In late October 1862, the Louisville Theatre, located on the corner of Fourth and Green streets in Kentucky’s largest city, hosted a renowned actor.
On October 27, John Wilkes Booth played the lead in The Lady of Lyons. The Louisville Daily Journal praised Booth for his “effective personations” and the “striking originality of his conceptions of character.” Over successive nights, Booth portrayed Richard III, Pescara in The Apostate, and then Macbeth. The newspaper said that the actor was “drawing large audiences, who seem enthusiastic in their admiration of his performances.”
Booth, the future assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, provided a welcome distraction for residents. At the time, thousands of sick and wounded soldiers filled Louisville hospitals, schools, and private homes.
Earlier that month, more than 7,500 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed and wounded at the Battle of Perryville. Fought approximately seventy-five miles from Louisville, barns, churches, businesses, and private homes near the battlefield became makeshift hospitals. Neighboring communities, including Danville, Harrodsburg, Springfield, Lebanon, and Bardstown, also housed casualties.
The Battle of Perryville also affected Louisville. That Ohio River city, which then had nearly 70,000 residents, contended with ill and injured patients, families searching for wounded loved ones, residents who died in the fight, and Confederate prisoners of war.
When news of the battle reached Louisville, local organizations acted. One of the first to respond was the Louisville branch of the United States Sanitary Commission, a private relief organization with chapters across the country. The Louisville office had previously assisted wounded soldiers after the Battle of Mill Springs, which had been fought near Somerset, Kentucky, in January 1862. The Commission also worked to ease suffering after the fight at Perryville.
On October 10, influential Louisville Unionists met at the county courthouse to determine the best course for helping the wounded. Mayor John M. Delph presided over the meeting while Bland Ballard, a federal judge, served as secretary. Several residents, including the future U.S. attorney general James Speed, gave speeches urging a partnership with the Sanitary Commission. A six-member committee then met with the Commission and decided to send clothes, pillows, eggs, fruit, wine, tea, jelly, “eye shades,” bandages, sugar, and vegetables to the battlefield.
The Sanitary Commission had already asked residents for donations. “The demand is pressing,” the Daily Journal explained. The newspaper added that “Wines, cordials, fruits, tea, white sugar, farina and any other suitable articles of diet; lint, bandages, old linen, handkerchiefs, socks, &c., will be thankfully received.” Other organizations contributed funds. On October 11, for example, the “Independent National Guards” raised $203 for the Commission. That day, some wounded and sick soldiers reached Louisville. These early arrivals tended to be the lightly wounded who could more easily travel from Perryville.
The Sanitary Commission sent four wagons loaded with blankets, food, clothes, and medicine to the battlefield. Commission representatives also traveled there to distribute goods and to care for the wounded. This included several doctors and the Reverend F. H. Bushnell, the rector of Louisville’s Grace Church, who had previously helped injured soldiers after the Battle of Shiloh. The Commission representatives had funds to purchase items for the troops and provided “eggs, butter, and other delicacies not supplied by the Government.” When they arrived, they found few army surgeons, little food and water, panicked residents, and more than 1,500 wounded and sick federal troops in need of assistance.
Because the situation at Perryville was dire, the Louisville Sanitary Commission redoubled their efforts. Within days they sent another twenty-one wagon loads of supplies to the battleground, including butter, chickens, medicine, and clothing. A. N. Read, a Commission doctor, traveled ahead and coordinated distribution. Along the route, Read encountered injured men “whose wounds were less severe . . . walking and begging their way to Louisville.” When Read arrived in Perryville—a town of three hundred inhabitants—he found chaos. He discovered that “we were the first to bring relief where help was needed more than tongue can tell.”
Read opened an office in Perryville and distributed supplies. He also toured nearby communities. In Danville, ten miles to the east, more than 3,500 sick Union soldiers filled churches, the courthouse, businesses, the Centre College campus, and homes. Read returned to Louisville on October 18, procured ten tons of additional supplies, and transported clothes, bedding, food, medicine, wine, matches, and other goods to Danville. Read’s work undoubtedly helped the injured and saved lives.
