Civil War history buffs keep the past alive at the annual Perryville battlefield re-enactment.*
Kentucky’s Top Five Civil War Sites
By Betsa Marsh
"I hope to have God on my side,” Abraham Lincoln once said, “but I must have Kentucky."
Kentucky has dozens of battlefields, museums, historic homes and cemeteries with their own Civil War tales to tell. Re-enactors, seen at right, relive the important battle of Perryville.*
On the border between North and South, the Bluegrass state became a linchpin, with both armies fighting ferociously in nearly every region.
Christopher Kolakowski, executive director of the Perryville Battlefield Preservation Association and spokesperson for the Kentucky Civil War Trail has helped SouthernTravelNews.com™ showcase Kentucky’s Top Five Civil War sites, based on his view of the best preservation and interpretation.
1. Perryville: Kentucky's Largest Battle
A Civil War re-enactor watches the action from horseback at Perryville, KY.*
In summer 1862, Confederate generals Braxton Bragg and Edmund Kirby Smith decided to invade Kentucky and draw Union troops away from the railhead in Chattanooga, TN.
The Confederates took Lexington, Frankfort and most of central Kentucky.
Control of this vital state would be decided Oct. 8 outside Perryville Battlefield (859-332-1862 or www.perryville.net), in Kentucky’s largest Civil War battle.
The battlefield is 45 miles southwest of Lexington. (Take U.S. 68 west to U.S. 150 west.)
Nearly 7,500 soldiers were killed and wounded in the heat and drought of Perryville. It stands as the last major incursion of Confederate forces into Kentucky and the high-water mark of the Confederacy in the western theater.
During Oct. 6-7, Perryville will mark the 145th anniversary of this important battle with demonstrations, tours and living history. In addition to re-enactments planned for the battlefield, (one scene from a previous re-enactment is shown above.*), which are rare, the town has preserved its antebellum Merchants’ Row.
On Merchants’ Row, you might wander among the restored 1840s Brinton House, used as a hospital after the battle, and the Karrick-Parks House, where both Confederate and Union soldiers were billeted.
Also check out the Opera House, Dr. J.J. Polk’s Office and House and the Parks Store, stocked with vintage merchandise. Perryville Battlefield features hiking trails with interpretive signs, a museum, gift shop, picnic area and playground.
Travelers with a historical interest might head for such Kentucky sites as the Perryville battlefield.*
Editor's Note: The Kentucky Department of Parks has just purchased a 96-acre tract of land known as Sleettown. It has historical significance as an African American community and will become part of Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site.
Sleettown was purchased from private owners and will be added to the park's current 570 acres. The land was used as a staging area for Confederate forces and was an African-American settlement after the war -- until about 1931.
The new property will help connect two separate sections of the park and will open areas for more use, including trails, interpretive signs and research. One residence, believed to be the last remnant of Sleettown, and a cemetery remain on the Sleettown property.
With this acquisition, the two preserved parts of the Perryville Battlefield are permanently connected to one another, enhancing the visitor experience.
Perryville's current mayor, Anne Sleet is related by marriage to the Sleet family and her in-laws lived at Sleettown. She believes it’s important for young people to know about Sleettown. “It’s good history for them to know…I think it’s an honor that the park and everyone around here wants to know about this place.”
2. Richmond: Strongest Confederate Victory
Little more than a month before the Union victory at Perryville, the Confederacy came out on top Aug. 29-30, 1862, in the Battle of Richmond, (859-623-1720 or www.battleofrichmond.org).
That battle was the second largest in Kentucky. It was also the most overwhelming Confederate victory of the entire Civil War, say many experts.
Of 6,500 Union troops, about 4,300 were captured. More than 1,000 were killed or wounded. The Confederates, 6,600 strong, lost 128.
Richmond will commemorate its 145th anniversary this August. A driving tour links the Confederate Cemetery, Mount Zion Christian Church, used as a hospital by both sides, and Madison County Courthouse, where Union prisoners were paroled and sent home.
Madison County, where Richmond is located, is in central Kentucky; it's adjacent to Fayette County with the Kentucky River as its border. Madison County is just minutes from Lexington.
3. Mill Springs: First Major Union Triumph
Mill Springs (606-636-4045 or www.millsprings.net) marked the first significant Union victory of the war, on Jan. 19, 1862. It proved crucial to Union control of Kentucky and the interior South.
About 150 Confederate and 50 Union soldiers died in the four-hour battle near Somerset.
Today, a new Visitors Center and Museum marks the gateway to the battlefield. It showcases the 18-minute film: The Battle of Mill Springs.
4. Belmont: the Gibraltor of the West
A Civil War era cannon is pictured above at the heights of Gibraltar.*
Columbus-Belmont State Park (270-677-2327 or http://parks.ky.gov/stateparks/cb/index.htm) marks the spot of an early struggle, the Battle of Belmont on Nov. 7, 1861.
The park is located 36 miles southwest of Paducah on KY 58 and KY 123/80.This area on the Mississippi River was once so prominent that leaders discussed moving the capital from Washington, D.C., to Columbus.
Confederate General Leonidas Polk staked out both sides of the river and declared his fort “The Gibraltar of the West.”
General Polk and his 19,000 troops built trenches and stretched a chain across the Mississippi to block Union gunboats. But Ulysses S. Grant had other ideas, outflanking “Gibraltar” and routing the Confederates.
Today it’s easy to evoke the era by hiking along the 2.5-mile trench trail amid river bluffs, and exploring the Civil War Infirmary museum. You can still see the original anchor and massive chain that the South used to obstruct the Mississippi.
5. Camp Nelson: Union Army Supply Depot
African-American re-enactors honor the many Black soldiers who served valiantly with the Union; a re-enactment is seen above at Camp Nelson.*
Camp Nelson (859-881-9126 or www.campnelson.org), US 27, 6614 Danville Pike, near Nicholasville, was the largest Union Army supply depot in Kentucky.
The camp was also the third-largest recruitment center for African-American soldiers in the country.
Major General Ambrose Burnside, overall commander of the Army of the Potomac and commander of the Army of the Ohio, founded and constructed Camp Nelson in June 1863.
The camp was an engineering marvel, with a pump house on the Kentucky River, 500,000-gallon reservoir, and indoor running faucets and water closets in the hospital and soldiers’ homes.
Camp Nelson trained more than 10,000 African-American soldiers. The men saw battle action in Kentucky and Virginia, some pursuing the Army of Northern Virginia to Appomattox Court House, VA.
During the 2007 Central Kentucky Civil War Heritage Trail (800-225-8747 or www.kentuckytourism.com or www.kycivilwar.org) July 14-22, some battlefields will erupt with re-enactments while others will simmer with campfires of the civilians who traveled with the troops.
Betsa Marsh has covered stories on every continent, compiling more than 50 escapades into her book, The Eccentric Traveler: A World of Curious Adventures. A member of ASJA and SATW, she contributes to magazines and newspapers across North America. She’s a Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award winner from the Society of American Travel Writers.
Photos are owned, copyrighted and used with permission of Kentucky Department of Tourism (www.kentuckytourism.com). The logo is courtesy of the Battle of Richmond. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.