— The Battle for Kentucky October 8, 1862 —
The 436 members of the 38th Indiana Infantry Regiment deployed here, in a cut cornfield, next to the 10th Wisconsin Infantry. These men supported Captain Peter Simonson's six cannon, which were located to your right. It was a crucial position; along with Simonson's guns, these infantrymen anchored the center of the Union battleline.
Simonson's guns roared as an artillery duel opened the Battle of Perryville. The ground shook with the booming cannon, and the Northerners on this ridge readied themselves as Confederate infantry advanced. Union Major General Alexander McCook, the Hoosiers' corps commander, implored the men to save Simonson's artillery. "For God's sake," he begged, "save that battery." They paid a heavy price for obeying this order.
Soon, Confederate troops appeared on the ridge in front of you and attacked the Union center. The 38th Indiana fought here for more than two hours. When their ammunition was expended, they prepared to defend the position with their bayonets. "Our ammunition gave out," John Sipe of the 38th Indiana wrote, "and we had to stand some time and let the Rebels shoot at us without being able to return the fire." Dozens of casualties were incurred here, and the regimental flag was, an officer wrote, "literally riddled with balls and the staff shot off."
Union troops to the right broke under the weight of the rebel assault, and Simonson's battery fell back three hundred yards toward the Russell House. When that flank peeled away, the 38th Indiana was left alone—without ammunition—to face the attacking Confederates. Nearly cut off, they fell back toward the Russell House, where they continued to fight.
The 38th Indiana lost 38 killed and 132 wounded, representing nearly forty percent of their strength. After the battle, they buried their dead in the cornfield, where most of the men had fallen. These remains were later moved to Camp Nelson National Cemetery in Jessamine County, Kentucky.
The aftermath was traumatic. Sipe wrote that, "Of all the horrible suffering, I [hope] I may never witness the like again. Union and rebel lying side by side with their limbs blown off or shattered to pieces. One Rebel with [both] his arms blown off told me if he were in his grave he would not suffer so." Henry Fales Perry of the 38th concurred. He wrote that, "The spectacle presented by the battlefield was enough to make angels weep."
"Our loss is very heavy? The wonder is that any of us were saved, for we were under a murderous cross fire for hours."
—Colonel Benjamin F. Scribner, 38th Indiana Infantry Regiment