Although the Sanitary Commission was a Unionist organization, the Louisville branch did help Confederate wounded in Perryville. The Louisville Daily Journal reported that “leading secessionists of Louisville” asked the Commission for food, medicine, and other items for rebel patients. Therefore, when goods were allocated, they were also given to southern casualties. In this instance, aid workers set aside allegiances to relieve suffering.
After providing aid in Perryville and surrounding towns, the Sanitary Commission began supporting Louisville hospitals. By late October, hundreds of ill and injured troops had arrived in the city. The Commission sent donations to multiple locations across town, including one hospital that received shirts, towels, bandages, rags, lanterns, pillows, cups, pans, and other necessities.
In addition to the Sanitary Commission, the Ladies’ Soldiers’ Aid Society, a Louisville-based organization comprised of Unionist women, worked to help the troops. About a week after the battle, residents gave “a quantity of material” to the president of the Society to make clothing for the patients. New clothes were important, for many of the injured were undoubtedly dressed in rags after the long military campaign, receiving wounds, and enduring medical procedures in squalid field hospitals at Perryville. Five days later, the Society repeated the call, imploring “all the loyal ladies of the city” to make clothes out of fabric donated by the Sanitary Commission. The need for clothing in area hospitals must have been great.
The Ladies’ Soldiers’ Aid Society also received outside donations. In late October, a woman from Pewee Valley, located about twenty miles from Louisville, provided “six packages of canned fruit and preserves, and six bottles of blackberry wine” to be distributed to soldiers. Another gave “fifty yards of canton flannel” for clothing. The wife of Union Colonel Richard T. Jacob, whose husband commanded the 9th Kentucky Cavalry, donated “a liberal contribution of wines, jellies, and sweetmeats” to the Soldiers’ Aid Association, another organization helping injured troops. Unionist women from the region heeded the call to help.
That assistance was needed, for hundreds of wounded and sick soldiers eventually reached Louisville. A few days after the battle, Brigadier General Jeremiah Boyle, the Union military commander of Kentucky, ordered that “all furniture wagons, spring-wagons, and other vehicles suitable for the purpose” should be turned over “to the army to be used in transporting the sick and wounded from Perryville.” On October 14, a “train of ambulances” full of 750 ill and injured soldiers reached the city. When they arrived, authorities split the patients between Louisville and New Albany, Indiana, with approximately five hundred staying in Louisville and the balance convalescing across the Ohio River in New Albany.
Most of these arrivals suffered from light wounds, while the more severely injured remained in Perryville. Transferring soldiers to Louisville eased the burden on crowded hospitals near the battlefield. Moreover, because Perryville was overwhelmed, Louisville hospitals had better food, more medicine, accessible water, and improved sanitation. Getting away from Perryville likely increased a patient’s chance of survival.
Authorities placed the sick and injured in thirteen general hospitals across the city. These men had endured some of the heaviest fighting at Perryville. Hospital Number 1, for example, included soldiers from the 123rd Illinois, 75th Illinois, 22nd Indiana, 105th Ohio, and 38th Indiana infantry regiments. Those units had been engaged in brutal combat and the men suffered from a variety of injuries. Conditions were similar at other hospitals, with most patients having been shot through the legs or arms, confirming that those who reached Louisville were less seriously injured. This held true at Hospital No. 10, where most of the soldiers, which also included members of the 1st Wisconsin, 10th Wisconsin, and 15th Kentucky, suffered from “flesh wounds.” Some patients in Hospital Number 3, however, were injured in the head, torso, and hips.
Similar injuries plagued patients in New Albany, which was then a town of approximately 13,000 residents. By mid-October, New Albany had six hospitals caring for 963 sick and wounded soldiers. These troops also came from regiments that encountered heavy fighting. In addition to the previously mentioned units, soldiers hailed from the 42nd Indiana, 79th Pennsylvania, and other regiments. There were many limb injuries, but some soldiers had been shot in the torso and scalp.
