15 April 2014

Learning About the Battle of Perryville

 "I would like to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky." 
                                                              ~Abraham Lincoln

As a lover of nonfiction texts from my early childhood days until now, I recall many a biography I read about women.  Around third grade, I read a biography of Clara Barton and that experience established my interest in the American Civil War.  Barton's involvement as a civil rights activist and her work with the women's suffrage movement were significant issues for me as a young girl.  Drawn to ideas of Barton's humanitarian efforts, I learned about the Union and Confederate sides, and I was impacted by the hatefulness of slavery in ways I couldn't fully grasp, other than to know it could not be okay to treat human beings as property.  Over the years, my understanding of the issues expanded, but honestly I don't think I fully grasped the significance of border states until helping my ten-year-old son with a recent research project for History Day.

Isaac loves history especially the American Civil War.  Since he was seven or eight years old, he's been interested in the people and the strategies behind the battles.  For his third grade biography project a couple of years ago, he researched Abraham Lincoln, and Lincoln has continued to be one of his favorite people from history.  For his fifth grade history day project, he decided to research the Battle of Perryville since it was the largest Civil War battle fought in Kentucky and it was a turning point in the War.

Since I have never previously studied Kentucky history and wasn't initially excited about moving here nearly eleven years ago, Isaac and I learned together about an era in Kentucky's history.  We learned why Kentucky was such an important state during the American Civil War and why Abraham Lincoln said he must have Kentucky on his side.  Since it was a border state politically and geographically both the North and the South wanted Kentucky on their side, and Kentucky citizens were apparently divided with some of the residents sympathizing with the South on economic labor issues (they wanted free labor from slaves) and others sympathizing with more progressive thinkers from the North who opposed slavery.

Highlights from what we learned

  • We learned that the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves from all confederate states, but not the border states, including Kentucky.  
  •  We learned states rights were important to the South because they wanted to preserve their way of living and if slavery was abolished, their way of living would change.
  • We learned about a drought in the region that drew both the Union and Confederate armies to Perryville, Kentucky where they had access to many creeks and rivers for troops and their horses.
  • We learned about the aftermath of the battle and about a teacher from the School for the Deaf in Danville who was alarmed by the large number of soldiers who were killed and lying dead on the battlefield without a proper burial.  This man went back to the school and brought his students back with him to dig graves and bury the dead soldiers.

Clearly the bulleted points above do not encompass everything we learned, but these were the facts that stayed with both of us, and they are the details making me want to learn more about Kentucky's history.

Incidentally, Isaac and I had the opportunity to learn more about history in Kentucky when he represented his elementary school at the Lexington History Museum's History Fair in downtown at the historic Lyric Theatre in downtown Lexington.

----Sources Consulted----

1.      Wertz, Jay. The Civil War: 1861-1865.  London:
Sevenoaks, 2011.

2.      Sanders, Stuart W. Perryville Under Fire: The
Aftermath of Kentucky’s Largest Civil War Battle. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2012.

3.      Noe, Kenneth W. Perryville: This Grand Havoc of
Battle. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2001.

4.      www.civilwar.org

6.      Library of Congress. www.loc.gov/item99447187