October 7, 2012

The 79th Pennsylvania in the Battle of Perryville: Arrival on the Battlefield

Location: Chaplin, KY 40012, USA
The following narrative tells the story of the Lancaster County Regiment in its first battle, the Battle of Perryville.  It is my attempt to synthesize over a dozen primary source accounts of the 79th Pennsylvania with the story told by Ken Noe in his campaign study Perryville: This Grand Havoc of BattleIf not explicitly referenced in the post, sources should be pretty obvious to identify in the "Sources" and "Battle of Perryville" tabs.  

Arrival on the Battlefield 

On the morning of October 8, 1862, the 79th Pennsylvania and the rest of Col. John C. Starkweather's brigade found itself just west of the town of Mackville with the supply wagons of their division, commanded by Gen. Lovell H. Rousseau.  Rousseau's other two brigades had started off around dawn with orders to move towards Gen. Braxton Bragg's Confederates located at Perryville, but Starkweather's men required more time to draw supplies.  Gen. James Jackson's division wouldn't wait for Starkweather and preempted the brigade in the line of march along the Mackville Road, making the 79th Pennsylvania one of the last regiments to arrive on the northern end of the battlefield.

Despite Buell's plans to strike at Bragg, the Confederate commander thought the Union forces he faced to only be a small fragment of the Union army, and ordered a general assault.  The battle opened in the morning as the two sides clashed over possession of a precious pool of water on the drought-stricken landscape.  Bragg's main assault was to take place in the afternoon, starting from the north (where the 79th Pennsylvania was arriving) and unfolding to the south.  

Three miles from the sound of fighting, Starkweather's brigade's march slowed to due to congestion on the road.  Worried about missing another battle and sensing the urgency of the moment, the brigade abandoned the road and cut through fields and woods. Quartermaster Sergeant James H. Marshall recounted, "We had gone but a few miles when heavy cannonading was heard about six miles ahead.  The 'boys' all seemed to rejoice and were afraid it would be over before they would catch up.  Each man seemed to step forward more briskly and no one fell back." 

Corp. William T. Clark of Company B noted, " The country is hilly & very little water to be had. Firing is becoming more regular & with some infantry being engaged. About noon we came near the scene of action, stacked arms & rested.  The battle is raging in front of us."

Finding the left of Rousseau's other brigades, Starkweather positioned his men to to the left (north) and slightly set back from the Union line, and notified Rousseau of his position.  Of this time, Marshall wrote, "About half past two in the afternoon we marched over the fields and stacked arms at the edge of a dense wood, while our artillery commenced shelling the enemy, who appeared only in small squads on our left.  We were soon ordered out of the woods and drawn up in line of battle."

Around 2:30pm, orders came to advance to support the brigade's artillery, and the Lancaster County Regiment formed in line of battle and marched forward.

To be continued in a post tomorrow...

Map of the Battle of Perryville
2:00 PM, October 8, 1862
Drawn by Hal Jesperson (Source)
Based on the maps of Ken Noe's book.

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