Among the patients in New Albany’s Hospital No. 1, which was a school building, was Private Ormond Hupp. An artillerist with the 5th Battery, Indiana Light Artillery, Hupp suffered from an arm injury. His ordeal illustrates what soldiers experienced trying to make it from the battlefield to the Louisville area hospitals.
While fighting near the center of the Union line at Perryville, Hupp’s battery ran low on ammunition. As they pulled back to a new position, a Confederate artillery shell struck one of their limbers, which held an ammunition box. Hupp was riding on the limber. He later wrote that “a shell from the enemy struck me on the left arm and passing on, struck the ammunition chest, exploded and caused the cartridges in the chest to explode. It was all done in an instant and resulted in the instant death of [Frederick Ehrich] who was struck in the head with a piece of shell and the wounding of four others, C. Miller, burnt, [Abraham Forry], arm broken and badly burnt on head and face; A. Pettit, lip cut and wounded slightly in the head and myself cut in the left arm, right arm, and face. When the chest blew up it took me in the air about ten feet . . . I jumped up and saw that I was badly wounded, my clothes were all torn off, and the burn from the powder set me near crazy.”
Hupp was taken to several different field hospitals near the battlefield, including a cabin, a farmhouse, a church, and a barn. He received little treatment, but he eventually made his way to downtown Perryville, where he caught a wagon train to Louisville. After much hardship, he reached New Albany eight days after the battle. By this point, Hupp complained, his arm “was in a fair state of mortification.” He remained in New Albany for more than five months recovering from his wound and helping fellow patients as a nurse.
Just as Hupp recovered in a New Albany school, military authorities also took over Louisville institutions. On October 15, the Louisville school board considered an order from General Boyle in which the general said that the number of casualties necessitated the occupation of schools as hospitals. “It is better that the children should have a long vacation than that the men who have periled their lives should be left without proper shelter while suffering from wounds and disease,” Boyle proclaimed. To avoid interrupting the students’ studies, Boyle suggested that the schools could meet in the basement of churches. He assumed that ministers would approve, noting that “Surely it would be better to have [the churches] used for schools than as hospitals.” The board voted to comply, and within days pupils were meeting in the Walnut Street Baptist Church, St. Paul’s Church, the 12th Street Methodist Church, a Presbyterian church, and more.
While enlisted soldiers—like Ormond Hupp—recovered in school buildings and other hospitals, some wounded officers convalesced in private homes. Several of these residences belonged to southern sympathizers. On October 22, for example, the Union army seized the home of a “Mrs. Ballard,” who lived at “the corner of Brook street and Broadway.” Ballard was pro-Confederate, and the house became occupied by injured and sick federal officers. The Louisville Daily Journal said that this was done “to make Kentucky rebels incur some of the penalties of rebellion.”
Newspapers listed men who were recovering in area hospitals. As this news spread, scores of civilians across the Midwest traveled to Louisville to find their injured relatives. On October 15, for example, the Daily Journal noted that “The brother of Jacob Steigleman, the latter being of the Fiftieth Ohio Infantry and among the wounded at Perryville, is in the city in search of the wounded man.” A week later, it was reported that L. G. Smith was in the city seeking his brother, Lieutenant Samuel D. Smith of the 42nd Indiana, who had also been injured in the fight. Smith was reputedly recovering in a private home near the Galt House Hotel. In addition to family members traveling to Louisville, out-of-state doctors arrived with supplies to nurse injured troops from their home states. Colonel John Williams, the commissary general for Illinois, and surgeon E. B. Walcott from Wisconsin, were among those who cared for their states’ soldiers.
Because Kentucky troops were actively engaged in the Battle of Perryville, Louisville residents also mourned local casualties. Multiple dead and wounded from the 15th Kentucky Union Infantry Regiment, which had endured ferocious fighting on the Union right flank, were from the city. They included Major William G. Campbell, a Louisville businessman and politician, and the unit’s colonel, Curran Pope, who was wounded at Perryville but died from an illness. Campbell and Pope were laid to rest in Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery. Other casualties were buried at Cave Hill, including Lieutenant Colonel George P. Jouett of the 15th Kentucky, who had been mayor of Lexington. Union brigadier generals William R. Terrill and James S. Jackson, the highest-ranking officers to be killed at Perryville, were interred at Cave Hill before their remains were sent elsewhere.
