, arrived during the night, and reconnoitred the line of battle early on the following morning.
At a meeting of the general officers, held about daylight, it was resolved, in view of the great disparity of our forces, to adopt the defensive-offensive, to await the movements of the enemy, and to be guided by events as they were developed. The line of battle selected was that indicated by the course of Chaplin Fork of Salt River, on the banks of which our troops were posted. The division of General Buckner, of the left wing, occupied the extreme right; that of General Anderson the center ; that of General Donelson, of the right wing, under General Cheatham, the left. General Wharton's brigade of cavalry covered the right wing, General Wheeler the left. General McCown, who reached the field by a forced march with a cavalry force at an early hour, was directed, by order of General Bragg, to turn over his command to Colonel Wheeler and to report to him for orders. The whole of our force, including all arms, did not exceed 15,000. We have good reason to believe that the force of General Buell immediately in front of us, consisting of the corps of Generals McCook and Gilbert, each about 18,000 strong, and that General Crittenden, with a corps of about the same number, was within 8 miles of the field at the opening of the attack. General Liddell's brigade of General Buckner's division was thrown forward in observation about one mile in front of Perryville between the Springfield and Mackville roads. Light skirmishing opened the operation of the morning, which grew heavier as the day advanced.
About 10 o'clock Liddell became hotly engaged and it became evident that the enemy was disposed to press upon our right. I directed General Buckner to retire Liddell's brigade and let it fall back upon our general line, and ordered General Cheatham to move the whole of his command from the left to the right of our line. These orders were promptly executed and Cheatham's command was held in column of brigades. It was now near 1 o'clock and the movements of the enemy were not continued. It was then determined by General Bragg, commander of the forces, who had arrived on the field some hours before, to assume the offensive, and by his direction orders were given for a general movement throughout our whole line. General Cheatham's column of brigades was deployed into line and ordered, with Wharton's cavalry still upon its right, to attack. At this juncture I was informed by Colonel Wharton that a column of the enemy's infantry was seen approaching by the Mackville road in a direction to support the enemy's left. This column I discovered was still quite distant, but concluding that our chances of success were greater against the line in my front even when re-enforced than it would be by attacking it as it stood and exposing my flank to the approaching force, I awaited until the reinforcements got into position. The attack was then ordered. Wharton charged the enemy's extreme left with great fury, passing on over stone walls and ravines and driving back the enemy's infantry several hundred yards. This movement placed in our possession a skirt of woods and an eminence of great importance to our success on our right. It was quickly followed by the brigades of General Cheatham, under Brigadier-Generals Donelson, Stewart, and Maney. These mounted the steep and difficult cliffs of Chaplin River in gallant style and moved forward upon the enemy's position with a most determined courage. Their approach was met by a storm of shot, shell, and musketry from several batteries strongly posted and supported by heavy masses of infantry. Their progress was nevertheless steadily onward, and although mowed down by well-directed volleys of musketry and well-served artillery the gaps thus produced in our lines were promptly filled and our troops pressed forward with resistless energy, driving the enemy before them and capturing three of his batteries. In this movement the enemy's left was forced back about a mile until his three lines were pressed into one. Here, being heavily re enforced, he recovered one of his batteries, but did not attempt to regain any of the ground he had lost. This charge of these brigades was one of the most heroic and brilliant movements of the war. Considering the disparity of the numbers of the troops engaged, the strength of the enemy's position, the murderous character of the fire under which they had to advance, the steadiness with which they endured the havoc which was being made in their ranks, their knowledge that they were without any supporting force, the firmness with which they moved upon the enemy's masses of infantry and artillery, it will compare favorably with the most brilliant achievements of historic valor. In this charge General James S. Jackson, who commanded a division of the enemy, was killed amid the guns of one of the batteries that was taken.
While directing the operations in this part of the field I received a message from General Bragg, informing me that the right center, occupied by a portion of the troops of General Hardee, was hard pressed, and suggesting the sending reinforcements to its relief. This was done at the earliest moment, the brigades of Generals Stewart and Donelson being detached for that purpose. These generals advanced their brigades in gallant style on the right of that of General Cleburne, and in conjunction with that efficient officer drove the enemy with great slaughter from his successive positions a full mile and a half.
As the enemy was yielding toward the close of the day the brigade of Brigadier-General Liddell approached from my left and rear and halted on the crest of a hill to determine the point at which to offer its support. It was directed to the place where it was most wanted and moved upon it with deafening cheers. Here, owing to the fading twilight, it was for a few moments difficult to determine whether the firing in our front was from our own or the enemy's troops. This difficulty, however, was speedily removed; it was the enemy, and in obedience to orders that veteran brigade, under its gallant commander, closed the operations of the day in that part of the field with a succession of the most deadly volleys I have witnessed. The enemy's command in their immediate front was well-nigh annihilated.
At this point a number of prisoners were taken, and among them several corps, division, and brigade staff officers; and, darkness closing in, I ordered the troops to cease firing and to bivouac for the night.
The operations of the left wing, which were under the immediate superintendence of Major-General Hardee, were not less satisfactory or successful. His combinations for the attack were judiciously made, and immediately after the onset of the right wing, under Major-General Cheatham, had been fully developed, he ordered General Buckner to move forward his division and unite in the assault. This order was executed with promptness and rigor. The position assailed--one of great strength and the key of that part of the field--was carried, and by a combined movement with two of the brigades of General Anderson's division and a skilful handling of his artillery, the whole of the enemy's line, reaching to Cheatham's left, was driven in confusion near a mile to the rear, and night put an end to farther pursuit. The gallantry of these troops and of their able and skilful commanders in that desperate struggle was in keeping with that of their comrades of the right wing, and the part they bore in the bloody conflict of the field of Perryville entitles them to a distinguished place in the records of that eventful day.
For further details I beg leave to refer to the reports of wing, division, brigade, and regimental commanders, herewith transmitted.
To Major-Generals Hardee and Cheatham I feel under obligations for the judgement and skill manifested in conducting the operations of their respective commands and for the energy and vigor with which they directed their movements. Few instances are on record where such successes have been obtained against such disparity of numbers.
My thanks are due also to the division and brigade commanders and their subordinates for the fidelity and gallantry with which they supervised and directed the operations of their commands; also to the soldiers for the zeal and alacrity with which they obeyed the orders of their several commanders and the active energy and dauntless courage with which they moved to the performance of the most difficult and perilous enterprises. No troops on any field have ever exhibited higher qualities of the soldier, as no troops at any time have ever had higher motives to inspire them with a contempt for danger and of death.
I am indebted likewise to Colonels Wheeler and Wharton, commanding the cavalry brigades, for their vigilance and activity in protecting our flanks and for the vigorous assaults made by them upon the enemy's lines. Of Colonel Wharton's charge on the enemy's left flank I have already spoken. Colonel Wheeler and the brave officers and men under his command exhibited the same dauntless energy and courage for which they have become distinguished. He kept a very large force of the enemy at bay and made a most brilliant charge, driving the enemy before him and capturing a battery. For particulars of the operations of the commands of these deservedly distinguished officers I beg leave to refer you to their reports, herewith transmitted.
To my staff, general and personal, I am under obligations for the promptitude and zeal with which they discharged the duties of their several offices.
I desire to return thanks to Almighty God for the persistent energy, determination, and courage with which He has inspired the hearts of our troops in the prosecution of this unrighteous war and for shielding our heads in the day of battle.
Respectfully, your obedient servant,
L. POLK, Major-General, Commanding.
From The Official Records