Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg and Union Gen. Don Carlos Buell were the key leaders for their troops during the Civil War Battle of Perryville.
Though both men represented very different interests during the Battle of Perryville, they shared some similarities. Bragg and Buell both served in the Mexican-American War, a conflict over the fate of Texas during 1846 to 1848. They were both educated at the prestigious United States Military Academy at West Point; Bragg graduated in 1837 while Buell finished his studies in 1841.
Bragg’s decision to invade Perryville on Oct. 8, 1862, literally changed the future of Kentucky as well as the United States, said Perryville Battlefield Preservation Coordinator Joan House.
“Even though the Confederates technically won the Battle of Perryville, it set up a situation where they ultimately lost the Civil War,” House said. “As a result, martial law was set up in Kentucky to deny the Confederacy.”
Bragg had hoped to gain enough support from Kentuckians to invade Ohio, but that did not happen. Confederate President Jefferson Davis had a lot of faith in Bragg’s leadership. But Bragg was not a popular leader even among his own men, according to writings by former Confederate Pvt. Sam R. Watkins.
“None of Gen. Bragg’s soldiers ever loved him,” Watkins wrote. “They had no faith in his ability as a general. He was looked upon as a merciless tyrant. The soldiers were very scantily fed ... Bragg was the great autocrat ... He loved to crush the spirit of his men. The more a hang-dog look they had about them, the better was Gen. Bragg pleased. Not a single soldier in the whole army ever loved or respected him.”
After the Civil War ended, Bragg returned to private life amid public disgrace and lived out his remaining days as a civil engineer. He died in 1876.
The Battle of Perryville had some negative career effects on Buell, who did not follow the Confederate forces as they retreated from Kentucky. Less than three weeks after the Union technically lost Perryville, Buell was relieved of his duties and replaced by Gen. William Rosecrans. After waiting for new orders for more than a year, Buell was discharged from military service. The lauded Union Gen. and future President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant eventually offered Buell a new military position, but he decided to remain in civilian life until his death in 1898.
During the upcoming Perryville re-enactment, House hopes people will remember all of the men who fought during the battle.
“I really hope the story of our state will become better known by the people who live in our state,” House said. “I’d like to see more people get to know Bragg, Buell and all the other men who served during this war that so dramatically changed our state. Most of us are just four generations removed from Civil War soldiers.”