Funerals, however, were the least of residents’ worries, for there was a major influx of patients at the end of the month. On October 28, approximately 2,100 sick and wounded troops arrived from Lebanon by train. This rail transportation was unique; according to Dr. J. S. Newberry of the Sanitary Commission, “In October 1862, the first hospital [train] cars used [in] the West were fitted up for the transportation to Louisville of the wounded from the battle of Perryville.” It is likely that the patients were transported the sixty-five miles from Lebanon to Louisville because Louisville had more resources and better conditions. In addition to wounds, the rail-bound troops suffered from chronic diarrhea, rheumatism, fevers, typhoid, hemorrhoids, and other illnesses. The railcars also included two nurses whose husbands had been killed in the battle. The women had likely followed their husbands on the campaign and were returning home after their loved ones died.
With the arrival of thousands of additional patients, the Sanitary Commission asked the community for help. Residents quickly donated “soup and other excellent articles” to feed the soldiers, but the donations were not as generous as expected. When the Ladies’ Soldiers’ Aid Society urged contributions, the Louisville Daily Journal reported, “We are informed that our loyal citizens have not responded to the call for aid, to the degree of liberality that has characterized their former contributions, and we call upon them now to unite their efforts with those noble women of the Aid Society for the relief of our suffering soldiers.”
The burden of caring for casualties from the Battle of Perryville lasted in Louisville for several more months. Wounded and sick soldiers continued to arrive as field hospitals in other communities closer to the battlefield closed. Moreover, hundreds of rebel prisoners of war who had been captured during the campaign passed through Louisville on their way to Vicksburg to be exchanged. Their presence further strained the city’s resources.
The thousands of patients who reached Louisville in October 1862, and the residents’ hard work to help them, details the massive impact of the aftermath of the Battle of Perryville. Although Louisville was more than 75 miles from the battlefield, wounded and sick troops spent months in the city recuperating. Multiple aid organizations mobilized and worked with the city government and private citizens to provide help within a spectacularly short time frame. Just days after the battle, the Sanitary Commission sent doctors and supplies to the field. The organization also established hospitals in Louisville that effectively contended with the influx of the wounded and sick. In October 1862, Louisville came together and helped thousands of people in need.
This era of Louisville’s history illustrates the profound impact of private aid organizations like the Sanitary Commission and the Ladies’ Soldiers’ Aid Society. Their work—and the generous donations of residents—prevented the city from being overwhelmed. Their medicines, supplies, and surgeons undoubtedly saved lives. These organizations also prevented the city from descending into chaos when thousands of soldiers arrived within the span of a few weeks.
When John Wilkes Booth performed in Louisville in late October 1862, the actor must have seen how the aftermath of the Battle of Perryville affected the city. It would have been impossible for him to miss.
Stuart W. Sanders is the author of four books, including “Perryville Under Fire: The Aftermath of Kentucky’s Largest Civil War Battle” and “The Battle of Mill Springs, Kentucky.” His latest book, “Murder on the Ohio Belle,” examines interpersonal violence, southern honor culture, and vigilantism through the lens of an 1856 murder on a steamboat. Find him on Twitter @StuartWSanders.
