— The Battle for Kentucky October 8, 1862 —
About 4 PM on October 8, Colonel Samuel Powell was ordered to move his brigade westward and discover how many Federal troops were stationed west of Perryville. His 1,000-man force dutifully advanced along the Springfield Pike (today US 150 and 4th Street), and ran headlong into the 22,000 men of Acting Major General Charles C. Gilbert's III Corps. Gilbert's command, idle for most of the day, reacted to this probe with fury and soon sent Powell's men scurrying back info Perryville with Federal troops in hot pursuit.
The pursuing Federals belonged to Colonel William P. Carlin's brigade of Brigadier General Robert B. Mitchell's 9th Division. Carlin was an experienced and aggressive officer, and pushed his command forward with vigor. The Confederates realized that the safest course was to retire across the Chaplin River and Brigadier General Preston Smith's brigade, the last Confederate reserve, hurried forward to cover Powell's withdrawal.
Carlin placed 4 cannon of the 2nd Minnesota Battery on a ridge overlooking town (at the site of present-day Perryville Elementary School). The Federal guns shelled the Confederate troops as they tried to cross the river via the covered Second Street Bridge (site of today's modern highway bridge) or the causeway at Third Street (site of today's pedestrian bridge). Confederate batteries on the heights east of town began shelling the Federal guns, and artillery rained all over Perryville. Several structures suffered severe damage in the crossfire, and some buildings near the two bridges (including right where you are standing) caught fire.
The Federal infantry then moved into town, led by the 21st Illinois. Carlin's men secured the western part of Perryville, while the Confederates retired eastward. A private in the 1st Arkansas recalled the Federals making "a terrible assault from behind the houses."
Mitchell sensed a great opportunity and wanted to occupy Perryville with more troops, but Gilbert intervened and directed the 9th Division to hold back. The Federal high command still believed that Bragg had more men on the field, and Gilbert feared a trap. The opportunity passed, and Carlin pulled most of his forces back to Perryville's western outskirts. Firing continued into the night; in the darkness, 15 Confederate ammunition wagons and 68 men were captured.
This action ended the Battle of Perryville.
"Advance and if you meet the enemy, overpower him."
Colonel William P. Carlin to Colonel Hans C. Heg, 15th Wisconsin Infantry
"The Yankees planted a battery and turned it on the town?when we got to the street [Second Street] the Yankees got our range?the shells came thick and went through many of the houses. We stayed there a few minutes, then they called us to order. We went in double quick time down the street. We got out of town."
Private Richard Wharton, 154th Veteran Tennessee Infantry