Book Review: Perryville Under Fire

The Western Theater battles do not often have the coverage or depth in study as, say, the battles of Antietam or Gettysburg. Seemingly every aspect of the latter battle can be found, and I am certain that someone on day will write the "Horse Poop at Gettysburg" or "Farts in Pennsylvania: The Impacts of Human Gases at Gettysburg." While I (mostly) jest, I think you get the idea. Even with the explosion of titles on Chickamauga, even that iconic battle is not dissected with many specialized titles. Therefore when we have a specialized title on a Western Theater battle, we need to support that book so that publishers are willing to print more specialized titles because they see the interest.


One title that delves into an aspect of war not often thought of is Perryville Under Fire: The Aftermath of Kentucky's Largest Civil War Battle. Written by former Perryville Battlefield Preservation Association director Stuart W. Sanders and published by The History Press in 2012, it is a one hundred and sixty page softcover book that deals with the effects of the fight of Perryville on that small village as well as the numerous surrounding communities that were touched in the fall of 1862. Perryville, an intense battle that lasted from sunrise to sunset, left thousands of dead and wounded upon the battleground. The wounded who had to be gathered and moved to one of dozens of temporary hospitals, and the dead who had to be identified and buried.


The eleven chapters deal mostly with these two themes, the wounded and the dead, and how dealing with both stretched the resources of Perryville, already dealing with a summer long drought and the drain of supplies that both armies required, to its breaking point. Nearly every home, church, school, barn, shed, and other type of structure were used as makeshift hospitals, noted as such by the piles of amputated limbs found outside of doors and windows. The numerous first person accounts describing these scenes of abject horror are not for the easily distraught, as many of the descriptions are vivid and gut-wrenching. But it is in the first person accounts that Mr. Sanders has given us the means to see the true damage that a battle brings, for days, weeks, and months, on the area in which the battle was fought. Without water, without enough medical supplies, without clean conditions, the men stood little chance of survival if they had been wounded severely. Diseases were rampant, and the soldiers were not the only ones to suffer and die as many of the local citizens who helped nurse the wounded also took ill and passed away.


Sanders has done an effective job of transitioning the reader to be influenced by not the glory of battle and dying for a cause, but to a deeper understanding of the horror that comes from being wounded or killed by a minie ball or a shell fragment and how some of the wounded were left for days without care or shelter. Through the first person and other accounts he helps us understand the disgraceful way that the dead were often fodder for local hogs and crows, and how some men were buried in graves so shallow that when it rained, an arm or a leg might pop out of the ground. Not a glorious end for any cause.


This is a recommended title to add, not only to one's understanding of Perryville, but also as an illustration of the aftermath of any Civil War battle. Perryville Under Fire can be found at numerous book retailers.

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