 Booth at Louisville Theatre from “Amusements,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 30, 1862): 3; “effective personations” and “striking originality” from “Theatre,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 27, 1862): 3; Richard III from “Theatre,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 28, 1862): 3; Pescara from “Theatre,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 29, 1862): 3; MacBeth and “drawing large audiences” from “Theatre,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 30, 1862): 3.  “Aid for the Wounded,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 11, 1862): 1.  “Citizens’ Meeting,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 11, 1862): 3.  “The demand” from “Aid for the Wounded,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 11, 1862): 1; money raised, Louisville Daily Journal (October 13, 1862): 3; soldiers arriving, “Fruit for the Soldiers,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 11, 1862): 4. The newspaper noted that there had been a bountiful fruit harvest that year and suggested that “it should be dried and canned” and given to relief organizations. Ibid.  “Supplies for the Wounded,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 11, 1862): 3; “Sick and Wounded Soldiers,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 18, 1862): 3; Bushnell biography from “Louisville Hospitals,” The Sanitary Reporter 1 (May 15, 1863): 6.  Dr. J. S. Newberry, The U.S. Sanitary Commission in the Valley of the Mississippi, During the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866 (Cleveland: Fairbank, Benedict, and Co., 1871): 55, 56, 57.  Newberry, U.S. Sanitary Commission, 57, 58, 60, 61. For Danville and the aftermath of the Battle of Perryville, see Stuart W. Sanders, Perryville Under Fire: The Aftermath of Kentucky’s Largest Civil War Battle (Charleston: The History Press, 2012), 103-116.  “Look at This,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 23, 1862): 2.  Louisville Daily Journal (October 21, 1862): 1.  “Aid Society,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 16, 1862): 3; Louisville Daily Journal (October 21, 1862): 3. Mrs. N. B. Smith as president from Louisville Daily Journal (October 15, 1862): 3; and “Ladies’ Soldiers’ Aid Society,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 31, 1862): 3.  “six packages” and “fifty yards” from “For the Sick and Wounded Soldiers,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 31, 1862): 3; “a liberal contribution” from “Sick Soldiers,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 29, 1862): 3.  Boyle’s order from “Transportation of the Wounded,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 11, 1862): 3; “a train” from “The Wounded from Perryville,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 15, 1862): 3.  “The Wounded from Perryville,” 3.  “The Wounded from Perryville,” 3; arriving daily from “Aid Society,” 3; thirteen hospitals from “General Hospitals in Louisville,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 18, 1862): 3; regiments and wound descriptions from “The Wounded from Perryville,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 16, 1862): 3. Other casualties listed in Louisville Daily Journal (October 18, 1862): 3.  New Albany summary from “Sick and Wounded in New Albany,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 17, 1862): 3; regiments and injuries from “The Wounded from Perryville,” 3.  Hupp’s location at Hospital Number 1 is listed in “The Wounded from Perryville,” 3.  Hupp quoted in John Lee Berkley, ed., In Defense of This Flag: The Civil War Diary of Pvt. Ormond Hupp, 5th Indiana Light Artillery (Bradenton, FL: McGuinn and McGuire, 1994), 33.  Hupp’s journey described in Sanders, Perryville Under Fire, 48-50.  Boyle’s request and school board meeting from “Meeting of the School Board,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 16, 1862): 3; churches used from “Fifth Ward School,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 20, 1862): 3; Louisville Daily Journal (October 22, 1862): 3.  Louisville Daily Journal (October 23, 1862): 3.  Steigleman notice from Louisville Daily Journal (October 15, 1862): 3; Smith notice from “Lieutenant Sam G. Smith,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 22, 1862): 3; Williams from Illinois from Louisville Daily Journal (October 20, 1862): 3; Walcott from Wisconsin from Louisville Daily Journal (October 20, 1862): 3. The Louisville Daily Journal also listed names of soldiers who died in Louisville hospitals each week. See “Deceased Soldiers,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 18, 1862): 3; “Deceased Soldiers,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 11, 1862): 3.  “Maj. Campbell,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 11, 1862): 3; Kirk C. Jenkins, The Battle Rages Higher: The Union’s Fifteenth Kentucky Infantry (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2003), 289, 290-291, 292.  “Sick and Wounded Soldiers,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 29, 1862): 3; Louisville Daily Journal (October 29, 1862): 1; Newberry from Newberry, U.S. Sanitary Commission, 73; illnesses and widowed nurses from “Sick and Wounded Soldiers,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 30, 1862): 3.  Louisville Daily Journal (October 30, 1862): 3; “We are informed” from “Ladies’ Soldiers’ Aid Society,” 3.  “Arrival of Prisoners,” Louisville Daily Journal (October 22, 1862): 3.